Today’s Gaza editorial, with other views

Keeping with my rule about making the most of anything I write, here's a blog version of the Gaza editorial I wrote for today's paper:

Ending the killing
is natural goal for
both U.S., Israel

THE DEATH OF INNOCENT women and children among the 40 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli mortar fire outside a United Nations school on Tuesday is a tragedy that should appall decent people everywhere, as it has done.

    Apart from the personal devastation that spreads from the loss of any human life, each death of a Palestinian noncombatant strengthens the terrorists of Hamas and their sponsors in Iran, and damages Israeli security by undermining what few vestiges of concern remain in foreign capitals for Israel and its legitimate interests. It’s a lose-lose-lose proposition for anyone who hopes for a day when Israelis and Palestinians coexist in peace.

    But what were the Israeli Defense Forces shooting at? Well, they were shooting back at the Hamas fighters who were firing mortars at IDF troops from the school compound. Why were the Hamas fighters shooting at the Israelis? Because the Israelis had entered the Gaza strip to attack Hamas. Why? Because Hamas was firing as many as 60 rockets a day into Israel with the intent of killing as many innocent Israeli civilians as possible. Why? Because Hamas and its Iranian sponsors are dedicated to the idea that Israel should cease to exist. Anything that furthers that goal, from killing Israelis to baiting Israel into killing innocent Palestinians whom Hamas fighters use as shields, is what Hamas will do.

    The best thing for Hamas, with its nihilist aims, is for the killing to continue. The best thing for Israel, and for its chief ally the United States, is for it to end as quickly as possible. At the same time, the deaths that have occurred on either side in recent days truly would have happened for naught if Israel does not achieve the realistic military goal of reducing Hamas’ ability to fire rockets from northern Gaza into Israel.

    Does this mean that foreign governments are wrong to press Israel for a cease-fire — that is, for a cease-fire that lasts longer than the three-hour one on Thursday? No, for the simple fact that Israel is the only combatant in this conflict that is susceptible to international pressure. It’s the only party that can be expected to respond rationally — “rationally” in a conventional modern, civilized sense — to diplomatic pressure.

    That’s why the United States must and will work not only for an end to this battle, but for an end to the overall Arab-Israeli conflict, which has morphed into a conflict between Israel and Iranian surrogates. But not even a short-term resolution to the battle for Gaza seems likely to come on the Bush administration’s watch.

    Speaking of that, the simple explanation for Israel’s incursion into Gaza is that it is doing so while it still has a staunch friend in the White House. As with most simple explanations, there is truth in that. At the same time, anyone who thinks the United States will no longer align itself with Israel’s long-term interests just because the president’s name is Barack Hussein Obama is as deluded as someone who assumes that this country will be vehemently anti-Palestinian because Rahm Emanuel’s father belonged to a Zionist insurgent group that fought (sometimes using terrorist tactics, for those of you with an inexhaustible appetite for moral ambiguity) to establish the modern state of Israel.

    Peace and security for Israel will continue to be a top priority for the United States under President Obama. And nothing will further that cause better — or frustrate Hamas and Iran more — than working through every diplomatic means to end quickly the killing of innocents on both sides.

Beyond that, as you know, we have no op-ed pages on Fridays these days. I've tried to compensate for that somewhat by choosing a syndicated op-ed piece to run in what would normally be the staff-written-column slot at the bottom of the page (unless we have a staff column that just has to run that day).

The two best such columns available to me yesterday were both about Gaza — this one from Nicholas Kristof, and this one from Charles Krauthammer. The argument in favor of the Kristof column is that it was leaned a little less pro-Israel than our editorial thereby providing some sort of "balance" to the editorial (not the sort of "balance" that frankly pro-Palestinian folks such as our own Michael Berg might offer, but more the kind you get from the mainstream of liberal thought).

The argument in favor of the Krauthammer piece (which was pro-Israel and then some), was that it was fresh and new. The Kristof piece had run in The New York Times that morning. The Krauthammer one was embargoed until Friday, and therefore would appear in The Washington Post at the same time it appeared in The State, and would appear nowhere else before that.

