Saturday, February 24, 2024

A Letter to Putin

Dear President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,

I am certain that you are too busy to read a critical letter from a nobody in a foreign country, but I hope my viewpoint will be useful and unique enough to warrant your attention. I write from a place of respect, though I am alarmed at the turn your policies are taking recently. There is much that I respect about your leadership of Russia and your foreign policies in general, however, there are a couple of problematic areas that I think could use your attention and deliberation: Specifically, how you are waging war in Ukraine since the negotiations in Istanbul, and your criticism of Israel. I believe that both of these issues stem from the same problem: That you are too soft. I realize how preposterous and brazen this sounds, not only to you but also to the Western world. Please allow me to explain:

When you launched your special military operation in Ukraine in February of 2022, like many others, I was surprised at this turn of events due to my ignorance of what had been going on in the area. I listened to your stated reasons and goals when you said you intend to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine, and saw how the Western world declared you a lunatic for describing an imaginary Nazi problem in Ukraine, accusing you of using this claim to mask expansionist goals. Knowing that you are an intelligent man and not prone to lunacy, I looked it up for myself, and very easily and quickly found information regarding your claim.

Let us summarize the necessary background of which you are obviously well aware. I include this here only because I know you are a stickler for historical context: I found documentary after documentary, article after article, all clearly describing the Nazi and ultra-nationalist problem in Ukraine, and these reports came from distinguished Western news outlets, not from Russian sources. Some examples follow: Andriy Biletsky said Ukraine’s national purpose was to "lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen" and he was elected to Ukrainian parliament in 2014. I also read about Stepan Bandera, and the many dozens of monuments erected in Ukraine for this Nazi collaborator, as well as many other commemorations, and the granting of hero status to Bandera by the government itself.

I read about NATO's aggressive military expansion on Russia's borders for many decades. I studied the violent coup d'état of 2014 in Ukraine, read about the rejection of this violent coup by eight million Russians in Ukraine, about the new 2014 Ukrainian law forbidding use of the Russian language in many public spheres, the ensuing Donbas War, where Russians decided to fight back against this oppressive illegal government, a war where 14,000 people died over eight years. I saw ultra-nationalists train Ukrainian children to see Russians as less than human, and to shoot to kill all Russians. I saw a Western reporter document eight years of Ukraine bombing its Russian civilians in Eastern Ukraine. And so on.

All this and more led me to the inevitable conclusion that, even if ultra-nationalists are a minority in Ukraine, they are in power. As opposed to the common Nazi problem in every other country, Ukraine was erecting monuments and naming streets after Nazis, establishing numerous training camps for children around the country with women wearing "White Pride" tattoos on their thighs and training children. Ultra-nationalists had established their own military with the approval of and incorporation into the Ukrainian government, as a reward for their success in fighting Russian separatists. This is why, as we see in the above documentaries, neo-Nazis from around the world flocked to Ukraine to join this movement which was government-sponsored and growing in power. Ukraine was obviously offering something different to these Nazis, and it was not only affecting Ukraine, but was spreading throughout the world (in 2018, four white supremacists trained by the Azov Battalion were arrested in California).

While the vast majority of Ukrainians probably saw this as a harmless nationalist movement, much like in Germany, the citizens were probably not fully exposed to the war crimes happening in eastern Ukraine and the battalions' actual attitude towards Russians and Jews. I heard that Ukrainian oligarchs funded these Nazi brigades merely because they didn't want Russians to take over and compromise their power. The claim by the Western world that the ultra-nationalists in Ukraine are an unimportant minority does not correspond with all of this evidence. How could they achieve all of this without extensive control? It's about who is in power, who controls the military and police, and who influences government policies, not who is the majority. The fact that the vast majority of Ukrainians are innocent does not contradict this, nor does it solve the Nazi problem.

(We both know that anyone that has not done their research or already subscribed to this viewpoint will dismiss me as a Russian propagandist, but these people may find my case slightly difficult since I am also criticizing you.)

All this took a while for me to absorb, but, eventually, I not only saw your invasion of Ukraine as inevitable and justified, but saw how you tried to solve the problem through non-violent means repeatedly, and used war as a last resort. This included numerous attempts at negotiating cease-fires for eight years, repeated attempts at implementing the Minsk Agreements, and even a last ditch attempt to force Ukrainians to the negotiating table at Istanbul in 2022 after the invasion. I was flabbergasted at the media's portrayal of the Ukraine war, contradicting their own narratives about Nazis in Ukraine while portraying what was actually a coup in 2014 as a triumph of democracy.

I now hold that the West owes you and Russia a debt of gratitude for this operation to denazify Ukraine. This is a crucial task to perform now before the problem grows to perilous proportions. If someone had done this in the 1930s in Germany, who knows how the world may have turned out. Once again, as with WWII, Russia is the primary bastion against Nazism.

So far so good. Since Istanbul, however, I have growing concerns about your strategies in Ukraine. On the one hand, your extensive efforts to reduce civilian casualties as much as is practically possible, and your open-door policies in terms of negotiations for agreements are admirable. On the other hand, your slow, careful war has caused suffering for two long years with no end in sight and, despite your careful approach, it has taken a very heavy toll of an estimated half a million dead Ukrainian soldiers.

Let me put it this way to drive the point home: Imagine Yuri and Anna, two civilians living in Kiev. In 2022, you restricted your bombings to military infrastructure, sent a show of force with many tanks but tried to come in soft (militarily speaking), tried (unsuccessfully) to avoid fighting in civilian areas, warned civilians to stay out of the war, pressured Ukraine to an agreement and retreated from Kiev,  then, when they broke this agreement, proceeded to wage a very slow, careful war in Eastern Ukraine where civilians were evacuated from cities before the cities were razed to the ground. All this spared the lives of Yuri and Anna. But, now in 2024, Yuri and Anna were forced into the army by aggressive Ukrainian conscription, pushed to the battlefield in uniform after minimal training, and promptly shot to pieces by the Russian army.

My point is that a long, careful war does not necessarily mean less suffering and death. Like the proverbial band-aid, sometimes it is necessary to pull it off in one go, causing damage and intense pain, but also reducing damage and suffering in the long-term. Your slow war has given Ukrainians too much time to regroup repeatedly, given time to the West to repeatedly re-arm Ukrainians, every slow victory has merely allowed a new fierce battle to start a few kilometers further down, and increasing numbers of Ukrainian civilians have not only suffered for a longer time due to the war, but have also been killed due to the fact that Ukraine constantly needs new soldiers to fuel this slow war and has been given ample time to do this.

So, while killing 'Anna the soldier' is legal according to international law in contrast to killing 'Anna the civilian', it is no less tragic. Some may have willingly chosen to join the army to fight Russians and are facing the consequences of their own choices, others did not join voluntarily, or were misled by propaganda. Each and every soldier was a civilian once and has a family. This call for humanitarian consideration also includes the many Russian soldiers that died during this war. Therefore, as we see, attempting to reduce civilian deaths does not always result in a reduction of civilian deaths.

What would have happened had you gone in strong, caused much more damage to civilians and cities, but gotten it over and done with in months rather than years? Wouldn't the amount of suffering and deaths been lower in the long run? I would agree that this is a debatable point and would depend on military realities, but it is something to consider depending on the nature of the war.

In addition, Ukrainian-Russian civilians in Donetsk are continuously being bombed during this war and, for two years, the war has failed to protect them because it is moving too slow.

Granted, much of this criticism derives from hindsight and is therefore unfair. I admit that this would have been hard to predict earlier on. The amount of support that Ukraine received from the West was unprecedented, and this alone extended the war until today. Similarly, the scale of Ukrainian resistance and stubbornness was unexpected, as was the extreme effectiveness of propaganda. But this does not mean that lessons could not have been learned a year ago, and it is not too late to change course.

Which brings us to Israel and the war in Gaza...

Once again, I see your sincere concern for avoiding civilian death and suffering both before and after the Gaza operation was launched. As opposed to others that thought you were comparing Israel to Nazis in Leningrad, I presumed you merely meant that the siege of 2 million civilians in a dense area would be similar in its catastrophic outcome, not in its intention. I see and admire your open-door policy of always preferring negotiations over war and doing everything possible to reach a practical agreement. Your demands for a ceasefire stem from this approach, and I respect that. As opposed to criticisms from the government of Israel, I also understand that you approached Hamas for negotiating hostage release and ceasefire, not in order to condone terrorism.

However, you are making the same mistakes with Israel as you made with Ukraine. Your utmost concern for civilians, and your naiveté that the other side will eventually follow the law and fulfill agreements, both have a dark side and severe consequences, as I will further expand.

You have repeatedly emphasized Israel's right to defend itself and a right to demand security as part of any agreement, but how is Israel supposed to do this if you refuse to accept civilian casualties? Obviously you don't mean that a war should magically result in zero casualties, but that all avenues for peace should be explored beforehand.

Therefore, from your words, I hear your general support for Israel but see two separate criticisms: 1. That earlier peace attempts in the Middle-East were not serious or well thought through by either the USA or Israel, and: 2. That Israel is using 'cruel methods' to defend itself in Gaza, presumably methods that you have not used in Ukraine.

I considered that you may be criticizing Israel as revenge for Israel not fully supporting you in your Ukraine war. Although somewhat petty, this is something I could understand. If one criticizes a country diplomatically, then one should be prepared to receive in kind. However, my feeling from your consistent speeches is that this isn't merely a diplomatic facade on your part, but a criticism to which you lend your rational and moral support. Therefore, I will be countering your criticisms:

Regarding the first point: Your repeated criticism of the US and its attempts at peace in the Middle-East indicates that you think you could have done better. I can understand this impulse, but have you considered that perhaps, like Ukraine, Palestinians have broken their agreements repeatedly and it wasn't the agreement that was bad but the people that have bad intentions? Was Minsk a bad agreement? Or, perhaps, Ukraine and the USA had no intention to keep their agreements and only had militant intentions towards Russia? You have said so yourself. In which case, have you considered that your repeated endeavors for peace agreements with an uncompromisingly belligerent people, after a while, can only cause more death and destruction, as they did in Ukraine? At some point, one must conclude that one's potential peace partners are not honest or reliable and have evil intentions, and that one must fight them accordingly. This requires a harder approach, rather than more damaging calls for ceasefires, QED.

