Israel, Gaza and the Double Standard

Monday, January 26, 2009

Israel, Gaza and the Double Standard
By Lanny Davis

(Editors' note: Mr. Davis is an unpaid adviser and spokesman for the Israel Project, a group that advocates for a secure Israel in the media around the world. Mr. Davis' views are his own.)

The appointment by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of former Sen. George Mitchell as a special envoy to facilitate a successful Middle East peace process is good news. But to make progress, they will first have to declare war and win victory over the double standard that is hypocritically applied to Israel, as most recently seen during and after the Gaza intervention.

I support - with certain preconditions met - a two-state solution, as did Presidents Clinton and Bush and Israeli governments over the past 10 years. But there can be no two-state solution unless there is a single standard in judging Israel versus the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists: Israel must have the right of self-defense against the terrorists who launch rockets intentionally to kill their civilians. And there is no "proportionality" principle when it comes to defense against terrorism. It's that simple - applicable to the United States or any other state attacked by terrorists, including Israel.

First, a few indisputable and documented facts that demonstrate how insidiously the double standard against Israel operated during and in the aftermath of the Gazan intervention:

- Israel withdrew all its military forces from Gaza in 2005 and, since that withdrawal, Hamas launched more than 8,000 rockets intentionally aimed at civilians in southern Israel. Thus, every launched rocket aimed at civilians is a war crime. Yet few, if any, human rights groups or U.N. leaders since the Gaza intervention have called for Hamas to be tried for war crimes.

- Hamas used civilians and civilian locations in Gaza - schools, hospitals, and residential complexes - as shields behind which they launched their terrorist rockets. That, too, is indisputably a war crime. Hezbollah did the same thing from Lebanon. Yet again, there is only silence about Hamas and Hezbollah being prosecuted for war crimes.

- Iran funds and supplies terrorist weapons to both Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet nations of Western Europe, many of which were the locations of recent street protests calling for prosecution of Israel for war crimes, have been active in trade and commerce with Iran and seem strangely silent about criticizing Iran's funding of Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism.

- It is a documented fact that Israeli Defense Forces continually tried to prevent civilian casualties while still defending themselves from these terrorist attacks. They sent tens of thousands of text messages and cellular phone calls to Gazans - to warn civilians to evacuate areas used by Hamas for launching rockets; they called off attacks when they saw Hamas pushing women and children up front as shields; and they used targeted weapons and "smart" bombs to avoid civilian casualties as best as they could. Yet when the IDF's weapons unintentionally caused civilian deaths, leaders of the United Nations and "human rights" groups call for war crimes investigations. And there are few, if any, counter voices challenging the United Nations to at least to even-handed, including the secretary general, who has not been hesitant to criticize Israel, and demanding war crimes investigations of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Then there is the accusation that Israel committed war crimes by using "excessive" force and causing "disproportionate" civilian deaths compared with the number of Israelis who died because of Hamas rockets.

What would have been the reaction of most Americans (or most of the civilized world, for that matter) if someone had made the charge that the U.S. and its military forces were guilty of war crimes after Sept. 11, 2001, because, while bombing al Qaeda and the Taliban government harboring them in Afghanistan, "excessive" numbers of civilians were tragically but inadvertently killed - because the number killed exceeded the 3,000 people who died on 9/11?

I suggest the reaction would have been, universally, "that is nuts."

Yet where is that universal reaction when the same charge of "excessive" or "disproportional" force is made against Israel in defending itself against Hamas and civilian deaths are unintentional too? Only silence, it seems.

The double standard ... again.

When the IDF returned Hamas rocket fire launched in close proximity to a U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school compound in Jibalya, some IDF shells mistakenly landed within the compound and tragically killed and wounded innocent civilians and children. The Israeli government expressed sorrow and grief for that accident and initiated an investigation into what happened and why.

But a UNRWA spokesperson named Christopher Gunness was widely quoted in leading U.S. media as calling for an investigation of Israel for committing possible war crimes.

Mr. Gunness actually insisted - I am not making this up - that there is an important distinction between Hamas fighters launching terrorist rockets from just within the compound, which could not be confirmed, versus launching such rockets from just outside of the compound, which was widely confirmed as true. So because Hamas was launching just outside the fence, Mr. Gunness did not think it necessary to call for an investigation of Hamas for committing war crimes.

That's more than a double standard. It is gross hypocrisy - supported by hundreds of millions of U.S. tax dollars in a non-transparent, largely unaccountable U.N. agency. Legislation is being considered in the Congress to bring more transparency and accountability for UNRWA. That is long overdue.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who may be the next prime minister of Israel, summarized the situation up very well when he told the Wall Street Journal over the weekend: "We grieve every child, for every innocent civilian that´s killed either on our side or on the Palestinian side. The terrorists celebrate such suffering, on our side because the openly say they want to kill us, all of us, and on the Palestinian side because it helps them foster this false symmetry, which is contrary to common decency and international law."

Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Mitchell will need to devote much attention and effort and apply all their skills and energy to bring about peace in the Middle East. But if they are to have any chance at all, the world´s leaders must abandon the double standard and apply a single standard of justice and fair play to Israel as they would want applied to themselves and other civilized nations.

Only then will those committed to peace in the Middle East have a chance to isolate the terrorists who celebrate death, not life, and who intentionally kill innocent civilians, and those in Teheran who fund and supply them.

Lanny Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton, served as a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board from 2006 to 2007. He is the author of "Scandal: How 'Gotcha' Politics Is Destroying America." This article appeared in The Washington Times on Monday, January 26, 2009.