Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sadly, It Is a Question

Whenever I get annoyed that folks aren't concentrating enough on Palestinian or Hezbollah terrorism vis-a-vis the Israeli response, I get chided that the former is never a question: "Everybody knows terrorism is bad. That isn't up for debate. What is a tough question is how to ethically respond to terror." And for the most part, I agree. How to ethically respond to terror is a difficult question, worthy of being debated. And few (though by no means no) persons seriously are willing to defend terror as something legitimate or just.

Sadly, what is a question is whether Israel's responses, even if bad or unwise or unjust, are equally unjust to those of Hezbollah's. This is one of the reasons I think that the debate gets fuzzy. A few days ago, for example, Publius admonished his commenters that merely saying that Israel is justified to respond doesn't mean that this response is justified. Certainly a reasonable point. Publius wrote his post from the perspective of critiquing Israel's particular response, so the pro-Israeli folks came out of the woodwork to debate him in comments. For my part, I've been writing my post trying to argue that Israel's response is "just" (if not "ideal"), so the comments I've been receiving have been more anti-Israel and more prone to try and argue from the "Israel is being evil" front. Take enough from that wing, and you're going to get snippish towards people who even seem like they're arguing that Israel can do nothing without becoming as bad as their enemies.

But that's not the point I want to make. The reason why folks like me are so vigilant in trying to get people to denounce Hezbollah and their allies isn't because we think anyone who opposes an Israeli policy is pro-terror. The reason why we do it is because we want to know that these people recognize that even if they think Israel is bad, what Hezbollah or Hamas is doing is far worse from an ethical standpoint. And that, unfortunately, is a question.

David Bernstein, for example, points to a piece by the former Mid-East Bureau Chief of the New York Times arguing that "We cannot ascribe equal amounts of moral blame to all sides" because Israel is worse than Hezbollah or Hamas. My college friend Ben complained about an Amnesty press release on the conflict because it was equally condemnatory of Israel and Hezbollah, rather than being harsher towards Israel for its "escalation."

It's true that saying "terror is bad" is not something you have to drag out of the liberal critics of Israel. Okay good, that's lesson one. Lesson two is that, as abominable as you may find civilian casualties from airstrikes against military targets, it's not the moral equal of deliberately targeting individuals for no purpose other than to sow terror. That lesson we're still working on.


Anonymous said...

As an American, I don't see what good it does me to denounce "terrorism" by Bin laden, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc. The reason being this: I have no control over those entities. Everyone and their grandmother knows that terrorism is bad, it's evil, and so on and we can sit around all day saying so. However, as an American, I have influence over what MY country does. Therefore, I feel it's my duty to learn about and discuss and condemn the crimes of my country and the countries it supports.

It's no secret the US supports Israel to an amazing extent. As a citizen, I feel that the blood of the Lebanese, the Afghanis, and the Iraqis (and more) is partially on my hands. As such, I will oppose the violence of the state and hopefully have some effect.

As for equivalency, it's not even close. Israel has killed its Arab neighbors on a scale of 9:1 for about 60 years now. The occupation has been brutally oppressive and Israel's crimes have been underreported in the mainstream media. Does that excuse terrorism by Hezbollah? Of course not. But it sure explains it.

David Schraub said...

It's interesting you use "Arab neighbors" instead of Palestinians, as its not as if Israel is randomly attacking it's Arab neighbors at frequent intervals. Out-and-out wars, yes, but Israel hasn't waltzed into Yemen recently and started shooting up the place (winning a war does tend to raise the casaulty rate of the loser, but I feel zero guilt over the fact that Israel won the Yom Kippur war, or the Independence War, or the Six Day War). The casualty rate of Palestinians is significantly higher than the Israeli one, due at least in part to Palestinean terror groups deliberately placing their units in civilian locations to maximize civilian casaulties when Israel retaliates (I've argued before that both legally and normatively that places the blood of any such casualties squarely on the hands of the terror groups, even if Israel fires the actual missile), and in part due to Israel's fantastic security apparatus foiling hundreds of Palestinian attacks which, if successful would easily even up the body count.

