Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.
Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?
Previous: #3 Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (I)
On the previous page, we saw how Halakha obligates Jewish armies to “leave one side open” when they attack a Gentile city; this is to allow civilians the opportunity to flee the city. The corollary to this is that any civilians who don’t flee are automatically considered “combatants” and “human shields” who can be licitly targeted and killed. Not only has this concept been used by Israel to promote the ethnic cleansing of Palestine but it is also used to absolve Israel of any blame for indiscriminate violence against civilian populations.
For example, during the Gaza War in 2008-2009, Israel supposedly dropped “hundreds of thousands of leaflets” and used “telephone calls” to warn residents of Gaza to evacuate the area before Israel dropped bombs on their heads (quotes from Alan Dershowitz). Here Dershowitz is mimicking the line by the Israeli state itself; the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed “the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) makes strenuous efforts to give advance notice to the civilian population” of impending Israeli attacks “so that they have an opportunity to leave the area.”
Dershowitz calls these “unprecedented efforts to avoid civilian casualties,” with Israeli-friendly Richard Kemp arguing that “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.” Prof. Asa Kasher, author of the IDF Code of Conduct, argues that the Israel Defense Forces are “the most moral army in the world” (The Most Moral Army in the World™) because “[w]ho tries harder than we do to warn the neighbors [to leave a conflict zone]?” Kasher then engages in typical Israeli self-congratulatory praise.
Israel’s America’s pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC shielded Israel from all criticism by noting that “Israel dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets and made 250,000 phone calls to targeted areas to warn citizens they were in danger.”
But only if Israel dropped not “hundreds of thousands” of leaflets but two hundred million leaflets! If only 500,000 phone calls were made instead of “250,000!” Then only a crass Anti-Semite could take umbrage at the IDF’s sojourn in Gaza that killed scores of civilians. After all, doesn’t dropping a certain number of leaflets and making so many phone calls absolve oneself from all responsibility?
What utter nonsense. Under international law–and using one’s own common sense–it is not permissible to carpet bomb an area with impunity just because warning leaflets were dropped beforehand–no matter if four billion leaflets and ten trillion phone calls are made in advance. These “advanced warnings” are clearly meant to absolve Israel of all guilt for killing civilians, and have nothing to do with actually saving civilian lives.
What’s more is that the leaflets or phone calls do not give any information as to where the civilians are supposed to flee from or to. In fact, the leaflets and phone calls can be seen as nothing more than threats designed to instill terror in the civilian population. They are part of Israel’s psychological operations, not an ethical consideration. Electronic Intifada reproduced one such leaflet:
To the residents of the northern Gaza Strip:
The terrorist actions originating from your areas are forcing the Israel Defense Forces to respond harshly to those who are subjecting the citizens of the State of Israel to danger.
We call on the Palestinian Authority to shoulder its responsibility to prevent these criminal acts.
We warn you of the danger of remaining in the areas which are being used to launch terrorist actions and we advise you to leave your homes.
We are not responsible for the consequences if you ignore our warning.
Israel Defense Forces
I could not “independently corroborate” this report, but The Guardian documents something very similar, reporting that Gazans would be called by Israelis, saying: “You and your family are requested to leave home because the IDF intends to attack it.” The article says further that “the pre-recorded message department of the Israeli military has been gearing up again, threatening people apparently selected at random…” What can this be other than terror by telephone?
The Guardian reported further:
The Israeli air force today dropped leaflets on the Gaza Strip warning residents that it plans to escalate its military offensive, now in its second week.
The army said it had dropped the flyers throughout Gaza and that the notices are meant as a “general warning”.
These “general warnings” do nothing but instill panic and terror in the Palestinian population. They don’t know when or where the attacks are coming, and where they are supposed to flee to. Considering that all the infrastructure, including highways and major roads, were destroyed, one wonders where and how the Gazans can flee? Certainly, they cannot flee Gaza entirely, which is blocked off on all four sides; interestingly, the “fourth side” is not left open.
