Greenwald and Gaza

Since Glenn Greenwald is showing up on MSNBC and elsewhere, as an “expert” on Israel and Gaza, this is as good a time as any to recall his record with regard to the last major Hamas-Israel blowup, the Gaza incursion in 2008-09.

Greenwald consistently accused Israel of a “disproportionate” (and therefore illegal under international law) military response to the missile attacks from Gaza, but he refused to specify what he would consider a proportionate military response. He finally justified that refusal by claiming that since the military response was not going to work, only diplomatic means were lawful:

I’ve answered this repeatedly. Do you know of anyone who actually believes that at the end of this Israeli attack, there will be no more Hamas, or no more rockets? The only military solution to the rocket attacks is total annihilation of the residents of Gaza and a complete flattening of their cities. If Israel were to do that, what possible objections would those here be able to make who are arguing that “proportionality” has no role to play in restricting the means used to fight justifiable wars? Terrorism ends when the causes of it are addressed, typically via diplomatic means. That’s what history proves. [Editor's note: But cf. Israel's successful counter-terrorism operations in the West Bank in the 2000s, among other examples.]

Putting aside the obvious strawmen (no one was arguing that there would “be no more Hamas,” or not a single rocket), what history has shown is that 3,000 rockets, missiles, and mortars landed in Israel in 2008 before the Gaza incursion, and that includes a lengthy cease-fire period. Since the end of the Gaza incursion, only about 200 projectiles have fallen in Israel from Gaza, and, I believe, none have caused physical injuries. Other commentators (but not Greenwald) have acknowledged that they were wrong about the efficacy of Israel’s military action.

But let’s repeat the initial point: Greenwald thinks that ANY military action that Israel may take against Hamas is illegitimate, and that Israel’s only proper response to whatever violence Hamas unleashes is diplomacy. If Hamas decides to adhere to its stated policy that its goal is the destruction of Israel and the exile of its inhabitants, and acts accordingly, Israel’s only resort is apparently to surrender.

And while we’re on the subject of Greenwald, here’s an interview with Greenwald in which he (a) claims that Israel’s boarding of a blockade-running ship violates international law because the ship was in international waters. Ruth Wedgwood, an actual expert in international law, then comes on to rebut him. I’m not an international law expert, and it’s not my cup of tea, but if you’re going to cite international law, you might as well get it right, and my understanding is that Greenwald is simply wrong here. Greenwald, also accuses Israel of piracy [UPDATE: More specifically, he writes, perserving I suppose plausible deniability: "What's so odd about that is that the U.S. has been spending a fair amount of time recently condemning exactly such acts as 'piracy' and demanding 'that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes'," though he doesn't actually link to anything suggesting that the U.S. has said that a state enforcing a blockade on the high seas is "piracy"], even though piracy is by definition undertaken by non-state actors; and (b) accuses everyone who disagrees with him about Israel’s blockade of simply regurgitating propaganda, which is amusing coming from someone who unhesitatingly repeated the following false propaganda from the “Free Gaza” activists: “Those on the ships emphatically state that the IDF came on board shooting.” (He later added a “but see” (without acknowledging that it wasn’t there initially), linking to video that rebuts the claim he regurgitated.) And this from someone who constantly accuses journalists he doesn’t like of being “mindless stenographers.”

UPDATE: Greenwald updates: “for an excellent discussion of the illegality of the Israeli raid, see this analysis from former British Ambassador and maritime law expert Craig Murray, and this one from International Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller (the Post has a decent article on this topic today as well).”

The first piece simply asserts that the raid was illegal. Heller, meanwhile, argues that the blockade itself is illegal, but seems to acknowledge that if the blockade is legal, the raid is legal. The Post piece presents different perspectives, but the “illegality” argument seems come down to the bizarre position that a state can board ships heading to another recognized state to enforce a blockade, but it can’t board ships heading to a terrorist entity that acts as a state to enforce a blockade.