If this is the case in Ukraine, and you have argued yourself that this is the case, then it is arguably even more extreme in Israel-Palestine: This would be an appropriate place to point out one critical difference between Ukraine and Gaza: While most Ukrainians want peace, most Palestinians do not. In polls, 90% support terrorism and 75% want Israel to be destroyed. In addition, the PLO have officially declared their intention not to honor agreements and to use them as a basis for destroying Israel, repeatedly. And this is the PLO, not Hamas. Hamas, officially, have always declared their intention never to negotiate with Israel, and the majority of Palestinians support them. This effectively destroys your idea that peace is possible in the Middle-East if we only appeased their demands for self-determination. Do you think a peace plan would work when 75% of the civilian population want Israel destroyed and have wanted this for the past 100 years? Or is it possible that the US-brokered peace plans failed because of this reality and not because the US is incompetent (at least in this case)? 

If you failed to achieve peace in Ukraine several times despite the fact that it has peaceful citizens, is it so hard to believe that peace would fail with Palestine which has belligerent citizens? I realize you think you can do better and you think the reason it has failed was because Palestinians didn't get what they needed. But you forget your history: Palestinians had an opportunity to build a state in 1947 and attacked Israel instead. Israel did not occupy the West Bank and Gaza in 1948-1967 and still, Palestinians attacked Israel. Israel did not exist before 1947 and still Palestinians massacred Jews repeatedly between 1920-1947. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and Palestinians still voted for Hamas. I submit that your idealism is misplaced and projected unto an incompatible and belligerent people. Your well-meaning attempts at peace would not only have failed, they would have caused more death and destruction (as the catastrophic Oslo peace attempts have demonstrated).

Sergey Lavrov at Doha criticized the US for 'canceling' the context of the Gazan and Ukrainian wars, ignoring the history that led to these wars. But aren't you doing the same by canceling the above historical facts?

Under such circumstances, as with Ukraine, once all reasonable attempts at brokering agreements have failed, I'm sure you would agree that war is necessary. You have proven this to be true by invading Ukraine in 2022. Similarly, this is why Israel had no choice but to invade Gaza. Eventually, all well-meaning calls for ceasefire can only cause more death.

Regarding your second criticism that Israel is using unwarranted cruel methods while waging war on Hamas:

First, please consider the many parallels that exist between the two wars:

  • Ukraine and Gaza have both been firing missiles at civilians for years.
  • In Ukraine, at least during the first few months, Ukrainians have also used civilians as human shields.
  • Both you and Netanyahu have been accused of being war-hungry, expansionist, cruel monsters.
  • Both Russia and Israel have been accused of multiple war crimes by enemies as part of a  propaganda war. (The ICC has even issued a warrant for your arrest).
  • Both Russia and Israel are involved in a case at the ICJ involving genocide (though the details are different).
  • Russia, too, has claimed self-defense in the case against it and this has been ridiculed. But ICJ has gone further in the case of Russia and ruled that Russia must "immediately suspend the military operations in Ukraine", a ruling that Russia has dismissed as invalid.

Considering all of this experience with aggressive 'lawfare' and propaganda against Russia due to Russophobia, I find it very surprising that you would not be more understanding and discerning when the same is applied to Israel as part of an antisemitic war. Your ambassador at the UN even accused Israel of intending to wipe out the population of Gaza, assuming the ability to read Israeli minds, and using a wild and completely unsubstantiated claim that has also been directed at you several times. I understand that you have strong allies in the Arab world, but surely you have considered that the information they are showing you may be greatly biased and exaggerated just like the West did to Russia? How can you be oblivious to the distortions caused by propaganda after everything you saw in Ukraine?

After several branches of the UN have been used against you for propaganda purposes and you have declared their rulings invalid and ignored their arrest warrant, and Lavrov has accused the UN of being bribed or pressured into their decisions, how can you still criticize Israel based on UN rulings without being deeply hypocritical? For example:

  • You use the UN resolution against settlements as proof that Israel is an obstacle to peace despite the fact that this is a highly contested ruling disputed by legal experts around the world.

  • Your ambassador at the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, notwithstanding repeatedly saying that Israel has the right to protect its own citizens and ensure its security, infamously used a UN ruling from 2004 to claim that Israel has no right to self-defense as an occupier (1:32). However, this ruling was made only in the context of building a wall, and even the UN said in that same ruling that despite legal problems with Palestine not being a State, and problems with building a wall, as long as Israel acts in conformity with the law: "The fact remains that Israel has to face numerous indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence against its civilian population. It has the right, and indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the life of its citizens.". Nebenzia, therefore, has not only invoked a ruling by an organization that you regularly delegitimize, he has even applied the ruling wrongly.

On the other hand, I understand that the images coming out of Gaza are disturbing and of great concern. Truly, I take your point seriously when you say that the suffering in Gaza does not compare to Ukraine. I take this to mean that the number of dead civilians including children within a short amount of time, especially when considering the size and density of Gaza, are not comparable to Ukraine. However, consider the following counter-points:

  • During the first few months of the special military operation in Ukraine, Russia found itself fighting within civilian areas with numerous civilian casualties, and many accusations of war crimes and brutality were directed against Russia. Must I remind you of Bucha? How, exactly, is the Israeli war in Gaza any different? You may claim that the number of deaths still aren't comparable even after taking into account this early stage of the war. To this I add three critical differences between the wars that offset and explain the harsher images coming out of Gaza:

  • The first difference is that Hamas uses populated civilian buildings much more extensively than Ukraine did, launching missiles and attacks from civilian homes and populated areas. Not only this, but Hamas has repeatedly used hospitals, ambulances and schools for storing weapons, for building tunnels, and for launching RPG rockets and missiles. If Russia had to defend itself by attacking thousands of homes, hospitals and schools, do you really think the casualty rate would have been lower than the rate in Gaza? And how would the optics of the war look then?

  • The second difference is that, eventually in 2023, Ukraine started evacuating its own civilians from cities where battles were taking place, leaving Russia free to destroy that city as necessary while taking control. Hamas, on the other hand, not only does not evacuate its own civilians, it keeps them in the city by using propaganda and force, even with guns at checkpoints. How many women and children would have died in your battles for the cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka if those cities had hundreds of thousands of civilians? Wouldn't the images coming out of the war in Ukraine been as bad or worse than the images coming out of Gaza if Ukraine's government had behaved like Hamas?

  • Another difference is that you have yet to attack most of the major cities in Ukraine. How many casualties and displacements would occur when and if you try to take Kiev?

  • Finally, my primary contention in this letter, as I have said, is that you are waging war too softly, causing more damage in the long run. In some cases, increased civilian deaths in the short term could actually mean fewer deaths in the long run. If, as I have argued, we were to count soldiers as civilians (which they are/were), and if we took half a million dead Ukrainians as our number, that would constitute 1+% of Ukraine's population. In Gaza, the number of deaths (both soldiers and civilian) relative to the population of Gaza also stands at around 1+%. So how is Gaza worse than Ukraine?

In summary, I repeat my criticism that are you applying soft tactics in specific cases where harder ones are required. If you were a harder man and knew your history of the Middle-East, you wouldn't be criticizing Israel and should concede that the more aggressive war in Gaza may be the correct solution in this specific case. Granted, adjustments can be made and it's possible that some actions taken by Israel may have been a tad aggressive, but, overall, given your concern for civilians, surely you wouldn't want Gaza and Israel to suffer the same consequences as the ten-year war in Ukraine?

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Understanding Israel

I've long held the belief that one can't begin to understand Israel and its politics without understanding its complex demographics and associated mentalities. One could argue that this applies to any country, except, with Israel, I think it is especially pivotal and essential. If one approaches Israel with a simple set of categories taken from the West such as left vs right, liberal vs conservative, or extremist vs moderate, one will find that many things don't make sense regarding Israel's behavior and electorate. On top of demographics, Israel is also in a unique situation relative to other countries, being in constant war and tension on the borders for all of its young life, and its politics will greatly reflect this reality.

I often see many analysts around the world discussing Israel and its presumed intentions and, despite their extensive geopolitical expertise, they make clueless mistakes. I can make this observation without doubt and hesitation simply because their views don't conform to what my Israeli neighbors and co-workers think. As a layman, would you hesitate in correcting an established scientist if he said the sky is never blue? Naturally, there are many reasons for these warped conclusions about Israel, but one of them is this lack of understanding of Israeli thinking and demographics, often projecting Western thought onto a complex, multi-cultural country. That is, if we assume the analyst in question is rational and not letting his bias make his conclusions for him, then this is usually the issue. Included in this general mistake is the often misunderstood Israeli attitude towards the land of Israel and Zionism. 

In addition, demographics are important in order to understand how many Israelis are actually thinking what you think they are thinking, thus avoiding mistaken, sweeping, generalizing remarks about Israel as a whole. Extrapolation is generally not a good idea when it comes to Israelis.

A few examples of problems: Reading the liberally-oriented popular press, one would be hard-pressed to explain why Netanyahu has held on to power for so long and why he is popular amongst much of the electorate. Also, if 10% of the vote chose a far-right extremist, does that mean 10% are extremist? Hardly. But analysts will be at a loss to explain this phenomenon if they don't understand what Israelis are really thinking, and will therefore take the lazy way out in tune with their bias. If Netanyahu forms a coalition with them does that make him an extremist? Why do some seeming leftist leaders oppose a two-state peace plan? How can an aggressive hawk of a leader like Sharon support settlements one day, and then uproot them the next? How can Zionist settlers in the occupied West Bank claim they are peaceful? Why, precisely, aren't most Israelis, even secular leftists, bothered by the occupation of the West Bank? When Netanyahu claims he wants peace with Palestinians but aggressively blocks a two-state solution, isn't that a contradiction? How can you extract any conclusion about what 'Amalek' actually means for Israelis if you don't understand Israelis? Trying to derive its meaning from the words of the bible is hardly going to be indicative of 21st century secular-Israeli thinking. If some religious Zionists express aggressive intentions, does this mean all Zionists think the same way? How does religion affect Israeli political views? And so on...

