Tag archive for "Gaza"

General, Occupied Territories, Reflections from RHR Rabbis & Staff

Whose Land is it? A year for us to get things right in the Holy Land

No Comments 29 July 2014

As part of Rabbis for Human Rights’ series featuring the reflections, both human rights related and not,  of our staff and rabbis during Operation Protective Shield, Yonatan Shefa, RHR’s assistant director of human rights in the Occupied Territories, challenges us to see the Sabbatical year as an opportunity to achieve a deep, lasting and just peace.   Continue Reading

Reflections from RHR Rabbis & Staff

My son, the Israeli soldier, and human rights: Thoughts by Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann

3 Comments 27 July 2014

Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann is RHR’s director of human rights in the occupied territories. A dedicated Israeli activist, Rabbi Grenimann has spent much of his life committed to justice and equality in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Yet Rabbi Grenimann is also a husband and a father, and his son was recently called up as a reservist. Continue Reading

General, Occupied Territories, Reflections from RHR Rabbis & Staff

Promise: Can we see the light amidst all the darkness?

No Comments 27 July 2014

 In this very personal piece originally published in his blog on The Times of Israel, Yonatan Shefa, Assistant Director of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories for RHR, challenges us to live up to God’s promise to the Jewish people by destroying the cancer that seems to be eating away at us. Continue Reading

General, Occupied Territories

Hunting hidden rockets – mass killing with no security benefit?: A Preliminary Inquiry

No Comments 26 July 2014

Although we at Rabbis for Human Rights are not experts in security, we believe the need for public discussion around complicated, challenging security questions is of the utmost importance, especially now when lives could be at stake. “Proportionality” is one of these difficult grey areas, and the loss of civilian life during the targeting of hidden rockets — when those rockets may quickly be replaced — is one example of  a moral quandary we believe must be addressed within public discourse.


Israeli artillery attacking Gaza, Israel-Gaza Border, 21.7.2014 PHOTO: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org

Israeli artillery attacking Gaza, Israel-Gaza Border, 21.7.2014 PHOTO: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org


Even though we are not security experts, we are not exempt from asking questions about what is being done in our names. As a country we justify bombing civilian buildings in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, claiming that Hamas is hiding underneath them. But preliminary data  implies that Air Force’s “hunt” for hidden rockets (which are not ready for immediate launch) will not stop rocket fire on Israeli civilians, while it continues to kill many innocents in Gaza.

The Hamas rocket stockpile hidden underneath bombarded civilian buildings is quickly replenished after each military operation, and is not substantially depleted, while masses of innocent Gazan civilians are killed during the hunt for the rockets, which has doubtful security value.

Strikes on hidden rocket sites make up a large proportion of total Air Force strikes in Gaza and are apparently responsible for a significant portion of the injury (and death) of noncombatant Gazans.

The size of the rocket inventory does not influence the number of rockets fired – a partial decrease in the inventory will not decrease the number of rocket launches in the short term, and in the long term the stockpile will be replenished, because only a miniscule portion of it is launched each day in a given time.

The principle of proportionality:

It is clear that during war, forces are permitted to strike military targets, and forbidden from intentionally attacking noncombatants. The difficulty arises, both according to international law and our moral code, when there is danger of harming civilians while attempting to strike a legitimate military target. Here, international law is a bit tangled with vague definitions of “proportionality” – does military benefit justify possible harm to noncombatants? The definition of benefit is quite relative, and we sometimes feel helpless and voiceless in the face of generals and security experts. However, nobody is exempt from asking these critical questions – with the necessary modesty – because, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “In a democratic society, there are a handful of guilty people, but we are all responsible.” This is the reason that the human rights organizations sent a letter to the Attorney General and the Military Advocate General asking them to examine in real time, while the current military operation is still taking place, those incidents that raised our concern that disproportionate harm is being caused. We are hopeful that, if it becomes clear that these concerns hold water, it will be possible during the current operation to change military conduct and save lives while the fighting continues.

