February 6, 2009

Don’t Blame Israel

I take issue with your January 30 article titled “Gazan Doctor’s Tragedy Opens Israelis’ Eyes to Palestinian Pain.” The article describes the unintended deaths of three children of Gazan physician Izzeldin Abuelaish when an Israeli shell hit his home. The article quotes an Israeli army spokesman saying the troops fired on this house because “they had come under attack from somewhere in the vicinity.”

As an American with Israeli citizenship, I believe the title and tone of this article are offensive to the informed mind. That sense is only strengthened by the fact that for many years I was an officer in the Israeli army. I, like all Israeli officers and soldiers, was critically aware of the rules of engagement. Specifically, there is a policy of going to great lengths to avoid harm to enemy civilians.

Your article fails to emphasize that it is Hamas, and only Hamas, at fault for these incidents. These incidents of civilian death play into their public relations efforts. Choosing to ignore Hamas’s behavior is reckless. Hamas forces entrench themselves in civilian homes and buildings. They reportedly placed their headquarters under a medical facility.

Your article claims that “Israelis are mostly inured to Palestinian suffering.” Having lived in Israel for almost 30 years, I believe that the vast majority, myself included, have no desire to see anyone on the Palestinian side suffer. But when it does occur, caution must be exercised to refrain from inferring the innocent are the guilty. And reason demands placing the blame where it belongs. On Hamas.

Trumped-Up Charges

I protest your treatment of the report of “allegations” made by human rights groups regarding the conduct of the war in Gaza by the Israeli army (“Israeli Rights Groups Detail Allegations of Army Abuse in Gaza,” January 23).

I agree the article should be printed. But stretching across three columns on the top of the front page? Was that really the Forward’s most important article?

I believe after all of the evidence is presented, Israel will have been shown to have gone above and beyond to protect innocent civilians. The Israeli army should be congratulated on its restraint.

Remember that Hamas had total disregard for Israel civilians, whom they targeted. They even timed their rocket attacks when children would be on the streets on their way to school. Hamas also totally disregarded the safety of their own civilians by firing rockets from areas where the retaliation would surely endanger innocents. And in fact there was evidence that they shot innocent civilians who were Fatah supporters during the war.

So, is that really the message you, as a Jewish newspaper, wanted on your headline?

A Resolution Misread

Your headline “Peace Groups Lose First Major Gaza Challenge on Capitol Hill” (January 16) is not accurate. Yes, the resolution expressed unequivocal support for Israel and targets Hamas. But several elements in the text would not have been there without the thousands of people who contacted Congress in response to the “Action Alert” organized by J Street and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and related efforts by many other peace-oriented groups.

These text elements included support for “the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” acknowledgement of the suffering on both sides and its call for a cease-fire “as soon as possible.” The wording of the resolution emerged from a complicated give-and-take in Congress. J Street, Brit Tzedek and their allies have taken a significant step toward making Congress more responsive to the whole Jewish community.

Let’s rise beyond “lose” and “win” headlines. Sadly, Israel is at the lowest point ever in its relations with the rest of the world. To rebuild relationships Israel will need the help, ingenuity, tenacity and caring of all those concerned about its future, whether labeled “hawks” or “doves.”

Ungenerous Appraisal

I am appalled by Denis Goldberg’s graceless “appraisal” of Helen Suzman’s long career (“Appraisal: Suzman’s Courage Failed Her,” January 16).

Suzman was the only voice of reason in apartheid South Africa’s parliament, yet Goldberg claims that her mighty struggles actually “prolonged our struggle for liberation and caused serious loss of life.”

Day after day, year after year, Suzman withstood an unending barrage of scorn poured on her inside and outside parliament, sometimes on the level of a junior high cafeteria, often for her mere existence as a Jew and as a woman. Both conditions were enough, but she had the effrontery to be in parliament. Doubtless the voters of Houghton were weak-kneed, but in the privacy of the voting booth they did make one small potch against the government by returning her to her seat, repeatedly.

The effectiveness of sanctions — which Suzman opposed — continues to be debated, both as they have worked in history and as a tactic for the future. But it seems clear to me that any “prolonging” of the struggle in South Africa owes more to the actions of those individuals, including Goldberg and others, that terrified whites into supporting the apartheid regime even when it went against their instincts.

Was Suzman perfect? No. But how could she have been? She was only a human being, like all of us, and, therefore, imperfect. But that is all the more reason to honor her at her passing. She was truly a woman of valor.

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February 6, 2009

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