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Profs Talk About Gaza

As you may have heard, there’s a bit of a to-do in Gaza right now. Being an utterly uncontroversial source for Israel-Palestine conflict analysis, Columbia hasn’t been able to keep its name out of the media, with several professors offering their thoughts on the latest clash. Some samples:

Bwog of course takes no position on the conflict, but, given that students held a vigil for Gaza when there wasn’t a full scale invasion going on, we suspect it might become a flashpoint when school resumes. Call it a hunch. (Photo by the Associated Press)

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  • I am not Alan Dershowitz says:

    @I am not Alan Dershowitz For the record, what I wrote in post #31 was my own work. My own analysis. I have not written anything that can be read online, other than the above post (but thanks for the encouragement!).

    In short, I am not Alan Dershowitz. Just wanted to make that clear :).

  • to #23 says:

    @to #23 #23,

    Do you seriously think that only “nitpicky” objections can be raised to your opinion?

    1) The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about far more than the quality of life in Gaza. It is a conflict that began at the turn of the 19th century, came to a head in 1948, and has been progressively downhill since. It encompasses religion, regional politics, self-determination, nationality, property rights, and yes, economic concerns. I entirely agree that Palestinian poverty breeds radicalism and is a stumbling block towards peace. However, it is far from the only issue on the table. Aid and long-term sustainable economic viability for the Palestinians, though necessary, is not a panacea for the conflict.

    2) Your solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to snap your heals and make nationality disappear? Good luck convincing Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, and the Lebanese (to name a few) to peacefully dissolve their national grievances and aspirations and embrace your immensely practical and time-proven sustainable future. After all, the people of the Middle East are so uniform that they would have no trouble coexisting if only those pesky nation-states weren’t in the way.

    If peace is ever to come, it will be within the traditional framework of state actors and national identity. The Palestinians define themselves by their desire to found a state, and Israelis are dedicated to maintaining the existence and health of theirs.

    3) “OF COURSE a splinter group of a organization that supplies basic support to impoverished Palestinians resorts to violence.”

    Excuse me?
    Hamas is not an aid organization. Its military apparatus is the driving reason for its existence–the humanitarian aid and educational programs it instituted are periphery programs geared towards gaining support among the populace–with the immediate aim of bolstering recruiting and spreading its brand of religious militarism. Hamas is defined by its unwavering dedication to conflict—it is not a moderate organization.

    As a side note, do you want to know why Gaza is under such a crippling aid “embargo?” It is because of Hamas. The Palestinian Authority never had a functional economy, and operated primarily on the basis of direct aid donations on the part of the U.S. and Europe. However, the majority of aid programs were created with the stipulation that the aid was conditional on the Palestinian Authority’s dedication to peace and acceptance of Israel, as established in the Oslo Accords. When Hamas came to power, and categorically refused to recognize a peace process, Israel, or the Oslo Accords, they failed to meet the conditions for direct aid. In addition, their longstanding identity as a terrorist organization precludes the E.U. and U.S. from legally donating money. The situation in Gaza is not collective punishment—it is the result of the fact that international community cannot conscionably give aid to Hamas, who has seized the responsibility of administrating Gaza. The Palestinians have Hamas and its nihilistic dedication to perpetual war with Israel to thank for their increasing poverty. The P.A. under Fatah still receives aid in the West Bank.

    4) The violence that Hamas resorts to is NOT “defense.” It fails on the most basic level–it does not make the Palestinians safer. If I were the leader of the Palestinians, I would not “do the same thing.” I would not perpetuate self-destructive terror and violence in the name of hatred, while simultaneously rejecting the value or desirability of peace.

    5) “Hamas does not represent the mass of Palestinians anymore than Fred Phelps represents all Christians.” Not exactly. Hamas is the governing party of Gaza, and it rose to power through a 2005 election where it won 60% of the popular vote. Its popularity has since only increased. A more accurate statement would be “Hamas does not represent the mass of Palestinians any more than the American government represents all Americans.” But while all Americans may not be in agreement with our government, the government still assumes the responsibility of representing the American will and American interests in the world, and all Americans bear the consequences of its mistakes and blunders. Gazans are suffering because they’ve entrusted their government to violent radicals who place their populace’s well being far below their opposition to Israel’s existence.