(A similar, and possibly bigger problem is that the West doesn't understand the Arab/Palestinian mentality which causes most people to vastly underestimate or misunderstand the problems in the Middle-East, but we will stick to Israel in this article.)

I don't think I can do full justice to the task of explaining Israelis and how they think, but I will do my best to present many important ideas and the required background with which one can start to understand the most muddled and problematic areas. Keep in mind this article is going to be densely packed with many details.

How to Slice Israel?

To start with, the popular left/right dichotomy in the West has long become largely meaningless in Israel, and I am not sure that it was ever critical. Not that its use isn't prevalent or that people don't call each other leftist and rightist in Israel, but that this category is usually secondary to other more important issues and categories. In addition, definitions can change over time, and the rightist of yesteryear may now be considered a centrist or leftist, thanks to changing realities on the ground that affect people's viewpoints. Finally, Israeli political parties can combine elements typically associated with both right and left for the same reason: Other categories, specific issues, or even personalities are more important than being right or left. I have yet to hear anyone in Israel define 'left' and 'right' with any precision.

This is why there are political parties in Israel such as Yisrael Beiteinu which is fiercely secularist and anti-tradition, aggressively pushing reforms to reduce religious influence in politics, and yet they are still considered a right-wing party for blurry reasons. Yesh Atid, although arguably extremely leftist in its positions on social egalitarianism and climate change is considered to be a centrist party just because it claims to take a moderate, compromising position on some issues. (If you ask me, this is just a reflection of its populist leader who changes his views every few weeks to maximize votes, but the confusing definition remains.) Israel also has ultra-religious parties which support unusual peace initiatives with Palestinians and more social welfare programs, stances that are typically associated with the left despite these being extremely conservative parties. And finally, rightist leaders and parties have shifted to become centrist a few times in the past. I will try to expand further and clarify why all this happens in Israel.

Israel is probably the most intense melting-pot of cultures on the planet, with Jews and Arabs from various places living side by side even though they originate from over a hundred different countries. But even this is not of primary concern when it comes to understanding Israelis. With Jews, you can have a Moroccan, Hungarian, American, Russian, Burmese, Iranian and Chinese all not only living in the same building, but also sharing meals together on the Sabbath and praying together. Judaism is their shared core, and this brings radically different cultures and countries together. Accents, food, weddings, holiday and religious practices do differ greatly depending on the country of origin, but this doesn't necessarily change politics, with one exception:

In terms of countries of origin, there is one relatively minor exception in Israel that does define some of the politics: Whether a Jew comes from an Eastern/African country including Spain and Portugal (Mizrahi/Sefardi), or from Europe/US (Ashkenazi). This dichotomy can affect voting patterns, especially with religious Jews, and can cause some elitism or racism when it comes to education and schools, and some jobs such as in the judiciary (a small part of the Judicial Reform controversy of 2023 was due to this issue). More often it is a patronizing, elitist attitude from the Western Jews towards the Eastern Jews, but not vice versa. But this light racism is nothing like, say, the violent racism in the US, as it only affects behavior in specific cases and circumstances, and in the end, most Jews eat, pray and fight together with brotherly love. Jews from either side of this East/West dichotomy can be religious or secular, Zionist or not, left or right. If Jews fight internally, it is almost always over other issues than this one.

So what is of primary importance when it comes to Israeli demographics and politics?

First, here are some links that I used as a reference for the numbers in this article, but keep in mind that polls are extremely limited in their usefulness as I will explain below:

Naturally, and most obviously, we can start with slicing Israel by religion: Jew (74% as of 2022), Muslim (18%), Christian (2%), Druze (2%). Note that this doesn't include Palestinians in occupied territories. This most definitely affects political views and votes. These groups are also generally separated in terms of neighborhoods and mentalities, similar to the US for example, but everyone still works together closely at the workplace, and the neighborhoods can be mere meters apart.

Even within Israeli Arabs there is a wide variety of viewpoints, ranging from Arabs with Jewish friends that want peace with Israel, Christian Arabs, and Arabs that identify as Palestinian despite their citizenship, some wanting the destruction of Israel. 58% want Sharia law to rule in Israel. Some will be religious, others secular, and each may vote for a different Arab or Jewish political party.

One point that many people tend to forget or ignore, however, is that Israeli Arabs constitute a fifth of Israel, have full rights identical to Israeli Jews, and Arabs have their own political parties in the Israeli government. In addition, the Druze are well known to fight proudly with Jews in the army. I say that this is often ignored, because otherwise, these people wouldn't make absurd accusations of Apartheid or Jewish exclusionism in Israel. But this is a topic for another article.

In this article, however, we will be focusing on Jews and the differences amongst Jews that affect politics, mostly because this is the topic I know best. In my opinion, there are two primary axes upon which most Jewish politics revolve: Religion, and what I'll call the 'Aggression' index to do with Zionism and attitudes towards the State of Israel. We will devote a section for each of these axes below.

In addition to these two categories however, keep in mind that there is an additional wildcard factor to which I hinted previously: That some people may vote based on the specific burning issues of the day, and/or based on political personalities, where a politician gathers votes after having done or said the right thing at the right time. Some voters, such as the ultra-orthodox and the ultra-leftists, tend to be very loyal to their parties; but there is plenty of wiggling room in between in terms of demographics, and leaders can shift their stance somewhat to adapt to the current reality in Israel, taking many voters from several camps with them.

This can happen, most often, when there is yet another scary war going on with neighboring Arabs, or when, for example, a religious issue, or the cost of living issue, has become critically important before the next election. Leaders may shift towards a more centrist or more extreme stance in response to these new realities, or splinter away from a party that has recently lost favor with the electorate, gathering many votes from voters that are restlessly looking for something different from their government. Sometimes its just a temporary zeitgeist. For example, if there are many terrorist attacks lately, and an extremist politician like Ben Gvir always appears on the scene and says aggressive things that others are not saying which sound like they could be effective against terrorism, he may ride a wave of angry popularity regardless of his views on settlements that are anathema to the same voters. But then these parties may lose their new voters as quickly as they gain them when the tide turns and/or their promises turn out to be impractical. In a dangerous and young, volatile place like Israel, some people, when pushed hard enough, may compromise on some issues to try to achieve success on more burning issues.

This is why timing, issues and personalities are important wildcard factors in Israel, and this can throw analysts off their game if they are expecting a loyal, stable, bipartisan dichotomy as in the USA or Europe. In other words, dynamic issues are pivotal in Israel, and leaders may sometimes change along with the issues, sometimes disregarding impractical and monolithic political categories. This is mostly a good thing and, in my opinion, demonstrates a healthy democracy, where some leaders and voters try to be creative and attempt different approaches instead of staying fastened to the same broken hinge. Look at US politics to understand what I mean.

Religion is a Spectrum

The first, not-quite-obvious observation on the topic of Jewish religiosity is that, depending on how religious and observant an Israeli Jew is, or depending on how angry a Jew is with religion, this will make them more closely aligned to right-leaning or left-leaning political camps respectively. But remember what I said previously: That being left or right-wing in Israel depends on another, more dominant factor; and I hold that this factor is religion. This is why some political parties can adopt seemingly opposite stances on various issues. Because the axis is not necessarily left/right, but religion. Judaism, as well as anti-religious sentiment, do not conform neatly to these labels and their associated political stances. This does not stop Israelis, including myself, from using left/right as convenient (or accusatory) labels, however, even if they don't match perfectly.

Note that the Pew Research poll I linked to above is quite accurate when it comes to this issue, demonstrating that religiosity is closely linked to, but not consistent with, left/right ideologies.

Another point to keep in mind is that religiosity is a spectrum. It's not just secularism vs ultra-orthodox, and everything in between, with people that defy categories leading very mixed lifestyles, but also a negative side of the spectrum, where a large anti-religious group of people in Israel often stage their battles and political stances based on this emotion. Once again, this explains some contradictions if you keep this in mind.

I will not go into the psychology of religion or anti-religion, but I will describe some common examples of Israelis briefly:

  • One mostly-secularist traditionalist may see Judaism as a 'culture' worth preserving, to be compared with Western cultural traditions, but may see Orthodox Jews as a backwards people, and will vote according to a party's attitude towards conservative modernity, and will shun anything more extreme on either side.

  • Another traditionalist will be completely different, and may practice minimal religiosity, but only because he doesn't feel ready for more, and will still value and respect ultra-orthodox Jews and their parties.

  • Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews tend to vote for their religious party, and Sephardi Orthodox Jews vote for theirs, but they still work closely together on practically all issues, and the voting difference is only due to tribal associative feelings, not politics.

  • Anti-religious Jews, however, will feel very strongly about allowing an Orthodox party to have any influence on the government, and will vote accordingly. Of course, even within the limitations of this goal they still have a choice of parties depending on other factors such as social or Palestinian issues. This concern over Orthodox influence is often due to a fear of religious coercion, and this is an issue we must expand on next since it strongly affects politics. Just look at the 2023 Judiciary Reform controversy as an example.

The 'anti' crowd has strong emotions against religion and religious people in Israel, and, unfortunately, often perceive the Orthodox Jews as wanting to coerce them into religion like some Iranian Ayatollah regime. This is a large crowd, and much of the popular media is aligned with this cause and this will color their profiles on politicians. This perception is tragically wrong, as I will explain. But I mention it because it affects politics to a great extent: Many decisions are made based on this fear and hate. And this hate can reach extreme proportions that remind one, ironically and tragically, of European antisemitism.

As someone who knows Orthodox Jews personally very well for decades, I can say with absolute certainty that Orthodox Jews do not want to coerce secular Jews. It is against Judaism. Historically, religious courts only functioned with a religious society and these courts have actually abdicated when society could no longer maintain their standards. At worst/best, religious people will try to persuade or inspire secular Jews. But, some actions of Orthodox Jews may appear at first glance to be the same as coercion, which explains this mistaken conclusion and perception of the 'anti' crowd. Let me explain using some specific examples:

  • The definition of who is a Jew and who isn't (traditionally only the biological mother determines who is Jewish), as well as what constitutes a valid conversion to Judaism, are both highly contentious issues. But it's much more critical than most people realize and goes way beyond the issue of who makes this decision: If Orthodox standards for the definition of a Jew aren't met, this means that Orthodox Jews would have to split from the rest of the crowd. Since religious Jews only marry other Jews, this issue would not only define who is a Jew, but who they can marry. Orthodox Jews would have to maintain their own registry and methods for determining Jewish ancestry and status, rabbis would quit the state's conversion rabbinate, there would be two courts and marriage/divorce proceedings that directly conflict with each other, and the more time passes, the worse this split will become to the point of possible violence. Israel would essentially become a state of two peoples (three, including Arabs).