I have a prejudice toward fresh, especially when it's for a special spot such as this one, even more than for a run-of-the-mill op-ed appearance. (Add to that the fact that I'm still figuring out this business of putting syndicated pieces in a place normally reserved for staff opinion. The op-ed page is clearly a place for alternative opinion, especially that which differs with the editorial board's view — as is the Letters to the Editor portion of the editorial page, by long tradition, as is the cartoon space; Robert Ariail is NOT a board member. But when the column is running in a space normally reserved for board member's personal views, is it more logical and consistent to have a differing, "balancing" view — especially since there's no op-ed that day — or one that is closer to the board position? As I say, I haven't decided that. But in this case, the freshness argument was enough for me.)

But rather than deprive you of the Kristof piece, I put it online, and put a box in the paper letting you know it was there. My little way of having it both ways. Yours, too.

18 thoughts on “Today’s Gaza editorial, with other views

  1. Brad Warthen
    Talk about your ironies! I had just posted this when I went to look at my external e-mail, and the last message I had received was this one:

    Brad Warthen and the other editors of The State editorial board,

    In today’s editorial, “Ending the killing is natural goal for both U.S.,
    Israel” (Jan. 9, 2009) you write, concerning the massacre of Palestinian
    civilians by the IDF at a UN school, “But what were the Israeli Defense Forces
    shooting at? Well, they were shooting back at the Hamas fighters who were firing
    mortars at IDF troops from the school compound.”
    This is an untrue statement. There is not a shred of evidence indicating
    that Hamas fighters were firing from the school. The evidence strongly indicates
    that this is not the case. All independent eyewitnesses vehemently deny it,
    including UN officials and Palestinian observers. The UN has instituted rigorous
    protocal to assure that their compounds are not compromised by armed men. The
    only source that says that there were Hamas fighters in the school is the
    official Israeli military spokesman, which is not an independent source, and who
    cites no evidence. Yesterday’s article in the London Guardian shows that UN
    officials now say that Israel has privately admitted there were no Hamas
    fighters in the school.
    We are all allowed our own opinions. We are not allowed our own facts. You
    cannot make up a non-existent fact in order to better fit your version of
    Please issue a correction of this statement.
    Below is a link to and a copy of the Guardian article.
    Michael Berg
  2. Bart

    Don’t issue a correction until you know first hand if what Michael Berg said is true. A common practice as evidenced again by another convenient story of a 12 year old boy who supposedly died as a result of an Israeli rocket fired by an unmanned drone. The entire death scene was “filmed” by the boy’s brother in an emergency room. The entire scene was staged and too many doctors and CPR responders caught too many errors on the film. I have been trained as a first responder and can administer CPR if necessary. Not one of the scenes showing the man who was administering CPR came close to being accurate. It was another example of the media, especially CNN and the stringers working the Middle East staging incidents for propaganda.
    Since Israel turned Gaza over to Hamas three years ago, a conservative estimate of 6,000 mortar and rocket rounds have been launched into civilian neighborhoods by Hamas supported by Iran. Yet, little or no news or reports coming from the media about the death and destruction in Israel, only the incidents when a Palestinian is shot or killed by an Israeli.
    When any UK publication reports anything coming from the Middle East especially Jerusalem or the Palestinian area, it is almost always the acts committed by Israel, never the murder of Israelis by Palestenians.

  3. Jason F. McBrayer

    As of yesterday (2009/01/09), IDF officers have admitted that there was no gunfire or mortar fire from the UN school that was shelled by an IDF tank. This has been reported in the UK Guardian, and in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. This means that the sole source for that claim — the IDF — has admitted that it was a fabrication. Of course, the UN has denied since the beginning that there were any Hamas militants shooting from the school. It is unfortunate that you chose to privilege a CYA claim from the Israeli military over information from the agency actually present at the school.
    This is not an isolated incident, but part of a disturbing pattern. The IDF has also shelled UN relief convoys, forcing the UN to end humanitarian aid to Gaza civilians. What’s more, the UN gave GPS coordinates of all UN facilities in Gaza to the IDF, presumably so that they would know not to target those coordinates. They also made it known that civilian refugees were taking shelter in the school, which makes it clear that the shelling was an intentional act of state terrorism.
    It is highly disturbing that The State‘s official editorial position is in favor of state-sponsored terrorism.