    6) There is no one lesson of the Holocaust. But as invoking the Holocaust to make a point seems to be the fashion, here’s a good lesson ripe for the gleaning: international law is meaningless. It did not stop the Holocaust. Or Rwanda. Or Bosnia. It has done absolutely for Sudan and its dead, whose numbers reach well over 200,000 (the crisis in Sudan, incidentally, has never gotten anything near the media coverage as the current situation in Gaza has gotten in the past 10 days. Go Human Rights!). It certainly won’t be deterring Israeli-Palestinian violence anytime soon. It has no teeth.

    Ironically, you know what would give international law teeth? The Bush Doctrine. At least, as far as the Bush Doctrine refers to a policy of preemption and interventionism to depose dictators and governments who threaten the well-being of humanity and commit flagrant abuses of human rights, while simultaneously spreading stability and democratic values such as freedom of religion or minority rights to unstable regions of the world.

    Anyway, I agree with your point that the Palestinians need aid and long-term reconstruction for peace to exist, and that these things will breed stability and moderation. However, you ignore a lot of basic issues that continue to fuel the conflict, and your opinion of Hamas is divorced from reality. The fact is, so long as Israel continues to endure constant and significant short-term threats to its security, long-term remedies to the conflict will not have a chance to be implemented. What’s worse, the conditions that the long-term remedies are supposed to fix—the lack of trust between Israelis and Palestinians, Palestinian unemployment, illiteracy, hopelessness, radicalism, etc.—will continue to fuel short-term conflict.

    Substantial enough criticisms for you?

    1. impressed says:

      @impressed your analysis and interpretation of events is the most well thought out I’ve read on the internets! thanks!

      have you written any other stuff that can be read online?

      1. morearitcles says:


        What if Israel defended its citizens the way the British, the French, the Americans and the Russians did? When German rockets hit British cities during the World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill retaliated by bombing German cities, killing thousands of German civilians, and promised to continue until Germany’s unconditional surrender. The United States did the same following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The French did much worse in Algeria and the Russians showed no concern for civilian life in Chechnya or Georgia.

        The IDF, on the other hand, has gone to extraordinary lengths to minimize civilian casualties, despite the reality that Hamas deliberately fires its rockets from densely populated civilian areas and hides its rocket launchers in schools, hospitals and mosques.

        Every Hamas rocket attack against Israeli civilians – and there have been more than 6,500 of them since Israel ended its occupation of Gaza – is an armed attack against Israel under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which authorizes member nations to respond militarily to armed attacks against it.

        Under international law, Israel is entitled to do whatever it takes militarily to stop Hamas rockets from targeting its civilians. Every Hamas rocket has the potential to kill dozens of Israeli civilians. Recently one hit a school just hours after the principal dismissed the students, fearing such an attack. If the rocket had hit and killed hundreds of schoolchildren, would those who protest Israeli actions acknowledge that Israel would then have the right to respond? No country needs allow terrorists to play Russian roulette with the lives of its children.

        In fact, under international law, Israel has the right to declare all-out war against the Hamas-controlled government of Gaza. In an all-out war, there would be no obligation to provide humanitarian assistance, electricity or any other services to an enemy who had started the war by an armed attack.

        No one condemned Great Britain and the United States for the collateral damage it caused while trying to defeat those who attacked it during the second world war. Moreover, Germany did not deny the right of Great Britain or the United States to exist. The Hamas Charter not only denies Israel’s right to exist, it calls for the complete destruction of the Jewish state. Surely Israel has as much right to defend its citizens as did the United States and Great Britain.

        Why then is Israel singled out for such ferocious criticism?

