Symmetrical Outrage at Asymmetric Warfare


6:09 pm - February 29th 2008

by Keith Kahn-Harris    


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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is inexorably hotting up again. In summer 2006 the flashpoint was northern Israel/southern Lebanon, now it is mid-Israel/Gaza. The dynamic of the current conflagration is similar to the previous one: Hamas/Hezbollah firing missiles at civilians in Sderot and Ashkelon/northern Israel; Israel responding with missiles and a ground invasion that causes many civilian deaths. In the current flare-up only a ground invasion of Gaza is lacking and that could well be about to happen.

This style of conflict reveals the sheer hopelessness of this kind of ‘asymmetric warfare’ in which the weaker party fights with crude weapons and has not a hope of total victory of the battlefield. Hamas’s crudely produced rockets cannot beat the Israeli military machine but can and do cause terror, injury and death to the people of Sderot and now Ashkelon. Israel’s mighty army can cause devastation for the people of Gaza on a greater scale than Hamas can manage, but it cannot prevent the rockets (it’s worth remembering that rockets were fired, albeit on a smaller scale, even when Israel was occupying Gaza). The hopelessness lies in the impossibility of victory for either side. Insofar as Hamas has a realistic political strategy, it is that decades of low-intensity warfare will perhaps weaken Israel’s desire to fight. Israel’s more realistic leaders admit that re-occupation of Gaza presents no ultimate solution.

The current conflict presents a nihilistic avoidance of the only two solutions to the problem: either the genocide of one party by another, or the negotiated agreement to live together. The first solution is inconceivable at the moment, Hamas hasn’t the capability to cleanse Israel of Jews (although some of its members would no doubt like to), Israel does not have the will to do so (although one Israeli leader used the Hebrew word for holocaust to describe the fate of Gaza in the event of a military invasion). The second solution seems equally implausible: the dominant view in the leaderships of Gaza and Israel is that negotiations are impossible at the moment. So we have a situation in which a war is being fought that both protagonists know it cannot win.

The question is what should the response be of those of us who live outside Israel-Palestine. The all too frequent tendency by outsiders in this conflict has been to proclaim one’s desire for peace, while supporting the violence of one’s favourite protagonist. So in the 2006 war, British Jews rallied under the slogan ‘yes to peace, no to terror’ while supporting the Israeli military response, while the left and its Muslim allies decried Lebanese civilian deaths while lending tacit or open support for Hezbollah. The sufferings of one’s favourite civilians are denounced while those of the other side are ignored or explained away.

The tendency on the left to have greater sympathy for the Palestinians/Lebanese is partially understandable: their civilians are poorer, more vulnerable and die in greater numbers. In this asymmetric conflict, Israel is unquestionably the stronger party with the greater capacity to inflict suffering. But to support the military actions of either party in an asymmetric conflict is to perpetuate the sufferings of both sides. The only sensible response from those of us who do not live in the conflict zone is to cultivate a disgust at the perpetuation of the conflict. It may be that one’s natural sympathies lie with one side or another (as someone who has friends and relatives in Israel, the sufferings of the citizens of Sderot are much more real to me) and it may be that one has strong feelings about who has ultimate responsibility for the conflict; but these natural biases need to be transcended during the dangerous phase of mutual bloodletting that we are seeing now.

What we need is a peace movement – a real peace movement, not marches and slogans that proclaim a desire for peace while supporting war. What we need is symmetrical willingness to criticise the warriors on both sides; a symmetrical support for the suffering non-combatants. Only when both support and critique are equally apportioned can those of us who do not directly participate in the conflict develop a stance that is both moral and that breaks with the cyclical process of violence.

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About the author
Keith Kahn-Harris is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a research associate at the Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths College and the convener of New Jewish Thought. Also at: Metal Jew and www.kahn-harris.org
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Reader comments


I strongly agree with the statement “The only sensible response from those of us who do not live in the conflict zone is to cultivate a disgust at the perpetuation of the conflict.” I was born in a refugee camp in Germany after another insane conflict and my entire life has been about asking why it all happened.

I have been a anthroplogist, educator, and psychotherapist in the process of searching for answers. I know that taking sides only intensifies any conflict. You have to be able to hold the tension of the opposites and that comes only through talking to the other, understanding their position. What gives me hope is that we have tools like the internet available which previous generations did not, to connect with others and get to know them by seeing them, hearing them, and sharing what is important to us.

I use a simple tool called bVisual which a group of bright people have created which empowers me to create a peace through understanding and conversations. If you want to join me in testing this tool go to http://www.bvisual.com/ebrochure. A true peace movement requires new tools to connect the web of people.