  4. Phillip

    Hi Brad, I could easily tell that the editorial was written by you…the giveaway phrase was the little throwaway bit about “inexhaustable appetite for moral ambiguity.”
    Let me just say this: the ability to see ambiguity and gray shades is, to me, a necessary tool, one of rationality and sanity in this endless cycle of violence in the Mideast. It is the cloaking of one’s goals and aims under the blanket of moral superiority that instead feeds the cycle, endlessly.
    I also would take issue somewhat with the statement about Israel being the only combatant that can be influenced by international pressures, diplomatic and otherwise. Perhaps true in the case of Hamas, at they represent essentially one wing of a divided nation or government; but Iran is certainly not beyond the reach of such pressures.
    When you start talking about who is “rational” and who is not, that gets into very dangerous territory, and it starts the conversation down that road into degraded territory where we start to view an entire people as somehow sub-rational, and from there it’s a short hop to “sub-human.” Now I know of course that’s not what you were saying, but I simply mention this to exhort our government and the world at large to continue to push and push hard for a peaceful resolution to the overall Palestinian-Israeli problem, as your editorial laudably endorsed. There would be no point in pursuing such a peace if we did not believe, at heart, that rationality could not prevail among ALL the peoples and governments of the region.

  5. Phillip

    …oops double-negative there…should read “if we did not believe…that rationality COULD prevail” etc…

  6. Bart

    When I am wrong, I don’t hesitate to admit it. At first, I thought I was wrong. I went to the links and read the story in Haaretz. I also read all of the comments and did some follow-up on them.
    I stand by my first comments because in typical fashion, the IDF officers were not identified and according to the NYT reporter on the ground there, Hamas was asking for the locals to assist in preparing the school yard for defensive purposes before the firing started.
    No one wants to see innocent blood spilled and especially young children. But, it has been and continues to be a common practice of these cowards to use human shields for their purposes. They consistently place their mortars and rocket launchers in school yards, civilian areas, and any place where any retaliation will cause the deaths of innocents. Brave men indeed!
    Until the IDF officers are identified and put their faces on the news, the story is bogus in my opinion.

  7. Lee Muller

    What a nice diversion for local, small-town editors, to editorialize about world affairs, while ignoring the rotten local and state governments!

  8. Brad Warthen

    Do you ever wonder where Lee gets that stuff?
    Anyway, here’s something else that came in over the weekend:
    To the Editors of The State:
    We are increasingly concerned about the growing carnage in Gaza. Our organizations – Carolina Peace Resource Center, the Muslim Student Association at USC and S.C. Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – have been working in concert since Dec. 27 to call local attention to the gravity of the situation and the role of the United States as prime enabler of Israel’s aggression. With regard to world affairs, many of The State’s readers know only what they read in the newspaper and assume you tell them all they need to know. Yet, while three major television outlets have been generous and balanced in their coverage of local reaction to the Gaza disaster, The State has consistently ignored the efforts of more than 100 members of our community – Baha’i, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Secular – who believe Israel, being the dominant power in this conflict, must take the initiative in crafting a just peace with its Palestinian neighbors.
    Member representatives of Carolina Peace, the Muslim Student Association at USC and SC CAIR should like to meet with members The State editorial staff today or Sunday, if at all possible, to discuss our concerns and secure a commitment from you to present a more balanced view, both of the facts of the situation in Gaza and of local reaction to that crisis. I look forward to your reply.
    Arnold E. Karr, Executive Director
    Carolina Peace Resource Center
    P.O. Box 7933
    Columbia, SC 29202
    1-803-446-2772 (I GO CPRC)

  9. Brad Warthen

    Thanks for writing. I have put your message on my blog, along with something I received from Michael Berg on Friday.
    I don’t know what the newsroom has planned (separate department, and most of the editors you addressed are in our newsroom, not editorial), but the editorial department does not plan any meetings with anyone on any side of this issue at this time. Probably a moot point, since your request for a meeting was for over the weekend, which is past (and just so you know, there would have been no one in the editorial offices over the weekend).
    Perhaps you’d like to offer a letter to the editor. If so, please send it to
    — Brad Warthen

