Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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November 9, 2006

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In-Depth Issues:

Wounded from Gaza Shelling Taken to Israeli Hospital - Meital Yasur Beit-Or (Ynet News)
    Magen David Adom ambulances on Wednesday evacuated two Palestinians who were seriously injured in Beit Hanoun to Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center for treatment.

UN to Hold Special Session on Gaza Deaths - Tovah Lazaroff (Jerusalem Post)
    The UN Security Council planned to hold a special public session on the Beit Hanoun incident on Thursday. However, Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman said he believed the condemnations would be short-lived:
    "This is not a watershed moment. People realize that Israel is at the forefront of the war against terror that is being fought all over the world." The international community, he said, was wise enough to understand that "this is an isolated, horrible mistake."
    "These condemnations are part of a great misunderstanding around the world about what is happening," he said.
    When Israel left Gaza 15 months ago with no intention of returning, the Palestinians could have chosen to stop terrorizing Israel and to focus on managing their own affairs. Instead they continued to fire rockets into southern Israel, launching 300 rockets in the last month.

Terrorists Involved in West Bank Rocket Launching Killed (IMRA/IDF Spokesperson)
    In an IDF operation Wednesday in Al Yamun, north of Jenin, five Palestinian gunmen were killed and three wanted Palestinians were arrested.
    Two of the gunmen killed were part of the terrorist infrastructure working to develop the ability to launch rockets from the West Bank.
    Taher Abahra, 29, a member of the Fatah-Tanzim, took responsibility for two attempts to launch rockets toward the Israeli community of Ram On.
    Mahmud Abu Hassan, 28, was also known for his involvement in the production of rockets.

Somerville Voters Reject Israel Divestment (Somerville [MA] Journal)
    When Somerville, Mass., voters went to the polls Tuesday, they were asked to vote on a resolution seeking the state's divestment from Israel and all those supplying military equipment to Israel.
    The results: Somerville voters rejected divestment from Israel by 59% to 27%.