Thanks Unity. I’m involved in some dialogue work at the moment myself. Unfortunately, practices of this kind tend to be dismissed as wishy-washy…

3. douglas clark

Ulrich,

Whilst it may indeed be possible to use the bVisual tool for the purposes you state, it is being touted as a Social Networking tool and, even if you pass their Beta test criteria, they still want $9.95 a month. I think you should have made the commercial nature of the product a bit more obvious in your original post.

Keith – well said. It does annoy me when people on both ‘sides’ keep painting themselves as the victims, the other as aggressor and only ‘retaliating’ to aggression.

You add nothing to the situation.

“Only when both support and critique are equally apportioned can those of us who do not directly participate in the conflict develop a stance that is both moral and that breaks with the cyclical process of violence.”

Just classic buzzwordism. That is the false balance of the nuanced idiot. You present a false moral equivalence.

To have peace there must be a peace that all sides accept and keep to. Unless you can suggest how this can be arranged, what do you really have to offer?

I cannot think of anything the Israelis could do that would be wiser for them than what they are doing. And I don’t really think that the Palestinians could declare peace however many of them wished to.

So what is left?

Lee – my approach does not assume moral equivalence between both sides. However, in terms of political strategy, equal concern for the failings of both sides is the only responsible strategy. In a situation where neither side can either win or lose, supporting one protagonist either tacitly or openly is a dead-end strategy.

ad – ‘so what’s left’ is indeed the question. I’m not pretending I have a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, I am saying that -astonishingly – one of the few things that have not been tried is a GENUINE peace movement. By that I mean a movement that decries the failings on both sides.

I cannot think of anything the Israelis could do that would be wiser for them than what they are doing.

You don’t think dismantling the illegal settlements or withdrawing from Gaza might be a good start?

Lee – any more silly abuse will be deleted, thanks.

Sunny: while it’s nice to have you on my side, I have to point out that Israel can’t withdraw from Gaza – there are no settlements or bases left. Of course, Israel controls the borders which is probably tantamount to occupation but clarity is important.

-“I cannot think of anything the Israelis could do that would be wiser for them than what they are doing.

You don’t think dismantling the illegal settlements or withdrawing from Gaza might be a good start?-

If the definition of madness is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then withdrawing from those settlements (which are certainly arguably illegal) and expecting peace would be madness. The Israelis have ALREADY withdrawn from Gaza and the result has been so bad in terms of developing a peace process that it looks like they may have to go back in.

As this trackback has suggested – http://eamonnmcdonagh.wordpress.com/2008/02/29/woolly-minds/ – the level of woolly thinking on this thread is so staggering that Rowan Williams could approve!

the level of woolly thinking on this thread is so staggering that Rowan Williams could approve!

What’s the alternative to so-called ‘wolly thinking’? Yes, I know, let’s keep bombing Palestinians until they give in? Because that’s really worked in the past hasn’t it?

Israeli air and artillery strikes have killed at least 35 Palestinians in Gaza, 16 of them civilians.

This brings the number of Palestinian deaths in the coastal strip to around 70 in four days.

The deaths came in some of the heaviest Israeli raids on Gaza since Hamas took control. The raids were launched in response to the death of one Israeli citizen, a 44-year-old man, in the town of Sderot in a missile strike last week.

from:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/01/israelandthepalestinians2

I find it utterly hilarious that neo-cons and others who take a hardline in support of Israel or Palestine continue to call peace campaigners “wolly thinkers” etc without really having a plan that doesn’t involve the continued destruction.

“Of course, Israel controls the borders ”

The borders of Gaza are controlled by Hamas along with Egypt and Israel

Yes, I know, let’s keep bombing Palestinians until they give in? Because that’s really worked in the past hasn’t it?

As I understand matters they are not bombing “the Palestinians”, they are bombing/ shelling the points rockets have been launched from, things thought especially valuble to Hamas etc.

Random bombeardments for purely terroristic purposes seem to be one of the things they have not tried.

…the left and its Muslim allies decried Lebanese civilian deaths while lending tacit or open support for Hezbollah.

An interesting turn of phrase, and I don’t doubt you can quote some jokers from RESPECT or haul a number of hooting ignoramuses out of the darker dungeons of the internet as evidence.

Call me a knee-jerk reactionary if you will, but statements like that teeter precariously close to the point at which I reach for my big book of nasty swearwords. I realise noting this does little to advance the debate, but I find that pumping out wild generalisations doesn’t really help either.

15. Planeshift

“As I understand matters they are not bombing “the Palestinians”, they are bombing/ shelling the points rockets have been launched from, things thought especially valuble to Hamas etc.”

