February 5: Good of the Country

Ehud Barak has "surprisingly" decided to go back on his word and not leave Olmert's government.

letters good 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters good 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Good of the country Sir - Ehud Barak has "surprisingly" decided to go back on his word and not leave Olmert's government - "for the good of the country," no less! - so he can stay on as defense minister and save us all ("Olmert's associates: Barak has given us nine months of quiet," February 4). But our "most decorated soldier" hasn't the faintest idea how to stop the Gaza Kassams. What he did do was make our our security situation much worse, with the separation fence destroyed and terrorists infiltrating Israel from Sinai. We are "blessed" with politicos who engage in double-talk and have a refined, benighted self-interest that keeps them afloat. Where are Amnon Rubinstein, Natan Sharansky, Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Yossi Sarid? They are men with inner values, whether we agree with them or not. They have left the stench of Israeli politics, and we must all suffer the consequences. AVIGDOR BONCHEK Jerusalem Casus belli Sir, - In "Israel knew little of Syrian target" (February 4) you report US journalist Seymour Hersh as saying "...given that bombing another country constitutes a casus belli." He is quite correct. What is odd is that the United Nations and Europe, as well as our Supreme Court, seem to take a different view when it comes to shooting rocket bombs at Israel. Has Hersh anything to say about that? LESLIE PORTNOY Netanya Help for Sderot Sir, - We welcome interns who would like to come for a month or more to help the local and international media cover the humanitarian crisis facing the Jewish communities in Sderot and the Western Negev. Our agency has rented a house in Sderot for this purpose. We also seek lawyers willing to represent residents of these communities on a "contingency" basis in suing negligent public authorities. We will make a new office in the Sderot commercial center available to these lawyers. Those interested should call (03) 636-4017, or e-mail [email protected] aol.com NOAM BEDEIN Director, Regional News Service for Sderot & Western Negev Sderot 8th Iraqi flag Sir, - John Kifner's review of "8 Decades, 7 Iraqi flags" (New York Times pages, February 3) omitted reference to the "Iraqi flag" that adorned the uniforms of the Arab Freikorps Units (see Foreign Legions of the Third Reich, Bender Publishing, USA, 1979). For the record: After suppressing the April 1941, pro-Nazi coup in Iraq - supported by Haj Amin el-Husseini - the Germans transferred remnants of Rashid Ali el-Kilani's fighters to Greece and "regrouped them as a military unit under the designation Special Staff Felmy. This unit was expanded through the recruitment of Arab students at German universities, North African Arabs and Palestinian Arab deserters from British forces in North Africa and Syria." In January 1942 the unit was renamed the Deutsch-Arabische Lehrabteilung. The uniform was German colonial with, "on the upper right arm, a green/ white/black patch surrounded by red on which appear two stars, (which was, in fact, the Iraqi Flag)!" KARL HUTTENBAUER Berlin We protect basic rights Sir, - Erik Schechter criticizes Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations for failing to apply the laws on belligerent occupation as they were interpreted 100 years ago, before the 1949 Geneva Conventions and modern human rights law ("Prisoners of Gaza," January 22). The 1907 Hague Regulations might have required there to be "boots on the ground" for occupation law to apply, but such a formalistic approach has long been discarded. Human Rights Watch applies the law on occupation to the situation in Gaza - the recent Israeli Supreme Court decision notwithstanding - because despite withdrawing its troops and settlers, Israel maintains "effective control" over critical aspects of Gazan life, including the basic movement of people, commodities and energy supplies, and, as Schechter notes, authority over taxes, customs and ID cards. Plus, Israeli security forces can enter Gaza at will. Other bodies of international law are also applicable in Gaza. Human Rights Watch has applied the laws of armed conflict, such as the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks, to Palestinian armed groups. International human rights law is relevant in Gaza with respect to fundamental freedoms and other issues, such as Hamas's mistreatment of persons in custody. One can debate whether the international community erred in not labeling Western Sahara an occupation, but our concern is how we can best protect the population with respect to the issues that fall within our mandate. For the Western Sahara, our main concern has been Morocco's severe repression of peaceful expression, a human rights law violation, not a matter of occupation law. Various legal regimes may apply to a particular situation, and the ones highlighted by human rights groups reflect a selection of the most relevant law to protect basic rights, rather than the selectivity or double standard that Schechter suggests. JAMES ROSS Legal and Policy Director Human Rights Watch New York Erik Schechter responds: Mr. Ross suggests that a territory may be considered occupied even if free of foreign forces. Unfortunately, he provides not a shred of evidence to support this claim. Next, he argues that Israel still maintains "effective control" of the Gaza Strip. However, he fails to define this term in way that is neither ambiguous nor tautological. Neither does he address the events of January 23, which - one would think - put to rest any quirky notion that Israel still controls the Gaza-Egypt border. Finally, contrary to what Ross claims, the international community did declare Western Sahara occupied - twice. Human Rights Watch simply chooses to ignore UN General Assembly Resolutions 34/37 and 35/19. Safe and sound Sir, - Having received an e-mail yesterday about Lilach Karp ("J'lem woman missing since last week," January 4), I phoned the number given and her father confirmed that she was safe and sound. LINDA STERN Overseas Administrator Yeshivat Hesder Kiryat Shmona