Monday, January 19, 2009

My Brother's Keeper

Jack. I fear there can be no possible doubt about the matter. This afternoon during my temporary absence in London on an important question of romance, he obtained admission to my house by means of the false pretence of being my brother. Under an assumed name he drank, I’ve just been informed by my butler, an entire pint bottle of my Perrier-Jouet, Brut, ‘89; wine I was specially reserving for myself. Continuing his disgraceful deception, he succeeded in the course of the afternoon in alienating the affections of my only ward. He subsequently stayed to tea, and devoured every single muffin. And what makes his conduct all the more heartless is, that he was perfectly well aware from the first that I have no brother, that I never had a brother, and that I don’t intend to have a brother, not even of any kind. I distinctly told him so myself yesterday afternoon.

Lady Bracknell. Ahem! Mr. Worthing, after careful consideration I have decided entirely to overlook my nephew’s conduct to you.

Jack. That is very generous of you, Lady Bracknell. My own decision, however, is unalterable. I decline to give my consent.

I haven't done much posting this past week, because I was spending a lot of time reading discussions at other sites on the Israeli Blitzkrieg in Gaza -- sometimes posting comments, doing a little debate, but mostly seeing what I could learn. I spent most of an evening scanning over 400 comments on Glenn Greenwald's critique of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's enthusiastic endorsement of Israeli terrorism against civilians. (It's up to 799 comments tonight, but I haven't bothered to catch up.) I knew I was going to have to write about this; I should have done it sooner, since nothing I have learned in the past week or two has made Israel's conduct look any better. If anything, it's made it look worse.

The same goes for the arguments (maybe that word should be in scare quotes) of Israel's defenders. Most of them make just as much sense reversed. For example: Israel has the right to defend itself (or its citizens) against terrorists. So it does, but Palestine has the same right, and much more restricted means for self-defense. The Palestinians aren't getting big arms shipments from the US, as Israel is, to make sure they don't run out of ammunition. Israel has just, as I began writing this post Saturday night, declared a ceasefire in Gaza, but they plan to keep their troops there until they feel like removing them. On the other hand, they're saying they'll withdraw them in time for Obama's inauguration tomorrow. So who will defend the Palestinians from Israeli occupation and violence? Hamas declared a ceasefire of its own, "for a week to give Israel time to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip."

Which reminds me: the terminology being used could use some scrutiny. The parties to the conflict now going on are generally labeled Israel and Hamas, especially in the American corporate media. But Hamas is a political party, so perhaps it would be more correct to refer to Likud and Hamas. It wouldn't change much, since the vast majority of Israelis, regardless of party, support the Blitzkrieg. Support for Hamas is apparently growing among Palestinians as the invasion goes on, in the West Bank as well as in Gaza. Even if Israel and Palestine are too prejudicial, I intend to use those names here except when I'm specifically talking about political parties or factions.

I point this out mainly because there is a tendency, among Americans at least (though probably also among Israelis) to forget that Hamas is the present, democratically-elected government of Palestine. Hillary Rodham Clinton, for example, referred to Hamas as "non-state actors" at her recent confirmation hearings (via Chris Floyd); Barack Obama said, during a visit to Israel last summer, "In terms of negotiations with Hamas, it is very hard to negotiate with a group that is not representative of a nation-state ..." No doubt he'd rather negotiate with the increasingly discredited Fatah party, who attempted a coup against Hamas (via ATR) at the instigation of the US and Israel, but failed. You may see this fact turned around, even at The Nation -- yes, even that far-left outpost of Israel-hatred! -- where a writer claimed that among the "sins" which led to the Israeli attack was "the fact that Hamas carried out a coup against the PA in Gaza."