Those points also happen to be places where civillians live. So Sunny’s point is essentially true.

Random bombeardments for purely terroristic purposes seem to be one of the things they have not tried.

Of course, not randomly… just bombardments that have

A 21-month-old Palestinian girl, two other civilians and three militants were killed in the latest fighting in the Gaza Strip, raising the Palestinian death toll in five days of bloodshed to more than 100, including about 60 civilians, medical officials said.

I’m still looking for those ‘anti-wolly thinkers’ to suggest a legitimate course of action, which tries to save the lives of innocent people on both sides.

The turn this debate has taken in recent posts raises precisely the issue I wanted to discuss. That is, the way the asymmetries in power between Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza tend to lead many people into decrying the suffering of one side while ignoring the suffering of the other. These asymmetries can be viewed in different ways: If your criterium for rightness is ‘number of civilian deaths suffered’ then the Palestinians ‘win’ any day by virtue of their high numbers of deaths. If your criterium for rightness is ‘number of civilians intentionally killed’ then Israel ‘wins’ by virtue of its missiles principally targeting military or para-military targets. Neither criterium is particularly helpful.

Any possibility of finding a solution to this conflict (and at the moment it’s a very remote possibility) lies in recognising suffering on both sides.

Flying Rodent: yes I should have said that ‘sections of the left’ supported Hezbollah. Still, they were significant sections.

“I’m still looking for those ‘anti-wolly thinkers’ to suggest a legitimate course of action, which tries to save the lives of innocent people on both sides.”

When I talk about avoiding woolly thinking, I mean entering the discussion with the most minimal knowledge of what is actually happening (i.e. what is Israel currently occupying). Because without that, the prescriptions are going to be laughably out of touch with reality.

I don’t have any short-term solutions to this intractable problem other than to say that Israel has a right to pursue the individuals firing missiles into their territory and that, tragic as it is when civilians are killed in their pursuit, it is Hamas that is responsible for putting those civilians at risk.

In the longterm, we have to look at the underlying political and economic causes of this conflict. Who is really benefitting from protracting this conflict? Because it sure as hell isn’t Israel or the Pallestinians. It is a product of several ruling classes in the Middle East that can only find stability through creating and protracting external conflict. These interests happen to coincide on this particular issue with Islamist ideologues as well.

Neo-cons tend to see the answer as overthrowing the more excessively terrible regimes in the area (except, of course, when it comes to Saudi Arabia!). But this is morally very utilitarian (create war now, prevent a big war in the future) with uneven calculus and very exposed to any incompetence and maliciousness within the West. It could just as easily exacerbate as prevent conflict.

So my preferred solution is this sort of project on a grander scale: http://www.misbahalhurriyya.org/ (Lamp of Liberty – A Cato Institute project)

It is not often enough noted that in the Middle East, let alone in Pallestine, the reason why everyone is reading The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is because hardly anything else is ever translated into Arabic from the West! All they see from our rich cultural heritage is 19th and 20th century anti-semitism (and the BBC which is hardly any better!). This obviously plays to the interests of various ruling classes but it is also a failure in our imaginations, to fail to realise what it is like to live in a world without access to enlightenment knowledge. Their horizons are stunted, creating plenty of room for half-baked Islamist ideology to take hold.

So our solution is cultural. Change the boundaries by which the participants themselves and their supports see the conflict and you end the conflict just as Northern Ireland is (hopefully) calming down now. Because there is more to life than tribe, nation and religion.

I wholeheartedly concur with the importance of cultural measures to improve the situation. There are some really worthwhile grassroots projects happening in Israel-Palestine (such as the Bereaved Families Forum, which brings together bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents). These initiatives do not get enough publicity.

The problem though with the Northern Ireland analogy is that I don’t think the situation has improved through grassroots bridge-building between communities. It came about through protracted negotiations and through the sponsorship of more powerful actors (ie the UK and US governments). Israel-Palestine is at a stage where there is little serious negotiation and no sign of an honest broker who could mediate with a firm hand.

I agree. But I think part of the reason for that is that you are dealing with two sides that exist in two very different conceptual frameworks. There cannot really be a diplomatic or democratic solution to a conflict between these two ideas. Islamism cannot be accomodated with a Jewish nation state in the middle east. There is no long term solution other than to “wipe Israel off the map” or to change the ideology that is driving this conflict. I would argue for the latter because it is better to change people’s minds than to ethnically cleanse a region the size of Wales of Jews. Once people are reading some of the same literature and thinking some of the same concepts (thus removing the monistic, sometimes nihilistic, ideology of Islamism), then grassroots work and diplomacy becomes a possibility.