In addition to aiding Israel’s psychological operations against the Palestinians, these terror leaflets and phone calls absolve Israel of all blame when it then unleashes its fury against civilian populations. They were warned, and therefore they had it coming. Israel then carpet bombs the area with impunity, its conscious clear from all guilt. Then, Israelis pat themselves on the back, fascinated by their superior sense of morality and how they continue to have the The Most Moral Army in the World™.
In public statements, Israeli officials have countered allegations of unlawful civilian deaths by claiming that the IDF had warned Gaza’s civilian population in advance by dropping leaflets, making telephone calls, and breaking into local radio and television broadcasts. International humanitarian law encourages armed forces to provide advance warnings of an attack when circumstances permit, but the warnings must be “effective.”
In Gaza, the IDF’s warnings were too vague, often addressed generally to the “inhabitants of the area.” Leaflets were dropped from high altitudes and scattered over wide areas; many Gaza residents told Human Rights Watch that they disregarded the leaflets because they were so common and widely dispersed.
In addition, the warnings often did not instruct civilians on what steps to take or where to find safety after fleeing their homes. With the beginning of the ground offensive on January 3, the IDF warned residents to “move to city centers,” but then some city centers, such as in Gaza City, Beit Layiha, and Jabalya, came under attack, as two of the incidents documented in this report show. Ultimately, Gaza residents had no safe place to flee, given the closure of Gaza’s borders, enforced mostly by Israel but also by Egypt in the south.
Finally, even after warnings have been issued, international humanitarian law requires attacking forces to take all feasible precautions to avoid loss of civilian life and property. Just because an attacking force has issued an effective warning does not mean it can disregard its obligations to civilians; attacking forces may not assume that all persons remaining in an area after a warning has been issued are legitimate targets for attack.
Clearly, Jewish law (as understood by Religious Zionists) and Israeli conduct seems to think otherwise: if you warn them, you can kill them. And then, even as you wipe your blade clean of the blood just spilt, you can revel at your own greatness, your high level of morality.
How different are these leaflets and phone calls from the warnings issued by Zionist forces during the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948? Israeli historian Benny Morris writes on p.191 of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem:
Throughout, the Haganah made effective use of Arabic language broadcasts and loudspeaker vans. Haganah Radio announced that ‘the day of judgment had arrived’ and called on the inhabitants to ‘kick out the foreign criminals’ and to ‘move away from every house and street, from every neighbourhood, occupied by the foreign ciminals’. The Haganah broadcasts called on the populace to ‘evacuate the women, the children and the old immediately, and send them to a safe heaven’. The vans announced that the Haganah had gained control of all the approaches to the city…
Morris calls these “psychological warfare broadcasts” designed to “stun” and cause “demoralization” of the enemy population. The tactic worked, with terror-stricken Palestinians fleeing from their homes and villages en masse.
There is thus a continuity in Israel’s terror tactics, hardly something for pro-Israeli apologists to boast about. The thing that makes Israelis somewhat unique is that they don’t stick to justifying their tactics, but go so far as to make outlandish claims such as being The Most Moral Army in the World™. This is a sort of jingle that Israel’s propagandists hope will stick in our heads if they just keep repeating it often enough. A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.
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Zionists seem to think that they can bomb a city with impunity once they’ve warned its inhabitants beforehand. Certainly, this is the dominant theme in Religious Zionist circles. In an entitled Purity of Arms, the Jerusalem Post documents the views of the “the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis” who think that “the IDF bears no moral responsibility” for civilian deaths in Gaza:
Most of the rabbis cited Maimonides (1135-1204), one of the most important halachic authorities in Jewish history, as proof that collateral damage, including civilian deaths, is permitted. Maimonides pointed out the obligation of a Jewish army to leave an enemy force an open route to retreat, even in an obligatory war like the one waged in the North. “Whoever wishes to escape must be allowed to escape… whoever wishes to make peace can make peace… whoever wishes to fight… is attacked until conquest is achieved,” writes Maimonides in his Laws of Kings. Maimonides’ ruling fits the IDF’s policy of forewarning civilian populations of air attacks, thus giving them the chance to escape. However, once noncombatants have been warned, the IDF bears no moral responsibility for their lives if they are unintentionally killed along with terrorists, arms and ammunition stockpiles, according to Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitz, head of the Birkat Moshe Hesder Yeshiva and an expert on Maimonides. This is true, says Rabinovitz, even when the civilians are held against their will by Hizbullah, as was the case in many incidents, especially in predominantly Christian Lebanese neighborhoods. “It is Hizbullah’s fault if these people are killed, not ours,” says Rabinovitz, echoing the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis.
