Analysis from Israel

Here’s a news item certain to be ignored by every human rights organization, every UN agency, and every country that backed the Goldstone Report: almost two years after the war in Gaza ended, no less a person than Hamas’s interior minister has finally admitted that Israel was right all along about the casualties — the vast majority were combatants, not civilians.

The first crucial admission in Fathi Hammad’s interview with the London-based Al-Hayat is that the 250 policemen Israel killed on the war’s first day by bombing their station were indeed combatants, just as Israel claimed. Human rights organizations have repeatedly labeled this raid a deliberate slaughter of civilian police tasked solely with preserving law and order, dismissing Israel’s contention that these policemen functioned as an auxiliary Hamas army unit. But here’s what Hamas’s own interior minister says:

On the first day of the war, Israel targeted police stations and 250 martyrs who were part of Hamas and the various factions fell.

In short, just as Israel claimed, many of these policemen belonged to Hamas, while the remainder belonged to other “factions” — the standard Palestinian euphemism for their various armed militias.

In addition, Hammad said, “about 200 to 300 were killed from the Qassam Brigades, as well as 150 security personnel.” The Qassam Brigades are Hamas’s main fighting force.

Combining the higher of Hammad’s estimates for the Qassam Brigades, 300, with the 150 “security personnel” and the 250 policemen brings the total number of combatants killed by Israel to 700. Add in the fact that Israel also killed combatants from other organizations, like Islamic Jihad, and you’re already above the 709 people the Israel Defense Forces said it had definitely identified as combatants — that is, some of the 162 whose status the IDF couldn’t determine were (as it suspected) also combatants. Based on the IDF’s total casualty figure of 1,166, that means at least 61 percent of the Palestinian fatalities were combatants, and quite possibly more.

Nor does taking the lower estimate, 200, alter the results significantly: that gives a total of 600 combatants, which, assuming some from other organizations as well, brings you quite close to the IDF’s figure of 709.

And of course, even the lower estimate gives you almost double the 349 combatants cited by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

So why did Hamas lie about its casualties for almost two years? Because in Hammad’s world, that’s simply standard practice. That’s why he also insisted in the interview that Israel really suffered 50 wartime fatalities, though it “acknowledged only 12”: he can’t conceive of a party to a conflict actually reporting its losses accurately.

But however belatedly, Hamas has now confirmed that most of the war’s casualties were indeed combatants rather than civilians, just as Israel always claimed. So now all that’s needed is a humble apology from all the individuals and organizations that have spent the past two years slanderously accusing Israel of the wholesale slaughter of civilians.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Subscribe to Evelyn’s Mailing List

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.

Read more