“The problem though with the Northern Ireland analogy is that I don’t think the situation has improved through grassroots bridge-building between communities.”

dead right

” It came about through protracted negotiations and through the sponsorship of more powerful actors (ie the UK and US governments).”

also right but the nature of the negotiations are important to bear in mind; they essentially involved a search for graceful form of surrender for the provisional republican movement, a movement now cheerfully administering the state it spent nearly thirty years trying to destroy. The Provos basically accepted what had been on the table for the previous twenty years

The late Brendan Hughes was quite clear on this

http://sluggerotoole.com/index.php/weblog/comments/brendan-hughes-1949-2008/

Nick:
I mean entering the discussion with the most minimal knowledge of what is actually happening (i.e. what is Israel currently occupying).

That was my mistake, made when I was distracted, rather than a mistake made by Keith in the body of the article. Given that Eamonn’s response called him wolly, and you concurred with it, I think your justification is a bit off. No?

other than to say that Israel has a right to pursue the individuals firing missiles into their territory and that

Since you give one side the right of retaliation, I’m assuming that you also afford Palestinians the right of retaliation for… where shall I start… earlier occupation of their territories, keeping them locked up in a massive jail, daily checkpoint harassment, economic embargoes etc etc. The list is long.

It is a product of several ruling classes in the Middle East that can only find stability through creating and protracting external conflict.

Again, you’re looking only at one side. There are parts of Israel who want to continue the conflict because they have no intention of giving the Palestinians a viable state, nor of giving up the illegal settlements.

And that doesn’t even take into account the Christian Zionists such as Jerry Falwell et al.

Their horizons are stunted, creating plenty of room for half-baked Islamist ideology to take hold.

Yes… and you don’t think that cutting off their electricity, making it impossible for many of them to work… stopping aid from going in has anything to do with it? Yes? No? Or is that to be disregarded completely?

Sunny – the right of retaliation for “earlier” occupation of their territories?
That’s a new one!
So Israel might as well have stayed there?

Sunny

The trackback link points to a different absurdity in the main body of the post. I just felt your comment merely emphasised the woollyness.

In my post, I am not giving Israel the right of retaliation but of self-defence. If the missiles stopped tomorrow, I would want Israel to stop pursuing Hamas tomorrow.

Incidentally, that is how I find the Israelis that I speak to think, even the rightwing Likud supporters. With the exception of a minority of nutters (who in a democratic society will always be on the fringe), no one in Israel is even that tied to the West Bank settlements and happily give them up for peace. But whats the point when handing the West Bank back would just embolden the Islamists and give them some new launching platforms with which to shell Israel.

As for electricity and other resources, it is Hamas that have been aiming to hit the powerstation at Ashkelon with their missiles (the source of Gaza’s power). THEY know for sure that it is in their interests to keep Gaza in the dark!

That is why the longterm view cannot concentrate on Gaza. They are under a government that is directly opposed to the material interests of its own people. You need to tackle the source of their support and ideology throughout the Middle East.

Part of the problem here is that (along with most ‘western’ style governments) Israeli governments put the short-term before the long-term. From the short-term perspective, retaliation against Hamas missiles is of course legitimate. However, from a medium to long-term perspective, it creates greater support for Hamas. The strategy of most non-conventional warfare is to provoke greater oppression in the hope of creating greater opposition. Conventional warriors may understand this but they are trapped in a situation in which they cannot find a way out of the trap.

What may be needed is a bold attempt to break the cycle. Withdrawal from the settlements may be such a move. Those who say that withdrawal from Gaza settlements only gave Hamas a more stable base to attack Israel from are right of course. The problem is that Gaza may be settlement-free, but it has no real independence. Perhaps what is needed is to turn unconventional warriors into conventional warriors. That presumes a fully independent state with its own army (as opposed to militia). If the Palestinians still wanted to provoke a fight, better that it would be a conventional fight – on a battlefield, fought by armies – then the current nihi;listic situation.

Keith,

Fantastic article. But I’m not optimistic that many people will listen. Today The Guardian gives comment space to Tamimi insisting that the fighting must go on.

cjcjc: Sunny – the right of retaliation for “earlier” occupation of their territories?

I.e. they were earlier retaliating for occupation then.

In my post, I am not giving Israel the right of retaliation but of self-defence.

Well, you used the word retaliation above, so one can only assume you meant that. But even if it is ‘self-defence’, that doesn’t change anything. If a foreign country controlled your whereabouts, economic prospects and kept you in a massive land-locked jail, would you not see that as an infringement of your human rights? Given that you’re campaigning on the right to posess images the state wants to outlaw, one would assume that you’re quite high on affording people civil liberties. Or does that not apply to Palestinians?

no one in Israel is even that tied to the West Bank settlements and happily give them up for peace.