But what I'm REALLY interested to hear is how the "brutal" occupation of the West Bank (we can't say Gaza anymore) "explains" Hezbollah terrorism coming out of Lebanon, where Israel has pulled back to internationally recognized borders for 6 years now. In fact, both of the recent flare-ups (Lebanon and Gaza) are in locales where Israel pulled back to internationally sanctioned borders, making the "terror is explained by occupation" hypothesis even more tenuous than it already was.

Disenchanted Dave said...

I think Hezbollah's terrorism is better explained by the interests of the Arab and Persian elites that control it than by anything Israel's done. The Lebanese people aren't exactly thrilled with the group (there's a similar, albeit much more complex situation with the Palestinian leadership).

That said, Clint's describing a real phenomenon. I've written far more about American torture at my blog than I've written about Chinese torture, even though I obviously think Chinese torture is far more common and worse. And I do think there's a reasonable argument that you should hold the side with bigger bombs to a higher standard, or at least pay more attention to what they do. A lot of tribal violence is pretty horrific but the death counts are much lower than what's unleashed by modern states.

Hezbollah's clearly in the wrong here, but that doesn't make scrutiny of Israel's actions illegitemate, and there are reasonable standards (death count, personal responsibility/connection) for paying more attention to what they do.

That said, I agree with most of David's post. It's the details and the application I'm less sure about.

Anonymous said...


"I've argued before that both legally and normatively that places the blood of any such casualties squarely on the hands of the terror groups."

I would agree with you on this if I believed these attacks actually constituted self-defense and those installations had to be removed. In this case, I believe it's essentially attacks of aggression (I'll explain more in a moment).

"But what I'm REALLY interested to hear is how the "brutal" occupation of the West Bank (we can't say Gaza anymore) "explains" Hezbollah terrorism coming out of Lebanon.."

Well, let's first look at what has happened recently. Israel has withdrawn from Gaza (which is scarce when it comes to natural resources) and expanded its position in the West Bank. In other words, the so-called disengagement is propaganda; expansion is what's actually happened.

Then you have the (barely reported) abduction of two Gaza civilians by Israel (the day before the capture of Shalit), and the holding of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails. Of course, after the abduction of Shalit, Israel responded with attacks on Gaza and Lebanon responded with the abduction of the two Israelis.

I believe Lebanon is inextricably tied with the Palestinians and will defend them as we would Britain or Israel. And that's how they view the situation: self-defense against an occupying force that's trying to destroy them. After all the violence logically seems to stem from the Israeli abduction of two Gaza civilians.

Trickish Knave said...

Israel has repeatedly given in to its "Arab neighbors" and each time it do so the neighbors crammed it up Israel's ass.

Clint, you oppose Israel's reactions to terrorist attacks because Israel is backed by the U.S.? An important reality is that Israel doesn't start these skirmishes; they react to them. And they react to htem with the ferver of a people who are tired of the shit from their neighbors.

It is quite simple and has been proven time after time- stop attacking Israel and they will give you land. But that isn't good enough for Israel's neighbors. Not only do they want their land but they also want Israeli's floating faxce down in the ocean by the millions.

Hmm, support a Democracy that occupies about 1% of the total Arab land or support terrorists who arent' satisfied with peace and want a whole race of people dead.

It's a no-brainer.

jack said...

No, it isn't a no brainer.

I think this thread is a really good example of why so many of us find it impossible to discuss this issue. You all have your own facts and refuse admit the possibility you might be wrong. When you don't allow for admission or consensus in your discussions of the Israel-Palestine issue you provide the perfect allegory for the conflict itself.

Anyone who thinks this is a no-brainer hasn't been paying attention.

Trickish Knave said...

I don't find it impossible to discuss this issue and neither does anyone else. It is convenient to pull out the "Well, you have your own facts and they are wrong. Mine are right; you just don't know mine are right".