  • If this happens, having a country defined as a 'State for Jews', where half of its citizens think the other half aren't even Jews, is unthinkable and absurd. This is why the definitions had and have to be agreed upon by all sides, and the secular founders of Israel had to agree with the Orthodox definitions. If this didn't happen, Orthodox Jews would have no problem with splitting off from the rest of Israel to meet their own standards. But this would be unacceptable for an Israel that is supposed to be a home for Jews. In other words, once you understand this and see it for the practical issue that it is, the coercion came from, ironically, secular Jews that founded the State. But it can easily be wrongfully perceived as being imposed by the Orthodox Jews just because they refuse to compromise on their 3000-year-old standards. In other words, Orthodox Jews are only defining standards for themselves, not for others, but in order to have a unified country, the country had to go along with these standards.

  • Another issue is that Orthodox Jews can never agree to actively partake in an activity that goes against their religion. I.e. they have to limit what they can do in government, due to personal restrictions they place on themselves. So, for example, they would normally not sign a paper that allows state facilities to be used for something that would cause people to sin who would not sin otherwise. Similarly, they can't actively participate in a committee that is funding and building public transportation on the Sabbath. Note, once again, that this is not because they want to coerce the secular public not to travel on the Sabbath, but because they can't actively participate or encourage this themselves on a personal level. So, once again, this looks like coercion but isn't. To make it clear why this is so, Orthodox Jews in the government could and have turned a blind eye when a private company establishes public transportation for the Sabbath, but they wouldn't be caught dead participating or encouraging it. So there is no cooperation by religious government officials, but neither is there coercion. Same goes for allowing alternate kosher certification for restaurants, and any other issue that conflicts with Orthodox Judaism. This is a subtle distinction that is lost on many angry people.

Unfortunately, the 'anti' crowd stubbornly hold fast to their perceptions, paranoia and phobias about religious Jews due to a combination of the above easily misunderstood behavior, as well as their own personal hangups, whatever they may be. They fear an 'Ayatollah regime' in Israel due to this fear and misunderstanding of Judaism. This causes endless friction between two massive and fundamental demographic sections of Israel even though there shouldn't be any. Practical compromises could be found if this were understood and accepted. It's tragic.

There is a concept of the 'Status Quo' in Israel which means that, in the past, Israel found a way to compromise and make it work, where secular people learned to live with these quirks and impositions due to the aforementioned practical reasons. It was an unwritten law in Israel that you don't upset this Status Quo, and you do this in order to achieve the noble goal of living together as a unified nation. Unfortunately, attitudes have changed, emotions have soared, and the Status Quo is no longer the sacred law it once was, with politicians purposely breaking this delicate balance and causing much friction. Much of this is thanks to leftist views becoming more extreme, intolerant and militant in the past two decades.

The demographic numbers for this important Religion axis are as follows (from several polls in the past five years, Jews only, excluding Israeli Arabs): Secular Jews (Hiloni) are at 44-49%, Traditional Jews (Masorti) 28-33%, Religious Jews (Dati) 11-12%, Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) 10-11%.

Notes: 'Traditional' generally means they maintain observance of some Jewish traditions and customs to a varying extent, and for different reasons, but don't identify as religious. The above numbers of roughly 30% traditionalists can be split to 17% and 13% percent depending on their religiosity, but it is a spectrum. 'Religious/Dati', similarly, is a somewhat ambiguous catch-all term. Individuals can wander from one of these camps to another over the years.

It is also very important to note that the ultra-orthodox and religious are the fastest growing groups in Israel, and many studies project that they will be the majority in a few decades. This, of course, adds to the fears of the anti-religious crowds and escalates their aggression in politics.

I have not yet seen a poll that counts anti-religious Israelis. Also, the numbers on this single axis are not enough as far this article is concerned, as they don't differentiate between, for example, religious Zionist settlers who may or may not be also ultra-orthodox in terms of religiosity. Attitudes towards Palestinians as well as to the State of Israel and its policies vary widely in each of these categories. Which brings us to a second index I'll call the 'Aggression' axis:

Aggression and the Land of Israel

This section, and the next one, will cover Zionism and how to understand it specifically in terms of Israeli viewpoints and politics. As opposed to critics around the world, Zionism and aggression are not correlated, as I will shortly argue. And yes, there are actually many anti-Zionists in Israel. But Israeli anti-Zionists and pro-Palestinian anti-Zionists are very different beasts.

Disclaimer: I realize that most of what I say in this section will be obvious to the average Israeli but will sound like ridiculous lies and fantasies to many outsider critics of Israel. But I can only explain and argue the truth that I see with my own eyes the best I can, and hope that cognitive dissonance will not get in the way.

Many people know that, historically, there have been several types of Zionism. They tended to differ in their vision of Israel, and around which ism Israel would form as a nation, and what Israeli society should look like when it did. But all of them had in common the dream of a return of a Jewish nation and homeland, wherever that may be and whatever it may look like, and the vast majority envisioned this happening in Israel. These many types of Zionism, whether liberal, socialist, cultural, practical, political, revisionist, or religious and messianic, all have this very simple core in common.

One must also take into account that Zionism arose amidst a wave of nationalistic movements around the world in the 19th century. Since the French Revolution, people around the world were rising to the idea that it is the people that self-determine and form independent nations which revolve around their common culture. Zionists, amidst this furor and trend, were merely saying that they wanted a nation too. At the core, Zionism is merely another nationalistic movement. Except that, since Jews were without a nation for so long, the movement revolved around Jews as a religion or culture rather than around national expatriates or as a splintering faction of an existing nation. It was not as if Jews had papers they could use to prove their nationality. After 1900 years, they only had their religion. Pay close attention to this point as it resolves many difficulties and criticisms.

Finally, another important point is that Zionism did not initiate the dream of Jews returning to Israel, nor was it the start of waves of immigration to Israel. Not by a long shot. Not only have Jews retained a presence in Israel as best they could throughout 1900 years of refugee hell, there have been 1900 years of daily prayers and aspirations for a return to Israel, many waves of immigrants, many of them initiated by religious Jews centuries before Zionism was invented as a political entity. But we will deal with Orthodox Jews and the land of Israel later.

One reality people may not know, is that, over time, many of these Zionist strains have dropped their distinctive isms and merged together around their common, basic goal of Israel as a Jewish state. Today, many Zionists simply identify as Zionists in the sense that they are patriots and nationalists that are proud of their Jewish state and/or happy to live in their own country. These modern, simpler Zionists, idealistically speaking, are equivalent to an American saying they are proud to be an American. It has nothing to do with expansionism.

On the other hand, some Israelis, mostly in the leftist camp, feeling uncomfortable over how Zionism is perceived around the world, have argued that Zionism has completed its job of establishing a state, and we are now in the era of Post-Zionism. Some have taken this too far and become 'self-hating Jews', or  leftist anti-Zionists, supporting anti-Semites around the world in the futile hopes of becoming more loved. But, as I have shown, this is not necessary even from this point of view. Zionism can be, and has been, distilled to its basic, innocuous nationalistic essence by many secular or traditional Israelis.

Orthodox Jews are also generally anti-Zionists, but for very different reasons. And I will deal with them in the next section.

Another point that many people don't take into account is that, even within these types of Zionists, individual Jews have differed in their level of aggression. This is a very critical point that is lost on critics of Zionism and Israel that tend to extrapolate from a few bad eggs and extremists to Zionists as a whole.

Despite what I said about a modern, simpler Zionism, religious Zionists are an exception in that they generally maintain their original Zionist ideals and ambitions. This is because their Zionism is linked to their variation of religion and to their view that this is a messianic age. But this does not mean they are aggressive and violent either. Just because they see settlement of the land as a religious prescript, that doesn't mean that religion and rabbis demand war and violence to achieve this goal. A parable might clarify this further:

Imagine a family that owns some property for a century, and this family is then driven forcibly from its land due to conquering invaders, and kept away from this land for many decades. In the meantime, the country and estate changes hands many times, the current owners being all but oblivious to the history of the estate itself, having bought it from the current controlling government or previous owners, and these people have raised a family and established some roots in this home. Now, the descendants of the original family come back after a hundred years of longing to come back to their ancestral home of which they learned and heard so much. They may have even linked their religion to this homecoming event. They find the current owners, recognize the new reality on the ground, but still know that this estate belongs to them. They decide to compromise and share, given the understandable claim of the new owners and their investment, take over some areas, but mostly just move into the rooms and land that this new family doesn't occupy. They still talk about the whole estate being legally theirs and history being unfair, but recognize the new reality, and implement a compromise.

What I am trying to demonstrate with this story, is that just because people declare full ownership, tell tales of sovereignty and nostalgia for days gone by, along with aspirations and dreams for the estate, that does not mean they are automatically aggressive. Some may be talking about their very valid historical claim as owners, but will still be willing to compromise and be as fair as one can be given current circumstances. Others may be a bit more aggressive and decide to persuade the current owners to leave using different tactics. And yet others may be willing to fight and kill for their estate. But all will talk the same way about the land belonging to them whether they are aggressive or not.

What I am saying concerning Zionists, based on my personal experience, is that most of them talk about the whole land of Israel belonging to Jews, and their grand dream of settling Israel, but most do this without intentions of forcibly displacing or fighting Arabs. Others are more aggressive. The question is how much more aggressive, and how many of them are willing to fight for it. Some may compromise and try to reach a political agreement where land is exchanged and delineated, and people are displaced as a result of this agreement, with as much land as possible reverting back to its original owners, as long as it does not involve violence. Some will choose to fight and kill. Most, however, will simply accept the current reality and only do what they can to implement their dream within current restraints and without violence. Expressing their dreams and views on legal ownership does not prove anything on its own. It's the end-result and final actions that count.