        Indeed, the only reason Israel has not won overwhelming military victories in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza now, is that Israel has decided to engage in only limited and proportional military actions designed simply to stop the rocket attacks. Yet it is being condemned both for not winning a decisive victory and for killing too many civilians.

        Hamas has learned how to manipulate the media’s coverage of Israeli military actions. They deliberately fire their rockets from behind civilian shields in order to provoke Israel to respond and kill civilians. They are then ready to bring out the cameras to record and transmit every civilian death around the world.

        Well, not quite every civilian death. The day before Israel launched its air attack against Hamas, Hamas fired a rocket in the general direction of Sderot. The rocket fell short of its mark and landed in Gaza – killing two young Palestinian girls. Hamas, which imposes total censorship in Gaza, refused to allow cameras to record or transmit pictures of these dead Palestinian girls, because they were killed not by Israeli rockets, but rather by Palestinian rockets.

        The Hamas tactic is encouraged by selective condemnation of Israel. Such condemnation creates a win-win situation for Hamas terrorism. Every time they kill an Israeli civilian, they win; every time Israel kills a Palestinian civilian, Hamas also wins.

        The only way to defeat this cynical tactic is for the international community to place the blame squarely on Hamas for engaging in the double war crime of targeting Israeli civilians and using Palestinian civilians as human shields.

        Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, “The Case Against Israel’s Enemies.”

  • long term says:

    @long term Well, the question of what should be done in the long-term is not as simple as you suggest. Doing nothing would also lead to ever increasing violence. I know you’re not convinced of it at the moment, but it’s historically true. All that Hamas has ever been interested in, in any event, has been temporary truces to resupply and re-equip militarily. Funny thing. Last year, when Hamas and Fatah were fighting, and people all over the Arab world were lamenting the internecine bloodshed, some Gazans said that they preferred and wished for Israeli occupation.

  • ugh says:

    @ugh It’s so upsetting to hear these ridiculous, rabidly pro-Israel arguments. Does no one else see the same rhetoric being used by Israel that was touted by the Bush administration for the last 8 years?

    I have never been on either side of the Israel/Palestine conflict–until now. The complete absence of any quality of life in Gaza is the source of the violence and anger. And no amount of bombing will suppress that. OF COURSE a splinter group of a organization that supplies basic support to impoverished Palestinians resorts to violence. If we were in their shoes, we would do the same thing. But the violent sect of Hamas does not represent the mass of Palestinians anymore than Fred Phelps represents all Christians.

    Legally, you CANNOT punish an entire population of the transgressions of a group. If Hamas is using human shields, then UNDERMINE THEM WITH AID. IMPROVE THE CONDITIONS OF LIFE! Open society up and those who would commit violence have no leverage in their own communities.

    It’s so important to remember that the destruction we see in Gaza is not just the result of Israeli bombs–but of total economic terrorism by the state of Israel. Israel MUST improve conditions for the population before they can have ANY moral or legal argument for “self defense”.

    I am so sick of people thinking of themselves as their nationality. We are all humans and States are invented. I am so disappointed in my pro-Israel friends who slip so easily from cheering “Yes We Can” to supporting our ages’ apartheid. I am fearful for the future of humans if we cannot look past violence as a reactionary means of policy instead of sustainable and constructive relations.

    Again, I very honestly have never been on a side but you cannot have even a RUDIMENTARY understanding of sustainable politics and human rights and still support Israel’s actions.

    It looks like even the liberals have been swayed by the Bush doctrine. I wish we could have actually learned from the history of the holocaust. This is so sad.

    I know I’ll probably get a lot of nitpicky responses with some sob stories from either side. My answer: Grow up. It’s exactly that using of emotional rhetoric that justifies all shortsighted violence from States or non-state actors. You want peace? Don’t prepare for war. Prepare for a long, unsensational process of trust and local-to-local community building.

    1. so.. says:

      @so.. “It looks like even the liberals have been swayed by the Bush doctrine. I wish we could have actually learned from the history of the holocaust. This is so sad.”

