Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Field Guide to Defending the Indefensible

Israel kills a few more of those pesky
human shields. That'll teach 'em
One of the most fascinating lesson of the latest Gaza bloodletting is the convolutions defenders of the Netanyahu policies must go through in order to attempt to justify what clearly amounts to industrial scale murder for domestic political purposes. Nobody wants to sound like a monster, and to make matters more complex, many American Jews are politically liberal. Now, while many of them are once again appalled and heartbroken by the actions of the Israeli government, there is a fair constituency who are willing to attempt to justify the slaughter. As a result, a few talking points, a set of standardized tropes if you will, has emerged. They are largely based on half truths or incomplete analysis, and the hope is that you won't notice the parts left out. Let's take a look at a few of them, shall we?

Israel has a right to self-defense.

Here we have one of the classic canards of the half-truth variety. Yes, Israel, like ALL nations, has a right to self defense. In no way can that somehow be construed to mean that internationally accepted laws of warfare do not apply. If, in the course of acting in self defense, a nation commits war crimes or crimes against humanity, they are still war crimes and crimes against humanity. Civilized nations are expected to conduct military operations that are proportional and that do not rise to the level of murder.

In the case of Gaza, it's even more egregious, because the attacks from Gaza do not represent a significant threat to Israel, so patiently and carefully determining when, how and to what extent to respond is well withing Israel's purview.  There is no real urgency, no need to unleash massive destruction to prevent some kind of impending invasion or apocalypse, so the fact that Israel is choosing to kill and maim all these innocent civilians is prima facie evidence that this is nothing but collective punishment.

It's also instructive to remember the world's reaction to the French resistance after the fall of France in 1940. They were terrorists under any modern definition - bombing, ambushing, assassinating both occupation forces and suspected collaborators. But there was an understanding in the past that if you were going to invade and occupy a nation by force, the people of that nation had every right to resist that occupation. People have aspirations to live their lives in the way they choose under their national leadership, and if you take that away from them by force, it doesn't really matter who the 'good guys' are, they have every right to fight the occupying army, and that army is ultimately responsible for that fighting because they have chosen to be the occupiers. 

Hamas has committed to the destruction of Israel - It's in their charter.

This is, of course, absolutely true. The document was written in 1988 when Hamas considered itself the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. And while there are questions about how accurately this position reflects that of the more modern, political Hamas organization (In 2010 Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal stated that the Charter is "a piece of history and no longer relevant, but cannot be changed for internal reasons"), defenders of Israel's actions are absolutely correct in pointing out that this is still the basis for Hamas' founding document.

But the next question one must ask is "so what". If a group of people get together and write a manifesto that includes huge, impossible aspirational goals, how seriously should those goals be taken? Hamas as an organization has sworn to eliminate Israel and replace it with an Islamic Palestine, but since they obviously are utterly incapable of accomplishing this goal why does it matter?  It's words on a piece of paper, backed up by pathetic home-made 122mm rockets without guidance systems. It's a tantrum and a reaction to their own generations of oppression and mistreatment. It is, frankly, prima facie meaningless. It comes up only to serve as a justification for the excessive, brutal massacres of Palestinian citizens - you often hear Netanyahu apologists state outright that "they voted for Hamas, so they are combatants". I'll let you make your own judgement on the human and democratic values reflected by that statement.

The Palestinians in Gaza are using human shields.

The long version of the response to this justification is here.

But the short version is that my use of human shields does not compel you to open fire. Especially when you claim that my plan is to get you to fire on civilians, why would you then do what you claim is exactly what I want you to do? Remember, human shields are not hostages. Nothing is at stake in the case of human shields until the attacker opens fire. If the attacker stands down, the civilians don't die. So to blame the Palestinians for their own deaths when the Israeli army exercised the utterly unnecessary option to fire on them despite the presence of the so-called human shields is a pretty sick, inhuman position to hold. And in a place like the Gaza Strip, where 2 million people live in a 139 square mile urban prison, it's - well, it's a war crime.

What would YOU do? 

Ahh. This is the topper, the mike-drop, the smugly delivered end-the-argument piece de resistance, the question they don't believe has any other answer. Which always leaves me a bit befuddled. Whether the justification for the violence is the incoming rocket fire or the infiltration tunnels or whatever else they might use, the pretense that massive bombing and shelling of entire cities is the ONLY possible response, even the only possible military response, is stupid and ludicrous at best, and blatantly dishonest at worst. What would I do? I could go after the rockets, which pose no strategic threat and virtually no tactical threat to Israel with radars to pinpoint their launch sites and helicopter borne commandos to capture the hardware and its operators.  And the tunnels are not a threat unless they provided access to Israel itself, so I could deal with them with seismic mapping technology and mining explosives to collapse them all from the Israeli side of the border without killing a single person.

But the more important question is what WOULDN'T I do? I wouldn't bomb civilians, I wouldn't shell schools and hospitals, I wouldn't use much ordinance at all, in fact. But most of all I wouldn't imprison the Palestinian population and treat them like animals. I'd give them human rights, and human dignity. I'd give them hope, a way to make a living, a way to feed and educate their children and a way to get medical care. I'd let them fish their own waters freely.  I'd let them travel throughout the region, and especially to the West Bank. I'd let them import goods and export manufactured goods. I'd give NGOs unfettered access to bring in funds and food and medicine. I'd take all the caps off fuel and energy and food and building material imports, both from Israel and abroad.  It's a funny thing about people. When they're fighting you, it's for a reason. Take away that reason, and they immediately lose interest in fighting. People want to live their lives, raise their families, have some happiness and hope and human value. If Netanyahu REALLY wanted the rockets to stop and the fighting to end, he could make it so tomorrow. The fact that he doesn't, won't even discuss it, is proof positive that he's using the violence as a political tool to distract the people from his atrocious right-wing 'governance'.

1 comment:

  1. "Why don't you stop supporting terrorism?"

    Response I got from one of these guys: Nobody wants to sound like a monster, and to make matters more complex, many American Jews are politically liberal.

    Of course, my response was, "Why don't you stop supporting war crimes?"

    And everyone was better off.