Israel moves tanks to border with Egypt after attack kills civilian


Israel reportedly moved tanks close to the border with Egypt following a cross-border attack in which an Israeli civilian was killed.

The move Monday was in violation of the Camp David Accords. The tanks were later withdrawn from the area, according to Haaretz. 

The terrorists who infiltrated Israel from Egypt killed an Israeli contractor during a border attack.

The terrorists detonated an explosive device Monday morning near two Israeli vehicles carrying contractors who are working on the border fence between Israel and Egypt. Gunfire was also directed at the vehicles, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Three terrorists had infiltrated into Israel in a place where the border fence is not yet complete. Some terrorists remained on the Egyptian side of the border, the IDF said. The incident took place near the Philadelphi Corridor, a narrow strip of land along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt

Golani Brigade soldiers who arrived at the scene within minutes of the incident opened fire on the terrorists, killing two. One of the terrorists was carrying a large explosive device that went off after he was fired upon, according to the IDF. No terrorists remain inside of Israel, according to Brig.-Gen Yoav Mordechai of the IDF Spokespersons Unit.

The attack comes a day after two long-range Grad missiles fired from the Sinai Peninsula were discovered in southern Israel.

“We see here a disturbing deterioration in Egyptian control in the Sinai,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday during a meeting with his Polish counterpart, Tomasz Siemoniak, in Tel Aviv.  “We are waiting for the results of the election.  Whoever wins, we expect them to take responsibility for all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel and the security arrangements in the Sinai, swiftly putting an end to these attacks”

IDF troops returned later Monday to the scene of the attack to retrieve the terrorists’ bodies, according to reports. A helmet, vest, uniforms, and Kalashnikov rifles were found near the terrorists.

The Israel-Egypt border project currently employs 1,500 workers, according to Ynet.

Palestinian group slams storing rockets in civilian areas


A Palestinian human rights group in the Gaza Strip condemned the storage of rockets used against Israel in civilian populated areas.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights in a statement posted on its website Tuesday called on the Hamas-controlled government in Gaza to investigate three incidents of homemade rockets exploding in densely populated civilian neighborhoods, causing heavy property damage and injuring six Palestinians, including a baby.

The center also noted that “members of the Palestinian resistance continue to store explosives or to treat such explosives in locations close to populated areas. This poses a major threat to the lives of the Palestinian civilians and constitutes a violation of both International Human Rights Law and the International Humanitarian Law.”

The statement did not condemn the firing of the rockets on Israeli citizens, however.

Gaza outcomes


If you’re like me, you don’t like to see dead children.

The initial images from Israel’s retaliatory strikes against the Hamas government in Gaza aren’t pretty. One that keeps reappearing is of a terrified, bleeding Palestinian girl, maybe 7 years old, clutching her father’s arm as they rush from a bombed-out building. Yes, the guy might be a Hamas operative for all I know. But I doubt she is. There’s another picture that keeps cropping up — the bodies of three small Palestinian boys, killed in an Israeli air strike Monday morning, wrapped in funeral shrouds and laid out on a dirty floor.

You could say I don’t have the stomach for war — you’d be right. As of press time on Monday, 350 Palestinians have been killed, some 60 of them civilians, many of those children. Two Israelis were killed by Hamas rocket attacks on Monday as well. I am not a fan of the inevitable innocent blood and guts that Israel’s far superior military force will necessarily spill in its fight to stop Hamas from shooting rockets into Israel whenever it wants. And yet, of course, I deeply believe Israel has the right, the obligation, to stop Hamas from its capricious acts of terror. I was in Sderot and southern Israel earlier this year, and I spoke with many residents, including many children, about what it’s like to live amid a near-constant rain of rockets and missiles.

“We want peace, but the missiles won’t stop,” a 12-year-old boy named Stav told me. Two years ago a Qassam rocket fell on his house. It was only sheer luck that his photo did not end up on the Internet as well. “They just send more and more. We can’t play in the fields, because if there’s a warning siren, there’s no place to run.”

