Knesset to debate: Is it a war or not?

Gov't hesitant to call campaign a war because of the legal implications.

As violence in the north entered its 13th day, the Knesset prepared to enter into its own battle Tuesday - over what to call the ongoing "security situation." While some are already calling it a war, the government has taken an official stance against that term, arguing that its legal implications don't fit the current situation. As the Knesset prepared to convene Tuesday for its first emergency session since the summer recess began last week, MKs said the biggest dispute would be over what to call the fighting up north. "We use the term 'war' only when the military actions are started by our side [according to a recent definition of war]. There are implications to the word 'war' that clearly don't fit this situation, namely, that Israel didn't start it," said MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima).
Several MKs, including Ben-Sasson, expressed hesitation about calling the current conflict a war, out of fear that it would contribute to Israel's negative public image as a hostile aggressor. Instead the conflict has officially been termed a "military action," according to Ben-Sasson. Others, however, have argued that refusing to call the situation a war goes far beyond the semantics of the word, defining the way in which aid will be delivered to those affected by the violence in the north. "Refusing to call this situation by its rightful name, a war, is a completely irresponsible action by the government," said Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav. "I am furious at the government for failing to declare this a war and arrange for the proper aid to be received by citizens in the North." According to Yahav, calling the situation a war automatically allows for reparations for real-estate damage to citizens in the North. It also provides a security blanket, he said, to employees and businesses, guaranteeing that both will be compensated for time absent from work. "There is already a dire financial situation here, and this is making it worse," said Yahav. Ben-Sasson and many others in the government have argued that the Knesset is already hard at work to create laws to address those fiscal concerns without assigning the word war to the conflict. "The MKs who think that simply calling this conflict a war will solve the fiscal problems are mistaken. There needs to be real legislation created, and we are doing that," said Ben-Sasson. According to Ben-Sasson, the Knesset will pass a series of bills Tuesday when it meets for its emergency session. Those bills will address the issue of compensation and create a set of rules including how and when monetary aid will be provided. "I think it is a clear case of hutzpa by the government not to have declared war the first day," said MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz). "They are trying to save money while people are suffering." Several MKs who have pushed for the government to declare a state of war suggested that the reason the prime minister has not used the term is because he would be required to present his strategy to the Knesset and appear before the plenum and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee regularly for updates. Sources close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, however, said that those arguments were pure nonsense, as Olmert has already appeared before the Knesset once since the violence began and will be addressing the committee on Thursday.