Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kill Them All, Let Yahweh Sort Them Out

[NOTE: I revised and extended the ending paragraphs later this afternoon.]

Daniel Larison did a nice job today of dissecting a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece on the current Israeli blitzkrieg in Gaza.  He points out that the writer, one Thane Rosenbaum, "unintentionally endorses the logic of every terrorist group in history:"
On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians when you freely elect members of a terrorist organization as statesmen, invite them to dinner with blood on their hands and allow them to set up shop in your living room as their base of operations. At that point you begin to look a lot more like conscripted soldiers than innocent civilians. And you have wittingly made yourself targets.
As Larison indicates, Rosenbaum's argument would justify Arab "terrorist" attacks on Israel, whose citizens have freely elected a government that carries out attacks on civilians and thereby -- on Rosenbaum's logic -- wittingly made themselves targets.  As far as I can tell, the overwhelming majority of Israelis are strongly supportive of what their government and their army are doing, thereby allowing them to set up shop in their living room as their base of operations.

Larison also answers a popular defense of Israeli violence that was often invoked in the NPR coverage I heard while traveling over the weekend (I added the bold type):
It may please Hamas to make use of these victims’ deaths for their own purposes, but that doesn’t absolve the Israeli government of its responsibility for causing those deaths. If Hamas benefits politically from these civilian deaths, and it seems likely that they do, it would seem obvious that Israel should not want to cause any more, and yet at each step over the last few weeks Israel’s government has responded with tactics that are guaranteed to continue killing many more non-combatants for as long as this operation continues. 
Of course, Israel also benefits politically from Israeli civilian deaths (though according to Rosenbaum, remember, there are no civilians), which would suggest that its enemies should not want to cause any more either.  It also indicates that the US government and corporate media should view Israeli exploitation of its civilians' injuries as they view Hamas's.  Of course that isn't going to happen; indeed, President Obama joins in the exploitation of the suffering of Israeli civilians.

The comments, as usual under Larison's work, are pretty good.  One person asked:
I ask this as a rather naive bystander, but: why is it that, on any given day, I can read The American Conservative on how Israel continues to kill more and more non-combatants (“running up the score”) and I can read National Review’s defense of Israel as being about the most careful regime in the world in terms of protecting non-combatants. What is the truth?
I don't see these two positions as necessarily contradictory.  An apologist for Israel could reply that if Israel weren't so scrupulous and careful, many more Palestinians would be killed.  (An apologist for Hamas could argue that they are even more careful, since rockets fired from Gaza into Israel kill almost nobody, civilian or military.  No one would take such an argument seriously, of course.)  Therefore, the apologist would continue, covering Palestinian deaths is a sign of the media's anti-Israel and indeed anti-Semitic bias, trying to win sympathy for these animals in hopes of driving Israel into the sea.  The problem for Israel is that they are clearly targeting civilians and civilian targets, such as hospitals, deliberately (though, the apologist would insist, they would kill so many more if Israel weren't such a moral exemplar), and this doesn't look good.  As another commenter pointed out, the killing of Arab civilians has been Israeli policy since its founding in 1948.

Another commenter wrote:
But the practical question is, what is Israel to do? Hamas deliberately installs rocket launchers in densely populated areas, it benefits politically from civilian casualties. We are witnessing a new form of warfare, where one side (Hamas) uses a horrific strategy of maximizing casualties among their own as an informational warfare weapon.  It works, too.
As I already pointed out, so does Israel, especially since any Israeli casualties will be trumpeted to the world as proof of Arab barbarism. When US media say that things have been quiet in Israel-Palestine of late, they mean only that no Israelis have been killed; Palestinian deaths are business as usual, nothing to see here, folks.

I suppose another practical question is what you expect Hamas to do. Gaza is, as we’re often told, one of the most densely populated areas on earth. Its government has no place to put defensive weapons except among the civilian population. Certainly Gazans have a right to defend themselves against Israeli violence — don’t they? And Gaza is under blockade, which is an act of war (as even the Israelis recognize if a blockade is directed against them); Israeli violence against Gaza is not limited to major assaults like the one currently underway. And that’s aside from the ongoing, daily violence and repression directed against Palestinians in the West Bank, and increasingly against Israeli Arabs in Israel itself. (Jonathan Cook’s 2006 book Blood and Religion is good on that subject.)

What I find interesting about this comment is that it changes the subject, which is typical among apologists for outlaw states (including the US — I remember the very same argument being made during the US invasion of Iraq). The article Larison dissected argues that it’s okay to kill (Arab) civilians, because they’re all effectively and morally combatants, which renders the question of Israeli scrupulosity irrelevant: Israel is completely in the right to kill civilians, because they're not civilians anyway.  (A recent error of attribution by ABC News showed this very effectively: given a photo of a family in their bombed-out house, ABC assumed that the suffering civilians must be Israelis -- but they were Palestinians.)

It’s increasingly difficult for many people to believe anymore that Israel kills civilians only unintentionally, as mere collateral damage, after the killing of four kids building sand castles on the beach, after the bombing of hospitals, and so on.  Israel (like any other state, to be sure) usually explains away these killings by claiming either that the victims were really terrorists or that the killers thought that they were shelling a militant base.  These explanations are routinely exposed as lies, but who cares?  There are no consequences for Israel.  The commenter's question is also irrelevant to the larger problem of Israeli violence against civilians, since Israel targets them directly and deliberately even when they’re not in Gaza. The argument is clearly offered in bad faith when Israeli spokesman make it, so it’s suspect when unofficial apologists make it too.

What do I "expect" Israel to do?  I expect Israel to stop its ongoing campaign of violence against the people it has displaced, to lift the blockade on Gaza, to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians, and so on.  I don't really expect this to happen, of course.  Israel has gone too far, too successfully, to stop now.  What does Israel expect the Palestinians to do?  It expects them to surrender, I suppose, and failing that, to die, with its assistance.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that the current atrocities will continue as long as necessary to guarantee Israel's security.  I don't see how this conduct can produce security for Israel except by exterminating all Palestinians, and that seems to be Israel's goal.  (Or as near to extermination as makes no difference: the US didn't totally wipe out its Indians, but it did kill them off to the point that they no longer posed any danger to US settlers.  Even that wasn't permanent. Israeli leaders may not have heard of the American Indian Movement, but they probably intend not to let any such potential for future resistance survive.)

Israel's wars have not won it security, so Netanyahu's "goal of bringing a prolonged quiet to the area" is disingenuous at best.  But then, like those of his American counterparts, his lies never have any consequences for him. When Israel has gained prolonged quiet from Palestinians in the past, it has always ended it with new violence.  (And to repeat, its war of attrition against the Palestinians, through dispossession, harassment, and retail violence, never stops.)   Like an American hawk, Netanyahu claims that only military strength guarantees security, though it hasn't given Israel (or the US ) security so far.  Larison has written about this many times: no matter how much military might and action they get, hawks always claim that their country is weak and ineffectual, under constant threat, so more weapons and invasions are needed to instill fear in our (real, imagined, or potential) enemies.  The difference, for what it's worth, is that most Americans aren't hawks, while Netanyahu speaks for the majority of Israelis.  Endless war hasn't gotten Israel what it wants or claims to want, but I see no hope that it will try less murderous alternatives.