No one is that tied to the settlements? That’s not true, given the furore the last time the settlements were given up. Not only that, Israel has expanded on those settlements since rather than aim to cut them down.

I’m in agreement with Keith on #26.

Brian Klug wrote a paper last year for the Fabians which essentially made the same point. But again, some dismissed it as ‘wolly’ because they’re only interested in seeing why one side ‘retaliates’ than the other.

Sunny – well you did imply that that was a justification for the rocket attacks now – glad you’ve cleared that up.

Assume you would acknowledge that the “daily checkpoint harrassment” is not being done for the fun of it!

Sunny:

– “In my post, I am not giving Israel the right of retaliation but of self-defence.”

Well, you used the word retaliation above, so one can only assume you meant that. –

Uhhh… no I did not, so far as I can see. The first time I appear to have used the word in this thread was “I am not giving Israel the right of retaliation but of self-defence”. This sort of underlines the “woollyness problem” though. It is hard enough grappling with these difficult issues without interlocutors being carelessly misrepresented as well.

Yes, civil liberties are important to me. A number of mine and yours are infringed by British government policy today, sometimes introduced only by abusing the democratic process. Does that mean I should fire missiles at my local police station or at Westminster? Well I am not because I believe that police (and even civil servants and, to an extent, politicians) are humans with rights of their own. It is also a bad idea because it is counter-productive, likely to make society and the state more violent in its crackdown on discontents.

Obviously, we are dealing with abuses on a different scale in Israel although it is worth noting that before the intifada, Palestinians enjoyed significant civil freedoms and had more access to personal education and academic advancement than at any point previously in their history (plus access to a growing labour market). That was still unacceptable in terms of human rights as they were still non-citizens. But it was the polarising ideologies of Fatah and Hamas (supported by other nations for their own interests) that brought the particularly terrible present situation about whereas passive resistance, negotiation and even proportionate levels of violence directed at legitimate targets would have led to a much improved situation.

Once again, I don’t have a short term answer. My long term answer is to challenge the ideologies that underlie this conflict as many Islamists cannot negotiate on the mere existence of Israel and any ceasefire for them is only ever tactical. I acknowledge there is still a radical zionist element in Israel which is protective of any territory but they managed to get them out of Gaza – they could get out of much of the West Bank too if the political will was there. But every missile fired from Hamas makes that political will more impossible.

It is hard enough grappling with these difficult issues without interlocutors being carelessly misrepresented as well.

I didn’t mis-represent you, though you didn’t use that word. But you said: Israel has a right to pursue the individuals firing missiles into their territory…

How would you characterise that?

A number of mine and yours are infringed by British government policy today, sometimes introduced only by abusing the democratic process. Does that mean I should fire missiles at my local police station or at Westminster?

I’m sorry, are you comparing the lack of your civil liberties with that of the Palestinians? And you’re accusing others of ‘wolly’ thinking? This is downright hilarious. If you’re not comparing then please don’t make fatuous analogies.

Palestinians enjoyed significant civil freedoms and had more access to personal education and academic advancement than at any point previously in their history

They still had to deal with illegal settlements, not having their own viable state and checkpoints. Why not compare their brilliant life before the intafada with your own civil liberties first?

But it was the polarising ideologies of Fatah and Hamas (supported by other nations for their own interests) that brought the particularly terrible present situation< ?i>

Nothing to do with the occupation then?

I acknowledge there is still a radical zionist element in Israel which is protective of any territory

Oh, now you do, that’s nice. I’m afraid this doesn’t go far enough. We still have Benjamin Netanyahu, who is waiting to take over, and only as far back as 2006 attended the 60th anniversary celebration of the King David Hotel bombing. If you’re against the use of violence for political purposes then I’m assuming you’d be against that too. Right?

But every missile fired from Hamas makes that political will more impossible.

So full of solutions aren’t we? And with complete political balance too.

“Part of the problem here is that (along with most ‘western’ style governments) Israeli governments put the short-term before the long-term.”

That’s because they have to face the judgement of the people on a regular basis.

“From the short-term perspective, retaliation against Hamas missiles is of course legitimate.”

“I doubt if retaliation as such is either legal or legitimate. Measures, including military measures, designed to stop missiles being fired have some chance of being legal and legitimate.

“However, from a medium to long-term perspective, it creates greater support for Hamas. ”

That remains to be seen.

