Saturday, April 09, 2011

Learning a Valuable Lesson

After an anti-tank rocket struck an Israeli school bus, Hamas is now claiming it didn't mean to hit a civilian target. They claim the road is often used by military vehicles (Israel points out the bus was bright yellow).

This reminds me of the brief period when Hamas was claiming that its rocket attacks during Cast Lead were also only hitting civilian targets accidentally. In response to Matt Yglesias' argument that this demonstrated at least a superficial belief that human rights norms were important -- a salutary step towards putting Hamas in dialogue with the broader human rights community -- I argued that this was better understood as an attempt to blur the "human rights" waters by accessing forms of discourse with proven legitimating force.

All forms of warfare cause civilian casualties. One of the critical distinctions Israel draws between itself and the terrorist groups it fights is that its civilian casualties are unintentional. So, Hamas thinks, why don't we just assert ours are unintentional too? Voila: moral parity!

The question isn't whether Hamas is serious in making this claim -- as Matt agreed last time around, their claims of accident are "transparent nonsense". I doubt even Hamas privately believes its rhetoric here (at best, they think they're just countering supposed Israeli disingenuous regarding their claims of non-intention). The problem is that bad-faith participation in human rights discourse is a proven successful tactic. The predecessor to Human Rights Watch was known as "Helsinki Watch", and its point wasn't to get the Soviet Union to sign human rights accords, but to try and create enforcement pressure on agreements already signed. If one looks at the body of human rights treaties floating around, nearly every country has signed them, because signing them is free credibility.

In any event, what I do see is Hamas taking another step forward in its abilities as a player in the global "lawfare" (in the broad sense) game. And that is most certainly not a good thing.

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