This is why, settlers can establish settlements in occupied but empty territory, and still think of themselves as being peaceful, because most of them truly want peace with their close neighbors while implementing their dream to the extent that is possible. The fact that these settlements upset their neighbors is a different issue. But they don't see this as aggression given that they are moving into unsettled land, and because they see the land as historically theirs, and only intend to be friendly with their neighbors with whom they are compromising in a friendly manner.

Unfortunately I cannot provide numbers as to how many Jews are aggressive and to what extent they are aggressive, or even how they define their Zionism, because polls do not take these nuances into account. But, from my experience, Jews that take their aggression to violent levels are a very tiny minority, and many of these Jews become violent only as retaliation for aggression from the other side. You may argue that their settlements are a different form of aggression, but now you hopefully understand their mentality and possibly the justification for thinking this way.

Religion is not an indicator of aggression in Israel. I have described religious settlers above, which are typically more aggressive than the average Israeli in terms of taking over more land, but typically without violence, as I have argued above. As contrast, compare the political party Yisrael Beiteinu which is extremely secular, yet align themselves often with relatively more aggressive religious Zionist policies and attitudes towards Palestinians.

Some relevant numbers: Amongst all Jews, 73% have no problem with identifying at least partially or fully as Zionist. This number may seem low to some and high to others. But there are two points to keep in mind given what I have said: First is that this number rises to 84% if we include only Traditional and 'Religious' Jews, and goes down to 33% for Orthodox Jews. In other words, Orthodox Jews are by far the largest group of anti-Zionists with a majority being anti-Zionist. (This number increases by around 3% if we remove the religious Zionists that identify as ultra-orthodox.) The second point is that Zionism means different things to different Jews, and probably most Jews simply identify as Zionist for basic patriotic reasons, and this has nothing to do with aggression or settlements, as I explained.

For some additional numbers and proofs to do with Israeli aggression, see the 'Observations on Polls' section below.

Now that we have two independent axes, note that these two combine to form a variety of Jews: From religious non-aggressive Jews, to secular very aggressive Zionists, to a spectrum of religious aggressive Jews, and obviously to the many non-aggressive Jews in between.

Finally, but most importantly, keep in mind that the vast majority of Israelis understandably prioritize security and self-preservation over expansionism, and eschew violence. This is why the occupation of Palestinian territories is accepted as a necessity even by leftists. Not because all Israelis want to expand the land of Israel or because they are ideologically aggressive, but because this is the only way to stop terrorist attacks under which Israelis suffer every other day. They may not agree with settlements in these lands, but occupation and settlements are two separate issues. 

This is why somebody secular like Netanyahu, who until recently was 'Mr. Security', is/was a favorite of Israelis from many camps. Despite peaceful intentions, the average Israeli, Netanyahu included, says no to plans that will expose Israel to more terrorist attacks. Peace plans have repeatedly only brought on more attacks in the past. Security has nothing to do with Zionist expansionist goals, and most aggression from Israelis has to be placed within this context of Israel requiring defense and security. Aggression and desiring peace do not contradict each other; not when the aggression is self-defense. It's just that Israelis disagree on how aggressive they need to be to respond to Palestinian violence proportionally and effectively.

Orthodoxy and the State of Israel

Our discussion of Zionism and Israeli attitudes towards aggression leads us to Orthodox Jews and their relationship to the State of Israel. This is usually the least recognized and understood subject of all. Yet it is very important to understand this unique mentality, especially given most studies predict that  religious people will eventually become the majority in Israel.

As I mentioned previously, immigration to Israel was continuous long before Zionism was a thing. This had nothing to do with nationalism since Jews were not a nation for 1900 years and immigrants did not have this ambition. In fact, Zionists renamed the previous immigration movements and settlements as the Old Yishuv. The primary reason for these older immigrations is religious, because Judaism holds Israel to be a special holy place with infinite spiritual benefits. Living in Israel is an important mitzvah (precept). but, it does not override life: One is not supposed to kill or risk death in order to implement this. There are also other religious considerations to do with settling Israel which I will list below.

While some immigrants in centuries past did risk their life to travel to Israel (due to travel risks or  violent attacks by Arabs in the Ottoman Empire or during Crusades), one must take into account that Jews at the time were suffering from pogroms in their current countries, therefore traveling to Israel would not be more dangerous, and could even be less dangerous than staying at home. Indeed, several immigration waves were triggered by pogroms. Today, however, there is no such excuse to risk life in order to settle land. But there is the excuse of self-defense when keeping land. Pay attention to this distinction.

The most recent wave before Zionism was in the early 19th century, when Jews were immigrating and expanding, establishing new neighborhoods in Jerusalem outside its walls, and even establishing new cities such as Petah Tikva. Since the task was primarily religious and not nationalist, their first and primary goals were to establish places of Torah study, schools, synagogues, and so on. Of course they were limited by Ottoman laws and restrictions which changed over time.

Some Zionists re-appropriate these immigration waves and settlements as proto-Zionist, but this is incorrect as they were very different in their goals and intentions. Similarly, religious writings to do with messianic times, especially from mystical sources such as the Vilna Gaon, were interpreted and possibly even altered (in the controversial book Kol Hator) to adapt them to religious Zionistic goals. But what exactly is the difference between these two movements to the point that Orthodox Jews, who previously settled Israel, would oppose Zionism aggressively?

  • I already mentioned one important issue: The duty to live in and settle the land of Israel most definitely does not justify risking lives or killing. Of course, self-defense is a different matter entirely, and waging war to protect Jewish lives is a duty regardless of the State of Israel and how it was established. But waging war to settle additional land is not a religious Orthodox thing in current times of exile. In addition, Orthodox Jews are willing to give up land to save lives because Jewish lives are more important than land. The problem is that Palestinians have made it abundantly clear that giving up land will not only not save lives, but will cause more Jewish deaths. Therefore, nowadays, given the current situation, giving up land is forbidden even for anti-Zionists since it is classified under self-defense.

  • In other words, Orthodox Jews may oppose the way the State of Israel was established, but now that it has been done this way, and Jews must survive somewhere, they must make the best of it and deal with the situation at hand. Since dissolving the State of Israel would cause many Jews to die, it is no longer possible to oppose it. Again, note this subtle distinction.

  • Another basic difference and issue is that Orthodox Jews wanted to settle the land but not establish a state. Orthodox Jews were not only restricting their goals to living and settling Israel under the auspices of the current conquerors and occupation, they were emphatically opposed to the idea of establishing a state. Which brings us to the next issue:

  • The Three Oaths: This is an agreement between God and the Jews, that while Jews are in exile, divine processes that progress the world towards an ultimate fix must continue their course and reach their completion properly without Jews attempting to force a premature ending. This premature ending of the exile would include forcefully 'ascending the wall' i.e. returning to Israel en masse and with force, and a warning not to rebel against the nations.

  • Questions arise as to how these oaths are to be interpreted, and whether they are still binding, and so on. The majority of Orthodox Jews, as exemplified by the decision of Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, take these oaths very seriously but allow for limited exceptions to these oaths. Namely, that if the UN agrees to a partition plan of Israel, and Jews immigrate in waves, this no longer qualifies as force or rebelling against the nations for obvious reasons. Just because local Arabs reject the plan, that does not qualify as 'rebelling against the nations' since the majority of them agreed.

  • But this still means that some things are not allowed. For example, settling or annexing the West Bank in opposition to UN laws would be strictly forbidden. Same goes for fighting all Arabs with the goal of expanding Israel.

  • Some branches of Jewish Orthodoxy have interpreted these oaths in more extreme ways. In order of extremism: The Satmar Hasidim,  the Neturei Karta sect, and some truly lunatic individuals in the Neturei Karta, all are aggressively opposed to the State of Israel, forbidding praying at the Wall, doing anything that confirms the rule of the Israeli government, or participating in Israeli politics, some even to the point of forbidding Jews to live there. The lunatic fringe even cooperate with Jew killers. But, as I said, the majority don't hold any of these views.

  • Also concerning the Three Oaths, I'll repeat the previous point about the difference between opposing the State of Israel during its establishment, and dealing with the current reality. Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky for example, who was the leader of the Orthodox world, explicitly opposes Satmar and prioritizes what needs to be done to save Jewish lives and souls, regardless of the past.

  • Other relevant religious concepts are called 'Darkei Shalom' (Ways of Peace) which is a precept to pursue peace and not do things that cause hate (within reason obviously, as long as the hater is not insane), as well as the precept to follow the laws of the land where Jews are currently living. But there are many limitations here and we won't go into this in detail.

  • In terms of the Zionistic viewpoint that these are "messianic times", rabbis disagree with Zionists in that, even if these are indeed messianic times, they are the end stages of exile, not necessarily the start of redemption. Therefore aggression is not justified. When the Messiah arrives and starts changing the world, the world and its viewpoints will change drastically, and we will know it. This is not it.

  • Finally, Orthodox Jews have an ongoing big problem with the fact that most Zionist Jews wanted to establish a secular state with laws that conflict with Judaism, and even actively perform actions and pass laws to reduce the level of religiosity in Israel until today (see my discussion of anti-religion in the previous section).

To strongly fortify and illustrate this description of the conflict between Orthodox Jews and Zionists, I will refer you to the forgotten assassination of Jacob Israël de Haan. He was a Dutch Jew who changed his stance and aligned himself with Orthodox Jews in the early days of the British Mandate in Palestine. Orthodox Jews at the time were willing to forgo the Balfour Declaration and he was sent on a mission to discuss an agreement with Arabs in which they would maintain control but allow unrestricted Jewish immigration. He was killed by extreme Zionists. This tragic story demonstrates several things that I described above, especially the clear differentiation between the religious drive to settle Israel, and the Zionist goal to establish a state.

Despite everything I just said, here we are, one hundred years later, and Orthodox Jews are working together with Zionists as best they can, mostly because everyone is a fellow Jew, but also because the current reality and dangers on the ground demand it. There are and will be internal fights and clashes of ideologies, but there is nothing like a threat of another Holocaust to bring everyone to the same page.