“The strategy of most non-conventional warfare is to provoke greater oppression in the hope of creating greater opposition. Conventional warriors may understand this but they are trapped in a situation in which they cannot find a way out of the trap.”

correct. this strategy hinges on the belief that the more powerful party will lose its stomach for the fight before the weaker one because it will be obliged to take measures repugnant to its own people and international opinion in general. The weaker party is in big troublle should this belief prove to be unfounded.

“What may be needed is a bold attempt to break the cycle. Withdrawal from the settlements may be such a move. Those who say that withdrawal from Gaza settlements only gave Hamas a more stable base to attack Israel from are right of course. ”

correct

“The problem is that Gaza may be settlement-free, but it has no real independence.”

The Palestinian demand is for a state comprising the West Bank and Gaza. No one on either side is going to support independence for Gaza only.

“Perhaps what is needed is to turn unconventional warriors into conventional warriors. That presumes a fully independent state with its own army (as opposed to militia). If the Palestinians still wanted to provoke a fight, better that it would be a conventional fight – on a battlefield, fought by armies – then the current nihi;listic situation.”

A unified Palestinian state on the west bank and Gaza with a monopoly of the use of violence as soon as possible is in everyone´s best interests.

Hamas is firmly oposed to this.

32. bananabrain

sunny,

i’m a bit mystified as to why you keep going on about gaza being a “big land-locked jail” and citing this as reason for “resistance” – presumably you think the israelis are entitled to operate border controls with a foreign country that is at war with them and, moreover, are entitled to prevent the passage of people and materials that they believe will be used to harm their citizens? the gazans have a border with egypt too, don’t they? and sea borders too, right? so what exactly do you think the israelis should do with their borders? i ask purely for information – you’re a reasonable sort of bloke, i know.

b’shalom

bananabrain

Sunny, you are perfectly correct when you say that Israeli return fire, attacks on Hamas etc, kill civilians. It occurs to me that, traditionally, if some of your human shields got killed, it was regarded as your fault for using them, not the other sides fault for shooting at people trying to kill them. It also occurs to me that people might resent being used as such shields.

How do you know that this sort of tactic does anything to make Israel less popular than Hamas? I should think that if the Israelis are trying to win a PR contest in Palestine they are a lot better off shooting at their enemies than e.g. cutting down the water supply to Gaza.

In the meantime, I am not aware of many historical examples of people refusing to shoot at their mortal enemies because it was perfectly safe to do so.

So I wonder why you think it is obviously unwise for the Israelis to shoot at their enemies.

I think a lot of trouble has been caused by people saying that there must be a “just” solution to this mess. Wars never end in a way considered just by both sides, because each side believes its cause to be just, and if their causes were not mutually contradictory, there would be no reason for a war. Every compromise peace is therefore a compromise with the devil from the viewpoint of either party – and every decisive victory is a victory for the devil in the eyes of the losers.

If you would have peace, prepare for injustice.

“I didn’t mis-represent you, though you didn’t use that word. But you said: Israel has a right to pursue the individuals firing missiles into their territory…”

Well note the present tense, Sunny. I am saying if a group are firing missiles into Israel, Israel has a right to pursue them. If they agree to stop firing them, they shouldn’t be pursued. It is a misrepresentation of me if you say I use the word “retaliation” when I haven’t.

But I am not really seeing a point in continuing this. I think we agree with each other far more closely than this thread implies and are quibbling over language and what analogies are relevant. None of us have a concrete solution for the moment, unless you are suggesting that Israel not returning fire, supplying resources to Gaza while under missile fire and then opening their border to Hamas is a serious solution.

“Sunny, you are perfectly correct when you say that Israeli return fire, attacks on Hamas etc, kill civilians. It occurs to me that, traditionally, if some of your human shields got killed, it was regarded as your fault for using them, not the other sides fault for shooting at people trying to kill them. It also occurs to me that people might resent being used as such shields.”

Because that is such a strong moral standpoint. “We know you’re going to use civilians to shield you, but will ignore this for the ease and safety of bombarding you indiscriminately from afar.” What a joke.

“So I wonder why you think it is obviously unwise for the Israelis to shoot at their enemies.”

Who are their enemies? This is such a dangerous stance to take and it’s the sort of stance the advocates terrorism. What is different between Israeli’s shooting indiscriminately at Palestinians because *some* of them are launching rockets over the border, and people sympathetic to the forces being fought by the UK and US in Afghanistan and Iraq blowing up a few tube trains and buses? In reality not a whole lot, yet I’m assuming you don’t advocate the latter so readily?

“Wars never end in a way considered just by both sides, because each side believes its cause to be just, and if their causes were not mutually contradictory, there would be no reason for a war.”

