April 3, 2009


Published March 25, 2009, issue of April 03, 2009.
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Lerner’s Devotion, in Sickness and in Health

I write to protest your article on Michael Lerner’s cancer and the way I was quoted in it (“Tikkun’s Founder: ‘I Have Cancer,’ Give to My Cause,” March 13).

In my interview, I said that Lerner’s e-mail announcing his diagnosis and urging people to donate to the Network of Spiritual Progressives should not be interpreted as self-promotion. On the contrary, given Lerner’s passionate commitments, it made perfect sense that the best gesture people could make in response to his illness was to support his life’s work. I never intended my comments as a criticism, which is how they could be interpreted out of context.

Say what you will about Michael Lerner, he has devoted his life to the Jewish people and to its relationship to all humanity.

David Biale
Berkeley, Calif.

What Amnesty Means By ‘Indiscriminate’

I would like to clarify several points regarding Amnesty International’s report about the conflict in Gaza in response to criticisms that have been leveled against it by, among others, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, as quoted in your March 6 news article, “Amnesty Report Adds to Calls for Arms Embargo of Israel and Hamas,” and Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress, in his March 13 opinion article “Amnesty’s War on the Law of War.”

As your news article made clear, Amnesty International was critical of specific military practices of both Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces. Amnesty’s report noted that the IDF deployed white phosphorus in densely populated areas of Gaza, and while this weapon is legal, its use against civilians or even military personnel is expressly forbidden, as is its indiscriminate use.

White phosphorus is to be used solely to obscure troop movements. There can be no military utility in dropping white phosphorus over a densely populated civilian area, which the IDF did. The serial numbers on the white phosphorus artillery carrier shells that Amnesty International researchers found in Gaza identified the shells as American made. The IDF initially denied using white phosphorus and then later acknowledged it did so “according to international law.” But neither the IDF nor its defenders have addressed why white phosphorus was used in populated areas in a manner sure to harm civilians.

Amnesty International’s report also highlighted Israel’s use of flechette shells, which release thousands of metal darts. The researchers found these darts in civilian neighborhoods where they contributed to heavy casualties suffered by unarmed civilians.

Firing such weapons, as well as artillery shells and mortars, into densely populated residential areas has little to do with self-defense. That is why the report characterized Israel’s use of force as disproportionate and indiscriminate. At the same time high precision munitions, including air-delivered bombs and missiles, also identified from their serial numbers as American made, were used against unarmed civilians, killing and wounding many.

Amnesty International is calling for a cessation of arms supplies to Israel and to Hamas because national laws and international treaties governing the sale and transfer of weapons require effective oversight by those supplying the arms to ensure they are not misused. Amnesty International also called for a halt to any arms transfers until there is a reliable mechanism to prevent the misuse of arms and relevant authorities allow an independent and impartial investigation into abuses of human rights and international law, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

In recent years, Amnesty International supported arms embargoes on Myanmar, Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chad, Burundi, Angola and Zimbabwe. Israel is one of the world’s top weapons producers and exporters; assertions that an arms embargo would leave Israel defenseless — as Foxman suggested — are not credible. Israel has every right to defend itself and protect its citizens. But it also must avoid civilian casualties in good faith and abide by established rules of war.

Joshua Rubenstein
Northeast Regional Director
Amnesty International USA
Somerville, Mass.

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