In August we attended a lecture in Ra’anana by Richard Kemp, sponsored by the excellent Standwithus organization, which is dedicated to informing the public about Israel and to combating the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distorts the issues. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Col. Kemp, he is a retired (2006) British Army officer, a former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, who has completed fourteen operational tours of duty around the globe. And he is one of Israel’s most stalwart supporters.
Kemp’s remarks are extremely relevant at this time. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has just vilified Israel at the United Nations, calling the defense of Israel against the Hamas aggression “genocide.” The UNHRC (“Human Rights” Council) is readying another “Goldstone Report” to condemn Israel for war crimes, a verdict decided even before the inquiry has begun. The US Air Force and other allied air forces from Western and Arab countries are attacking Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL), undoubtedly causing civilian casualties, without incurring any criticism.
The following is my interpretation of Col. Kemp’s remarks praising Israel for its conduct during Operation Protective Edge, given at the Shivtei Yisrael synagogue, also known as the South African synagogue:
Col. Kemp said: My courage is nothing compared to the soldiers of the IDF. The greatest sacrifice is the life of a soldier, which comprises everything they were, are, and would be. Jewish soldiers from Palestine/Israel have fought alongside of the British in battles in Beersheba, Gaza, Jerusalem, Megiddo, and Damascus (Jewish Legion during WWI).
During WWII, the Royal Air Force fought the Luftwaffe in the skies over Germany, in a devastating aerial campaign. At that time, there were huge German civilian casualties, but no one thought much about what were then recognized as an inevitable consequence of warfare. Why is Israel accused of war crimes for defending itself against unprovoked attacks against its civilians?
First of all, Pallywood [the depiction by Palestinians of “Israeli” atrocities, using fraudulent video and pictorial methods reminiscent of Hollywood action films] has been very effective in poisoning the atmosphere against Israel, which is constantly accused of responding disproportionally to aggression from Gaza.
Kemp says the concept of proportionality is vastly misrepresented by the media and the non-profit organizations. The correct understanding is the proportionality of force against weaponry, by measuring the danger to civilians against the danger to all potential victims. This is not a numerical calculation, such as “Israel kills ten civilians an airstrike against a rocket launcher.” The worse case scenario against potential victims of a rocket launch must be assumed in making a judgment.
For example, if ten civilians were killed in an attack which targeted a UN aid truck, that would be disproportional. But the same attack against a rocket launcher, whose purpose is to kill scores or hundreds of civilians, is an entirely different matter. So accusations of disproportionate war crimes are ridiculous and are aimed solely at Israel, while ignoring the ubiquitous war crimes of Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups.
Accidental death is not a war crime, says Kemp, including errant artillery shots or missiles. Mistakes are not war crimes. After all, mistakes are commonplace in warfare. Deliberate acts which target civilians may be war crimes, but artillery which misses a legitimate target does not qualify as a war crime.
While the United Nations publicized figures of 70-80% innocent Gazan victims, these numbers are based on Hamas sources and are biased. [The true figure is probably closer to 50/50, based on detailed analysis by Israeli experts and disinterested parties such as BBC and the New York Times]. How many deaths resulted from Hamas mistakes, misfires, executions, natural deaths, etc.?
Hamas is certainly guilty of committing war crimes, such as unguided missiles, using human shields, breach of ceasefires, and the use of schools and hospitals as cover. It may be more accurate to say that Hamas uses human sacrifices-not human shields.
Yes, world leaders must do more to protect civilians. But how? One way NOT to protect civilians is to make continuous accusations against Israel, which validates and encourages Hamas and other terrorists worldwide.
There is no moral equivalence between Hamas and the IDF. Israeli fighters constantly endanger themselves trying to avoid killing innocent civilians. There are examples of up to 17 aborted sorties against one target, due to the effort to avoid civilian casualties. The morality of the IDF is second to none. Operation Protective Edge was an extremely restrained and accurate operation.
Israel’s soldiers are obligated to defend the homeland, like in any other country. But an extraordinary culture has developed here. Judaic values permeate the society. Kemp knows this from speaking to officers and ordinary soldiers on the front lines, not PR officers.
Kemp does not believe that the disarmament of Hamas can be achieved, but weapons resupply can be minimized. He would advise Bibi not to withdraw from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) no matter what is promised. Ultimately, continual defense is Israel’s lot. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Israel is the greatest country in the world, Kemp says, and he will continue to do his utmost to champion Israel’s cause.
Finally, without doubt, Kemp believes that the current rules of war need updating, though he admits that changing them will be a difficult task. Israel should continue to fight bigotry against it in the legal sphere, and he suggests legal steps (lawfare) can and must be made to benefit Israel’s cause. Nor should Israel hesitate to eliminate terrorist leaders when the opportunity arises. At the conclusion of his talk, Col. Kemp asked all the soldiers in the audience to stand, giving him the opportunity to shake the hand of each soldier.
Unfortunately, you will find only scant reference to Col. Kemp’s defense of Israel in any major Western media outlet (with the exception of Fox News), despite his testifying numerous times before the United Nations.