      Yes, it is very sad indeed that you confuse the Bush Doctrine with something which happened more than half century before Bush became president.

      “Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?
      In what respect Charlie?”

    2. jokes? says:

      @jokes? So this is not picking a side?

      comparing Israel’s defense of its citizens from a constant barage of rocket fire to the holocaust is then balanced judgment?

      No wonder you are so pissed by the current situation when you are so completely warped by what is actually going on in real life instead of that fantasy of rainbows and butterflies residing in your imagination.

      You make it seem as though the Palestinians were eating cavier and playing cricket and then all of a sudden evil Israel came and decided to starve them and massacre them for good ole fun.

      Arghhh get a clue…

      Israel should let Hamas continue to terrorize its citizens or else there will never be peace…

      This seems to be the logical conclusion of your argument and the rest of the rabidly anti-Israel postings.

      Sharp thinking Columbians… I am so proud that such a fantastic education is being put to good use.

      Then again with professors like Joseph Massad it is little wonder.

  • DHI says:

    @DHI Stop trying to justify anyone in this.

  • (Humbled) Perspective says:

    @(Humbled) Perspective *the first sentence of the above paragraph should read “innocent civilians,” not “innocent violence.” Also, “The Israeli Army…” should be a new paragraph.

    Apparently, four years of a Columbia education still isn’t enough to prevent typos.

    More seriously, here’s hoping that both sides find eventual peace.

  • Perspective says:

    @Perspective This is not to say that Israel has a free license to commit violence against innocent violence. It doesn’t. But this is also not to say that any violence that kills civilians is unjustified. In any military operation, the danger posed to civilians has to be carefully weighed against the value of the intended military goal. This is what is meant by the notion of a “proportional response.” It is not a gruesome human calculus of “my dead vs. your dead,” as has often cropped up in major debates of the current situation. A proportional response can harm civilians. It can kill them. Proportionality depends not on an attack’s outcome, but on its intent and valuation. If Israel knows that, at any given time, a missile strike has an 60% chance of hitting its target without collateral damage, a 20% chance of killing civilians, and a 20% of killing civilians while hitting its intended target, and Israel has no better weapon in its arsenal, no way to tenably reduce risk, and that firing a missile significantly reduces Israeli civilians vulnerability to rocket fire (i.e. destroying a weapons cache, killing Hamas leadership, etc.)–Israel can legally and morally justify the firing of that missile. That civilians are at risk at all is the onus of Hamas, not Israel. The Israeli Army is not a band of misfits and sociopaths. It is a citizen army of a democratic nation, composed of very real, human, rational, and moral people. I do not think any other country, given a similar situation, could behave any differently, or with any greater efficacy. The U.S. Army, in Iraq and Afghanistan, has killed many civilians. Not because our army is made up of murderers, but because a battleground is a chaotic, hectic, and dangerous place; information is imperfect; and humans err. That a UN driver was killed is tragic, but not unexpected or altogether shocking. The morality of Israel’s actions should not ride on the predicable results of fog of war or the unavoidably high death toll of heavy urban combat.

    1. ... says:

      @... What is the goal of this operation? What does it achieve for Israel?

      Suppose that this operation destroyed Hamas (which it won’t but let’s suppose so). The injustices commited by Israel and all the pain and suffering will only work to create a new generation of Palestinians seeking revenge for the pain that they have suffered.

      No one wins in this war. Not Palestine. Not Israel. And anyone who says otherwise is only deluding themselves or has been deluded by others.

      1. Ugh2 says:

        @Ugh2 Thank you! Exactly.

      2. goals says:

        @goals It depends upon how it ends. If it ends with an arbitrarily timed cease-fire, without a change of leadership in the Strip and a reassertion of Israeli control over certain crossings and key areas, then it may not change very much. But if it is operationally pursued it to the end, criticisms notwithstanding, then it may make southern Israel livable again, and stop the steady progression of the lines of retreat toward Tel Aviv.