Israel Hosts UN Forum on Desertification - Jason Taitz (Jerusalem Post)
    This week, Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba is hosting a major UN forum in Israel on desertification.
    Prof. Alon Tal of the university's Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research said Tuesday that desertification currently affects some 400 million people around the world.
    "Israel has much to offer the international community on desertification, which is an international scourge, and developing countries look to us for leadership."
    Among the participants from over 30 countries are delegates from Jordan and the PA.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Hamas Calls on Muslims to Attack American Targets
    Hamas' military wing on Wednesday called on Muslims around the world to attack American targets after a deadly Israeli strike in Gaza. "America is offering political, financial, and logistic cover for the Zionist occupation crimes, and it is responsible for the Beit Hanoun massacre. Therefore, the people and the nation all over the globe are required to teach the American enemy tough lessons," Hamas said in a statement. (AP/International Herald Tribune)
        See also Statement by President Bush on Gaza Incident (White House)
  • Terminate Mandate of UN Special Committee, Israel Urges
    The mandate of the Special Committee that investigates Israel's practices in occupied Arab lands should be terminated "once and for all," Israeli representative Ran Gidor told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. Describing the Special Committee's work as "utterly divorced from reality," he said the only effect of the "absurd, indeed, shameful, waste of resources" was to undermine the credibility of the UN as a relevant and serious player in global politics.
        He said the election of a Hamas leadership had escalated Gaza-based terrorist activities. Palestinian leaders, rather than heeding the Quartet's calls to commit to non-violence, had consolidated terrorist links with Syria and Iran.
        He described the Division for Palestinian Rights and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People as redundant bodies and "anti-Israel propaganda apparatuses." Israel urged the Palestinians to stop wasting their efforts on futile diplomatic maneuvers and concentrate on the only possible way to emerge from the current situation: ending terror, accepting all existing agreements, and reopening direct peace talks with Israel. (ReliefWeb/United Nations)
  • At the UN, Discord Over Confronting Iran's Nuclear Ambitions - Warren Hoge
    A meeting of six nations working on a resolution to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions broke up Tuesday with the ambassadors reporting widening disagreements and lessening prospects of a swift accord. Wang Guangya, the ambassador of China, said, "Clearly, I think in a number of difficult areas that the differences cannot be bridged." (New York Times)
        See also Iranian Ayatollah Stands Firm on Nukes - Nasser Karimi
    Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei said Wednesday his country would continue to acquire nuclear technology. (AP/Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • IDF: Shells Were Aimed 500 Meters from Houses in Beit Hanoun - Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff, and Aluf Benn
    An initial Israel Defense Forces investigation has found that the artillery shells that killed 19 Palestinians in northern Gaza on Wednesday were "aimed 500 meters away from where [they] hit," head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, told Israel Channel 2 television. "Our estimate is that it was something connected with the aiming devices, or the alignment, or the balance between them, or our radar's location of the shell hit....Our investigation is concentrating on these points." Galant defended the shelling, saying: "Israel's citizens don't know how many times artillery fire has prevented Kassam [rocket] launches. When you fire at the launching area two or three hours in advance, there is a good chance of preventing the Kassam fire."
        On Tuesday, four new and improved Kassam rockets were fired at Ashkelon from an area north of Beit Hanoun. Later the IDF obtained intelligence that Hamas intended to fire more of the new-model rockets at Ashkelon Wednesday morning, apparently from the same site - which was chosen because it is not visible from any IDF lookout post. (Ha'aretz)
  • Airstrike Kills Senior Hamas Leader - Josh Brannon
    Two Hamas operatives were killed and four others wounded when the IDF opened fire on a Kassam rocket-firing cell in northern Gaza on Wednesday. Ahmed Awad, the head of Hamas' Kassam rocket firing unit, was killed along with another Hamas operative when missiles struck their car.
        Israel was placed on high security alert Wednesday after the shelling in Beit Hanoun. Security officials said they had intelligence of four specific terror cells with explosives seeking to strike inside Israel, as well as 14 more general threats of terror cells in the final stages of preparations.
        Palestinians in northern Gaza launched 11 Kassam rockets at Israeli borderline communities. One rocket slammed into a central Sderot street, spraying shrapnel that injured one man and heavily damaged nearby shops. Another Palestinian rocket struck south of Ashkelon, igniting a large fire. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues Thursday - Shmulik Hadad
    Palestinians in Gaza fired three Kassam rockets Thursday morning at Israel. One rocket landed in the town of Sderot near a public institution, damaging the building and several cars. (Ynet News)
  • Some Israeli Children Can't Remember Life Without Kassam Rockets Falling - Miri Chason
    To the children of Sderot and the western Negev, life in the shadow of Kassam rockets fired at them by Palestinians has been a traumatic experience for a long time. Some even told the Committee for Children's' Rights Tuesday that they don't remember life without them. "We have no normal life. We never know what will happen the next hour when Kassams fall; we are not only afraid for ourselves, but also for our families. It's traumatic to think that someone close to us will get hurt. It's just terrible," said Bar, who testified before the committee. "I have a hard time concentrating in school, and the Kassams affect my entire life," said Niv. "Every time I want to do something, I give up because I think that the alarm will go off at any moment." (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • A Gunner's Nightmare - Steve Linde
    After serving in IDF Artillery, I can only say that this is every gunner's nightmare scenario: killing innocent men, women, and children. There's a key difference between Hamas and Hizballah fighters and Israel's. They intentionally fire rockets at civilian targets, hoping for maximum casualties and damage. We don't. The artillery troops who fired at Beit Hanoun weren't hoping to hit civilians. They were targeting terrorists firing rockets.
        What does the international community expect Israel to do if it is hit daily by rockets? Ignore them? Stop the rockets, and the artillery will stop, says the IDF. War is a dangerous game, and once you start firing rockets or guns, people will get hurt, and not always the people you plan to hurt. That's the sad fact, and no one feels good about it. The writer is managing editor of the Jerusalem Post. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Want to Win Media Game? Don't Apologize - Roee Mendel
    The difficult images broadcast on Wednesday from the accidental shelling of a residential house in Beit Hanoun shocked the world. According to Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, former Prime Minister Sharon's media adviser, Israel must deal with the Palestinians on the ground and in "the virtual front, the media front." "You must broadcast the images of the terror groups hiding their rockets and launching those rockets from those residential areas. The world doesn't see enough of those images."
        Zvi Mazel, Israel's former ambassador to Egypt and Sweden, is of the opinion that Israel mustn't apologize for Beit Hanoun. "The world must be told in the clearest manner that the responsibility lies solely with the terror organizations, which bring it on themselves." Mazel says that the world must understand that despite Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, the Palestinians continue to relentlessly launch Kassam rockets at Israeli towns with the intent to kill. "The world must understand that the lives of Israeli citizens have become hell - they can't work, they can't live, not to mention the economic damage." "Terror groups are committing crimes," he says. "We have nothing to apologize for - we are operating against an enemy which calls for our annihilation and that enemy forces us to fight in populated areas." (Ynet News)
  • Observations:

    How Should Israel Respond to War Crimes Accusations? - Dr. Avi Bell
    (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • It is legal for armed forces to make mistakes. It is not a war crime if after the fact one turns out to be wrong in believing that a house contains a combatant. If, as is inevitable, Israel made occasional mistakes in targeting, that is not a war crime.
    • The question of intent is crucial. If a belligerent attacks what it believes is a legitimate target, and it turns out after the fact that only civilians were killed, there is no war crime.
    • Hizballah committed war crimes in the recent war that far exceed in gravity and quantity all those Israel is accused of. Hizballah launched thousands of rocket and mortar attacks on northern Israel, deliberately targeting civilians in violation of the laws of war.
    • Hizballah still holds two Israeli prisoners of war incommunicado, without permitting access to the Red Cross, in violation of the laws of prisoners of war in the Third Geneva Convention. Hizballah combatants dressed as protected civilians, thereby committing illegal acts of perfidy. They carried out military operations from civilian areas in order to use protected persons as shields, another violation of the laws of war.
    • Under the laws of war, if a residential home serves as a base or a hiding place for combatants or a storehouse for weaponry, it is a legitimate military target. Thus, if one sees a residential home bombed, or even fifty bombed homes, this is not evidence per se of a war crime.
    • French President Jacques Chirac claimed that Israel's counterstrike on Lebanon was "totally disproportionate" to Hizballah's attack on Israel. Yet such a claim has no basis in international law. When states act in self-defense, in response to an armed attack, they may use as much force as necessary to achieve the military objective. Thus the U.S. could use as much force as it needed in order to topple the regime in Afghanistan; it did not need to limit itself to the amount of force used by al-Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks.

      The writer, of the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University, is currently a visiting professor at Fordham Law School. He specializes in international law, particularly the laws of war.

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