Observations on Polls

Now that we have described the foundations, complexity and nuance of Israeli demographics and mentalities, you should understand why extracting useful information from polls on Israelis is often an impossible task. Questions are worded poorly and/or ignore nuances and reasons behind viewpoints, thus not differentiating between the truly important political viewpoints, making it difficult to reach useful conclusions.

One obvious problem with many of the questions in polls is that they ask about people's predictions and optimism, not about their goals. For example: "Do you think a two-state solution is possible/likely?" is not at all the same as: "Do you want to see a two-state solution implemented?".

But a subtler and bigger problem is that many of the questions on peace ask Jews what they think the government should do, ignoring the fact that this is based on current circumstances and realities, not on ideal goals or possible alternate plans. For example, imagine if they asked the following carefully worded question: "If Palestinians renounced terrorism, put down their weapons, and agreed to a demilitarized state, would you agree to pursue a two-state peace plan?". Compare this with the commonly asked: "Do you think the current government should pursue a two-state solution?". Given the violence that Israelis have seen for decades in response to such plans, obviously the answer to this latter question will be mostly negative. Not only that, but we see the polls changing drastically depending on whether they were asked right after an attack by Palestinians. For example, support for a peace plan dropped from 60% to 25% depending on the year. But with my wording, I bet the answer would be mostly and consistently positive, and it would also help us determine what Israelis truly think and want in the long term, not how they feel at the moment. In other words, opposition to a two-state solution is typically due to current Palestinian attitudes and behavior, not due to ideology, and polls don't try to differentiate between the two.

(I did find a couple of questions in polls that come close to my question. But one made it a package deal with other Palestinian demands like splitting Jerusalem, and the other allowed for a 'security force' in the Palestinian state, thus undermining its own proposal for a demilitarized state.)

Similarly, in line with what I argued about Israelis and security: When a poll asks the provocative question "Should Arabs be expelled from Israel?", it leaves open the question of why and under what circumstances they should be expelled. Since Israelis are constantly attacked by Arabs, and the  majority of Arab citizens want to see the destruction of Israel, it is natural and sensible to want them out for self-preservation. But the poll leaves it open to wild interpretation. What if things changed? Is it about racism, ideology, or fearing for their lives? Same goes for the people that said Israel should annex the West Bank. Is this due to ideology or security? Questions such as these should not leave this crucial distinction open without clarification.

Here is some strong proof that I am right about most Israelis' long-term goals: Included in one of the polls is a much more useful and revealing question. They asked what are the obstacles to achieving a two-state solution with the Palestinians: 70% stated that the primary obstacles are either Palestinians not really wanting peace, or security-related obstacles, not trusting that Palestinians would not use this state to kill more Jews. In addition, 9% stated other practical reasons. But only 8% opposed the idea of a two-state solution based on ideological reasons. Which means that, if you remove the above obstacles, the two-state solution should become viable and desirable again for between 70-90% of Jews. Contrast this with the generally low support in polls for a two-state solution (sometimes 30%) and this will confirm my argument: That it is not about expansionism and aggression, but security. If you do not accept my arguments, you will be at a loss to explain this seeming contradiction.

Here is a similar puzzle with the same resolution: In the same poll, only 35% of Jews supported a two-state solution, but 60% said that Israel should seek help from Arab states to promote peace. 

Note that, over several years of polling, 70-90% of Israelis consistently do not support annexing all of the West Bank, negating accusations of expansionist aggression. (And some of the rest may want it merely for security reasons.) We also got the same response (75%) when the question was about re-taking Gaza.

Religious questions, similarly, aren't always careful with their wording. For example, when Israelis are asked whether "they would support shutting down public transportation on the Sabbath", they don't ask whether they will allow other transportation methods and coerce the public, and whether it is merely an ideal situation that they aspire to, but without actual coercion. What does 'support' actually mean? Obviously, religious Jews would be happier with less sin in the world. But what are they willing to do to get there? The polls failed to answer this, but I hope I have answered this question.


As I warned in the introduction, this covered a lot of ground with many, many details and even this won't help you understand Israelis as people unless you live in Israel for a while. But, politically, I hope this presents a clear picture of the variety in Israel and the kinds of groupings you are likely to find. Think of this as a high-level description of the 'scatter chart' of Israeli politics, with two primary axes, plenty of random scattered points, but also some concentrated groupings. I hope I have also helped explain some of the most misunderstood mentalities of these groups.

The two axes according to my interpretation are: 1. The religiosity index, ranging from anti-religious to ultra-orthodox, which only sometimes corresponds to the left/right political dichotomy. 2. What I called the  'Aggression' axis, with a very weak correlation to Zionism at best. I argued that security concerns and anger triggered by violence cause more aggressive policies than Zionism. But, otherwise, Israelis are very low on aggression, and if Palestinians would renounce violence this would become very clear. I found one interesting polling question that proves this to be true.

The primary groupings are: 1. Secular Jews, with sub-groupings of anti-religious and anti-Zionist leftists as well as the sometimes-aggressive secular Zionists. 2. Religious Zionists that are the most problematic group in Israel politically, morally and even religiously speaking. But I hope I have explained why even this group is mostly peaceful despite their misguided ambitions and actions, thanks to the differentiation between aspirations and violence. 3. Orthodox Jews, most of whom are anti-Zionist and extremely low on aggression if not for security concerns. 4. Everyone in between: there are no gaps in this scatter chart, just sparse areas.

I also dived in depth into how internal Israeli political issues and clashing mentalities are often derived from the religiosity spectrum, even if some Israelis don't admit it.

People around the world that read news about Israel or that attempt an analysis of Israelis and their politics will not reach truthful or realistic conclusions unless they take all of this into account, for starters. Groups like the religious Zionists often give Israel a bad name, and people tend to extrapolate from their behavior even though they are a minority. Misunderstanding religion and how religious people think will also warp political conclusions regarding both religious Zionists and Orthodox Jews, and this problem of understanding also exists amongst secular Jews. Another common mistake is in understanding what Zionism means to Jews today. But the most prominent and common mistake I have seen is the conflation of nationalistic or religious love for the land of Israel, with aggression triggered by Palestinian violence. Aggressive acts of self-defense do not denote a conquering mindset. I hope I have clearly separated and defined these issues.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Sherlocking Bucha

The Bucha Massacre is probably the most infamous event, so far, of the current Ukraine War. It occurred early during the initial invasion by Russia in 2022. Over 450 dead people were found in Bucha after Russians left the city, and pictures of dead people lying in the streets with their hands bound behind their backs soon became iconic and turned the event into a rallying cry against alleged war crimes committed by Russia. Accusations, investigations by reporters, debunking articles, and counter-accusations came from both sides for months, all adding to the controversy and complexity.

This article is about several things: First, this is about the Bucha Massacre, and I will be adding my twenty cents to the cacophony of theories of what really happened in Bucha. To justify this conceit, I will be contributing some unique arguments and one thorough proof derived using Sherlockian techniques that will flip part of the narrative upside down, and which I haven't seen anywhere else. But this article is also a continuation of my previous two articles where I discussed the general dire state of the news nowadays, demonstrating several generic methods with which one can extract useful information from news articles, and ways to expose whether the truth has been distorted. Finally, I hope to counter the very binary attitude of news outlets and their followers nowadays, by not taking a clear side.

Some quick background facts that are relevant to our investigation: The Battle of Bucha commenced on the 27th of February, a mere three days after the initial invasion. Fierce fighting continued inside the city with tanks and soldiers losing and regaining territory for around 13 days, until Ukraine officially announced that Russia had fully occupied the city on the 12th of March. After this, there were still some counter-attacks launched by Ukraine into Bucha, but the city remained occupied by Russia for 17 days until March 29. After an agreement with Ukraine in Istanbul, Russia agreed to withdraw its troops and did so from Bucha on March 30. On their way out, the fighting continued against retreating Russian soldiers. On the 31st of March, the mayor declared Bucha Russian-free and Ukraine declared a victory despite the fact that it happened as a result of an agreement. On the 2nd of April, reports and images started emerging from Bucha unveiling the massacre, claiming that Russians had killed them all during the occupation. Finally, despite all claims pointing the finger at Russia, Russia demanded a UN Security Council probe into Bucha and was blocked by Britain (why?).

The Adventure of the Speckled Evidence

There are numerous articles from the West covering Bucha and evidence of war crimes. I will pick only a couple that I felt were representative and important. Be aware that most of these articles contain pictures of dead people, but these are not too graphic.

  • First and foremost are the documentaries and articles by PBS Frontline together with Associated Press published six months after the event. These are important because they represent a comprehensive investigation that took months. We assume they would present the best evidence and arguments they could find during these many months of detailed investigations within Ukraine itself. Here is the Bucha-specific PBS documentary, an accompanying article with more detail by PBS, and here is one AP article about the cleansing in Bucha.

  • Second, here is an early Reuters article on Bucha from April 5 with the iconic pictures.

  • Third, there is an eyewitness account and interview by someone who was in Bucha at the time, published in Belarus in Russian (use Google translate). I linked to the original since other newspapers edited it. I included it because it added some interesting details to the stories.

A Study in Target

One very important general point that needs to be made about most of these articles and investigations, is that they are very ambiguous about forensics. By this I mean that they do not specify how these Ukrainians died. As I mentioned in the introduction, the Bucha battle involved intense fighting in the beginning, middle and end, within the city itself. While Russians were invading Bucha, obviously the battles would involve heavy shooting, tanks and artillery from both sides. While Russians were occupying Bucha and leaving Bucha, any shelling into Bucha would mostly come from the Ukrainian side. Here is one example of a video of Ukrainian tanks pummeling Russians as they were leaving, clearly showing extensive damage to civilian areas and homes inflicted by Ukrainians. Another example is in the above article containing a witness account by Skyba who described sheltering in the cellar from shelling after Russians took him prisoner. Obviously, one cannot have a war like this in an urban area full of civilians for a whole month without many civilian casualties. So not only would some of the deaths be due to Ukrainian fire as well as Russian, but unless either side was aiming at citizens or not being careful and proportional enough, these deaths would not even count as war crimes.

In other words, with many of these eyewitness accounts, the articles never mention whether the victims were killed in an execution (for example, by a gunshot close to the head), or explosions, or crossfire (distant shooting). Instead the articles tend to group all civilian deaths together within the context of Russian war crimes, leading readers to blame the Russians for all the deaths, and to assume each and every civilian death is a crime.

