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January 5, 2009

The Israeli War on Hamas and Personal Responsiblity

Once again, here goes another post on the Middle East in which I have to check the "Moral Clarity" category box as well.

Of all the issues around the world, the Israeli-Palestine one is the absolutely most frustrating from this standpoint. It generates more moral confusion than any other. And let me be clear on this; I'm not talking about whether it was wise for Israel to attack Hamas, or Hezbollah in 2006. One can be morally clear on the issues and simply believe that there was another way to deal with the problem.

Here is a typical news story, this one from the AP

Israel ignored mounting international calls for a cease-fire Monday and said it won't stop its crippling 10-day assault until "peace and tranquility" are achieved in southern Israeli towns in the line of Palestinian rocket fire.

They never call for a cease fire when it's only Israel getting hit. Nor do they call it a "crisis", a word you see all over the news now that Israel is shooting back.

I could pick any of a hundred anti-Israel posts, but Glenn Greenwald, writing at Salon, is typical when he goes after pro-Israel blogger Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard:

One should be clear that this sociopathic indifference to (or even celebration over) the deaths of Palestinian civilians isn't representative of all supporters of the Israeli attack on Gaza. It's unfair to use the Goldfarb/Peretz pathology to impugn all supporters of the Israeli attack. It's certainly possible to support the Israeli offensive despite the deaths of these civilians, to truly lament the suffering of innocent Palestinians but still find the war, on balance, to be justifiable.

Those who favor the attack on Gaza due to that calculus are certainly misguided about the likely outcome. And many war supporters who fall into this more benign category are guilty of insufficiently weighing the deaths of Palestinian innocents and, relatedly, of such overwhelming emotional and cultural attachment to Israel and Israelis that they long ago ceased viewing this conflict with any remnant of objectivity.

Greenwald is nicer than most of his sort in saying that it is "certainly possible to support the Israeli offensive despite the deaths of these civilians," but there's one big problem with his thesis.

The Palestinians aren't as innocent as he says they are.

A Brief History

Fist we need to set the stage.

In January of 2006 the Palestinians voted Hamas into power in the elections for the Palestinian Parliament, Hamas winning 75 seats to Fatah's 45. The electoral system is a bit complicated (see here), as some of the seats are awarded by proportionality and some by district. While because of these peculiarities (follow the link) Hamas didn't have quite the level of support the results would indicate, in the end a significant amount of people voted for Hamas.

In June of 2007, Hamas took complete control of Gaza in a bloody coup, killing who knows how many Fatah members and civilians (websites vary). They created their own government in Gaza, basically splitting the Palestinian Authority in two, with Fatah (nominally) in control in Judea and Smaria (the "West Bank").

Caroline Glick describes the run-up to the war in an interview with K-Lo over at The Corner

The fighting in Gaza today started about three weeks ago when Hamas renewed its rocket, mortar, and missile assault against Israel. Last June, Israel foolishly agreed to a six-month ceasefire with Hamas. Hamas used the time to have Iran double the size of its missile arsenal and double the range of its missiles, and to build up its Iranian-trained, armed, and financed Hezbollah-style army of 20,000 men. Hamas called its renewed offensive "Operation Oil Stain." On December 17, Hamas attacked Israel with more than 80 missiles, rockets and mortars. It took Israel ten days to finally respond to Hamas's assault, which for the first time put Israeli major cities like Ashdod, Yavne, Beersheva, and Gedera under assault.

Who is Responsible?

To varying extents, a people bear responsibility for their government. If it is a dictatorship, the people are only responsible to the degree that they try and resist it. I realize it's all very easy to talk about resisting tyranny from the safety of one's keyboard and from the perspective of the United States in 2009, but it's true nonetheless.

Certainly, though, if you vote that government into place you bear responsibility. And the fact is that when given the chance, Palestinians voted for Hamas. They got what they wanted. And let's be clear, Fatah isn't that much better. Their Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are their terrorist wing, as they have been designated by the U.S. Department of State since 2002.

Here's the point - If you vote for terrorists as your government, and then they terrorize your neighbor, you have no legitimate reason to cry foul if your neighbor strikes back.

