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Archive for August 19th, 2014

What kind of Logic is this: Justifying the killing of civilians and children?

The Dangerous Logic Used to Justify Killing Civilians

A supporter of Israel’s campaign in Gaza evades a longstanding taboo, using logic uncomfortably close to what’s employed by Al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists.
After the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden argued that Al Qaeda was perfectly justified in killing all those people inside the World Trade Center because they weren’t really civilians–they were complicit in U.S. might and misdeeds.
Didn’t their taxes fund America’s CIA assassinations and war planes?
As every American understood perfectly well at the time, the attack that day would not have been justified even if all office workers in the Twin Towers had voted for a president and supported a military that perpetrated grave sins in the Middle East.
Or even, indeed, if they were all subletting spare bedrooms to U.S. soldiers.

Reuters

Killing civilians is wrong, no matter how often those who do it insist that the humans they killed weren’t really innocent.

Everyone understands this truth when the civilians being killed are one’s countrymen or allies–but forget it quickly when the civilians are citizens of a country one is fighting or rooting against in war, even though the civilizational taboo against killing civilians becomes no less important.

The latest to succumb to this seductive illogic, to insist that slain civilians weren’t really civilians, is New York University’s Thane Rosenbaum, who writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Gazans sheltered terrorists and their weapons in their homes, right beside ottoman sofas and dirty diapers. When Israel warned them of impending attacks, the inhabitants defiantly refused to leave.

On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians when you freely elect members of a terrorist organization as statesmen, invite them to dinner with blood on their hands and allow them to set up shop in your living room as their base of operations.

At that point you begin to look a lot more like conscripted soldiers than innocent civilians. And you have wittingly made yourself targets.

For purposes of this article, let’s set aside all the adults killed in Gaza, just for the sake of argument.

The dead Palestinian children are evidence enough that “real civilians” are being slaughtered.

In the above passage, the author focuses on the dirty diapers rather than the baby that produced them.

Elsewhere, he acknowledges the revolting number of kids killed in this conflict, and then adds, as if it’s concession enough, “Surely there are civilians who have been killed in this conflict who have taken every step to distance themselves from this fast-moving war zone, and children whose parents are not card-carrying Hamas loyalists. These are the true innocents of Gaza.”

In fact, even a toddler whose father is a card-carrying Hamas loyalist is an innocent, by virtue of being a young child!

It is a moral failure not to acknowledge at least that.

And the failure is worth dwelling on because wide embrace of Rosenbaum’s logic would be a setback for a world where civilians have legal protection in war, however often it is violated.

As Daniel Larison explains:

Rosenbaum’s argument is extremely similar to the justifications that terrorist groups use when they target civilians in their own attacks. It is based on the false assumption that there are no real innocents or bystanders in a given country because of their previous political support for a government and its policies, which supposedly makes it permissible to strike non-military targets.

It is very important to reject this logic no matter where it comes from or whose cause in a conflict it is being used to advance, because this is the logic that has been used to justify countless atrocities down through the years.

Just so.

No matter one’s position on Israel, Palestine, or the current conflict, the fact that innocent civilians exist on both sides, that they ought to be protected from death and dismemberment, and that they’re presently dying in large numbers ought not be denied.

Lest there be any confusion about what sorts of attacks I am condemning, consider any bygone instance of a Palestinian suicide bomber blowing up a restaurant or discotheque–or the lobbing rockets into residential neighborhoods inside Israel–as well as Israeli attacks like one that the New York Times just reported on:

When the strike leveled a four-story house in the southern Gaza Strip the night before, it also killed 25 members of 4 family households—including 19 children—gathered to break the daily Ramadan fast together.

Relatives said it also killed a guest of the family, identified by an Israeli human rights group as a member of the Hamas military wing, ostensibly Israel’s target.

The attack was the latest in a series of Israeli strikes that have killed families in their homes, during an offensive that Israel says is meant to stop militant rocket fire that targets its civilians and destroy Hamas’s tunnel network.

The Palestinian deaths—75% of them civilians, according to a United Nations count—have prompted a wave of international outrage, and are raising questions about Israel’s stated dedication to protecting civilians.

Killing 19 children in order to get one Hamas fighter is horrific.

Says Larison, alluding to such attacks:

It may please Hamas to make use of these victims’ deaths for their own purposes, but that doesn’t absolve the Israeli government of its responsibility for causing those deaths.

