Former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) spokesperson Capt. Jacob Dallal spoke at yesterday’s Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee meeting, discussing the current situation in Israel and the media’s representation of events in the Middle East over the last five years.
The former deputy head of the Spokesperson’s Unit’s International Press Office began his address on Israeli military and media affairs by saying he has observed “a shift” over the last year in the tone of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“[Now] there is a mold which has been set that gives the conflict stability or predictability,” Dallal said.
He attributes this change to the death of Yasser Arafat and the disengagement, removal of Israeli settlers from territories in Gaza and the West Bank.
Dallal said the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians “is like a war and not like a war.” He elaborated by saying, “The numbers that we’re dealing with are the numbers of a war,” but more than two-thirds of the Israelis killed were civilians. Dallal said nearly 1,100 Israelis have been killed since September 2000, when the Camp David talks between Ehud Barak and Arafat broke down. He compare that number to the 800 killed during the officially declared 1967 Six Days’ War.
After 131 Israelis died in March 2002, the month of heaviest Israeli casualties, Dallal said there was a “strategic shift” in the way Israel dealt with terrorism.
“Israel began to get a grip on terror, thanks to the Israeli army’s actions in the territories,” he said.
Nightly arrests in the West Bank, targeted killings in Gaza that “crippled” the Hamas leadership and the security fence all contributed to what Dallal sees as a more stable phase of the conflict.
Despite its controversial existence, Dallal said the security fence has been tremendously successful in keeping Israel safe from terrorists. There have been only two major attacks in the area near the northern West Bank, where the fence is complete, and neither of those were a result of infiltrating the wall. Both terrorists went through checkpoints.
Along with the new shift in military strategy, Dallal believes that “Israeli society is in a much better position to keep going.”
People are on the streets, riding buses and eating at cafes, all signs that Israel “persevered despite the terror.”
Dallal called that “Israel’s greatest achievement” because “the idea of the terrorists was to break the spirit of Israeli society.”
Dallal took questions from the audience.
Jamie Weinstein ’06, CIPAC president and a Sun columnist, asked if he thought the Palestinian National Authority under Mahmoud Abbas could control Hamas. Dallal said the Palestinian government absolutely has the capacity to rein in terrorist organizations. He said Abbas needs to disarm Hamas before allowing them into the government as a regular political party to ensure stability.
One student asked how many Palestinians have been killed in the five years of conflict. Dallal said 4,000 but that the differentiation between combatants and civilians is harder to establish than for Israelis because women and children are sometimes suicide bombers and, therefore, combatants.
Palestinian civilian casualties are restricted mostly to people caught in the crossfire, something Dallal said the IDF takes very seriously.
“Everything has to be done to keep uninvolved citizens out of the conflict,” Dallal said.
Dallal said that because Palestinian terrorists purposely hurt civilians, “There can be no moral equivalence” between the two military tactics.
Dan Tevet ’06, CIPAC treasurer, asked whether there is a pro- or anti-Israeli spin in the American media, and Dallal said our media is much fairer than its European counterpart. However, American news sources “tend to come down hard on military activity, especially in an urban environment,” he said.
In closing, Dallal spoke of the different tone of Palestinian and Israeli messages. The Palestinian narrative, he said, is positive and simple. Focusing on self-determination and freedom, their message appeals to a Western audience because of its Western ideals.
On the other hand, the Israeli narrative has been about fighting terror and suicide bombers, a negative message. Dallal said there has been, and needs to continue, a focus on the positive statement that “we have the right to exist in the state of Israel.”
Anna Weiss ’07, CIPAC’s vice president for advocacy, said she was “really excited” for Dallal because he was able to give a different perspective. Because he has spent so much time in Israel and in the IDF, Weiss said that Dallal was very different from most of the professors and other regular speakers hosted by the organization.
Archived article by Melissa Korn
Sun Senior Editor