At least the Germans and Japanese had the decency not to pretend that they were the victims when we bombed and occupied their homelands.

Strangest of all, it is in the best interests of the Gazans that Hamas be destroyed. Ever since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August of 2005, they have basically had their own country. Not much of one, to be sure, and one beset with huge social and economic problems, but a country or homeland of sorts. They had a golden opportunity to show everyone that they could be a responsible self-governing entity. And they blew it.

Among other things the Gazans inherited in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal were more than 3,000 greenhouses, which could have been used to grow valuable flowers for export to Europe. American Jewish philanthropists even paid $14 million to save them from destruction by Jewish settlers so the Gazans could have them. And what happened? Many were damaged or destroyed by looters that the Palestinian authorities were helpless to stop, often because their security forces stood idly by.

They got their homeland, and they have made the worst of it.


This said, it is still incumbent upon nations to not directly target civilians. It is an integral part of Just War Theory. Now, I don't think that traditional JWT is completely applicable to our modern world. It needs updating. But the principal of discrimination, which basically says you cannot directly target civilians, is accepted by all civilized nations.

The whole issue gets complicated, and I urge readers to follow the links and read the whole thing themselves, but the salient point here is that Israel does not target civilians and Hamas does. Just because civilians are killed while attacking military targets does not mean that "Israel is killing civilians," because such a formulation implies that Israel is doing so deliberately.

In the end, the Gazans therefore bear some responsibility for what is happening to them. Critics need to stop pretending that they are totally innocent bystanders.

Posted by Tom at January 5, 2009 10:00 PM

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Posted by: David M at January 6, 2009 11:23 AM

The media's blatant bias against Israel is actually causing some slumbering people I know to pay more attention to what's going on, much as Israel's brief war with Lebanon did a few years ago.

Posted by: Always On Watch Author Profile Page at January 6, 2009 8:22 PM

I'm going to try and do a post on the Israeli/Hamas situation later on this week so I will be back to read your posts on it. Thanks!!

Posted by: Dee at January 7, 2009 2:41 AM


On the issue of moral clarity, did you read Charles Krauthammer's column that was published Monday 01.05.09?


Posted by: The Loop Garoo Kid at January 7, 2009 1:50 PM

I hadn't see it, TLGK, but went and read it just now. Here it is for interested parties, along with a brief excerpt

Moral Clarity in Gaza
By Charles Krauthammer

Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis -- 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years -- deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.

This has two purposes. First, counting on the moral scrupulousness of Israel, Hamas figures civilian proximity might help protect at least part of its arsenal. Second, knowing that Israelis have new precision weapons that may allow them to attack nonetheless, Hamas hopes that inevitable collateral damage -- or, if it is really fortunate, an errant Israeli bomb -- will kill large numbers of its own people for which, of course, the world will blame Israel.

For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians. The religion of Jew-murder and self-martyrdom is ubiquitous....

Krauthammer is the best thing that ever happened to The Washington Post.

What's interesting about the Middle East and the Israel-Palestine conflict is that it doesn't neatly translate back home into our usual left-right divide. On the right you've got the Ron Paulites and Pat Buchanites who are viciously anti-Israel if not outright anti-Semetic.

On the left there are lots of, or at least some, pro-Israelis. You, for example.

Also, check out this blog post by a guy who styles himself "Truth101," along with a brief excerpt:

The Left isn't always Right

One of my fellow lefties at Newshoggers posted some nonsense about Israel and the Gaza Conflict. He was trying to make a case that Israel was occupying Gaza and was overreaching or something.

Lefties: the people of Hamas are not your friends. They are lying, sniveling pricks that have no interest in peaceful coexistence with anyone. Let alone Israel. Once the Left and the world accepts these jokers for the no good terrorist, innocent women and children killing pricks they are, we will all be better off and ready to fight a real war on terror. Not the make Halliburton and Blackwater lots of money war Bush has waged.

I ran into him over at American Power, where we usually disagree, but was pleasantly surprised to find him taking Israel's side.

What a strange world.

Posted by: The Redhunter Author Profile Page at January 7, 2009 8:06 PM

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