If Hamas benefits politically from these civilian deaths, and it seems likely that they do, it would seem obvious that Israel should not want to cause any more, and yet at each step over the last few weeks Israel’s government has responded with tactics that are guaranteed to continue killing many more non-combatants for as long as this operation continues.

Israel’s experience as a terrorist target suggests that watching foreigners kill children in one’s midst does not break a people’s desire to fight—it strengthens it.

The spike in civilian deaths we’re witnessing appears to be a moral and strategic failure.

CONOR FRIEDERSDORF is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs.

He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

Nightmare in Gaza: Noam Chomsky’s Op-Ed

Amid all the horrors unfolding in the latest Israeli offensive in Gaza, Israel’s goal is simple: quiet-for-quiet, a return to the norm.

For the West Bank, the norm is that Israel continues its illegal construction of settlements and infrastructure so that it can integrate into Israel whatever might be of value, meanwhile consigning Palestinians to unviable cantons and subjecting them to repression and violence.

For Gaza, the norm is a miserable existence under a cruel and destructive siege that Israel administers to permit bare survival but nothing more.

The negotiations taking place in Egypt has officially reached a dead end, but with an additional day of truce for more battle of ideas.

The US wants any deal that both sides are willing to agree on: Far more troubling battle fields out there to deal with.

As Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erikat declared:  “Israel don’t mind signing on any deal. Practically, Israel will apply and execute the items that she wants and ignore the res with total impunity”

Implicitly, Israel agreed on 5 of the 6 items that are not that important to the Palestinian in the long run.

Noam Chomsky | Nightmare in Gaza

Sunday, August 3,2014

By Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Op-Ed

The latest Israeli rampage was set off by the brutal murder of three Israeli boys from a settler community in the occupied West Bank. A month before, two Palestinian boys were shot dead in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

That killing of Palestinian kids elicited little attention, which is understandable, since it is routine.

Palestinian children gather books from the rubble of the Imam Shafi’i Mosque in Gaza City, Aug. 2, 2014. (Photo: Sergey Ponomarev / The New York Times)

Palestinian children gather books from the rubble of the Imam Shafi’i Mosque in Gaza City, Aug. 2, 2014. (Photo: Sergey Ponomarev / The New York Times)

“The institutionalized disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain not only why Palestinians resort to violence,” Middle East analyst Mouin Rabbani reports, “but also Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip.”

In an interview, human rights lawyer Raji Sourani, who has remained in Gaza through years of Israeli brutality and terror, said, “The most common sentence I heard when people began to talk about cease-fire: Everybody says it’s better for all of us to die and not go back to the situation we used to have before this war. We don’t want that again. We have no dignity, no pride; we are just soft targets, and we are very cheap. Either this situation really improves or it is better to just die. I am talking about intellectuals, academics, ordinary people: Everybody is saying that.”

In January 2006, Palestinians committed a major crime: They voted the wrong way in a carefully monitored free election, handing control of Parliament to Hamas.

The media constantly intone that Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

In reality, Hamas leaders have repeatedly made it clear that Hamas would accept a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus that has been blocked by the U.S. and Israel for 40 years.

In contrast, Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Palestine, apart from some occasional meaningless words, and is implementing that commitment.

The crime of the Palestinians in January 2006 was punished at once. The U.S. and Israel, with Europe shamefully trailing behind, imposed harsh sanctions on the errant population and Israel stepped up its violence.

The U.S. and Israel quickly initiated plans for a military coup to overthrow the elected government.

When Hamas had the effrontery to foil the plans, the Israeli assaults and the siege became far more severe.

There should be no need to review again the dismal record since. The relentless siege and savage attacks are punctuated by episodes of “mowing the lawn,” to borrow Israel’s cheery expression for its periodic exercises in shooting fish in a pond as part of what it calls a “war of defense.”

Once the lawn is mowed and the desperate population seeks to rebuild somehow from the devastation and the murders, there is a cease-fire agreement. The most recent cease-fire was established after Israel’s October 2012 assault, called Operation Pillar of Defense .

Though Israel maintained its siege, Hamas observed the cease-fire, as Israel concedes. Matters changed in April of this year when Fatah and Hamas forged a unity agreement that established a new government of technocrats unaffiliated with either party.