You do a lot of mind reading and assume that people for Israel don't pay attention to what's going on when the fact of the matter is we do understand what's going on and our arguments hold water while yours do not.

Just because I don't give into the Code Pink propaganda doesn't mean I don't know what is at stake or what the implications of what is going on right now in the Middle East will have on the rest of the world.

As I watch my submarine friends, whom I've been training for the last 2 months, depart from Pearl Harbor to float around for an undisclosed amount of time I can assure you they provide a better allegory than those who glean their information off of LCD's than from those who live it everyday.

The probligo said...


I can sympathise to some extent with the intial point that you make.

I think that we each have our own viewpoints on Israel/Palestine, each coloured by the glasses that we wear.

Jack, too, gets close to the truth. It is not a "no-brainer" at all.

But if I take your conclusion in isolation -

The reason why folks like me are so vigilant in trying to get people to denounce Hezbollah and their allies isn't because we think anyone who opposes an Israeli policy is pro-terror. The reason why we do it is because we want to know that these people recognize that even if they think Israel is bad, what Hezbollah or Hamas is doing is far worse from an ethical standpoint. And that, unfortunately, is a question.

That argument, of itself, is a problem.

The "justification" you present becomes "I am trying to make two wrongs into a right. I am more right than you because I believe my side's wrong is less wrong than yours".

The truth of the matter is that those Palestinians whose homes are or were in the appropriately named "Occupied Territories" seem to have, by Israel's actions, no right to their home, no right to defend their home, no right to defend their property. That their cause has been taken up by the likes of Hizbollah is both regrettable, and understandable.

The truth of the matter is, as I see it, that the problems in the Levant went off the scale not last year, not in 1992, nor perhaps even in 1967 though that does count very heavily in my mind, but all the way back to 1947 and before.

The biggest fault, and it runs far wider and far longer than just the Levant and Middle East, lies in the response to terrorism.

Who remembers the IRA bombing of the hotel in Armagh? Some 30 odd people killed in one go. What was the response? The Irish government treated not as a "terrorist act", but as a criminal act. They caught those responsible and locked them up, after due process of justice, for crime of murder, not terrorism. There were any number of atrocities committed by the IRA in both Ireland and Britain. Each of those were treated as criminal acts, as they should have been.

To their credit, the Brits have treated the Underground bombing in much the same way - as a criminal act. Well, apart from the totally unjustified murder of a Brazilian man they have.

The problem now is that events have gone way past that in the Levant. The "crime" is now international. Both sides have committed acts which are well capable of being categorised as "crimes against humanity". Both sides have wrong, and right, on their side. Trying to justify one event with another is a futile exercise - as much for the reasons Jack gave as anything else. F'rinstance, would Syria have "joined in" and encouraged Hizbollah if Israel had not made that flypast over the Syrian capital?

No one knows, no one ever will. The event is irretrievable; the alternative events now impossible.

To a large extent that is why debate over Israel / Palestine is futile, from every angle and respect.

Sorry about the length - it is half what I originally wrote...

jack said...


Actually a whole lot of people find the issue impossible to discuss. Thats why you're seeing so much meta-blogging on the debate in place of actual debate. Go back and read the Kevin Drum piece Dave linked to earlier in the week.

You also do a lot of mind reading and assume I'm anti-Israel which means that you're missing what I'm saying: Both sides make the issue impossible to discuss for the same reasons.

I'm not saying that you should be lapping up Code Pink- I'm saying the problem is when one party uses Code Pink as a source and the otherside uses Fox News and then just start yelling at the otherside about how terrible they are. This mimics the conflict itself. It mimics the opposing ideologies and assumptions both sides make. It mimics the hatred and it mimics the arrogance.

I'm not sure what you were trying to say with your last paragraph and my varying interpretations find it to be either offensive or stupid so I'll just assume I misunderstood because of the typo.

The best way to understand the Israel-Palestine debate is to watch two individuals from opposite perspectives argue about it. You won't much of anything regarding the history and the policies but you'll understand the root of the conflict as well as anyone, I think.