To be fair, the Reuters article quotes the mayor and other officials who said that only 50 of the dead residents were executions. Does this mean the other 400 were presumably casualties of war and not war crimes? Reuters says: "The others were either killed in crossfire, or their deaths are so far unexplained." And yet, most other articles since then use the 450 count as evidence of Russian crimes. Even for these 50, where are the forensics? Reuters, at least, was honest and wrote they were: "not able to independently verify who was responsible for killing the dead residents.". But everyone else after that didn't bother with being careful once Bucha became politically important.

Not only do citizens get killed from crossfire during such a war, but, in addition, prisoners often get killed from friendly fire. To understand how common this can be, just imagine where prisoners are usually taken and held during a battle, then take into account that the other side often shells military targets. Obviously, prisoners are going to get killed often along with their guards while they are being held inside a war zone. This point is vital to remember since most of the accounts deal with prisoners being killed.

Another critical forensic detail they leave out is that, even in cases of executions, the articles don't specify whether the bullet came from a Russian or Ukrainian gun.

This is all very critical and undermines most (not all) of the eyewitness accounts and articles, leaving discriminate readers with no possible conclusion. It is possible that they have this forensic evidence but didn't share it, but given its importance, this is dubious. In fact, one could argue that the lack of these critical details may even prove that the specific accounts of deaths that omitted this information were not war crimes, otherwise they would tell us this important information. And it would be very simple to do so, for example, by simply stating: "His body was found with a bullet to the head fired from close range".

For example, the above links include the following story about Dima: His grandmother saw him taken away for the crime of photographing Russian tanks, and he was found dead much later. But how did he die? The articles leave this story unfinished, assuming the readers will fill in the gap they purposely left out. Similarly, Dima's grandmother's husband was also taken away and then his body was found 'charred'. Wouldn't a charred body likely denote an explosion rather than an execution? We aren't told. Another story is told here of a long search for a woman's husband, whose body was finally found long after he was dead. An autopsy was performed, finding that he "died of multiple gunshot wounds". Does this mean he was caught in a crossfire or executed? By the way, even the wife is said in the article to "doubt it was bullets that killed him", but there are no answers.

One often-told Bucha story which includes pictures, involves a pile of eight dead people all found next to the infamous 144 Yablunska Street industrial building where Russians were processing prisoners. That area was strewn with dead people with a total of "40 bodies along Yablunska street and 12 around 144 Yablunska". But keep in mind what I said about buildings used for military purposes being prime targets for shelling. Nowhere do they tell us exactly how these people were killed.

All that said, there are some eyewitness accounts that are more precise and credible, where the information does point to an execution by Russians. For example, there is the story of Skyba, a Ukrainian soldier who personally witnessed Russians shooting prisoners and who barely made it out alive after being shot himself. There are also first-person witnesses to Russian violence against prisoners. Another case involves two dead men, both found with a gunshot to the left eye, which points to a pattern that matches executions.

These cases are based solely on eyewitness accounts however, and they may be fake actors. For example they may be Ukrainian soldiers helping the cause by telling fake stories. However, my feeling is that this is too widespread and authentically detailed to be all fake, and I lean towards believing at least some of them as true. The unusual details and lack of logical gaps and contradictions lend these stories authenticity in my eyes. But this is not hard evidence, and if shown evidence to the contrary, I would change my opinion. What these articles really needed, however, is forensics to back the witnesses.

There are two qualifications that I would like to add to this accusation of Russian war crimes: One is that even by eyewitness accounts, Russians were not killing civilians, but soldiers (or civilians that participated in the war thereby becoming soldiers themselves). I will demonstrate and explore this point further below, but we see this is true already in the above articles where they write repeatedly that most civilians were let go, and only soldiers ('volunteers') were shot. Obviously, this is still a war crime if the soldiers were already taken as prisoners, but it needs to be said.

This shows that it was not an indiscriminate killing spree, but an aggressive hunt for soldiers and participants, and only some soldiers were killed while innocent civilians were released. It also explains why Russians were not simply killing everyone on the spot.

The other qualification is a theory of mine that there were different Russian units coming in and out of Bucha, and some specific rogue individuals and units may have been shooting the prisoners while the rest of them weren't. The witness accounts mention this inconsistent behavior and changes several times, and I will further prove this below and explain later why this may be somewhat important. For example, in the account by Skyba, he himself says that one Russian shot him while another unit picked him up again later and tended to his wounds (this detail alone made him more credible in my eyes). The article in the Belarus paper also talks about changing units, stating that only some of them were brutal.

Some may argue that the PBS documentary shows CCTV footage of Russians doing everything except beat and kill prisoners. The argument would then be, if they had so many cameras, how come not a single one of them caught actual evidence of war crimes? (Note that rounding up some civilians for questioning is normal for a war of this kind and is not a war crime.) But it's perfectly plausible that Russians would only kill in a safe place away from cameras so this argument doesn't have merit.

The Russians infamously denied all of this outright, and claimed everything was fake, staged news. Their accusations that bodies were seen moving in rear-view mirrors, and dummies were being dragged in streets in a stage production were thoroughly debunked. Frankly, their absolute denials and poor arguments did them no favors. But just because their attempts at proving they were fakes failed, that does not mean their claim is wrong.

Another counter-argument that does have some merit, however, is the question as to why the Russians would leave behind evidence of their crimes, having been warned in advance they were retreating, and having plenty of time during the occupation to burn the bodies. But this too is not hard evidence or an absolutely compelling argument, although it bears consideration.

The Case of the Cellphone Soldier

One interesting and unusual aspect of this war is the 'crowd-sourcing' of the war. One Western AP article discusses this phenomenon in the middle of its story about a missing person. President Zelenskyy asked citizens throughout the country to help with the war effort by reporting enemy troop movements with their cellphones, and he set up an app and database through the Ministry of Digital Transformation. The contributions by citizens were so widespread that "in just five weeks the bot had collected 257,000 reports on military hardware, troops and war criminals." The AP article says that several citizens detained and abused by Russians admitted to the reporters to participating in the war in this fashion.

This is obviously a serious problem for Russians, effectively recruiting millions of citizens to participate in the war, putting Russian troops in additional danger by employing millions of spies. More importantly, this turned any citizen who participated this way into a legal military target under the rule of 'Direct Participation in Hostilities', as the article itself admits. Obviously, under these circumstances, Russians had to provide special instructions to its troops on how to deal with this problem.

As opposed to what the article says however, logically and legally, this response should not be restricted to only detaining citizens with cellphones. Imagine the following scenario: Russian troops are making their way through a city street about to attack Ukrainian soldiers. A citizen sees the troops from his window, and films the tanks with his cellphone. Russians don't have time to start invading homes and arresting civilians during an attack; furthermore, the civilian is about to post this information and expose these troops to the enemy within a few seconds. In this scenario, obviously the troops would have to shoot the civilian on the spot from the street through the window. If you look at it this way, there is no difference between a cellphone and a gun. The civilian has chosen to put himself in danger by participating in hostilities. Given that this was a widespread and known phenomenon with millions of citizens knowingly participating, pointing a cellphone at troops is identical to pointing a gun, and the response by troops should be identical as well.

Obviously, whenever possible, these citizens should be detained rather than shot, and detained participants cannot be shot or tortured. But, during a live war scenario, these citizens can be, and probably were shot legally in some cases. But these articles don't admit to this reality.

Most importantly, this could also explain some quotes from soldiers about being commanded to kill civilians. In other words the orders may have been: If you see a civilian filming you while approaching the enemy, kill him. It all depends on the context of the order, and taking such an order out of this context would be a distortion.

A Scandal in Russiya

Another type of evidence presented by these articles is a collection of recordings of phone calls made by Russian soldiers, intercepted by Ukraine. In these recordings, Russian soldiers seemingly admit to killing civilians. Though this may seem like the strongest and most irrefutable evidence in the report, I will now demonstrate why this is not the case:

First of all, recordings can be easily faked. Anyone with an axe to grind with Russians can record themselves for 2 minutes, attach a fake phone number to the recording, and send it as evidence of an 'intercepted phone call'. The article mentions that a 'Dossier Center' verified the recordings. How is this even possible? I doubt it was a digitally signed recording along with the sender/receiver and timestamp. The article says they verified it "by cross-referencing Russian phone numbers, social media accounts, public reporting and information in leaked Russian databases". In other words, they merely verified the phone numbers they were given. But who says the numbers weren't attached to a fake recording?

However, let us assume for the sake of argument that these intercepted phone calls are not fake. Even so, they are still not proof. In the previous sections I have provided some context and background with which to interpret these recordings:

For starters, the first phone call in the documentary is blatantly and maliciously mistranslated, adding a word that wasn't there. I got it translated myself. A soldier and his girl are discussing why he is drunk. The article version says: "it's easier to shoot civilians". But the actual Russian dialogue says "on the contrary, drinking makes it generally easier to shoot."... with no mention of the word 'civilians'. All he is saying is that being drunk makes it easier to be a soldier and perform his difficult job.

But now we reach the most important problem with these recordings: The context has been edited out, and we all know how one key phrase can radically alter the meaning of what is said.

Take the aforementioned conversation between 'Maksym' and his wife. There are no less than four versions of this conversation: Two separated snippets in the documentary, another longer but still edited version in the article, and yet another version in the written article with additional snippets that had been cut out of the recordings for unknown reasons. Why did they do this? What has been cut out? Note that I am not speculating about edits; the four different versions prove this beyond doubt.

In one repeated quote he says: "Hide the weapons from me. I think I’m going crazy. I’ve already killed so many civilians.". This time he does use the word civilians. However, since the audio is definitely edited, we could insert any context to change the meaning and assume that they cut it out. For example imagine if the conversation actually went something like this: "Ukrainian soldiers were hiding in a civilian building and I had to kill them all. Hide the weapons from me! I think I’m going crazy. I’ve already killed so many civilians." As you can see, this version of the recording is not a war crime. Not only that, but it portrays a moral soldier who is feeling bad about having to cause civilian casualties due to war, and who got himself drunk to handle his guilty feelings. We saw similar situations in the Vietnam War by US soldiers.