        1. ... says:

          @... Again, you ignore the long-term issues of what this violence will create. That was the point of my post.

          I’m not sure how this battle will end. In fact, I don’t think it really matters.

          But what I do know with certainty is that the children being born and raised in Gaza enduring this blockade and constant state of war will be filled with such hatred that it will make Hamas militants look like Freedom Riders. This will be a tragedy for Palestinians, Israelis, and all mankind.

          What goes around, comes around.

  • Perspective says:

    @Perspective There is a serious separation from reality on the part of some posters on this board. That Israel is pursuing a military solution to the rocket fire of Hamas is not perplexing, unjustified, or immoral. It is expected. It cannot be said that a nation, by the virtue of its military or economic strength, should as a result lose its right of response to threats against its citizens, or its ability to defend them. That the people of Gaza are currently under siege, in contrast to the West Bank, is the fault of Hamas for jeopardizing their security in the inane pursuit of Israel’s demise. Hamas has the responsibility to protect its citizens–perpetually attacking the civilians of a much stronger neighbor is grossly negligent and irresponsible.

    That Israeli responses are not clean or pretty is also expected. It is an unavoidable element of the fog of war. Gaza is extremely crowded. Civilian and military infrastructure are in close proximity, and modern weapons of war remain imprecise. An explosion, no matter how well aimed, is still an explosion. Yet, it cannot be that Hamas is allowed to fire rockets at the south of Israel with impunity, by virtue of the the fact that an Israeli response has the possibility of killing civilians. It is Hamas’ job to protect its civilians, not Israel’s. As continued rocket fire only endangers Gazans, it is Hamas’ responsibility to stop provoking Israel’s hand. The violence continues because Hamas–irrationally–thinks that terror is an effective method of diplomacy.

  • I say... says:

    @I say... we take a student body vote that will determine on whose side our ROTC program will fight!

  • was just in israel says:

    @was just in israel and there is clearly a lot of tension in the air. It must be understood that israel does not pride themselves in the killing of civilians, the stated goal of Hamas. On the contrary,there is much grief over the innocent dead. The fact of the matter is that the death of innocent Palestinians is a product of strategic Hamas terrorism. Hamas intentionally fires rockets and stores weapons amongst civilians so when israel fulfills its duty as a nation to protect its citizens, innocent Palestinians are victims.
    I was in sderot. Its straight up terrifying. There is no school, no life, people just live in fear. Kids still wet their beds. Basically what happens is a rocket is fired from gaza, and a “code -red” alert goes off YOu have 15 seconds to run to the nearest bomb shelter in the street( the fact that a western society is required to have bomb shelters in its playgrounds its ridiculous). How would you react if over the past three years Sand diego was bombarded with 6,000 rockets by a town in Mexico overflowing with terrorists calling for the destruction of America, and the brutal murder of its citizens.

    1. please says:

      @please this “human-shields” stuff is total crap. There was no one in that UN building, and it was clearly demarcated. Same for the relief workers/ UN buses. This is a habit with Israel (remember the ambulance in 2006?). Either they can’t shoot for shit, or are shooting deliberately at civilians.

      Also, please don’t begin to compare the scale of terror and destruction being inflicted on civilians. The WSJ had an article about how a bunch of Israelis are posted atop a hill on lawn-chairs chilling and watching the battle down below. These Qasam rockets really seem quite harmless – I don’t think the civilian casualties on the Israeli side has even reached double digits. No one is saying Hamas is right, and yes, they deliberately target civilians. But why does Israel’s response have to be so stupid? Even if they wipe out Hamas entirely, the amount of collateral damage they inflict on the civilian population will just breed the creation of another, more militant group. You are NOT winning the hearts and minds of civilians if you refuse to end their blockade (why not accept Hamas’ deal?) and then wipe out their women and children. Israel should be ashamed at the way they have conducted themselves in this war. Surely there are smarter solutions.

