Thursday, March 24, 2011

On the Other Hand ...

Really, Reuters?
A bomb planted in a bag exploded near a bus stop in a Jewish district of Jerusalem on Wednesday, killing a woman and injuring at least 30 people, in an attack police blamed on Palestinian militants.
Police said it was a "terrorist attack" -- Israel's term for a Palestinian strike. It was the first time Jerusalem had been hit by such a bomb since 2004.

Mmm ... I don't think that it's just an Israeli idiosyncrasy that labels putting a bomb in a public bus station a "terrorist attack". It might, however, be a Reuters idiosyncrasy that such an attack is only open to multiple labels when its victims are Israelis. Just sayin'.

Via Goldblog.

Meanwhile, my coblogger Kathy Kattenberg and BooMan try to "contextualize" Reuters statement by arguing that it comes in the wake of growing global discontent towards Israel and its settlement project which renders people unsympathetic to their victims. BM asks
that Israel's defenders focus less on how they've been delegitimized and more on why they've been delegitimized. Israel is building settlements on Palestinian land, not as a bargaining chip, but with every intention of keeping the land in perpetuity. That's what is killing Israel's legitimacy. Nothing else.

Kathy, for her part, asks where the outrage was at the media's inability to call CIA torture "torture". Which is ironic, because that's exactly where my thoughts turned. I called the NYT's refusal to call waterboarding "torture" only when the US did it "cowardice in the face of ginned-up controversy." Torture is torture even when "the good guys" are doing it; similarly, terrorism is terrorism even when the victims are people Kathy -- or even large swaths of the world -- hold in contempt.

Returning to BM, though. As a descriptive matter -- that Israel's delegitimization stems from "nothing else" but its settlement campaign -- it's clearly wrong. Israel's defenders would assert that the settlements are naught but a spurious variable -- after all, there was a time in Israel's history when it possessed no settlements and it was hardly basking in regional legitimation at the time. More to the point, there currently is an important section of Palestinian territory that is entirely settlement-free, and its relationship with Israel badly deteriorated in the years following Israel's pullout. BT asks what Palestinians are supposed to think if their adoption of nonviolence gets them nothing (I think BT is once again descriptively inaccurate here -- the situation in the West Bank has improved for Palestinians in the since 2001, while the situation in Gaza has gotten far worse -- but certainly one could say that relative nonviolence hasn't gotten them enough, fast enough). But of course, Israelis are asking the same question -- withdrawing from Gaza got them rockets, withdrawing from Lebanon got them a war with Hezbollah, and neither action seemed to exert much influence on the pace or even rhetoric of "delegitimization." Hell, I've heard many folks assert Gaza is still occupied -- a position which seems legally untenable (occupation requires effective control of the territory in question, and, as one international law scholar wryly put it, at least one threshold for "effective control" is that the occupier "does not have to fight his way in") and motivated by little more than a refusal to give Israel credit for anything that could be called an improvement.

But that's a little rantish. What's more disheartening about these two posts is their profound moral laziness. Deeply entrenched conflicts are morally complicated, and often require us to balance several important commitments which are not firmly lashed together. Lord knows the Israeli/Palestinian conflict meets that description. But, as often as it's been where I've felt like I've had to do a delicate balancing act between competing moral commitments with respect to this conflict -- this case wasn't one of them. Balancing the need to condemn the settlement project as immoral, counterproductive, and severely damaging to the peace process is easy to reconcile with calling a bus bombing "terrorism". It's just not hard to pull off. Balancing nationalism with liberalism is difficult, security with free movement is difficult, when a security measure's effectiveness is a reason to perpetuate it or declare "mission accomplished" is difficult. This is not difficult. Which raises the question why Kathy and BM, and Reuters and the "global community" whom Reuters is supposedly reflecting, are finding it so difficult. If it was settlements alone that were doing all the work, this wouldn't be causing so much consternation.

