At what point are we allowed to ask if it’s deliberate?

I mean, there’s kind of a pattern emerging:

The United Nations and the White House on Wednesday condemned the shelling of a United Nations school in the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip overnight, which killed 16 people.

The United Nations Work and Relief Agency, which runs the Abu Haseen school, issued a condemnation earlier, saying that the school was attacked three times, despite that its exact location in a heavily populated residential area was clarified to the IDF on number of occasions.

John Ging, the director of UN humanitarian operations, said it was the fifth attack on a United Nations school sheltering civilians since fighting between Israel and Hamas began on July 8.

But if you’re worried that it’s just UN shelters being targeted, let me ease your mind:

It may have been a tragic case of confusion.

The Israel Defense Forces declared a four-hour humanitarian cease-fire on Wednesday. But the army said it did not apply where soldiers were already engaged and that residents who had evacuated should not return to those areas.

According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, at least 17 Palestinians were killed and around 200 more were wounded when shells hit a street market in Gaza City’s Shijaiyah neighborhood, “which residents thought was temporarily safe but which the Israelis considered part of an active combat zone,” The New York Times reports.

It would be much easier for Israel to make the argument that it sanctifies life if it would stop lobbing shells onto known civilian targets so often.

If you wouldn’t cite it in a term paper, don’t copy from it for pay

I think Wikipedia is great. I could spend all day traipsing through obscure entries learning about this or that. It’s even useful, say when you’re writing about history as I tend to do here from time to time, in a couple of ways. For one thing, it’s a great source for images and maps that are free-license or fair use. But there’s more. Really well-sourced Wikipedia articles (presumably the more obscure the topic, the less likely people are making deliberately false edits on it) can point you to some article or book you might have missed or forgotten about, and can catch you if you’ve glossed over or forgotten about an important point or missed a major train of scholarly thought on a controversial topic. But the point is that you then go read those articles for yourself or research those bits of history or controversy for yourself. Wikipedia is also helpful when you want to drop in a link to an event, a war for example, and not just a particular aspect of that event. If I have a point that would be boosted by a link to something on “The Crimean War,” linking to the Wikipedia entry (assuming the point I’m trying to make is in there somewhere) is just as useful in my view as hunting the internet for a different general history of the Crimean War.

Anyway, that’s what I do here at this friendly blog, which it may surprise you to learn does not actually earn me any money. What I don’t do is verbatim copy from Wikipedia, or rely on it to the exclusion of any other source or my own knowledge. If I can’t contribute anything to a topic that I didn’t learn from Wikipedia, why would I go to the trouble of writing a piece as opposed to just saying “hey, go check out this cool thing I found on Wikipedia”? And, again, that’s my policy when I’m writing for what amounts to my own amusement.

So what the hell is going on when you’ve got everybody from real-deal New York Times reporters to mostly silly Buzzfeed listicle compilers just copying stuff from Wikipedia? Continue reading

Turkey’s being a little weird…

Exhibit A: Tayyip Erdoğan would appreciate it if Turkey’s Jewish citizens would denounce Israel’s offensive in Gaza, but promises that they will be safe even if they don’t do it. Well, that’s very generous of hi–HOLY CRAP DID HE REALLY SAY THAT?

“Jews in Turkey are our citizens. We are responsible for their security of life and property,” Erdogan told the Daily Sabah.

He added: “I talked with our Jewish citizens’ leaders on Thursday and I stated that they should adopt a firm stance and release a statement against the Israeli government. I will contact them [Jewish leaders in Turkey] again, but whether or not they release a statement, we will never let Jewish people in Turkey get hurt.”

So apparently the prime minister of Turkey, its likely future president, is John Gotti.

“Hey, I have a favor to ask, but I want you to know that nobody’s gonna hurt you even if you won’t do this favor for me, capisce?”

“Um, OK. Who was planning to hurt me?”

“Nobody, that’s for sure. And you can rest assured that they won’t be able to hurt you even though you’ve turned your back on me, your close personal friend, by refusing to do this thing that I’ve asked of you, which is very important to me but I want to assure you that not doing it won’t put you at any risk. God bless.”

Exhibit B: Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç explains the problem with society these days, and I think we can all agree with him that it’s…women who laugh in public:

During a speech on Monday, Arınç said that, among other activities, women should not laugh in public if they are to adhere to proper social mores. The speech was given on Eid al-Fitr, the official end to the month-long Islamic celebration of Ramadan. In his speech, Arınç outlined his ideas of morality saying:

Chastity is so important. It is not only a name. It is an ornament for both women and men. [She] will have chasteness. Man will have it, too. He will not be a womanizer. He will be bound to his wife. He will love his children. [The woman] will know what is haram and not haram. She will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and will protect her chasteness.

Distressingly, Arınç failed to promise that women who inadvertently let a chuckle slip out in public will be protected by their government regardless.

