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Max Boot Apologist for War Crimes

Alex Constantine - October 1, 2009

Boot's commentary amounts to vulgar apologetics for egregious war crimes.
By Max Kantar

The recent publication of the UNHRC's report on Israel's December-January assault on the Gaza Strip, also known as the Goldstone Report, has elicited some rather hysterical reactions from Israel's leading apologists. Perhaps among the most desperate of the attempts to deflect legitimate criticism of Israeli war crimes is an article entitled, "The Goldstone Report," [1] written by Max Boot. Boot is an award winning author, distinguished journalist, and served as an editor for the Christian Science Monitor and The Wall Street Journal during the 1990s. He is currently a senior fellow for National Security Studies at the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations.

In his article, "The Goldstone Report," published under his daily blog at Commentarymagazine.com, Boot repeatedly struggles to divert attention from the overwhelming amount of documentary evidence compiled in the UNHRC report (and in other relevant independent findings as well) which implicates the Israeli government in a large number of war crimes committed throughout the duration of "Operation Cast Lead."

Not only is Boot's commentary extremely superficial and desperate as an analysis of the Goldstone Report, but it is indeed contemptuous in regard to the intellectual and moral capacity of his readers. It would seem that responding to or refuting such intellectual defecation might suggest that reasonable arguments have been put forth by Boot, giving his nonsense some sort of legitimacy. Nevertheless, this author found it to be even more maddening to allow such vulgarities and perversions to go unchecked. What follows is a brief exposure, step by step, of the bankruptcy of Mr. Boot's analysis.

Israeli Repression of Dissent

While he criticizes the mentioning of Israeli repression of dissent during "Operation Cast Lead," Boot makes no attempt to refute the fact reported in the Goldstone Report that 715 people, mostly Israeli-Arab citizens (as well as some non-citizen, Palestinian "residents" of occupied East Jerusalem) were arrested and imprisoned by the Israeli government for exercising their rights to free speech. Instead he dismisses the protestors as "unruly" (why were they unruly?) and points his finger at the lack of free speech in neighboring Arab states. It is true that the Arab states are much less open and permissive than is the case in Israeli proper (excluding the occupied territories where Israel's human rights record is by far the worst in the region) but it is unclear to the reader why this has anything to do with Israeli state repression of dissent. At any rate, Israel's imprisonment of 715 dissenters during its attack on Gaza was hardly a focal point in the Goldstone Report. Boot simply is attempting to take attention away from the extensive documentation of Israeli war crimes by making ideological assertions about "Israeli democracy," appealing to brainless readers who are searching not for truth, but for empty rationalizations aimed at preserving a benevolent image of The Holy State.

Boot then goes on to make apologetics for the fact that Israel is currently holding, according to the Goldstone Report, 8,100 Palestinian political prisoners in Israel, including nearly 400 children. Boot claims that unlike Egypt and Saudi Arabia, "all" of Israel's Palestinian "prisoners are behind bars because they are suspected of involvement in terrorism." Where is Boot's evidence for this claim? Of course, it's ridiculous and nothing more than a purely ideological statement. There are literally thousands of pages of human rights reports--many from Israeli groups--documenting the unlawful detention of nonviolent Palestinian activists and other civilians who took no part in any hostilities. Israel also routinely kidnaps, imprisons, and tortures Palestinian youth who are often arrested for throwing pebbles at heavily armed occupying forces.

Furthermore, it is in violation of international law to imprison children in adult prisons. It is against international law to torture prisoners. It is also illegal under international law (the Fourth Geneva Convention) to transport prisoners to prisons or detention centers outside of the occupied territory in which the arrest takes place. Boot also forgets to mention that under international law, people living under foreign military occupation have the right to armed resistance against the occupiers and such resistance, if targeted at the occupying forces, is not "terrorism."

Readers might also recall as to how the South African Apartheid regime also called all of its Black prisoners "terrorists" or "suspected terrorists." Nelson Mandela was one of them. Historically, all tyrannical regimes make such claims to justify their repression of dissent and legitimate resistance. Why is Israel any different? Why would rational people expect it to act differently? Why are the Palestinian grievances not creditable or legitimate?

At any rate, B'Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and Amnesty International, among other countless other human rights groups, have extensively and exhaustively documented Israel's illegal imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians who have nothing to do with carrying out terrorism or conspiring to carry out terrorism against Israel. The fact that Boot spends so much time musing on the issue of prisoners is simply a reflection of his desperation; the report was not even about the issue of prisoners.