More entertainingly, the US ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration, Martin Indyk found himself paired on Democracy Now! with Norman Finkelstein, who kept correcting Indyk's -- well, let's call them misstatements:
Hamas, having won the PA elections and then—we don’t need to go into the details of that, but essentially what happened was, as a result of a competition between Hamas and Fatah over who would rule, Hamas took control of Gaza by force in what was, in effect, a putsch against the Palestinian Authority. It therefore moved from being a terrorist organization to a terrorist government, responsible for controlling territory in Gaza and responsible for meeting the needs of one-and-a-half million Palestinians in Gaza. ...

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I think the problem of Mr. Indyk’s presentation is he constantly reverses cause and effect. Just as he said a moment ago that it was Hamas which broke the ceasefire, although he well knows it was Israel that broke the ceasefire on November 4th, he now reverses cause and effect as to how the present impasse came about. In January 2006, as he writes in his book, Hamas came to power in a free and fair election. I think those are his words. He then claims on your program and he claims in his book that Hamas committed a “putsch”—his word—in order to eliminate the Palestinian Authority. And as I’m sure Mr. Indyk well knows and as was documented in the April 2008 issue of Vanity Fair by the writer David Rose, basing himself on internal US documents, it was the United States in cahoots with the Palestinian Authority and Israel which were attempting a putsch on Hamas, and Hamas preempted the putsch. That, too, is no longer debatable or no longer a controversial claim. ...
Indyk responded to Finkelstein's rebuttal by calling him "just a propaganda spokesman for Hamas, you know" and protesting that
I was invited on to talk about my book and the Gaza situation. I was not invited on to debate with Norman Finkelstein, and I’m not prepared to do that. So if you want to talk about the situation, I’m happy to do that, but I’m not here to be the representative of the government of Israel.
He could have fooled me. One indication of just how deeply in the wrong Israel was in this most recent attack on Gaza was how much its defenders had to falsify the facts. It was Israel, not the Palestinians, who broke the ceasefire; it was Fatah (with the US and Israel) that tried to overthrow Hamas, not vice versa. It's the IDF, not Hamas, that uses civilians as human shields. There's really no need for Israel and its advocates to lie about breaking the ceasefire in the first place, because they also argue that Hamas only wants a ceasefire so that it can rest and get more weapons for another attack on Israel. In fact, though, it's usually Israel that violates the ceasefires and truces it enters into, and the longer the ceasefire lasts, the more likely it will be Israel who breaks it. But on the apologists' showing, Israel doesn't want the war to stop in the first place. The Arabs, they claim, are dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and will never give up that aim. They'll only stop fighting strategically until they can rearm. If this is what Israel believes, then its own pious talk of peace should be taken as a front for its intent to continue killing Palestinians.

I want the Palestinians to stop firing homemade rockets into Israel too, but that's not likely to happen as long as Israel continues its longstanding assault on Palestine. I have to keep reminding myself that most Americans probably don't know about the decades-long campaign of harassment, random violence, confiscation of land and other property, extrajudicial killings, imprisonment, and torture that Israel has been waging against Palestine. Most Americans think that as long as they're not hearing about Arab suicide bombers, everything is peaceful in the Holy Land, no matter how many Palestinians are being killed. The media watch group FAIR discussed this a few years back with regard to American corporate media coverage of the Middle East:
The Los Angeles Times (8/13/03) wrote that the [Palestinian suicide] bombings "broke a six-week stretch during which the people of this war-weary land had enjoyed relative quiet."

During this six-week period of "relative quiet," however, some 17 Palestinians were killed and at least 59 injured by Israeli occupation soldiers and settlers, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The dead included Mahmoud Kabaha, a four-year-old boy, who was sitting in the back seat of a jeep with his family at a checkpoint when an Israeli soldier shot him dead--in a spray of bullets that the army simply called an "accidental burst of gunfire" (Associated Press, 7/25/03). Virtually none of the major U.S. news reports on the August 12 bombings alluded to the Palestinian death toll in this period, leaving out a key piece of the story: For Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the violence had never ceased; while the Israeli attacks had decreased, there had never been anything like an Israeli cease-fire.
As long as only Palestinians are dying, FAIR found, Americans were told that Israel was "calm." So, of course, when there is an outbreak of violence by Palestinians against Israel, from most Americans' point of view it seems to come out of nowhere: the "peace" has been shattered by the apparently motiveless craziness of Islamic "terrorists." (The terrorism of Israeli settlers, who carried out pogroms against Palestinians with general impunity, is also usually overlooked here.)