  10. Brad Warthen

    Phillip, I had to smile when you said you would have known it was me by the parenthetical “inexhaustable appetite for moral ambiguity.” Indeed. But you seem to miss the point that I’m referring to myself as one of those with such an appetite. Why on Earth would I have mentioned that Rahm Emanuel’s dad was involved with Irgun if I lacked appreciation for such ambiguities?
    At the same time, I bring up such things to bring my conclusions into sharper relief. My point is that yes, I consider all of that, and overlook none of it, in arriving at the judgments I express. I don’t see things as black and white, although I may arrive at more sharply defined distinctions than some who do.
    Did you ever read Le Carre’s “The Little Drummer Girl,” or see the surprisingly good film version with Diane Keaton? Wonderful examination of the moral ambiguities inherent in Israel’s fight against those who do not wish it to exist. In the end, though, I probably have a greater respect than the author (who in recent years has been less subtle in expressing his political views) for Israel’s right and obligation to defend itself from existential threats — while not losing sight of the moral horror of an airstrike on a terror cell that is imbedded in a refugee camp (to cite one image from the novel)…
    Do you follow what I’m saying?

  11. Brad Warthen

    As for Michael Berg’s note… someone said “Don’t issue a correction until…”
    Don’t worry. No correction is contemplated. I was aware of confusion about whether the mortar fire had some strictly from INside the school compound, or from just OUTside it, which is why the editorial did not specify, but merely said “from the school compound,” which in practical, tactical terms covered it either way. And which explains what I said it explained, which was the IDF’s motivation for shooting.
    The thing that struck me about Michael’s message is that while he completely and absolutely (and unconvincingly, to me) dismisses my explanation of the IDF’s motive, he doesn’t suggest an alternative, and I got to wondering. Does Michael suppose the IDF fired upon a UN school compound for the hell of it? Does he think the Israelis were thinking, “Hey, let’s kill some women and kids and UN workers and blame it on Hamas; after all, that’s what we came for?” I mean, seriously, what would they be hoping to accomplish, tactically or strategically?
    One reason why I believe the IDF explanation that it was responding to mortar fire from the compound (from inside or outside; take your pick), is that it’s the only explanation I’ve heard yet that explains the action, or even comes close.
    To come even close to NOT believing it, I suppose you really have to believe that Israelis get a kick out of killing kids. Or something. Anyway, I don’t believe that. Don’t know why anyone would.

  12. Brad Warthen

    In fact, the more one parses this one tactical action — the firing of the mortars toward the compound — the greater the contrast with Hamas. Here we are, arguing about why a few rounds from the many rounds of many different kinds of ordinance fired by the IDF in this offensive happened to hit civilians — and the REASON why we talk about it is because of the way it stands out as inconsistent with anything that Israel might be expected to TRY to do….
    Meanwhile, what’s Hamas been doing? Firing all the rockets it can get its hands on into Israel with the INTENT of killing as many civilians as possible.
    To change the subject slightly, this leads us to one of the great ironies in this case of assymetrical warfare: Hamas tries like crazy to kill as many Israeli civilians as it can, but hardly ever hits anybody. Israel, being far more technologically (and therefore militarily) competent, is far more deadly in targeting Hamas.
    BUT … and here’s where we get back to our “moral ambiguity”… Israel still isn’t able to avoid killing some noncombatants in getting at Hamas, since Hamas hides among the civilian population.
    The really profound moral irony here is that while Israel is actually only trying to kill terrorists, it in effect is likely to kill more civilians than Hamas does, even though that’s what Hamas is TRYING to do.
    Some, such as perhaps Michael, would conclude that since the IDF can’t go after Hamas without killing some noncombatants, Israel shouldn’t go after Hamas. I don’t arrive there, though. As much as I want the killing — all of it — to end, I have to recognize the obligation of a government to act against someone who is deliberately, day after day, firing rockets at its civilian population, with the intent of killing Israelis. At some point, you have an obligation to act, and Israel seems to have reached that point.
    This may seem grotesquely oversimplistic, but I can’t resist wondering how Americans would react if Mexico, however incompetently, fired rockets every day from Juarez into El Paso with the INTENT of killing everyday Texans — even if it did so incompetently, and hardly ever hit anyone.
    I have little doubt that in short order the U.S. military would be all over Mexico. In terms of our internal politics, our government would have to react forcefully. I mean, think about it — Doug and others on this blog get all worked up about Mexicans just crossing the border to pluck our chickens and build our houses. Imagine how the electorate would respond if they were shooting missiles at us…
    Mind you, I’m not even assuming that the government of Mexico was controlled by a violent political movement dedicated to the idea that the United States should cease to exist. I’m just saying they’re lobbing a few missiles at us. People in this country would definitely freak, and inaction would not be an option.

