The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, January 04, 2009

In the interests of balance ...

Both sides of the Gaza story, shown here. (Via).


Cute, but it does rather overlook the issue of intentions. The pitiful performance (in terms of real casualties and damage - NOT psychological impact) of the Qassam rockets must be a source of considerable embarassment to Hamas. We're walking a bit of a funny line when lack of resources to commit a violent act can become a saving grace. If I do the wrong thing, but do it badly, does that somehow excuse my actions and intentions?

(I remember having a similar debate as an undergraduate about nuclear arsenals - whether the USSR was morally superior to the USA for building up its megadeath stockpiles, but by being very inefficent about it).

Thought provoking link though - I've forwarded it to some of the Edinburgh Uni Pal-Soc.

Concerning warfare, the Holiest of Books for both Israelite, Christian and Moslem --The Old testamant-- is very clear about how war should be waged:

Numbers 31:7f
Deuteronomy 20:10-16
1 Samuel 15:3
1 Chronicles 5:21-22
Hosea 13:16

So by that yardstick, we are seeing kindness itself unfold.

"Look, Mom, no survivors"
Last month I turned forty. So I was welcomed to the world of the elderly adult society.
However, in the past 40 years I don't remember one year without war, violence or terror in or around Israel and Palestine. Not a single fucking year.
I keep asking my self: what would have become of me, if I had been raised within a society where war is part of the daily routine? I think I would consider a such raised self - compared to me - insane.

To stress a already too much used saying: the first victim of war was sanity.

Edward, I don't think the relative failure of Hamas' murderous efforts lets them off the moral hook, nor do I subsribe to that weird strain of post-colonial thinking that automatically ascribes moral superiority to the weaker party. But ... for goodness sake, Israel is seeking to justify the deaths of hundreds in a week (who knows, by the time this is over, maybe thousands) in order to prevent deaths in single figures. You don't have to be an unrepentant utilitarian to see something wrong in that picture. It's like blowing up a whole tower block to get the drug dealer on the eighth floor.

That said, the Hamas statement tonight that 'killing our children means we get to kill your children' is pretty ethically repellant too.

for goodness sake, Israel is seeking to justify the deaths of hundreds in a week in order to prevent deaths in single figures.

That is pretty much what a government if for, isn't it?

Guys from elsewhere trying real hard to kill people in another country: stopping that kind of thing is one reason you put up with having a government.

Wasn't it our host who wrote that 'Violence is the state's killer app'? Or was that Stross?

It's like blowing up a whole tower block to get the drug dealer on the eighth floor.

Bad analogy, sorry. You've described a civil problem, which this ain't.

I gotta say that the whole things makes me sad: The Palestinians succeeded in doing what no one else has done - defeat the IDF, get them to concede territory.

Then Israeli hard-liners and Palestinian hard-liners conspired to screw it up. But the Palestinians lost more.

"The Palestinians succeeded in doing what no one else has done - defeat the IDF, get them to concede territory".

Oh? Speaking as someone who was brought up in an atmosphere of endemic violence up to and including outright warfare (although only occasionally on the receiving end of it), that has directed my attention to just how these things work. The usual historical case is not outright invasion and occupation but rather sustained incursions in which you don't stick around but reserve the capacity to keep doing it until there is nothing left. That way, you don't get the benefit of holding the territory straight away - but you don't get the cost either, and the other side doesn't get the benefit either so it eventually erodes away. It can take generations, but it always works unless something comes along to interrupt it; the French Revolutionary Wars probably saved the USA from a second round like that, whereas the Boers faced a second war of that sort. It has only become unfashionable in recent centuries because public opinion in strong powers has worked to crack down on anyone who had left provisionally, thwarting any attempt at re-entry (Suez, anyone?). So colonialists had to hang in there (which was unsustainable) or give up, simply because they couldn't use the methods that work.

So, withdrawal from Gaza was not any concession of territory but merely a reversion to tried and true methods - since Israel has achieved an exemption from the thwarting and is allowed to carry out as many incursions as it likes, to taste. Viewed in this light, Hamas's rocket attacks simply raised the cost to Israel a little, aiming to make it unsustainable on the necessary time scale, so Israel just stepped up the cheap and slow simmer it was using before.

'Guys from elsewhere trying real hard to kill people in another country: stopping that kind of thing is one reason you put up with having a government.'

At any cost? If my govt bombs another country to ashes, that's acceptable as long as it makes me feel a little safer? And as long as the incinerated corpses are of foreigners?

If that's what a govt is for, count me an anarchist.

'"It's like blowing up a whole tower block to get the drug dealer on the eighth floor."'

'Bad analogy, sorry. You've described a civil problem, which this ain't.'

By 'civil', I assume you mean 'domestic'. Again, I hope I'm misunderstanding your argument, because the grounds for your distinction sound pretty hideous; killing the innocent is acceptable, provided they are foreign innocent. Can that really be what you mean?