At least here we agree 😉

bananabrain: so what exactly do you think the israelis should do with their borders? i ask purely for information – you’re a reasonable sort of bloke, i know.

I’m not saying they should let anyone into the country. I’m saying that given the Palestinians have to depend on Israel for jobs etc, and there is no easy movement between the West Bank and Gaza – there needs to be allowance at least to work. We need a viable Palestinian state. The current border controls make that quite difficult, no?

Ad:
It occurs to me that, traditionally, if some of your human shields got killed,

How do you know they are ‘human shields’? why can’t they be civilians living in an area that gets bombed? None of the latest reports say anything about human shields.

So I wonder why you think it is obviously unwise for the Israelis to shoot at their enemies.

Unwise because it simply perpetuates the conflict, to the detriment of all sides. I don’t want it to be a zero sum game where the side that manages to wipe the other out ‘wins’.

I am saying if a group are firing missiles into Israel, Israel has a right to pursue them

Nick – this is chicken and egg. They could say they’re firing in retaliation for Israel’s actions. No?

None of us have a concrete solution for the moment, unless you are suggesting that Israel not returning fire, supplying resources to Gaza while under missile fire and then opening their border to Hamas is a serious solution.

Aha, but I do you see. I think there are steps that Israel can take, as the obviously stronger power, to unilaterally push through policies that force the Palestinians to return the favour. The current situation strengthen’s Hamas’s hand while weakening that of Abbas. The opposite needs to happen. And only pushing forward with peaceful initiatives will that happen.

“Nick – this is chicken and egg. They could say they’re firing in retaliation for Israel’s actions. No?”

No, Israel have periodically stopped fighting and have even tried withdrawing from territory. That only increases the missile fire. So for Israel it is a question of fighting and keeping a lid on their own deaths by killing those responsible, or to stop fighting and allowing violence against them to spiral out of control.

“Aha, but I do you see. I think there are steps that Israel can take, as the obviously stronger power, to unilaterally push through policies that force the Palestinians to return the favour. The current situation strengthen’s Hamas’s hand while weakening that of Abbas. The opposite needs to happen. And only pushing forward with peaceful initiatives will that happen.”

And how do you force pallestinians to return the favour? And remember: Abbas isn’t interested in peace either. He discusses it right now because he is currently in a weaker position. But his ideology, when it comes to Israel, is the same.

One issue that keeps recurring both in this thread and in other articles on the subject is whether Israel has ‘the right’ to retaliate and whether Hamas has ‘the right’ to armed resistance. I would suggest that this is a total red herring. One can have the right to do something but choose not to do it as it is counter-productive or harmful. I have the right to drink 2 bottles of brandy a day but I don’t exercise that right.

Just wanted to chuck that into the mix…

“How do you know they are ‘human shields’?”

Very straightforwardly because missiles are fired from civilian areas, close to schools and hospitals.

If 50% of casualties are civilian and 50% “militants” – which are the proportions you see reported (though assume the source is Hamas itself and may therefore be an underestimate of the “militant” proportion) – I would have thought that that shows precisely that the IDF strikes are *not* arbitrary.

And however disproportionate you might believe the IDF response might be, let’s not for one moment pretend that Hamas gives a flying f*ck for civilian lives on either side.

Hell, they run childrens TV shows where giant rabbits encourage 10 year olds to hate Jews and become “martyrs”.

The idea of ‘human shields’ is not as straightforward as some seem to imply. Guerrilla armies like Hamas by definition fight in the midst of civilian populations. Further, Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world so I fail to see where else they could launch missiles from (note that I am not implying approval for the rocket attacks – merely stating a fact).

To me, the term ‘human shield’ implies an unwilling volunteer, the classic example of this being the westerners that Saddam Hussein used for the purpose during the first Gulf War. This is not necessarily applicable to the Gaza/Hamas case as there does seem to be a level of popular support for the militia (they won an election) albeit certainly not unanimous.

The concept of human shield is best applied to situations where the shields do not support those they are shielding. All the evidence suggests that in the Gaza case the civilian victims of Israeli attacks are more likely to blame the Israelis.

Keith – Hamas are not “fighting”, they are launching rockets, so even in a densely populated area they have a choice to minimise or maximise likely retaliatory casualties…

unless you are suggesting that Israel not returning fire, supplying resources to Gaza while under missile fire and then opening their border to Hamas is a serious solution.

. Absent the consideration that a possibly unpopular move is politically dangerous for a democratically elected government, would this be a serious solution? Wouldn’t it take the wind out of Hamas’s sails?

“No, Israel have periodically stopped fighting and have even tried withdrawing from territory. That only increases the missile fire. So for Israel it is a question of fighting and keeping a lid on their own deaths by killing those responsible, or to stop fighting and allowing violence against them to spiral out of control.”

