As we celebrate this year, we will know the miracle of Chanukah is happening at such a bad time for the world. I can’t remember any period in my lifetime when so many horrendous things were happening at once. It has been a terrible year and, like most thinking people, I shudder at what is ahead.
With children living in Israel, I have to say there is much to be anxious about. I visited Israel last March and recall feeling reasonably comfortable, on several occasions, while walking through East Jerusalem on our way to the Damascus Gate. I won’t do it this coming year on my visit to Israel, and wonder if I ever will again.
As more recent horrific events seem to have overtaken last summer’s war in Gaza, I still can’t get past the 50-day war. I can’t accept how the world was so quick to condemn Israel so one-sidedly, so absolutely, and so intellectually dishonestly.
As critical comments about Israel still echo in world capitals and at the United Nations, a friend recently brought a treasure box of information to my attention that didn’t alter a thing, but did help me feel better. I would like to share these thoughts with you, knowing it is unlikely you would have seen any of these statements in the mainstream media. It is hard to find articles that actually defend Israel. Even when there is a military defence put forward by one of the most expert authorities imaginable.
General Martin Dempsey is the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff. As such, he is the highest ranking military officer in the U.S. Just last month in New York, at a conference of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, he was asked several questions about the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) actions last summer. He didn’t flinch.
Dempsey said Israel went to “extraordinary lengths” to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties in Gaza and the Pentagon had even sent a team to see what lessons could be learned from the operation.
Aware of world opinion that Israel indiscriminately killed Palestinian civilians, and especially children in Gaza, Dempsey said he thought the IDF “did what they could” to avoid civilian casualties. He brushed aside reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, both of which, predictably, accused Israel of war crimes.
“In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you are going to be criticized for civilian casualties,” he said.
Dempsey added that Hamas’ tunnels created an almost “subterranean society,” which presented Israel with a host of other challenges, but the Israelis did everything they could to warn civilians of upcoming attacks.
“The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They’re interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel,” he said.
Perhaps the most surprising thing Dempsey said is that, three months ago, just after the war in Gaza, the Pentagon sent a “lessons-learned team” of senior officers to work with the IDF to see what could be learned to prevent civilian casualties in similar situations. Evidently, there is much to learn from the Israelis as the American-led coalition bombs all kinds of targets and places in Syria and Iraq in the ongoing war against ISIS.
It is hard to feel that much better, but, somehow, these days, everything is relative. I can assure you it felt a lot better than hearing from a retired Canadian general shortly after the war ended. Perhaps we shouldn’t forget what Andrew Leslie, Justin Trudeau’s potential star Liberal candidate and key adviser, said on the same subject:
“Casualties are caused by the Israelis using very heavy weapons systems, firing indiscriminately onto Palestinian women and children.”
Leslie went on to say, “Palestinian women and children who are taking refuge in UN designated compounds? Come on. Oh, it was an accident. Sorry doesn’t matter to anyone. Shooting dumb artillery close to children is dumb.”
But, despite our worries, it is almost Chanukah – a time to remember and celebrate a miracle.
And, perhaps, more than ever, a time to remember who our friends are.