    2. ... says:

      @... a child wetting his bed is trifling and silly when compared to the emaciated children who haven’t eaten in days being found next to the corpses of their dead mothers which have been found by UN relief workers

  • israel says:

    @israel is already a terrorist state and rogue nation.

  • That relief worker says:

    @That relief worker was not necessarily hit by IDF shelling. That media would eat up something like that so it was at first assumed to be from the IDF. It is still being investigated.

    Hamas cut themselves off from the world. When you specifically target civilian areas for EIGHT years and fire from one’s own civilian “dense urban environment,” what do you expect, flowers and candies?

    1. i expect says:

      @i expect that Israel should not behave like a terrorist organization, even if Hamas is behaving like one.

  • ... says:

    @... So I presume that you consider that relief worker as a “human shield”?

    And maybe Georgians would do that if they lost all their land and were put in a densely populated hell-hole of human suffering cut off from the rest of the world… It is silly to talk of “human shields” in a dense urban environment like Gaza.

    That’s just another old and tired Israeli argument meant to obscure the truth behind their ruthless campaign.

    1. truth says:

      @truth And how would you happen to know the truth exactly? I suppose you haven’t read the reports that Hamas has been directing women and children to potential military targets in the past several days. In any event, you don’t have to take the word of any Israeli that Hamas uses human shields. Just take the word of Hamas,
      On a different note, I suppose you also haven’t heard that Hamas killed 35 Fatah collaborators and shot another 75 in the legs just a few days ago to prevent them from “collaborating,” and broke the hands of a couple more. Not that I have any particular affection for Fatah, I just thought you might like to know. I suspect that you were also not paying attention four years ago when Israel pulled 7,000 settlers out of coastal communities along the Gaza strip– very nice looking communities in fact– at great national expense and sacrifice, all in the interest of improving the conditions of the Palestinians living in the strip and hastening the establishment of the Palestinian state which I’m sure you so dearly long for, despite repeated rocket attacks from neighboring militants. I’m sure you’re also unaware that the present ruling party in Israel– the “Kadima” party– was established in the immediate aftermath of that event by the prime minister who directed it, precisely to facilitate further “disengagements” from Israeli settlements in the future– hence the name, meaning “Forward.” Anyway, to make a long story short, all that the Gazans did in return was celebrate, declare “next year in Al Quds,” direct their rocket fire out of the Strip and toward pre-1967 Israel, and kidnap an Israeli soldier from an Israeli military base in pre-1967 Israel to boot. You can huff and puff as much as you want, but you can’t rightly blame “occupation” for this one.

  • at least says:

    @at least Georgians didn’t use their own people as human shields

  • seriously says:

    @seriously Are there no pro-Zionist responses from profs?

    1. regardless says:

      @regardless of one’s stance on the issue, Israel’s military actions are unprecedented. Supporting Israel present actions is equivalent to supporting the US War in Iraq.

      1. no.. says:

        @no.. No, its not the same. No one situated in Iraq flew a missile into the US. Rockets, which shoot out shrapnel in all directions, come directly from the Gaza Strip.

  • war says:

    @war Vacation’s a lot of work
    But here we are with ringing bells
    And floating on this cockleshell
    My pal Grins
    Hugs the wind and sighs:

    Why can’t we be friends?

  • INFIDEL 5 says:

    @INFIDEL 5 HAMAS must be destroyed for peace.

  • pico says:

    @pico this is far left wing coverage

    1. O RLY?! says:

      @O RLY?! Thanks for elaborating upon your thoughts. Come back soon.

    2. ... says:

      @... if by “far left” you mean the way this invasion is covered in almost every single country in the world other than the US or Israel, then you are right on the mark…

      Though I must say, the coverage of this invasion in the US media is still somewhat pro-Israel but it is not as staunchly pro-Israel as other similar battles over the last couple decades……

      I guess that’s what happens when your army shoots UN relief workers in the face

      I think even the Russians were more humane when they invaded Georgia…

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