Partisans of Israel are often quite open about their disregard for Palestinians' lives.

They believe, or at least claim to believe, that everyone who is critical of Israel's conduct wants to see 'the Jews driven into the sea.' One such person tried to bait a critic in comments at A Tiny Revolution:
When you talk about Israels defeat, can we hope that soon the country will cease to exist and that the Jews will have to pack up and abandon their criminal project? Where will they go? Not here I hope!
This is a mild version -- more often the partisan accuses the critic of exulting in the thought of all Jews being killed because they wouldn't defend themselves, like this commenter from Salon:
Glenn and your misguided supporters: it is indeed wearying to listen to the same drivel from you always attacking Israelis for defending themselves against what Glenn admits is "exactly the same "logic" that fuels the rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas into Israel." What would you have the Israelis do? Lie down and die? NEVER AGAIN! I'm afraid that your answer will be so awful that I'm almost hesitant to post. But I realize that my comment here will really make no difference to the Israel haters. This is an old and tragic story, and people never seem to learn. Woe is us. All of us, impoverished humanity.
What would this commenter have the Palestinians do? Lie down and die? NEVER AGAIN! I'm afraid her answer (like Israel's) will be so awful that I'm almost hesitant to ask. ... And so on. One reason I find it easy to dismiss this tactic is that it's also used against critics of US violence: we are accused of wanting, craving, dreaming of the destruction of America. I wrote about this in a posting on patriotism last year:
But as usual with people of her ilk, it soon becomes clear that Barkan will not concede that America has ever done anything wrong, that any people anywhere in the world have reason to want to strike back at us, that no country in the world has any business defending itself against us, that it’s time to throw out reason and complexity and boil everything down to the question, “Do you want to see America conquered, or don’t you?”

No, I don’t -- not that America is in any danger of being conquered: the US has not fought a war of self-defense in my lifetime. But I don’t want to see any country conquered. People like Barkan get so furious at any mention of American malfeasance because they’ll gladly sic the dogs of war on any other country that behaved as the US has behaved, that killed a tenth as many people as the US has killed, that supported a tenth as many dictators as the US has supported, that harbors the kinds of terrorists the US harbors – so it is they who want to see the US attacked and humbled, if they had any consistency of principle. Those of us who can recognize the faults of our country, by contrast, simply want it to stop hurting people so wantonly.

I think it’s a safe bet, for example, that in 1967, when Martin Luther King Jr. called his own government the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, he wasn’t calling for other governments to invade the US. No, he said explicitly that he had come to realize that he couldn’t condemn the violence of others without first condemning and opposing the far greater violence being done in his name by his own government.

When I say that Israel is the aggressor in the conflict in Gaza, that doesn't mean I want to see Israel destroyed, any more than I want to see Palestine destroyed. Or the United States. If Hamas are "terrorists," so are Likud and the IDF. So the exchange of epithets is meaningless. If Israel wants peace (which, as I've shown, is dubious), it will have to start negotiating in good faith, with Hamas, the democratically-elected government of Palestine. (Some who are reading this may not be old enough to remember that until the 1990s or so, Israel refused to negotiate with Palestinians at all, or even to acknowledge their existence. Now Israel is trying to do the same with Hamas.) The usual pro-Israel response to the critics of Israel is to accuse them of anti-Semitism. That doesn't follow, any more than my criticism of the US makes me anti-American; but it also doesn't matter. Even if I were anti-Semitic (which I don't think I am), Israel would still be the aggressor, and it needs to stop right now.