For that matter, who says this recording took place in Bucha? What if the context is an attack on Mariupol with missiles and these are the weapons he is talking about?

In only one version of the same conversation, they add the following context: "You know how many civilians I killed here? Those men leaked information.". Remember what I wrote earlier about cellphone-soldiers and how it would be legal to shoot them in some cases?

In short, the evidence presented is so messy and edited, I managed to come up with three scenarios in two minutes that flips the evidence upside down, destroying any proof of a war crime.

Another example is the second phone call in the documentary. In this recording, the soldier talks about an order "to kill everyone whether civilian or not". Once again, what is the context? Why are they providing us only with this snippet? What if the context was the civilian cellphone-soldiers I described above? Or even simpler, what if the context of the order was to bomb a building that had both soldiers and civilians inside it?

In another recording, 'Ivan' calls his mother and talks about shooting anyone, even old ladies and children. But then he adds "Anyone who has weapons, gets killed" and "If we have to, we will kill”. This recording explicitly talks about the legal scenarios I mentioned (killing civilians that partake in the war, or due to necessities of war), and yet they include this as evidence of a war crime?

Similarly, the phone recording with 'Lyonya' becomes even more explicit in describing the exact situation. His mother asks why civilians got killed and he explains: "Mom, there is fighting going on. And suddenly he jumps out! You understand? What if he’s got a grenade launcher?". QED.

Note, once again, that I am not saying that there is no evidence of Russian war crimes. Merely that the articles did a very poor job of demonstrating any. As far as phone interceptions in the articles are concerned, there is zero evidence.

The Adventure of the Illustrious Defector

For this smaller adventure, I want to comment on this interesting article involving a Russian defector who deserted the Russian military after serving for several months in Ukraine.

Note that this article is written by CNN and purportedly provides evidence from a Russian soldier about Russian war crimes, yet they somehow missed that it also provides evidence to the contrary. Let me explain:

First, regarding his statement that they received a "direct command to kill anyone sharing information about the unit’s positions, whether military or civilian" and "if someone had a phone, we were allowed to shoot them": I already covered this in the "Cellphone Soldier" section and explained why this is legal, depending on the context. Again, imagine troops in a live attack that spot a cellphone spotter in a window. He doesn't say that they were ordered to shoot prisoners.

Also note that he heard of soldiers that had raped Ukrainians and he witnessed these soldiers being chased, beaten and booted off the unit by his commanders (he complains that they weren't jailed). This means that the war crime of rape had occurred (this happens in US wars as well). But it also means that this was not commanded or encouraged, and the commanders took action against the soldiers, though not to the extent of jailing them.

But the most important fact that emerged from this article in my view, is that despite him criticizing soldiers for looting and 'having murderous intentions', he himself says he did not see a single murder! Think about it: Here is a soldier who spent many months with his unit in Bucha and other places (he defected much later in September), and he is obviously more than willing and ready to spill the beans about any and all crimes they committed, practically spitting at his Russian comrades whom he views with obvious derision, but he says he never saw a single murder. To top it all, his unit was the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, which is widely seen as one of the primary butchers of Bucha. This does not compute.

Therefore, ironically, despite the fact that this is a Western anti-Russian article, this is in fact proof that Russians did not kill prisoners. At least, not the units in which this man served. This does not mean that murders did not take place, only that it was definitely not as widespread as it looks, and they can't even get evidence to this effect from a spiteful defector who was a witness for months.

I'll repeat a point I mentioned before: Based on this evidence, and based on the surviving eyewitness accounts I mentioned earlier where, for example, one unit tried to kill a man and another treated him for wounds, the inevitable conclusion I am getting from all this is that this was not systematic, and if war crimes were committed, they were performed by rogue individuals or units.

The Adventure of the White Armband

Finally, we get to evidence of Ukrainian war crimes.

My Sherlockian analysis is based on the famous pictures in the Reuters report of a dead man in the street with bound hands. Note that this picture has become iconic whenever Bucha is mentioned, and this dead man is featured often from many angles. The assumption behind this picture is simple: Since Russians occupied the city for weeks, and since he was found in this state by Ukrainians after they came back to the city, and since his hands were bound and he was shot, ergo he was shot after he was taken prisoner by Russians. This is a war crime and the bound hands prove that he was not a war casualty.

Ironically, this iconic evidence proves exactly the opposite: Ukrainian fakery and war crimes.

First I will point out the clues, as seen in this clear picture:

  • The most important thing I noticed is that the right hand's fingers are deeply soggy and have skin damage, and the left's fingers are not. I am no expert on decomposition but it is obvious that whatever damaged the right fingers did not damage the left, therefore it cannot be be due to decomposition but is most probably water damage. I.e. the right hand had been lying in some wet dirt, snow or in a puddle for some time, and the left had not.
  • Also note that there is dirt on the hairy part of fingers but no dirt on the sleeve. I'm betting there was dirt on the other side of the sleeve and I will explain why.
  • Another clue is the white cloth which looks unstained despite the dirt and damage to the hand.
  • In this picture, we can see that the right shoulder and arm are much more drenched than the left side even though the body is lying on its side and the right arm is not touching anything. Similarly, there seems to be more blood on the right side and to the back of the hoodie. The tilt of these stains indicate the body was moved slightly, but also indicate in which position the body had been lying.
  • Similarly, in this picture, there is a clear line of dirt from the ground down the right side of his pants which shows the same tilt. The rest of his clothes from this angle are not similarly dirty.

An obvious first conclusion is that this body was slightly turned on its side for the picture, and the right hand was moved, since there is nothing that could explain the damage to the right hand if it were lying in that position. This is not a problem in itself; as it is OK to move the body to demonstrate the photographic evidence (the white cloth binding the hands).

What is damning, is if you combine all of the above clues and try to come up with a single position for the body that would explain all of them. I challenge anyone to come up with a single explanation that covers all of these clues.

I physically tried this for several minutes, keeping my hands behind my back and contorting myself in every painful position I could imagine to try to explain how all these specific parts of my hands and sleeves could be either wet or dirty from the ground, while others weren't. I could not find anything that explained the clues. For example, lying on my back with my right hand on top of my left could explain the right hand but not the dirt on the clothes and bent fingers. Lying on my left side with my right hand on the floor while being tied could not explain the dirt on the clothes. And nothing explains the clean white cloth.

The only position that could explain everything was if you separate the arms/hands and lie on your right side, with your right hand under your body so that your forearm is against the floor. This would explain the patterns of dirt on the clothes, the right knuckles getting dirty, the right fingers getting wet, the left hand/arm remaining dry and undamaged, and it even explains the clean inner side of the right sleeve. In addition, the white cloth would have to be elsewhere for this to work.

In short, this is definite conclusive evidence that this picture was faked by Ukrainians, and that somebody tilted this dead man while pulling his arms together in order to tie them with the white cloth.

The next question is, who actually killed this man? That is another card that falls with the deck once you take this story to its inevitable conclusion, and once we add a couple more important clues:

  • White armbands were worn by some Ukrainian civilians as a sign of solidarity with the Russians. Here is a short interview that shows video proof of civilians, here is another picture from the same Reuters article that shows another dead man from the same location in Bucha with a white arm-band, and here is one internet post of many that show Russian soldiers wearing white arm-bands as identifiers.
  • Here is an official post from the Ukrainian military on the 2nd of April declaring that "Today, on April 2, in the liberated city of Bucha, Kyiv region, special units of the National Police of Ukraine began clearing the territory of saboteurs and accomplices of Russian troops." Note the word 'began', i.e. they had already started.
  • Here is a post from Ukrainian soldiers (the original was deleted) where you can hear Ukrainian soldiers talking about "shooting anyone not wearing blue arm-bands".

Also note that, for some reason, the other dead men next to this bound dead man, were not bound. Why would anyone tie the hands of only one person and then shoot them all?

Once we add up these clues, the rest of the story falls very neatly into place: On the 2nd of April, after Russians pulled out, Ukrainian troops killed all known collaborators, especially those wearing a white arm-band, including this famous dead man. It is unknown how many they killed, but these are war crimes. On the 5th of April, when the Reuters article came out, this dead man had already been lying in the dirt for hours or days, hence the damage to his hand. (But he was not dead long enough to show damage in the rest of his body from when the Russians were still there). On the 4th or 5th of April, a pro-Ukrainian individual must have found this dead body with a white arm-band around his arm, figured that this doesn't look good, and in a stroke of genius, managed to cover the crime AND prove that this man was killed by Russians with a single act: By removing the white arm-band and tying it around his hands instead. The rest is iconic photographic history.

The Final Problem

Let us summarize what evidence is left after we sweep aside all of the fake or inconclusive accusations and evidence:

  • Many civilians were definitely killed due to crossfire from both Russian and Ukrainian weapons during the ongoing war in Bucha. This is a certainty, but is not necessarily a war crime.

  • It is somewhat likely that some Ukrainian soldiers were killed by Russians after being taken prisoner. This is a war crime, but you would have to rely solely on witnesses for this as the evidence presented was not strong. In addition, most Russian soldiers were not doing this, since even a spiteful Russian defector that fought in Bucha for weeks did not witness any murders.

  • Civilians that participated in the war with cellphones may have been killed. But this is not necessarily a war crime either, as I explained, depending on the scenario.

  • Most reports group all dead civilians together without separating war crimes from war casualties.

  • Some accusations of Russian war crimes were definitely faked. This is a certainty backed by photographic evidence.

  • Ukrainian civilians that were sympathetic to Russians were most probably killed by Ukrainians, and this is a Ukrainian war crime. This is almost a certainty, but could use more hard evidence.

  • Russian war crimes, assuming they were committed, may not have been reported to Putin and other officials. This last one is my only speculative explanation as to why Putin would demand a probe by the UN. This is where my theory comes in regarding rogue units performing the executions. It could explain why these actions were not reported if the chain of command was this chaotic (or if it were covered up by low-level commanders). Don't forget we saw that there were many different units in Bucha, including soldiers from the national guard, mercenaries, and Chechens, and the defector never saw a single murder.

  • The UN probe was probably blocked by the West because they were afraid of the probe uncovering Ukrainian crimes, even if Russian crimes would be uncovered as well.