  13. zzazzeefrazzee

    Hey Brad, perhaps I’ve missed it, but I can think of a few refreshing op-eds that never seem to make it into the State Newspaper.
    While I’ll admit to my bias on her behalf, you can start with considering my Egyptian friend, columnist Mona el Tahawy. I honestly doubt that you can easily pigeon-hole her as being “pro” or “anti” on this issue as easily as other writers:

  14. Michael Berg

    You ask why the IDF would destroy the compound, if the IDF did so because they get a kick out of killing children.
    It is doubtful that IDF policy is based on sadism. Israel is on a mission to crush Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza. The reason Israel kills so many is that it is politically unacceptable for Israeli leadership if the Israeli military suffer the death or injury of their soldiers. The number of Palestinian civilians who are killed, wounded, traumatized or starved in the processis irrelevant to internal Israeli politics. Therefore soldiers are under orders to use massive force. You see a Palestinian with a gun and a walkie-talkie? Blow up the block. You see a fighter near a building. Blow up the street, the building and anything around it. Did civilians die? Oh well. It’s not a big deal. They’re only Palestinians.
    There are better ways of creating peace then militarily attacking Hamas, but even if you accept that Israel should “go after Hamas”, you are wrong in your assessment that Israel cannot attack without killing and injuring thousands of civilians. What is true is that Israeli cannot attack Hamas and protect civilians, WITHOUT RISKING THEIR OWN SOLDIERS.
    A perfect example is the recent assasination of Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan. Israel knew where he lives. Israel has the capacity to make a commando raid, like it famously did at Entebee. But that would put Israeli soldiers at risk. So the Israeli airforce blew up the whole house, killing four women and four children in the house along with Nizar Rayyan. That is the policy. Perhaps Israel didn’t target the civilians, but it knew that its actions would kill the civilians and it didn’t care. Better 1000 Palestinian civilians die than to have one Israeli soldier injured.
    Of course this is the generous view of present policy. Perhaps their behavior also reflects a policy to crush the civilian population to the point where they reject turn against their own leadership to make the pain inflicted by Israel stop. This is the definition of state terrorism and it is what Thomas Friedman refered to as “educating Hamas” in his January 13th column in the New York Times. Freidman believes that this state terrorism was a good thing when it was used against the population of Lebanon in 2006 to pressure Hezbollah.
    Your analogy to rockets coming in from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso, used also on national television by renowned Middle East expert Governor Mark Sanford is not just “grotesquely oversimplistic” but it is irrelvant. The United States does surround Juarez on all sides. It does not control trade, vehicle traffic and air traffic into Juarez. There is no blocade on Juarez. The United States did not assasinate the Mayor of Juarez. Most of the people in Juarez are not the decendents of refugees from El Paso. The only entity that might shoot rockets from Juarez to El Paso would be a drug ganglord. I would hope that if a drug gang shot some rockets into the United States that our country would have the sense not to level Juarez and other Mexican towns.
    I don’t see how there is any essential moral difference between firing clumsy rockets into cities knowing that they might kill civilians, and saturating the most densely populated place on earth with bombs that you know will kill civilians in mass and destroy the infrasture they need to survive. The only difference is a difference in scale, with the scale of suffering, terrorism and pain inflicted by Israel being far, far worse that the pain it endures.
    My call for you to issue a correction stands.

  15. Michael Berg

    As a linguistical note, if you say that rockets are fired “from the school compound”, is understood by all that rockets were fired from inside the school compound. If the rockets were fired from the street outside the school compound, they would not have been fired “from the school compound”. They were fired “from outside of the school compound” or “near the school compound.”
    In your local news reports on murder trials, would you write that a bullet was fired from a local residence if the gunman on the street near the residence?
    Your explination is lacking. I hope that you have the wisdom to issue a correction.

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