One of my strongest memories from my trip is of a shadowy smudge on a sidewalk at Sapir College, near Sderot. A student was standing there when a Kassam struck. All that was left was that darkened spot. What moved me in my talks with young people around Sderot was how little anger they felt toward Palestinians in general.

“I don’t hate them,” a 16-year-old named Tal told me last June. The kibbutz where she lives is just two kilometers from Gaza City. When she looks out her window each morning, she sees the minarets. Two days before I spoke with her, a missile had landed outside her front door. “I hear about the people who live there, and I don’t have a reason to hate them. But trust me, it’s hard.”

No people in any nation on earth can abide such terror. Since Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza in 2005, Hamas has fired 6,300 rockets into Israel, killing 10 people and wounding 780. Many people, especially around Sderot, say Israel waited far too long to do what it began doing over the weekend. Maybe so. The undeniable fact is the missiles would have only gotten worse and the attacks deadlier.

On the other hand, it is hard to be optimistic that Israel’s retaliation, for all its justification, will succeed in the various aims its boosters have claimed for it. Will it topple Hamas, as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni asserts? Even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert didn’t promise that in his pre-battle declaration. Hamas is deeply entrenched, democratically elected (by the way, thank you President George W. Bush, for pushing for those elections), heavily funded via Iran and thuggishly powerful (where was the world’s condemnation when Hamas killed more than 50 Palestinians in 2007 while fighting Fatah in the streets of Gaza?).

Will the offensive stop the rocket attacks, as Olmert promised it would on the eve of this campaign? Well, the prime minister attempted the same strategy in Lebanon in 2006, and since then Hezbollah has only built up its arsenal.

Will the war somehow bring peace, as Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi predict, writing in The Wall Street Journal? Their argument is that until Hamas is deterred from firing rockets from territory Israel once occupied, no Israeli will support further territorial compromise. That makes sense, but raises the question of whether a generation of Gazans battered by occupation and war will be in the mood to make peace; whether their true masters in Iran and Syria will allow them; and whether Israel will be able to defeat Hamas any more than it was able to defeat its last archrival, Fatah, or its current one, Hezbollah?

Will the war, as analyst Felice Friedson writes in these pages, herald a new alignment of Middle East power that allies Israel with its former enemies Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia against Iran-supported Hamas and Hezbollah? That has already happened — but the thing about strange bedfellows is they are … strange. That Israel might align itself with some of the most dictatorial and anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East is hardly cheery news.

No, the best that could come of this very bloody reality is a stretch of quiet for the deserving residents of Israel’s south. Unlike Hamas, I don’t like to see dead children — no matter their race, creed or nationality.

Is there a way to stop rockets and avoid a Gaza fight?


Sderot is a city in the south of Israel, very close to the Gaza Strip. In the year 2007, it has been hit by 1,000 Qassam rockets and 1,200 mortar shells launched by the Palestinians.

Life in Sderot has become hell, but Israel finds it very difficult to defend it, because the people who launch the Qassams are hiding among civilians. Slowly but surely, however, Israeli patience is running out.

Is there a way to stop this ongoing terrorist attack on Sderot without entering Gaza with great force in an incursion that would most probably cost the lives of many Palestinians and Israelis?

Ernest, a reader from Florida, believes there is. He proposes to deploy Qassams and Katyushas in Sderot aimed at Gaza and operated acoustically: When the Palestinian Qassam hits Sderot, the blast will automatically trigger the launching of an Israeli Qassam or Katyusha on the heads of the people in Gaza who had been harassing Sderot. All that without an Israeli finger involved in the process.

I bounced the idea with some experts. A lawyer well versed in the laws of war called it “creative.” One law professor thought it fitted the principle of self-defense. A professor of philosophy, on the other hand, objected strongly: “What if our Qassam, even if technically launched by the Palestinians, hits a kindergarten in Gaza?”

I was left without a solution.