BM claims that Reuters' reticence to call a bus bombing "terrorism" stems from its connotation of "illegitimacy". But, he asserts, many people don't think that indiscriminate bombings of Israeli civilians are illegitimate at all -- legitimate struggle against a more powerful enemy. And so, he says, there is no "reflexive" (I hate the way "reflexive" is used in these discussions -- as if immediate sympathy for people blown to pieces is a sort of cognitive defect) sympathy for Israeli victims. My feeling is that if your fury over settlement activity burns so hot that you don't really care if a random Israeli bus passenger is bombed, then maybe you're the one who needs to do some introspection -- both about your sense of prioritization, but also about whether "settlements" really capture everything, whether there is "nothing else" playing a role in your thought process.

The "legitimacy" point goes to our belief that terrorism is only done by bad people (and thus the hedge is traceable to increased sympathy for the Palestinians, but it also implicates our belief that terrorism is only done to good people (and thus is traceable to increased demonization of Israelis qua Israelis). This is Naomi Klein and Alice Walkerism -- a writing out of Israelis as real people, the sorts of human beings who even are candidates to be terrorist victims, even candidates to be objects of our sympathies. I think BM is actually probably right that Israelis are rapidly being so written out, but that's the sort of profound moral abdication that Reuters should be challenging, not magnifying.

BM wonders why Israel's defenders aren't inquiring as to the "why" Israel's being delegitimized, focusing instead on the "how". The answer, I think, lies within BM's post itself -- for it demonstrates that the supposed "why" and the actual "how" are so weakly connected so as to raise the question as to whether there is any meaningful link whatsoever. It will be hard to get Israel to disengage from its settlements in any circumstance, but surely it's much more difficult to the extent that Israelis doubt it will actually have any positive effect on their moral standing. What BM and Kathy demonstrate is that the delegitimizers -- whether they think themselves motivated by the settlement project alone or not -- cannot arrest their own train. They can't stop themselves from bleeding over into far more serious assertions -- delegitimizing Israelis as human beings, delegitimizing Israel as a legitimate state, delegitimizing Jews as legitimate speakers about their own experiences.

Israelis should abandon the settlements because they're bad policy, are a (not the) barrier to peace, and are profoundly unfair to Palestinians under the best of circumstances (and, when they're built on private Palestinian land, simple theft). Whether or not it arrests the state's "delegitimatization", I don't know. Maybe it will, and that will be nice. But it would hardly be inconsistent with past practice if it doesn't.

Building settlements may be a serious bar to a final resolution of the conflict, but so is the refusal to call terror victims "terror victims". The sort of dehumanizing mentality that renders that sort of logic comprehensible has become part-and-parcel of the "delegitimization" campaign, whether they admit or not, and it is incompatible with a future resolution to the conflict where Israelis and Palestinians view each other as friends and neighbors. The first step for everyone is remembering that we are dealing with human beings, not monsters. And that's why I think the delegitimizers fundamentally are problem-creating rather than problem-solving. Everybody has some introspection to do -- it's not just Israel with blindspots.


Anonymous said...

Terrorism is also terrorism when it is enshrined in Israeli government policy, such as government ministers demanding "real hooliganism" of the IDF.

Of course, that kind of observation rarely seems to make it onto the radar of the kind of people who fall in love with Jeffrey Goldberg, but wevs.

Rebecca said...

David - I agree with you absolutely. Regardless of what one thinks of Israeli government policy towards the Palestinians, setting a bomb next to a crowded bus stop and killing a woman (a British student at the Hebrew University, as it happens) and injuring scores of others is certainly an act of terrorism, full stop.

N. Friedman said...

One big problem: the world doesn't examine the actual views of the parties. News items more reflect the views of the reporter.

Take the Itamar massacre. The BBC, now being trashed - correctly - by a British MP, downplayed it, ignoring that a child's head was literally cut off; instead, it focused on "context." Context here, however, means the BBC agenda. To Israelis, the severed head is one message; but the world is fed a different message: the "occupation." Palestinians can count on the press to play it that way, thus making such attacks doubly effective.

As you know, I reject the PC view of the dispute. The Palestinian Arabs intend genocide - not all of them, for sure, but enough that, given the chance, such would be the result. I reject the view that Israelis who settle on captured land - land won at the cost of many lives in a war of self-defense, commit a moral wrong settling the captured territory. I think the world has this exactly backward - effectively encouraging war, there being no real cost to losing. (Note: settling such land may not be a wise policy.)