Yeah because it’s that black and white isn’t it? Israel surround Gaza on three sides, and I’m sure if they could sustainably walk on water they’d try and make it four. There is a contradiction of terms in the situation that means Palestinians are constantly feeling persecuted and as usual peace talks have gone no where. If only the politics of the region were as simple as you make it out to be in that one side is completely innocent of all wrong doing as long as they simply don’t fire the guns they’re pointing at their enemy.

44. bananabrain

sunny:

I’m saying that given the Palestinians have to depend on Israel for jobs etc, and there is no easy movement between the West Bank and Gaza – there needs to be allowance at least to work. We need a viable Palestinian state. The current border controls make that quite difficult, no?

of course they’re difficult. they’re impossible! but every time the israelis relax their restrictions, the militants send over more suicide bombers, not scrupling to use women, children and the disabled to do so – what sort of “allowances” do you suggest? a recent plan suggested a woman hiding explosives under the bump of a *maternity dress*, accompanied by a bloke dressed as a *medic*, who would be the secondary bomber to detonate when help arrived for the first explosion. what sort of border controls allow for this sort of thing, sunny? because if you’ve got an answer, i bet the israelis would love to hear how it can be done. unfortunately i don’t think there is one until the palestinians stop using such tactics.

How do you know they are ‘human shields’? why can’t they be civilians living in an area that gets bombed? None of the latest reports say anything about human shields.

sheesh, sunny, if people like this move a rocket launcher into a flat in your building, they don’t always tell you about it, nor, if they do, do you exactly have the opportunity to object – they fire and then they bugger off, leaving you to get hit by the reprisal. they win both ways – and they have, effectively, used you as a human shield. that is what we’re getting at here.

I think there are steps that Israel can take, as the obviously stronger power, to unilaterally push through policies that force the Palestinians to return the favour.

what steps? please, tell me, i’d love to know. seriously. and, while we’re at it, let’s talk about the palestinians’ “doomsday weapon” here:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/957786.html

b’shalom

bananabrain

“Wouldn’t it take the wind out of Hamas’s sails?”

I don’t think there is much evidence for that. They aren’t a group that are going to change their view of jews just because they see them behave mercifully. If anything, it will make them feel more contempt for them as they will perceived as weak as well as evil. Remember, they aren’t working with the same underlying concepts of human rights and individual freedom that we are (that is why they completely ignore the material interests of their own people). It is not that these aren’t priorities, they aren’t even part of the objectives of this group.

“If only the politics of the region were as simple as you make it out to be in that one side is completely innocent of all wrong doing as long as they simply don’t fire the guns they’re pointing at their enemy.”

I am not saying the situation is as simple as that, Israel is implicated in bringing about this situation too. There are certainly faults on both sides but the faults within Hamas and the PLO are currently too great to be surmounted by an Israeli peace initiative. I am just specifying what the options for Israel in terms of policy are at this moment. They aren’t any good, I agree. The short term solutions suggested in this thread are mind-blowingly naive. So I am suggesting the long term solution has to be cultural and social. If the Israeli-arab conflict didn’t exist, the ruling class in the Middle East would find it necessary to invent one. That is what we have to tackle.

The concept of human shield is best applied to situations where the shields do not support those they are shielding.

Keith, if they are willingly risking their lives for the cause, they are not really civilians, are they? And if everyone in Gaza really is such a firm supporter of the war with Israel, the Israelis cannot be losing any goodwill when they shell Hamas.

This conversation is beginning to seem slightly surreal. The idea seems to be to start with the conclusion that it is morally and practically wrong for the Israelis to ever shoot at anything in Palestinian territory, and then look for arguments that seem likely to lead to the conclusion.

Does anyone think that Hamas hinder their goals by taking shots at the Israelis? If not, why is it wise for Hamas to shoot, but not Israel?

What concessions have the Israelis made to the Palestinians (or Hezbollah, for that matter), that have led to the recipients of these concessions reciprocating? I cannot think of any, which suggests that the Israelis would not benefit from further concessions.

So if I were running Israel, I would not make any.

ad: I don’t think it is acceptable to shoot at Israel. That’s why I wrote the blog post in the first place.

But is it wise? No one seems to think so, not even the people who seems to think in is unwise to shoot back.

is it wise [to shoot at Israel]?

It is if you don’t mind sacrificing your fellow Palestinians in order to get Israel bad headlines.

I wrote something on Comment Is Free that talks more about the need for a genuine peace movement:

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/keith_kahnharris/2008/03/a_real_peace_movement.html


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