Previously, we saw how such views were espoused in War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, written by the leading Orthodox Jewish minds around the world. Here, we see that this views are “echo[ed] by the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis” in Israel.
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As I stated previously:
To be fair, Israeli apologists from “liberal, secular” Judaism voice similar ideas. Case in point: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s greatest defenders from the “liberal, secular” spectrum of the Jewish faith. Dershowitz is credited as being “Israel’s single most visible defender” and “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”
Prof. Alan Dershwoitz justifies ethnic cleansing in his book Chutzpah. Norman Finkelstein writes on p.47 of Beyond Chutzpah:
Dershowitz explicitly lends support to….collective punishment such as the “automatic destruction” of a Palestinian village after each terrorist attack (“home destruction is entirely moral…among the most moral and calibrated responses”); torture such as a “needle being shoved under the fingernails” (“I want maximal pain…the most excruciating, intense, immediate pain”); and ethnic cleansing (“Political solutions often require the movement of people, and such movement is not always voluntary…[I]t is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many respects to some massive urban renewal”).
Did Finkelstein take the statement out of context, as Dershowitz later claimed? In fact, when we look at the entire passage, it is more damning against Dershowitz. The self-professed “civil libertarian and human rights activist” Alan Dershowitz writes on p.215 of Chutzpah:
Political solutions often require the movement of people, and such movement is not always voluntary. Making Arab families move–intact–from one Arab village or town to another may constitute a human rights violation. But in the whole spectrum of human rights issues–especially taking into account the events in Europe during the 1940s–it is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many respects to some massive urban renewal or other projects that require large-scale movement of people.
As can be seen, Finkelstein faithfully reproduced Dershowitz’s words. Dershowitz responded by whining:
Another made-up quotation by Finkelstein is his claim that in my book Chutzpah I analogized “ethnic cleansings” to “urban renewal.” I say nothing of the kind in Chutzpah. I never even mention “ethnic cleansing.”
Dershowitz’s only response amounts to: But, I didn’t use the word “ethnic cleansing!” It would be like someone endorsing Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers, only to protest when someone else “accused” him of supporting the Holocaust. But I never used the word “Holocaust.”
Is the esteemed Harvard law professor ignorant of the meaning of the word “ethnic cleansing?” The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, a body established by the United Nations, states: “ethnic cleansing alone—that is, the forcible expulsion of the members of a protected group…”
Therefore, when Alan Dershowitz says that it wouldn’t be a big deal to “make Arab families move–intact–from one village or town to another” (which he clarifies would “not always [be] voluntary”), this is the justification of ethnic cleansing. Dershowitz focusing on the words “ethnic cleansing” instead of the concept shows how hollow his response against Finkelstein is.