Israel was naturally furious, all the more so when even the Obama administration joined the West in signaling approval. The unity agreement not only undercuts Israel’s claim that it cannot negotiate with a divided Palestine but also threatens the long-term goal of dividing Gaza from the West Bank and pursuing its destructive policies in both regions.

Something had to be done, and an occasion arose on June 12, when the three Israeli boys were murdered in the West Bank. Early on, the Netanyahu government knew that they were dead, but pretended otherwise, which provided the opportunity to launch a rampage in the West Bank, targeting Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed to have certain knowledge that Hamas was responsible. That too was a lie.

One of Israel’s leading authorities on Hamas, Shlomi Eldar, reported almost at once that the killers very likely came from a dissident clan in Hebron that has long been a thorn in the side of Hamas. Eldar added that “I’m sure they didn’t get any green light from the leadership of Hamas, they just thought it was the right time to act.”

The 18-day rampage after the kidnapping, however, succeeded in undermining the feared unity government, and sharply increasing Israeli repression. Israel also conducted dozens of attacks in Gaza, killing five Hamas members on July 7.

Hamas finally reacted with its first rockets in 19 months, providing Israel with the pretext for Operation Protective Edge on July 8.

By July 31, around 1,400 Palestinians had been killed (climbed to 2,000), mostly civilians, including hundreds of women and children. And three Israeli civilians. Large areas of Gaza had been turned into rubble. Four hospitals had been attacked, each another war crime.

Israeli officials laud the humanity of what it calls “the most moral army in the world,” which informs residents that their homes will be bombed. The practice is “sadism, sanctimoniously disguising itself as mercy,” in the words of Israeli journalist Amira Hass: “A recorded message demanding hundreds of thousands of people leave their already targeted homes, for another place, equally dangerous, 10 kilometers away.”

In fact, there is no place in the prison of Gaza safe from Israeli sadism, which may even exceed the terrible crimes of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009.

The hideous revelations elicited the usual reaction from the most moral president in the world, Barack Obama: great sympathy for Israelis, bitter condemnation of Hamas and calls for moderation on both sides.

When the current attacks are called off, Israel hopes to be free to pursue its criminal policies in the occupied territories without interference, and with the U.S. support it has enjoyed in the past.

Gaza people will be free to return to the norm in their Israeli-run prison, while in the West Bank, Palestinians can watch in peace as Israel dismantles what remains of their possessions.

That is the likely outcome if the U.S. maintains its decisive and virtually unilateral support for Israeli crimes and its rejection of the long-standing international consensus on diplomatic settlement. But the future will be quite different if the U.S. withdraws that support.

In that case it would be possible to move toward the “enduring solution” in Gaza that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for, eliciting hysterical condemnation in Israel because the phrase could be interpreted as calling for an end to Israel’s siege and regular attacks. And – horror of horrors – the phrase might even be interpreted as calling for implementation of international law in the rest of the occupied territories.

Forty years ago Israel made the fateful decision to choose expansion over security, rejecting a full peace treaty offered by Egypt in return for evacuation from the occupied Egyptian Sinai, where Israel was initiating extensive settlement and development projects. Israel has adhered to that policy ever since.

If the U.S. decided to join the world, the impact would be great. Over and over, Israel has abandoned cherished plans when Washington has so demanded. Such are the relations of power between them.

Furthermore, Israel by now has little recourse, after having adopted policies that turned it from a country that was greatly admired to one that is feared and despised, policies it is pursuing with blind determination today in its march toward moral deterioration and possible ultimate destruction.

Could U.S. policy change? It’s not impossible.

Public opinion has shifted considerably in recent years, particularly among the young, and it cannot be completely ignored.

For some years there has been a good basis for public demands that Washington observe its own laws and cut off military aid to Israel. U.S. law requires that “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

Israel most certainly is guilty of this consistent pattern, and has been for many years.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, author of this provision of the law, has brought up its potential applicability to Israel in specific cases, and with a well-conducted educational, organizational and activist effort such initiatives could be pursued successively.

That could have a very significant impact in itself, while also providing a springboard for further actions to compel Washington to become part of “the international community” and to observe international law and norms.

Nothing could be more significant for the tragic Palestinian victims of many years of violence and repression.

© 2014 Noam Chomsky
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

NOAM CHOMSKY

Noam Chomsky’s most recent book is Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire. Interviews with David Barsamian. Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge.

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Noam Chomsky: The Assault on Gaza

By Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Op-Ed

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