Targeting Civilians

Boot dismisses the Goldstone Reports' criticizing of Israeli attacks against Hamas civil society infrastructure, such as the legislative council building, on the grounds that the allied forces attacked the Reichstag during the Second World War. Why go back to WWII for a comparison? What if the Palestinians bombed the Israeli Knesset? What would Boot think of that? Would he proclaim it to be legitimate on the grounds that the allies bombed the Reichstag? What if Iraqis bombed the halls of Congress in Washington DC? Would that have been legitimate on the same grounds? The truth is, that even so, the Palestinians would've had a much stronger case for doing so: they are being militarily occupied and have been for over forty years. Millions of Palestinians are also being forcibly kept from returning to their homes.

Of course, no party has a right to attack civilian objects or target civilians. Boot and people like him dismiss international law only when politically or ideologically serviceable. It takes real discipline not to recognize such hypocrisy.

But why should one limit their criticism of the Goldstone Report for its denunciation of the Israeli targeting of Hamas' legislative buildings? What about the UN schools Israel attacked, bombed, and dropped white phosphorous on? What about the children who were literally incinerated by white phosphorous dropped from the skies by the IAF? What about the scores of mosques it attacked? What about the ambulances? What about the health clinics? What about the civilian homes? What about the women and children holding a white flag whom IDF soldiers gunned down? What about the precise drone strikes on Palestinian civilians? What about the bombings of schoolchildren during the middle of the day as classes were letting out and children were walking in the streets? All of these instances were documented in the report. Were these legitimate by Boots' standards? Should international law be dismissed in each of these cases, too?

Targeting Civilian Police Officers

Boot also ridicules the Goldstone Reports' conclusion that Israeli attacks and killings of Palestinian civilian police officers were unlawful, but he gives no reason as to why such attacks should be considered legitimate. In fact, those police officers were the ones responsible for maintaining law and order in Gaza and actually arrested several rouge terrorists firing rockets into Israel during the ceasefire period, which Hamas scrupulously observed, as was documented by an official Israeli report on the ceasefire period that preceded Israel's attack on Gaza. [2]

Anyhow, we do not need to debate the legitimacy of Israel's targeted killings of civilian police officers in Gaza because there is a unanimous consensus among experts in international law and human rights groups. Readers of The Palestine Chronicle informed of this [3] back in January:

In the opening days of Israel's aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip, its main targets were police stations and officers. For civilian police officers to be considered legitimate military targets, they must be directly engaged in hostilities, in this case, towards Israel. No evidence has been presented by Israel, or anyone else, that even reasonably suggests that the police officers in Gaza fall into this category. Therefore, the police officers that were targeted and murdered by Israel were clearly civilians: not lawful military targets.

Here are a few authoritative sources cited at the time [4] which articulate the illegality of such strikes:

"The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions establishes two conditions that must be met for an object to be considered a legitimate military target: it must effectively contribute to military action and its total destruction or partial neutralization offers a clear military advantage." - B'Tselem, Dec. 31, 2008

"Police were not combatants and could not represent legitimate targets unless actively engaged in hostilities...it was Israel's burden of proof to show [that] the police they targeted were, indeed, Hamas militants." - Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch (Middle East & North Africa Division), January 7, 2009

"Police members who do not take part in any hostilities are not considered legitimate military targets under international humanitarian law and must not be deliberately targeted." - Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, December 28, 2008

"Police stations, police officers and law enforcement officials are classified under the international law as civilians, and targeting them as such while they were not engaged in military action constitutes a violation of the international law." - Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, December 27, 2008.

"[The Israeli Air Force] bombed the main police building in Gaza and killed, according to reports, forty-two Palestinians who were in a training course and were standing in formation at the time of the bombing. Participants in the course study first-aid, handling of public disturbances, human rights, public-safety exercises, and so forth." - B'Tselem, December 31, 2008

It Was a Massacre, Not a War

We might also take note that the Goldstone Report is entirely consistent with all of the other reports regarding Israel's attack on Gaza. The world's leading human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch - groups that are quite independent of constraints from either side--issued reports well before the UN report was published and had eerily similar findings. A whole slew of local and regional rights groups, including many Israeli groups, also reached the same conclusions. Are we honestly supposed to believe that along with the UN, every human rights group in the world is simply anti-Semitic, bent on defaming Israel for its own sake?