The hunt for hidden rockets – a very partial solution for the very short term:

On the matter of hunting for rockets: A significant portion of the strikes in Gaza are against what the IDF Spokesperson calls “hidden launchers” or “hidden rockets” – rockets not ready for immediate launch towards Israel. For the most part, these actions strike residential buildings, which, according to intelligence information (which occasionally turns out to not be true – link in Hebrew), have rocket launchers in the building or beneath it. Despite Israeli claims of significant damage to Hamas’s rocket inventory, military and intelligence estimates claim that it is impossible to eliminate Hamas’s rocket launching capabilities with these kinds of strikes. Even according to the most optimistic scenarios, at the most, the goal is “severely harming their rocket launch and production capabilities,” according to Major General (res.) Amos Yadlin. Our history of similar operations, which is repeating itself once again, teaches that the rocket stockpile of terror organizations is quickly replenished [link in Hebrew], despite Israeli claims of success in reducing it. This is of course even more now that Hamas has the ability to produce rockets on its own [link in Hebrew]. Even Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin’s ambitious goals are to decrease Hamas’s abilities to rehabilitate their rocket system after the conclusion of the operation.

Here is another quote which makes this point clear: “I estimate that despite the closure of tunnels, they are somehow managing to transport things from Iran, but they also have not insignificant independent production capabilities,” explains Yiftah Shafir, from the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and head of the Middle Eastern Military Balance project, who also served for many years in Intelligence and in the Air Force, from which he was discharged as a Lieutenant Colonel. “It’s true that many of their factories have been destroyed, but they have significant independent production capabilities” (quoted in Shay Levi and Shimon Ifergan’s July 9, 2014 article in Mako – link in Hebrew).

During past operations, the IDF claimed that it eliminated the majority of Hamas or Hezbollah’s rocket inventory, but this inventory was replaced within a short time. For example, the military analyst Amir Rapaport wrote during Operation Pillar of Defense that the Fajr missiles had been “exhausted almost completely. Maybe completely” [link in Hebrew]. Apparently this was incorrect information, or if it was correct, the stock was easily replenished. Uri Dekel, also from the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), talks of, at the most, “limiting the process of rehabilitating and replenishing the rocket stockpile,” with Egyptian assistance.

From this we learn that bombarding buildings suspected of hiding rockets and launchers will not significantly harm the rocket inventory (or will do so only in the short term), but it will without a doubt kill many innocent residents of the Gaza Strip.

The high proportion of strikes on hidden rockets out of total IDF Air Force strikes:

It appears that most of the airstrikes, at least until the Shuja’iya incident, were against buildings suspected of storing “hidden launchers.” For example, the relatively detailed announcement by the IDF Spokesperson from the morning of July 10, states that, “Since the start of the operation, 785 terror targets in Gaza have been attacked, including 19 weapons production and storage warehouses, 24 military compounds, 100 terror tunnels, seven means of visual observation, 513 hidden launchers, two war rooms and 79 senior officials.” (emphasis ours).

IDF soldiers search for terror tunnels. PHOTO: IDF Spokesperson unit CC-Wikipedia

IDF soldiers search for terror tunnels. PHOTO: IDF Spokesperson unit CC-Wikipedia

What could be a more legitimate and proper target than launchers for rockets that are falling on Israeli civilians, launchers which severely violate international law? However, even if there is nothing more just than destroying weapons directed at civilians, the doctrine of proportionality obligates us also to question the security benefit of destroying launchers which will reappear within a short period of time. This does not decrease the legitimacy of destroying the rockets themselves, but does decrease the justification of harming so many noncombatants in the process. Even if we tell ourselves that the injured noncombatants were not the target, and even if placing launchers within the civilian population in Gaza is itself a severe violation by Hamas of international law, we know in advance that bombing buildings which are suspected of containing hidden launchers (which is often only a suspicion) has a high likelihood of killing noncombatants.

The “knock on the roof” procedure and other alerts, according to many reports, amount to a five-minute warning, which is not always sufficient to evacuate people from buildings; Hamas also pressures and threatens residents to not leave their homes. In this situation, examination of the military-security benefit to Israel vs. the killing of innocent civilians leads to the conclusion that it is very difficult to justify this kind of strike. International humanitarian law also allows strikes only on military targets or targets serving the other side for military purposes, and only in accordance with the principle of proportionality. Here, we cannot uncritically accept statements which assuage the conscience that the launchers turn the homes into legitimate targets.