That Dershowitz is referring to nothing short of ethnic cleansing can be ascertained without a shadow of doubt from his next few paragraphs, in which he not only references other acts of ethnic cleansing, but tries to justify them (in order that he can then justify the
ethnic cleansing “forced transfer” of Palestinians); writes Dershowitz on p.216:
For example, following the end of World War II, approximately fifteen million ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from their homes in Poland, Czechoslavakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and other Central and Eastern European areas where their families had lived for centuries. Two million died during this forced expulsion. Czechoslovakia alone expelled nearly three million Sudeten Germans, turning them into displaced persons. The United States, Great Britain, and the international community in general approved these expulsions, as necessary to secure a more lasting peace. The presence of “disloyal minorities,” or so-called fifth columns, had helped to destabilize Europe on the eve of World War II. It would be a source of increased stability if “population transfers” could produce a new Europe where Germans lived only in the two Germanies and other nations had populations that reflected their own ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. President Franklin Roosevelt’s assistant Harry Hopkins memorialized his boss’s view that although transfer of ethnic Germans “is a hard procedure,” it is the only way to maintain peace.”
The words in bold are the quintessential reasoning behind ethnic cleansing: using “population transfers” to purify the land of ethnic minorities would increase Europe’s stability and get rid of “fifth columns.” Dershowitz goes on, justifying the “forced transfer” of “fifteen million ethnic Germans” (one wonders how the pro-Israel community would react if a German justified the ethnic cleansing of “fifteen million ethnic Jews”–do you think that such a person would still be the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University?). Writes Dershowitz:
The ethnic German populations of these European countries had included individual traitors, saboteurs, and fifth columnists. But they had also included significant numbers of simple farmers, factory workers, and apolitical people who just happened to speak German and live in German enclaves. But since “their people” had started the war and then lost, it was deemed appropriate for entire ethnic German communities to bear the burden of relocation in order to reduce the likelihood of future wars. On the scale of human rights violations, forced transfer of minority ethnic populations in order to enhance the stability of the region did not weigh heavily in the postwar era.
After justifying the forced expulsion of fifteen million ethnic Germans because “their people” had started the war, Dershowitz writes:
Similarly, many Arab residents of the new Jewish nation of Israel were encouraged to emigrate to Islamic countries by a combination of factors, including fear, a desire to live under Islamic rule, and political considerations.*
The exchange of populations in the Middle East served some of the same goals as the far more extensive, lethal, and systematic one that was taking place in Europe. It would remove potential fifth columns, stabilize the region, and enhance the prospects for peace.
* In assessing the morality of these transfers, it must be recalled that many Palestinian leaders supported Hitler during World War II. They also actively and successfully opposed opening the doors of Palestine to Jewish immigration during the Holocaust. They were not–as is sometimes claimed–entirely innocent bystanders to the Holocaust. They bear some moral responsibility.
There are too many lies above to refute, but for now, let us lay to rest the issue of whether or not Alan Dershowitz is justifying the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. But I didn’t use the word “ethnic cleansing!”
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The support for ethnic cleansing runs very high among Zionist Jews, especially among Religious Zionists but also voiced by “liberal, secular” elements of the Zionist community (such as Alan Dershowitz). Indeed, according to a survey conducted by Haifa University’s Center for the Study of National Security a majority of Israeli Jews support a policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, with a quarter saying they would consider voting for the Kahanist party Kach, known for its vocal support of ethnic cleansing as a resolution to the conflict.
As we have seen, Jewish law and war ethics permit shedding the blood of civilians who directly and indirectly “support and encourage” the war effort (even if just by “mere words”), as well as those civilians–women, children, and babies included–who passively support hostilities. “Passive” support refers to the mere act of living in the same city as a terrorist or militant. “Even babes in their mothers’ arms are to be killed” (these are the words of Rabbi Michael J. Broyde who was quoting, and agreeing with, Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel on p.24 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition). This is the Zionist Jewish justification for collective punishment.
Collective punishment is taken to its logical conclusion, with the endorsement of ethnic cleansing. Besieged civilians who “refuse” to leave the city (such as the stubborn “babes in their mothers’ arms”) are licit to kill. It seems then that, under Jewish law, the only type of civilian that is protected from harm or death–and this too is something debatable–is the one who flees his homeland. Everyone else can be slaughtered. In other words, Halakha offers the enemy civilian population two options: flee or die. The choice is between ethnic cleansing and massacre. Pick your poison.
Note: The next part of this series will be published shortly.