It is also important for serious people to be clear about what happened in Gaza. It was not a "war" or "an armed conflict." There were virtually no battles or military showdowns between Hamas militants and the IDF. All one has to do is take a look at what Israeli soldiers are coming out and saying now in, Breaking the Silence. [5] In Breaking the Silence, Israeli soldiers talk about how they encountered virtually no armed resistance during the ground invasion of Gaza during "Operation Cast Lead."

Commanders warned soldiers about "suicide bombers," "snipers," and "women carrying explosives" but according to the testimonies of soldiers, "none of [these reports] ever materialized" and soldiers "never ran into any" such people. In fact, some Israeli soldiers were so intent on fighting and so disappointed of the lack thereof that, according to one testimony, "One guy said he just couldn't finish this operation without killing someone. So he killed someone...."

Soldiers testified to "all [the] destruction, all [the] fire at innocents...the hatred and the joy of killing...There's nothing to hold you back. They're just Arabs." Many soldiers were emphatic about the "tremendous" and "insane" amount of "fire power" employed by the IDF and how there were "no innocents," when it came to shooting people, that they were given permission to open fire "even at most people who definitely aren't terrorists."

Another testimony noted that entire neighborhoods were totally flattened without regard for civilian life and property. "What is a suspect spot? It means you decided it was suspect and could take out all your rage at it." Soldiers were ordered by their superiors to specifically "target mosques" and to shoot at everyone, "even an old woman--take her out."

Israeli warplanes flew more than 3,000 flights over Gaza in the course of twenty-two days and not one aircraft was downed, damaged, or even scratched. Soldiers noted that the destruction in Gaza "was on a totally different scale" than anything "previously known," that "the ground was....constantly shaking" from all of the incessant Israeli fire and bombing.

Every independent report that has surfaced since "Operation Cast Lead" illustrates how virtually every single piece of infrastructure and every population center that the IDF targeted was a civilian object or civilian center. Out of all of the exhaustive research, study, fieldwork, interviews, and documentation, no independent report has found any of the Israeli propaganda lines to be true. None of the ambulances or hospitals were hiding Hamas fighters; none of the schools were being used to launch attacks on Israel; none of the mosques were hiding weapons; no evidence was ever found that suggested that Hamas fighters used civilians as human shields, which was the main Israeli claim to justify its indiscriminate killings, a justification which even if it was true--which it isn't--wouldn't rise up to the standards of the international laws of war. In fact, each study has revealed that the exact opposite was true, that it was Israeli soldiers who systematically used Palestinian civilians as human shields, occupying their homes and shooting people from the cover of civilians and civilian homes. Soldiers have since testified as to the extensive and quite diverse use of Palestinian civilians as human shields in Breaking the Silence reports.

Finally, let's look at the results of what happened. According to rigorous studies--studies which documented by name and legal status, each person who was killed--carried out by The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [6] as well as by the Israeli group, B'Tselem, [7] roughly 1,400 Palestinians were killed in Israel's twenty-two day assault, overwhelmingly civilians. In fact, if we accept basic principles of international law and count the civilian police officers in Gaza as civilians, then the percentage of civilian deaths among Palestinians in Gaza reaches upwards of 85%, literally. On the Israeli side, thirteen people were killed, just three of whom were civilians, and at least three others of the thirteen were killed by friendly fire in Gaza. So we have roughly 1,000 Palestinian civilians killed versus three Israeli civilians killed. Including all deaths, the ratio is more than 100-1. No matter how you break it down, the only way one could characterize what happened is by calling it a massacre, plain and simple.

And as for those Palestinian fighters or "militants" whom everybody seems to agree are worthy of receiving an automatic death sentence from the Israeli military machine, we might do well to recall the timely words of British Parliamentarian, Gerald Kaufman (whose extended family was largely exterminated by the Nazis) who ridiculed Israeli self-congratulation over its killing of supposed Palestinian militants by saying that "I suppose that the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants."

The Comparison with WWII

Boot is quite right when he notes that by the standards of the international laws of war, that the allied powers during WWII certainly did commit extensive war crimes when they deliberately targeted civilians and civilian objects while fire-bombing cities in Germany and Japan. There is no doubt about that. The fact that he is unable to comprehend this is further evidence of how his ideological commitments take precedence over international law and the principle of universality.