Then, I received an invitation to a conference at Hebrew University titled, “Democracy Fighting Terror With One Hand Tied Behind Its Back: Why, When and How Must This Hand Be Untied.” Bingo! Never mind the long title: This was exactly what I needed.

The speakers were professor Aharon Barak, former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, and professor Richard Posner, former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. No wonder that the huge hall at the Mount Scopus campus was packed with an anxious crowd.

However, when Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, took to the podium to moderate the event, four young female students started heckling loudly. Obviously, they were not happy with the way Israel was fighting terror. I could hear them yelling something about the abuse of human rights.

There and then, the weakness of democracy was exposed. One thousand people, who had gathered solemnly to listen to the speakers, were taken hostage by four people who insisted on their right to protest. This collision of rights lingered for a while, until the four students were kicked out by the security guards, with the cheers of the relieved crowd. The lesson was that in a democracy, sometimes even the majority has its rights.

Finally, former Chief Justice Barak started speaking. The much respected judge was the one who had coined the phrase that in the battle against terrorism, democracy was fighting “with one hand tied behind its back.” In other words, in the rush to combat the terrorists effectively, human and civil rights should still be respected. The audience responded with a roaring applause.

Then Judge Posner gave his American point of view. He said that in times of grave danger, human and civil rights might temporarily recede. He reminded us that during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln — the greatest American president, in his words — unconstitutionally suspended habeas corpus, because he believed that saving the union was more important than protecting a specific right. When the crisis was over, the rights were re-established. Posner received the same volume of hand-clapping.

A limbo again.

As I left the auditorium, a friend told me about a psychologist sent to comfort the people of Sderot, who had been traumatized by the relentless shelling of their city. A mother of six told him that whenever the alarm went off, the people under attack had exactly 50 seconds to rush to the shelters before the Qassam rockets hit their target.

“Yet in that period of time” she said, “I can only carry two of them to safety. What about the remaining four?”

I pray that no Qassam rocket hits a kindergarten in Sderot and, God forbid, kills several children. All debate will then stop, and the tanks will start rolling.

In the meantime, keep trying, Ernest. And if anybody else has more creative ideas about how Israel should act, short of entering Gaza and stopping the terrorists by force, please let me know.

Uri Dromi is director general of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, a conference center in Jerusalem. He can be reached at dromi@mishkenot.org.il.

Israel cuts power and fuel to Gaza in bid to stop rocket attacks


Critics may be describing Israel’s controversial policy of cutting fuel supplies to Gaza to deter Palestinian rocket attacks as collective punishment, but government leaders in Jerusalem see it as something else: humane.

In the face of unceasing rocket attacks on Israeli towns, cities and kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip, Israeli leaders approved the new policy to reduce fuel and electricity to the territory as the most humane way of trying to persuade Gaza’s terrorist Hamas leadership to keep the peace.

Critics at home and abroad accused the government of ulterior motives and blasted the policy as immoral and counterproductive.

They say the policy’s real aims are to prepare the way for a large ground invasion of Gaza to destroy Hamas’ burgeoning military infrastructure, to start a process of separating Gaza from Israel economically and to maintain a wedge between Hamas-dominated Gaza and the Fatah-led West Bank, which is administered by the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli critics warn the policy will rally Gazans around Hamas and lead to more rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists, not less.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the policy last week after the army’s top brass had urged further sanctions on Gaza following a particularly heavy rocket and mortar attack by Gaza terrorists on Israeli civilian populations nearby.

On Tuesday, Barak appeared to confirm some critics’ suspicions.

“The time is approaching when we’ll have to undertake a broad operation in Gaza,” Barak told Army Radio on Tuesday. “We are not happy to do it, we’re not rushing to do it and we’ll be happy if circumstances succeed in preventing it.”

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai drew up recommendations to impose limits on the supply of fuel, services and goods, and to cut electricity sporadically from the Beit Hanoun area in northern Gaza from where most of the rockets are fired.

Vilnai argues that these steps are in keeping with Israel’s Sept. 19 decision to declare Gaza a hostile entity.

