Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Israel's "Self-Defense" Argument Fails

Without a doubt, discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is entering into a subject area that is decades old and includes a great deal of hatred and ugliness on both sides. Nonetheless, it’s a topic I figured I’d address sooner or later, and the ongoing incursion into Gaza certainly provides ample opportunity. To some, I suppose my opinion may come off as a bit one-sided, but I would do no one any favors by inserting more uncertainty into a situation as confused and horrific as the current one.

The justification for Israel’s airstrikes on, and now ground invasion of, Gaza, is the continuing barrage of rockets from Gaza, shot off by Hamas. Because of Israel’s defense system, these rockets have largely failed to find their targets, and have an extremely low casualty count—certainly no excuse for Hamas’s actions, but something to keep in mind when realizing that Israel’s justification for its actions hinges on the idea that they are necessary for self-defense.

In contrast to the rocket strikes, Israel’s response has killed hundreds of Palestinians—and, ironically, far more Israelis (in the form of soldiers—who are often not serving voluntarily, given Israel’s mandatory military service) than the rockets—and has had ghastly effects on Gaza, leaving 1.2 million with little or no water, and the entire (badly overcrowded) population utterly terrorized. That would be the first problem with the self-defense justification; unless we value Palestinian lives vastly less than Israeli ones, we must see that the Israeli response has done far more harm than good.

That purely utilitarian calculation is far from the only problem with Israel’s self-defense claim. While supporters of Israel may make excuses for the large number of civilian casualties due to the fact that Hamas has located its members and supplies in close quarters with innocents, it’s hard to see how this would justify targets such as the recently shelled al-Aqsa hospital. This incident isn’t exactly an outlier either, since it’s at least the third such strike on a hospital since the ground invasion began. It’s hard to imagine that, even if these hospitals weren’t deliberately targeted, the Israeli forces are exactly taking great care to minimize civilian deaths. Given the areas that have been hit as well as the overall gross inequality between the Israelis killed by Hamas versus the Palestinians killed by the Israeli forces, it seems entirely believable that collective punishment is perhaps the real motivation.

Even a generous assessment must conclude that Israel is essentially enforcing its longstanding siege on Gaza—an area many have described as an open-air prison, as a result of Israel’s oppressive polices. Hamas’s refusal to agree to a ceasefire largely hinges on the blockade Israel has imposed against Gaza for years now—a blockade that has been widely criticized for its damage to everyday Gaza residents, and may very well be (in my view, indeed, with little doubt is) yet another example of Israeli collective punishment against the Palestinians. Israel’s justification for the blockade is partly in order to keep Hamas from acquiring rockets—I don’t feel the need to explain how profoundly nonsensical it is to allow rocket attacks to continue in order to keep such a blockade in place.

While Hamas and the Israeli government both seem to have adopted the appalling policy that any number of civilian deaths is permissible to achieve their goals, one can say in Hamas’s favor that at least some of their goals are reasonable. Hamas has previously offered a ten-year truce if Israel withdraws to pre-1967 borders—something that even President Obama (now busy assuring Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that he supports Israel’s right to “self-defense”) has spoken out in favor of. According to recent reports, Hamas has presented a new offer for such a truce, on ten conditions, which largely ask for an easing of the blockade and greater freedom for Gaza. (Whether Hamas would really abide by such a truce is a different matter, but one would hope the Israeli government would see greater reason to respect the Palestinians’ basic rights rather than just to end the rocket attacks.) Israel’s goals, one can only assume, are to continue its blockade and general mistreatment of the Palestinians. There may be no good guy between the two, but it’s not hard to see which one is worse, when the facts have been laid out. Naturally, one’s sympathies should fall with neither, but rather with the general well-being of both the Israelis and the Palestinians—but it’s pretty clear which of those two is worse off, and why that is.

It’s time for the United States to completely end its support of the Israeli government. No more money, nor military equipment, nor diplomatic encouragement, should be given to Netanyahu and friends—the ones who most deserve to have the label “terrorist” applied to them, if not far worse labels. Israel has consistently demonstrated utter disregard for both the well-being of the Palestinians and for international law. It’s disgusting, if unsurprising, that they’ve so long enjoyed our support. It’s time for that to end. What should be demanded of them is obedience to the Geneva conventions (which they’ve consistently ignored) as well as all other elements of international law, such as the ban on chemical weapons—which they never ratified, and also haven’t obeyed. It’s time for Israel to withdraw to the borders it occupied before the Six Days’ War, as many have called on them to do—a pretty generous offer, considering from the early days they displaced Palestinians with little concern for the result. Israel’s government is a terrorist organization far more effective and sinister than Hamas; the people of Israel shouldn’t be made to suffer for that fact, but it’s time that terrorist organization at least lost our backing.

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