'Abominable' Divestment Bill Distorts Reality

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The divestment bill deserves the label abominable for a number of reasons. Foremost among them is that the allegations made in the bill are simply not true. As I do not have the time to focus on all of them, I shall aim at the crux of the matter.

The bill claims that Israel has committed war crimes. The opposite is the case. Not only was Israel's use of military force justified by a legitimate casus belli, the manner in which force was used was incredibly moral. To illustrate my point I will employ an example from military history, the rigorous study of which would certainly debunk myths about war crimes.

In the spring of 1945 the battle of Berlin was fought between the forces of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The Germans chose to fight in the city and failed to evacuate the civilian population. As a result, an estimated 125,000 German civilians lost their lives as the Russians blew the city to bits. That the Russians committed war crimes during the World War II is unquestionable, (although the Nazis did far worse in Russia) but their actions in Berlin were not among them. The lesson to drawn from this is that, as per the rules of the Geneva conventions, firing weapons into civilian areas is not a war crime. When those areas are made into legitimate military targets by either the presence of enemy forces or the storing of arms, it becomes the fault of those using civilian infrastructure in that manner when civilians are killed. That was the case in Berlin, and that was even more so the case in Gaza.

Whereas the Russians fired into any area that they cause to believe German soldiers or arms lurked, the Israeli Defense Forces did not in Gaza. The former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, a man who understands war and whose impartiality is not in question, gave a rousing speech at the UN's misnamed Human Rights Council (it ought to be renamed Lynch Israel Council). He made this extraordinary claim: "during Operation Cast Lead the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare."

He substantiated that claim with these facts: "The IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid into your enemy's hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks."

None of these were measures that Israel was by any means obligated to carry out. Nevertheless Israel went above and beyond the call of duty, proving that its army abides by a moral code of conduct perhaps unparalleled in the world.

That individual Israeli soldiers made mistakes during Cast Lead is undeniable. But mistakes are not war crimes. Commanders who exceeded their mandate are being investigated right now, as Israel endeavors to solidify its already formidable moral advantage over its foes.

The responsibility for civilian casualties lies overwhelmingly with Hamas, a terrorist government that deliberately employs human shields. As Colonel Kemp put it, "more than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas' way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians." This was part of an effort to lead the international media and human rights organizations astray.

Hamas uses human shields and then blames Israel for killing civilians. Colonel Kemp had this to say on the subject: "Hamas, like Hizballah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to condemn Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents. The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic Pavlovian presumption that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights."

Hamas' strategy is quite intelligent, actually. By making defamatory claims about war crimes they seek to have Israeli military capacity diminished through measures like bill 118. If it had passed they would have succeeded in turning reality upside down. It would have been apropos for a martial band to play The World Turned Upside Down, as was done at Yorktown.

This bill takes sides on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There can be no doubt of that regardless of its wording. And it takes the wrong side, which may be the subject for another article. I urge senators and students to consider facts and context, which will bring you to the same conclusion I have reached.


Baruch Nutovic is a UC Berkeley student. Reply to [email protected]

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