Analysis from Israel

Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian-Jordanian now living in Britain, has collected and published some truly shocking testimony from Gaza residents about Hamas’s behavior during this summer’s war with Israel. All his interviewees insisted on remaining anonymous, and it’s easy to understand why: They accuse Hamas of deliberately creating hundreds of civilian casualties by forcing civilians to stay in places Israel had warned it was going to bomb.

Here, for instance, is the testimony of S., a medical worker:

The Israeli army sends warnings to people [Gazans] to evacuate buildings before an attack. The Israelis either call or send a text message. Sometimes they call several times to make sure everyone has been evacuated. Hamas’s strict policy, though, was not to allow us to evacuate. Many people got killed, locked inside their homes by Hamas militants. Hamas’s official Al-Quds TV regularly issued warnings to Gazans not to evacuate their homes. Hamas militants would block the exits to the places residents were asked to evacuate. In the Shijaiya area, people received warnings from the Israelis and tried to evacuate the area, but Hamas militants blocked the exits and ordered people to return to their homes. Some of the people had no choice but to run towards the Israelis and ask for protection for their families. Hamas shot some of those people as they were running; the rest were forced to return to their homes and get bombed. This is how the Shijaiya massacre happened. More than 100 people were killed.

And here’s K., a graduate student at an Egyptian university who was visiting his family in Gaza this summer: “When people stopped listening to Hamas orders not to evacuate and began leaving their homes anyway, Hamas imposed a curfew: anyone walking out in the street was shot without being asked any questions. That way Hamas made sure people had to stay in their homes even if they were about to get bombed.”

And H., who lost his leg in an Israeli bombing: “My father received a text-message from the Israeli army warning him that our area was going to be bombed, and Hamas prevented us from leaving. They said there was a curfew. A curfew, can you believe that?”

T., a former (and evidently disenchanted) Hamas government official, explained the policy’s rationale:

Some people say Hamas wants civilians killed in order to gain global sympathy, but I believe this is not the main reason. I think the reason is that if all the people were allowed to evacuate their homes, they all would have ended up in a certain area in Gaza. If that happened, it would have made the rest of Gaza empty of civilians, and the Israelis would have been able to hit Hamas without worrying about civilians in all those empty areas. Hamas wanted civilians all over the place to confuse the Israelis and make their operations more difficult.

Nor is this the only crime of which Zahran’s interviewees accused Hamas. For instance, three different people–two aid workers and an imam–said Hamas stole humanitarian aid and either kept it for its own people or sold it to ordinary Gazans for exorbitant prices.

Altogether, Zahran interviewed more than 20 Gazans, all of whom had shocking things to say. That doesn’t guarantee that their stories are true. Palestinians frequently fabricate atrocity tales about Israel (see, for instance, the Jenin massacre that wasn’t, or the perennial favorite about Israel trying to turn Palestinians into drug addicts), so there’s no reason to think anti-Hamas Palestinians aren’t equally capable of fabricating atrocity tales about Hamas.

Moreover, the interviewees were clearly terrified of Hamas, so it wouldn’t be easy to get them to talk to the international media (which generally relies on either Hamas-approved fixers or local stringers), UN workers (many of whom are openly affiliated with Hamas), or human-rights organizations (which, like the media, generally rely on local investigators). Still, given how many crocodile tears the media, the UN, and human-rights groups have shed over alleged Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza, one would think they could spare some time and effort to investigate alleged Hamas war crimes against its own people.

That they haven’t merely confirms, once again, two basic truths: First, these self-proclaimed moral arbiters care very little about human rights unless Israel can be blamed. And second, they’re fundamentally lazy: They’ll always prefer the easy route of collecting “testimony” against Israel, which Gaza residents can give without fear of consequences, to the hard work of digging for information about the abuses of a terrorist government that tortures and kills anyone who dares speak against it.

Originally published in Commentary 

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Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

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