Barrel bomb developments in Iraq and Syria

There’s some interesting news out of Syria, where it seems some rebel faction (Lebanon’s Daily Star says it includes elements of the Nusra Front, which presumably rules out Islamic State participation, but doesn’t say anything beyond that) has just captured a checkpoint about 9 km outside of Hama. So what, you ask? Or maybe you don’t, I shouldn’t assume. Anyway, Hama is a city of about 300,000 (pre-war) that sits just north of Homs in the center of Syria’s eastern corridor (the heavily populated strip running from Damascus in the south to the Mediterranean coast and border with Turkey in the north. What makes Hama important is its military airport, from which Assad’s forces fly a considerable number of sorties, particularly helicopter sorties. At this point, unless it’s responding to a direct assault by IS or the other rebels, a “helicopter sortie” in Syria pretty much means a barrel bomb strike.

Now, the rebels have almost no chance of actually taking Hama from Assad, particularly not because he’ll fight tooth and nail to hold on to that airport. But the longer they can set up that close (9 km away) to it, the higher the likelihood that they can arrange some kind of attack on the airport that puts a serious crimp in the air campaign and the barrel bomb attacks. It may not amount to much more than an inconvenience, but it’s something. The other thing this advance may accomplish is causing Assad to divert forces away from his offensive against Aleppo, which he’d love to take but which is a lower priority for him than maintaining Hama’s airport.

Meanwhile, the increasingly lame-duck Maliki government has apparently decided to follow Assad’s lead and start dropping barrel bombs on civilian areas (specifically Fallujah) under Islamic State’s control, according to Human Rights Watch. Barrel bombs are a weapon of intimidation and collective punishment. They have no value against enemy fighters but are great at striking big crowds of civilians who you might want to punish for supporting (or allegedly supporting) those fighters. That kind of thing is called a “war crime” nowadays. Assad uses them for the same purpose, but he pretends that he has no choice but to manufacture such crude weapons because his government is under arms sales embargoes. Everybody knows that this is bullshit, but at least it’s a pretense at a justification.

Maliki, who is getting weapons from the US, Iran, Russia, basically everybody, doesn’t even have Assad’s lame excuse for using these things. He’s just availing himself of the opportunity to wipe out some uncooperative civilians (remember that Fallujah was in rebellion well before IS got there). The fact that these kinds of tactics will only further inhibit any chance of reconciliation if and when IS is finally beaten doesn’t seem to matter.

Another excellent read: Judis on Gaza

I’m back in but still “out” in any practical sense, so once again let me direct you to another thing that somebody else wrote (via LGM). In this case it’s John Judis on the history that’s brought us to the current state of affairs in Gaza. Judis cuts through the “who started it” issue and get to the heart of the matter: Israel is a colonizer, and while militant groups like Hamas and (to a much lesser extent these days) Fatah may often engage in questionable and downright condemnable behavior, you cannot avoid the fact that the root cause of their actions lies in the occupation, the settlements, the restrictions on the basic elements of human life (like clean water) that Israel imposes on the Palestinians. When you deny a people their own place to live, their own ability to earn a living for themselves, their own access to, at the risk of repeating myself, clean water, you can’t expect them to quietly acquiesce and wait for you to generously provide for them at your convenience.

Defenders of Israel point to Hamas and its charter, which denies Israel’s right to exist, as though this were the end of the discussion. How can Israel find a negotiating partner in an entity that won’t acknowledge that there should and will continue to be an “Israel”? That sentiment isn’t wrong, but it does ignore, as Judis explains, the huge role that Israel has played in putting Hamas in the position it currently occupies. The systematic efforts to undermine the PLO/Fatah, the illegal and dehumanizing blockade of Gaza, Netanyahu’s almost explicit rejection of a two-state project, all of these things have compromised the ability of any Palestinian moderate movement to gain popular support, which a cynical person might suggest is the point.

Let’s not forget that Hamas, which functions as a dictatorship now in the absence of any kind of democratic system in Gaza, was actually elected in 2006 parliamentary elections that the US and Israel insisted must take place. Then both countries slapped sanctions on the Palestinian people for voting the wrong way. Hamas is an abysmal governing power that takes what little aid Israel allows into Gaza out of the hands of the people there and puts it toward its own militant cause, but Israel’s “mowing the lawn” policy suffocates any chance of an alternative to Hamas arising in Gaza. Instead of letting Hamas choke on its own corruption, every Israeli campaign in Gaza just serves to throw popular support back to it, as the only “legitimate” resistance to Israeli aggression.

Then came the Palestinian unity government, the best chance to moderate Hamas that’s ever come down the pike, and how did Netanyahu respond? By doing everything he could to squash the new government’s credibility before it ever got started:

After Abbas announced an agreement with Hamas on April 23, the Netanyahu government tried to get the United States and European governments not to recognize the new unity government. The United States did help to block payments to Hamas public workers in Gaza, but the U.S. and European countries didn’t accept Netanyahu’s plea to shun the new government altogether. In May, the Israeli government took steps in Gaza that seemed designed to draw Hamas into breaking the 2012 ceasefire. It reduced from six to three miles the offshore limit on Gaza fishing (severely limiting the catch) and fired on boats that exceeded the limit and arrested the fishermen. When the new government was sworn in on June 1, the Israeli government countered by announcing 3,300 new housing starts in the West Bank.

So yeah, Hamas is awful, but they’re not working in a vacuum.