After a daylong debate Monday on legalities, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz approved the new measures but ruled that the move to cut off electricity be deferred until a more detailed plan can demonstrate that no harm would be caused to essential services such as hospitals.

Israel has five electricity lines into Gaza, four of which deliver power to a nearby army base and to hospitals in the Gaza area and cannot be shut down. The fifth line to Beit Hanoun, the source of extensive rocket fire, is where government leaders plan to interrupt power on a random basis for between 15 minutes and an hour at night.

The government already has begun cutting fuel supplies by 5 percent to 11 percent.

Israeli officials argue that it is absurd to supply your enemies with fuel and electricity that they use to fire rockets at your civilians.

Hamas says withholding supplies is a form of collective punishment and a violation of international law. Hamas spokesmen claim they could stop Islamic Jihad terrorists from firing at Israel, but why should they if this is Israel’s response to their offer of a long-term cease-fire?

On the West Bank, Fatah leaders may secretly be pleased at the pressure Israel is putting on Hamas, Fatah’s rivals, in Gaza.

In public, however, Fatah leaders have been fiercely critical of the new Israeli steps.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas argued that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for Gaza’s estimated 1.5 million Palestinians, not the Hamas usurpers who drove Fatah out in June.

Saeb Erekat, a chief Fatah negotiator with Israel in the run-up to the planned Annapolis peace parley, called the Israeli decision to sever power and fuel supplies “particularly provocative given the fact that Palestinians and Israelis are meeting to negotiate an agreement on the core issues for ending the conflict between them.”

Fatah leaders contend that the tough Israeli measures in Gaza will make it much harder for Abbas to show the necessary flexibility to reach a deal with Israel in Annapolis.

The international community also is taking a strongly critical line. In a tense meeting Monday with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Benito Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union’s commissioner for external affairs, urged Israel to consider the possible humanitarian consequences of its action.

Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon argued that although Israel had withdrawn from Gaza, it still is responsible for what goes on there. Cutting off supplies would be “contrary to Israel’s obligations toward the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law,” he declared.

In Israel, several human rights organizations have petitioned the Supreme Court urging its intervention.

The plan also has sparked a lively media debate, most of it critical of the government.

The most scathing comments came from Nahum Barnea, the doyen of Israeli political pundits and recent recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize. On the front page of Monday’s Yediot Achronot, Barnea called the government plan “stupid.”

“Rather than severing Israel from the occupation, at least with regard to Gaza, it reinforces Israel’s image as a cruel occupier,” he wrote. “It is incompatible with the effort to reopen dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and the moderate Arab regimes.”

Writing in the left-leaning Ha’aretz, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff claimed that while Israeli defense officials say the tough measures will reduce rocket attacks, they know full well the opposite will occur.

Therefore, they conclude, “the real aim is twofold: to spark a new escalation to justify a major Israeli military operation in Gaza and to prepare the way for clear separation from Gaza, limiting to an absolute minimum Israel’s obligations to the Palestinians there.”

Israeli officials disagree. They say that the new policy does not look for an excuse to invade Gaza but constitutes an attempt to avoid an invasion.

Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer argues that in combating the rockets, Israel had only two choices: cutting the supplies to Gaza or “tomorrow or the next day” sending “three or four divisions into Gaza.”

He added, “And if we do that, won’t innocent people be killed?”

“Maybe this time the people that are responsible for the chaos in Gaza,” Ben Eliezer said, “will start thinking differently.”

Israel should probe accusations of war crimes


The recent charge by three human rights organizations that Israel committed war crimes in Lebanon seems at first like just another reflexive anti-Israel (or, at worst,
anti-Semitic) condemnation.
 
The truth, though, is more complex. Those who are making the accusations appear to be acting with good motives. The real problem is the inherently vague nature of the law under which they have made their accusations.