In conclusion, the main question being asked is: Is it morally acceptable that dozens and even hundreds of innocent men, women and children are being killed in the Gaza Strip for the purposes of decreasing the Hamas’s rocket inventory for a very short period of time, after which it will be quickly replaced? There is significant doubt that these processes contribute as much to our security as is claimed by the IDF Spokesperson.

Even if we are not security experts, we are obligated to demand from those experts answers to the difficult questions about the true ratio of costs and benefits, and about what alternatives exist. We should not underappreciate the knowledge of security experts and perhaps they have answers to some of our questions. But when we are talking about very complex moral questions of the highest order, and when there are good reasons to ask whether security experts made the right decisions, security experts are obligated to release all unclassified information, including the information on costs, benefits and alternatives, from the basement of the IDF compound in Tel Aviv to the public in order to allow public discourse on what is being done in our names.


Human Rights organizations in an urgent call: Gaza Strip civilian infrastructure is collapsing

Joint letter by Israeli Human Rights organization to Attorney General and JAG

Urgent letter to state demands procedure to evacuate injured in Gaza

Human Rights organizations for immediate arranging of a channel for civilians to escape battle zone




General, Occupied Territories

HR orgs call for immediate arrangement of channel for civilians to escape battle zone

1 Comment 25 July 2014

An urgent letter to Israel’s Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff, RHR joins with a number of other human rights NGOs in a call for an arrangement of a secure area in the Gaza Strip to which civilians can escape from battle zones. This call is in line with the stipulation of the Rambam that when a city is under siege, one side must be left open for people to escapeContinue Reading

Education, General, Occupied Territories, Reflections from RHR Rabbis & Staff

Why Jerusalem?: Two bereaved fathers give hope for the Jewish and Palestinian peoples

No Comments 24 July 2014

Israeli society, and Jerusalem in particular, is currently living through days and nights of violence, racism and revenge. The fragile calm of the last few years is gone.  Almost every evening, groups of extremists in the streets call for “death to Arabs” and “revenge.” Nevertheless, a handful of citizens try to calm passions, to talk and to explain that these actions are not a Jewish way to act. The words fall on too many deaf ears, while rockets continue to fall throughout the country, and Gazans are left without protection from attacks on their cities. Rabbi Nava Hefetz visits a meeting of the Bereaved Families Forum, and sees a glimmer of something different. Continue Reading

General, Occupied Territories

Human Rights Organizations in Urgent Call: Gaza Strip civilian infrastructure is collapsing

2 Comments 23 July 2014

In an urgent letter to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, 12 human rights organizations (including RHR) demand today (July 23 2014) that Israel fulfill its obligations and ensure that the humanitarian needs of the civilian population of Gaza are met, particularly with respect to the dwindling supply of water and electricity. More than half of Gaza’s population, 1.2 million people, currently were affected by lack of adequate access to water and sanitation services. Hundreds of thousands are completely without power, while additional hundreds of thousands are rationed up to 5 hours of electricity per day. Continue Reading

General, Justice in Israel, Occupied Territories, Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: On the connection between the war on poverty and the war on Hamas

No Comments 23 July 2014

Human life in war and peace is intertwined, just as negligent decisions by the High Priest can cause loss of innocent life. Rabbi Kobi Weiss on the causes of war and destruction: Continue Reading

Education, Occupied Territories, Reflections from RHR Rabbis & Staff

There’s extremism, and then there’s my brother, Fahd: By Rabbi Nava Hefetz

No Comments 23 July 2014

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, Rabbi Nava Hefetz has been calling her friend Fahd, who lives in Ramallah. Fahd is a peace activist from Gaza who, the moment Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, was smuggled out with his family in the dead of night to Ramallah, in order to prevent him being murdered by Hamas.  Despite the tragedy taking place in our region, the connection between the two remains strong. 
Continue Reading

General, Occupied Territories

Joint letter by Israeli HR organizations to Attorney General and JAG

3 Comments 22 July 2014

Ten Israeli human rights organizations, including RHR, sent a letter of concern to the Attorney General and JAG (Judge Advocate General) regarding Operation Protective Edge. Continue Reading

WAR IN GAZA: Reflections from our rabbis & staff

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