Btw, the IDF didn't so much concede Gaza, as turn it into a vast concentration camp, easier to police from outside than within, blockaded and starved.

Edward, I'm sure the pathetic performance of the Qassams is a 'considerable embarrassment' and that Hamas would much prefer to use tanks and jet fighters.

'Hamas would much prefer to use tanks and jet fighters.'

I do like that one - though, I have to admit, tanks or jet fighters are particularly hard to conceal in the first place and do require a lot more means to keep them operational.

Considering the history of Palestine since the end of World War One I am not surprised about the ongoing violence, and I do think they keep on killing each other unless somebody might develop a bright new idea. But that might be too optimisitc a wish. Probably what passes for governments in that area will develop something like common sense, much as I would prefer for the people living there developing this, thus outsmarting their own leadership.

And maybe I will still be around to see that happen. I doubt that.

It is not just whether photos & atrocity stories are being faked but the way our media choose to show them or not. Throughout the Bosnia & Kosovo wars we got a lot of coverage from the side of our nice (ex-)Nazi friends but there were a lot of photos available in non-NATO countries of such things as our allies parading around displaying human heads (in one case one of the perpetrator was subsequently identified as a NATO policeman). Ditto during the Georgian war the Russian people got really worked up about films that the BBC never even alluded to.

Picture is a very emotional medium & our media are very careful not to show ones which would be sympathetic to the villains de jour.

Whatever the rights & wrongs there is no question that the Israelis are taking considerable pains to minimise civilian casualties. Nothing remotely approaching the 80% casualties being non-combatants that NATO caused let alone the wholesale genocide & ethnic cleansing NATO caused in Krajina & Kosovo & which murderous savages like Clare Short & Ken Livinston so enthusiastically participated in. Quite obviously the Israelis could have done so & indeed could have been providing our hospitals with spare parts as our "police" in Kosovo have been doing, if they had the same moral standards as our politicians.

If anybody in the anti-Israel movement wants to appear not to be racist they must show that they have called for war criminals who supported bombing civilians to be brought to justice, even when they aren't Jewish.

"If I do the wrong thing, but do it badly, does that somehow excuse my actions and intentions?"

I started wondering about that when answering a university entrance exam paper in the mid-80s. I found out later that Plato had also grappled with the same question: do you judge people by their actions or their intentions.?In the case of Hamas, if they're not capable of killing many people they're really not the problem. Generally my feeling is that when there is such a disparity of power between them and their occupiers (it isn't that funny when Israelis talk about areas of undisputed Israeli sovereignty when it is from such areas that three out of seven Gazans are refugees from), it is understandable that they use any means that will hit back effectively against their occupiers. Israeli spokespersons frequently say they have to attack civilian areas because Hamas a-little-bit-scary-ists are hiding behind them; why can't the Israeli army congregate in open areas for Hamas to target?
One thing that might stop a Hamas airforce from functioning is that the Israelis have bombed the airport. Which now I come to think of it I wonder if they did that before Hamas took over/won the election/launched their evil Islamist coup.

This debate is on a somewhat wrong track if you guys think counting numbers justifies anything. If 10 people were to assault me in a dark back alley (or a brightly lit field for that matter), and it was in my power to stop them by killing them, I would kill them all with light conscience.

Similarly, killing thousands to save single-digit figures of people would amount to no heavy conscience on my part was an analogous situation to occur.

0 0 0

So as I said, the debate is on a wrong track, and the reasons are one and two:

1. Counting numbers is at best a red herring.

2. By referring to numbers all the time, you are really saying that you don't object to any side's actions, or to any side's actions more than the other's _per se_ but only to the proportion in numbers. In other words, insisting on always hailing the military loser as the moral winner.

If the way to be a moral winner is to lose a war, I'd prefer to be immoral.

Solan, you might be justified in killing your attackers in the alley but you wouldn't be justified in bombing the neighbourhood where they live.

... by which I mean you're ignoring the obvious issue of non-combatant casualties, which isn't represented in your analogy.

Is there any war in which there have been no non-combatant casualties? Certainly Israel are taking far greater pains to limit non-combatant casualties than Britain did & it is quite disgusting to see the likes of Livingston & Short who enthusiastically supported a war aimed almost entirely against civilians & subsequently a campaign of genocide lecturing the Israelis. No honest person can claim either of them are 1,000th as humanitarian as the Israeli leaders.

While I do not agree with those Hamas supporters whio say that they are not a terrorist organisation because they were elected the corollary of that prevents anybody having put forward that argument saying that the population are bystanders rather than accomplicies in Hamas' murders of Jewish civilians.

Numbers are hardly irrelevant to a discussion of the morality of a given war, despite what pithy QEDs say. For instance, the gross amounts of civilian casualties, combined with incidents in which civilians were quite clearly targeted (the a-Samuni family, for instance) might throw doubt on all these claims about Israel's impeccable humanitarian conduct. Claims about the supposed irrelevance of numbers serve those who wish to preserve such mythology nicely.

wobbly and pauly: you now add the "civilian" dimension. But is the problem that civilians die, or the *number* of civilians that die?