 
The accusations are serious: They claim that Israel’s soldiers committed acts that merit criminal prosecution and jail time. Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, stated that she believed that Israeli bombings that killed civilians constituted war crimes for which Israeli military personnel could be held individually, criminally liable. Human Rights Watch concluded that Israel’s “indiscriminate attacks against civilians” constitute war crimes. Most recently, an Amnesty International report opined that Israel committed war crimes such as “attacking civilian objects and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.”
 
There is no reason to think that these accusations are motivated by anti-Semitism. These human rights organizations are devoted to protecting the rights of civilians — a laudable goal — and can be expected aggressively to take the side of civilians in any military conflict, whether the conflict involves Israel or anyone else. Nor did the United Nations or Human Rights Watch refrain from criticizing Hezbollah in the most severe terms. In the words of Human Rights Watch, Hezbollah’s missile attacks intended to kill Israeli civilians are “without doubt a war crime.” (Amnesty International’s report criticizing Israel, by contrast, makes only the cryptic statement that Hezbollah’s actions are “being addressed elsewhere.”)

 
The basic problem with the charges, however, is the vague and subjective nature of the law that Israel stands accused of violating. Contrary to popular imagination, the term “war crime” covers not only atrocities like genocide and other clear-cut misdeeds. Instead, the term also applies to nuanced and highly debatable issues concerning whether a particular military campaign was properly conducted.
 
The accusations against Israel involve the more subjective provisions of international law relating to civilians in wartime. The 1949 provisions of the Geneva Convention require that armies “shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.” Much more vaguely — and importantly for present purposes — the treaty also prohibits attacks against a military target “which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life … which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

 
This sliding-scale provision, forbidding not all civilian casualties but only excessive losses in light of the military objective, is at the heart of the current round of accusations. As Human Rights Watch senior emergencies researcher Peter N. Boukaert has explained, his organization’s charges “don’t accuse the Israeli army of deliberately trying to kill civilians.” Rather, they claim that Israel did not take enough care to distinguish between military and civilian targets, and that the damage Israel caused was excessive in connection with the military advantage it sought — standards that are far less easy to quantify. Under the same analysis, it is quite clear that the United States’ World War II firebombing of Dresden and dropping of atomic bombs on Japan would have qualified as war crimes, too.
 
So subjective is the relevant standard that a war crimes accusation is almost inevitable when an army fights a militia like Hezbollah, entrenched deep within the civilian population. Strikes against Hezbollah will tragically and inevitably lead to civilian deaths.

 
There will then be grounds for debating whether or not the civilian damage caused by any particular strike was “excessive” or specifically enough tied to a particular military objective. The laws in the Geneva Convention were designed with much clearer army-to-army conflicts in mind, not the case of a guerilla army operating and hiding among civilians.
 
Because of the issue’s inherent subjectivity, a critical question becomes: Who decides? The idea of letting the Zionism-is-racism gang at the United Nations adjudicate the propriety of Israel’s military operations would make anyone vaguely sympathetic to Israel shudder. The newly functioning International Criminal Court in The Hague, which both the United States and Israel find controversial, reflects the United Nations’ makeup; neither Israel nor Lebanon are members of the court, which therefore lacks jurisdiction. And humanitarian groups like Human Rights Watch are “biased” in the sense that their agenda is the broadest possible application of these legal rules.
 
As a practical matter, there is unlikely to be any real-world prosecution of anyone from Israel (or Hezbollah) arising out of the Lebanon War.
 
In truth, Israel itself should decide. It should analyze the facts to make sure that it is complying with the rules governing the protections of civilians.
 
Rather than dismiss these charges out of hand, Israel and those who care about it should look at them carefully for the sake of determining the right course of conduct in future battles. For example, Israel should make sure that the losses to Lebanese civilians were truly incidental to military objectives and as limited as possible, rather than (as Amnesty International claims) a means of punishing Lebanese civilians for supporting Hezbollah, conduct that would be unlawful.
 
The accusations are an occasion for careful self-reflection about how Israel can fight for its existence while minimizing civilian casualties as required by international law.

 
Joseph M. Lipner is a Los Angeles attorney.

+