But what is most disturbing here is that Boot derides the fact that in the Goldstone Report, Israel's alleged crimes were equated with alleged Palestinian crimes, that the report assessed the facts using international law as a standard for both parties. He then makes an implicit comparison between the Nazis and the Palestinians, noting that it is unfair to equate Hitler's crimes with the allies' crimes because Hitler's were much worse, implying that it is wrong to equate Hamas's killing of three civilians and a handful of invading soldiers with Israel's slaughter of 1,400 Palestinians, including over 300 innocent children on the basis that Hamas's crimes are much worse. In light of the most bare and uncontroversial facts about the Gaza massacre, it is beyond comprehension how Boot could compare the feeble and virtually inconsequential actions of the leadership of a besieged and occupied people with the Nazis and Adolph Hitler who systematically murdered six million defenseless Jews. This is even more perplexing when considering it in the context of an Israeli massacre of over 1,000 civilians in a twenty-two day period, which was far more Nazi-like than anything the Palestinians could ever contemplate.

Furthermore, where is the context of these events in Boot's commentary? The Palestinians are living under a horrifically brutal foreign military occupation and have been for over forty years. For years, Gaza has been subjected to a draconian economic blockade--literally, an "act of war" under international law--denounced as "collective punishment"--a major war crime—by every relevant commentator in the international legal community. Boot ridicules the UN's labeling of Gaza as "occupied territory" in light of Israel's 2005 removal of its troops and settlers from the Strip. Boot is so far out of the mainstream that he hasn't read the tirelessly documented and examined UN reports, legal analyses, and rights groups' reports which all categorically label Gaza as "occupied territory" despite the so-called "disengagement." [8] The best example of such a study is the report and analysis, "Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza," authored by the Israeli group, Gisha: Legal Center For Freedom of Movement. [9]

At any rate, it's irrelevant because the West Bank and Gaza Strip constitute one territorial entity according to the Oslo "peace process" agreements as well as the International Court of Justice's 2004 ruling. There is no controversy on this issue whatsoever as far as the relevant bodies of law and monitoring are concerned.

Right of Return

Finally, Boot also castigates the report for making note of Israel's continued barring of refugees to return to Israel and/or the occupied territories. Boot is again way out of the mainstream on this one too. The 13 th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." UNSC Resolution 194 (passed with US support) specifically makes it the legal right of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. Every human rights group is unanimously in agreement on this issue. There is absolutely no controversy regarding the legal right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

Even though it is well known that a full Palestinian return may be politically impossible, this does not give anyone a right to dismiss this score human right of Palestinians as irrelevant or illegitimate as an issue to be negotiated upon with Israel. When Boot dismisses the Palestinian right of return as something that would "destroy Israel demographically," it is nothing more than a wildly racist statement.


Boot's commentary on the massacre in Gaza amounts to some of the most vulgar apologetics for egregious war crimes that one could imagine. Even the smallest amount of common sense and the most cursory glance at the documentary record and international law reveals this to be true.

Instead of making obscure rationalizations for murdering innocent people, Boot and other apologists for American and Israeli crimes should denounce all war crimes, demand justice for the victims, and applaud the fact that global civil society has erected a body of international law designed to minimize the suffering of civilians during armed conflicts and to establish basic norms and laws regarding fundamental human rights.

- Max Kantar is a freelance writer. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: maxkantar@gmail.com


[1] Max Boot, "The Goldstone Report," Commentary Magazine, September 16, 2009.

[2] Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center, "The Six Months of the Lull Arrangement," December 2008, 2, 6, 7.

[3] Max Kantar, "The Massacre in Gaza: Check the Facts," The Palestine Chronicle, January 14, 2009.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Breaking the Silence: Soldiers' Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead, Gaza 2009. All of the following quotes in this paper from Israeli soldiers were found in this compilation of testimonies.

[6] "Palestinians: Final Gaza Toll shows 960 civilians killed," Ynet, March 12, 2009.
[7] B'Tselem, "B'Tselem's Investigation of fatalities in Operation Cast Lead."

[8] Jake Hess, "Palestine since disengagement," Znet, August 24, 2007. This article includes several citations of rights groups and UN officials categorizing the Gaza Strip officially as "occupied territory" despite Israel's "disengagement."[9] Gisha, "Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza," January 2007, 64, 65, 71.


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