If it's just the civilian head count that matters, I do again find your arguments very strange.

May I suggest looking at the question of whether civilians are deliberately targeted? In that case, I think both sides are guilty, but of course there may be bickering as to which side is "guiltiest".

What I notice, though, is that this war is as much about gathering sympathy and support from the outside as it is about the actual targets and kills. It always has been a propaganda war, and probably always will be. By participating in it by responding or supporting either side, we are indirectly responsible for future actions and future involvement of civilians.

I for my part support only those who want all support for either party to end. Ending US subsidies to Israel an European and international subsidies to Palestine, and turning our backs to this conflict driven by both sides. (Do not fan the flames.)

If you want an uneven conflict driven by just one side to look at, have a look at the deliberate genocides in southern Sudan, where the northern arabs are slauthering the southern blacks. South African apartheid was pure heaven in comparison.

Neil, the hasbara around the war on Gaza is very similar to the hasbara around the war on Yugoslavia. Then as now, all civilian casualties were either legitimate targets or regretable collateral damage. And anyway the Serb population had voted for Milosevic so they had it coming. And so on.

Fair point to both sides Ken. My opinion is that Israel were left with no real option but to do something to prevent Hamas continuing with the rockets killing civilians & that Yugoslavs only other option was to let NATO occupy their entire country & the openly genocidal NATO armed KLA continue killing civilians. Granted after the peace the 2nd is what NATO allowed them, as policemen, to do anyway but in both cases I am on the side opposing genocide.

I think that matters & can legitimately regard those, like Livingston, Short & all the journalists who lied to portray Milosevic as being engaged in murder & are now attacking Israel for something not as destructive & not remotely as evil as what they did as being genocidal Nazis. Also those MPs who supported the Yugoslav war as war criminals. This may be considered biased but it is not factually wrong.

If anybody in the anti-Israel movement wants to appear not to be racist they must show that they have called for war criminals who supported bombing civilians to be brought to justice, even when they aren't Jewish.

Really? I do believe that Clinton, Blair et al are just as much war criminals as Olmert & Livni, in fact on a larger scale. But suppose that rather than being a socialist and an internationalist, I was a Palestinian or a Muslim motivated by feelings of solidarity with my community, or a Jew motivated by a desire to stop crimes from being committed in my name, or simply someone whose knowledge and interest lay, for whatever reason, in the Middle East rather than the Balkans. Then I might be actively opposed to the Israeli assault on Gaza, but have no opinion or a positive one about the NATO attack on Serbia. That would be the wrong stance, but I don't see how it would be a racist one.

Neil: My opinion is that Israel were left with no real option but to do something to prevent Hamas continuing with the rockets killing civilians

You are aware that there were four months last year in which rocket fire from Hamas completely stopped, and in which such attacks from other groups in Gaza (opposed to and stamped down on by Hamas) dropped to single figures? And that this 'lull' ended an Hamas rocket attacks resumed when the IDF attacked a Hamas group allegedly building a tunnel to carry out an abduction?

Fortunately these are not facts in dispute, because they come from Israeli government sources, here and here (PDF). The latter says: 'Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire.'

You are also aware, of course, that the current IDF operation was planned before the ceasefire even started, and can very reasonably be seen as planned for ... about now?

As an interesting side note, Fremskrittspartiet, a political party in Norway that has previously been known for harbouring quite a few closet and not-so-closet racists (and who despite their purges to become purely populist still wear that brown taint) has sided with Israel.

So what happened, a friend of mine in Denmark asked? Why did they side with Israel? Well, it seems to me that the ones who hate the jews the most and the ones who hate muslims the most must have had a fight over Fremskrittspartiet's soul, and the ones who hated jews the most lost ...

Anyway, I still think this itch to pass resolutions against Israel is wrong-headed. Even if you happened to side 100% with the other side in one of its incarnations. Why? Because while we, the West, would then be taking with one hand, we would still be giving with the other. Shutting off the gasoline infusion permanently is a better solution than throwing blankets, water and what have you on the fire.

PS: I'm starting to like this Ron Paul:

Kal you are corect & it is quite reasonable for an Arab living in the Middle East not to care about our genocide in Kosovo. When I said "anti-Israel movement" I meant western demonstrators rather than those in the middle east who are more fighting than demonstrating & I apologise for not being clear.

The corolary of that is that since we (& the BBC) live in Europe & are involved in what our own government does we should be very much more concerned about atrocities in Europe & particularly those carried out in our name, than anything that happens between Israel & the Palestinians. This would apply even if our atrocities were not far worse & infinitely less defencive than anything Israel is doing.

Since they are indeed far worse the deliberate censorship by BBC, ITN & almost all the press of such things as dissection of 1,300 Serb civilians, while still alive, by our "police" to supply our hospitals, & the role played in this by politicians now attacking Israel, shows that the present coverage is in no way whatsoever motivated by a news values or any form of human decency.

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