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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Thomas Friedman's "War, Timeout, War, Time ...": Horsefeathers!

In an op-ed entitled "War, Timeout, War, Time ..." in today's New York Times (, Thomas Friedman claims:

• suicide-bombings and rockets from Gaza and Lebanon "seem like a distant memory" to Israel, which has never been more prosperous;

• Israel has won its last three wars using what Friedman calls “Hama Rules”, which he defines as "no rules at all";

• the brutality of Israeli tactics employed against Hezbollah and Hamas have resulted in U.N. investigations into alleged war crimes.

Friedman concludes, "the risks to Israel’s legitimacy of another war in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank — in which Israel could be forced to kill even more civilians to squash rocket attacks launched from schoolyards by fighters who wear no uniforms — will be staggering."

Let's get down to brass tacks.

Israel has never been more prosperous? Perhaps from Friedman's perspective, when he stays at the fanciest Jerusalem and Tel Aviv hotels, all appears glorious and sanguine. But consider the following statistics:

"Of the 2.1 million households in Israel, one of every four Israelis –1.6 million people – lives below the poverty line. Close to half of them are working in full or part-time jobs and are still unable to provide the basics for their families. This Passover, charity organizations say they saw a 40 percent increase in the number of people asking for help. In Jerusalem nearly 1,000 people a day come to four soup kitchens at which hot meals are served.

• One-third of Israeli children, some 777,400 in number, live in poverty-stricken families, according to the National Insurance Institute (February 2009). Israel ranks among Western countries with the greatest percentage of poor children.
• The number of working families under the poverty line continues to rise, from 45.7 percent in 2007 to 66.4 percent in 2008.
• In 2005, the poverty line for a single person was about $445 per month; for a family of five, it was $1,337. A minimum-wage earner in Israel brings in approximately $883 per month; taxes can reduce that number almost to the poverty line.
• Over 70 percent of the minimum wage earners in Israel are women.
• 75 percent of poor families cannot afford medicine and 70 percent are dependant on food donations.
• 80 percent of Israelis living on support provided by aid groups are below the hunger line."

Suicide-bombings and rockets from Gaza and Lebanon seem like a distant memory to Israel? Friedman forgets to mention the Scud missiles from Iraq that fell on Haifa and Tel Aviv in 1991; this is something my family and I, then living in Tel Aviv, will never forget. But more to the point, I can tell you that a day does not pass when I do not dwell on the horrors of recent wars, as does my oldest son. Are we different from other Israelis? Absolutely not. Everyone in this country has lost one or more relatives or dear friends in a war or terrorist outrage, and there are countless Israelis suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome.

Israel has won its wars using “Hama Rules”, i.e. "no rules at all"? Here, as someone who observed these wars from up-close, I must try very hard to refrain from profanity when answering Friedman. In a nutshell, compare civilian casualties during Operation Cast Lead with civilian casualties in America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As stated by Colonel Richard Kemp to the U.N. Human Rights Council on October 16, 2009:

"I am the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. I served with NATO and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf War. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee.

Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.

* * * *

The truth is that 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 virtually into your enemy's hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.

Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes.

More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas’ way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians.

Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets.

And I say this again: the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare."

Israeli tactics employed against Hezbollah and Hamas have resulted in U.N. investigations leading to delegitimization of Israel? Again, reread Colonel Kemp's statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Also consider:

• What did the U.N. do when five million people died in the Congo over recent years? Nothing.

• What did the U.N. do when millions more died in Darfur? Nothing.

• What has the U.N. done with respect to the 400,000 Uzbek refugees from rioting in Kyrgyzstan? Nothing.

• What has the U.N. done with respect to the 200,000 refugees from fighting between Saudi forces and Yemenite rebels? Nothing.

On the other hand, when nine Turks, seeking "martyrdom" and belonging to an organization linked to al-Qaeda, die while attacking Israeli soldiers with pistols, knives and clubs, then it is time for the U.N., Obama and The New York Times to demand international investigations.

There will always be anti-Semitism, and no matter what Israel does or does not do, it will not achieve international "legitimacy" during our lifetimes. Given, however, the choice between committing suicide in order to achieve some vestige of "legitimacy" and survival, please forgive me if I choose survival.


  1. JG: Thank you, and great to use the testimony of Colonel Richard Kemp. I still do not understand the claim "Israel has won its last three wars using what Friedman calls “Hama Rules”, which he defines as "no rules at all"".

    After all, does Friedman not realize he is defaming, in addition to the IDF and the State of Israel, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni with such a false claim?

    Elsewhere in the NYT, Anthony Shadid, writing "In Iraq, Divvying Up the Spoils of Political War" inserts this false example - how can anyone compare the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia with Israeli democracy - "...Some defend the quotas as offering protection to minorities in a region with a poor record in treating its own. (Consider Shiites in Saudi Arabia, or Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian citizens, much less those under occupation.) ..."

    Are they taking advantage of the transition to a new Public Editor?

    Still, Friedman's shame is total.


  2. postscript: even though Friedman got airtime on Zakaria's GPS to repeat some of what he wrote in the NYT, I now almost feel sorry for Tom Friedman after reading Dr. Habib Siddiqui's vicious attack on Friedman's Letters from Istanbul that is now posted at AsianTribune, which appears to be a project by a Tamil now living in Sweden.

    I was just trying to parse the tea leaves on Obama's side meeting with Erdogan at the G20 (75 minutes, but no photo op) when this popped up.

    almost wish my hobby was North Korea :)


  3. I think it was Golda Meir who said that she'd rather be held in contempt than pitied. Seeking legitimacy is perhaps too much to hope for in a world gone madly counterintuitive. So, in its stead, we shall invoke unwavering strength which comes from unwavering conviction.

  4. now Friedman is hyping Fayyad, accepting comments. and, now I am keeping track of my comments to see if they get approved.