OWN IT

In ten-plus years of regularly updating this site I can't remember having written a single thing about the Israel-Palestine conflict. If I have, it escapes my unusually detailed memory in matters like this. I see the conflict as essentially intractable, with Israeli politics driven by right-wing militant assholes who look, act, and sound exactly like the right-wing militant assholes we have here in America (which explains the post-Cold War love affair with Israel on the American right) and Palestinian politics driven by extremist "Wipe Israel off the map" types. Neither nation – the textbook definition, as in a group of people with common culture, language, and historical background – is led by people representative of the public will. This is to say that I believe a two-state solution could easily be hammered out of we shot all of the political and military leaders and selected an average soldier, cabdriver, teacher, ten year-old, and housewife from each nation and locked them in a room until they came to an agreement.

Reporting on the conflict also tends to the ridiculous extremes: the virtuous Israelis defending themselves against subhuman terrorist child-killers, or the poor, defenseless, blameless Palestinians minding their own business until Israel decides to start killing people en masse. On balance, in recent years my sympathies are probably more on the Palestinian side but I want to be emphatic that I see no Good Guys and Bad Guys in the conflict. Both groups of people have legitimate historical and current grievances, and both have been responsible for a lot of wanton destruction over the years. It takes a motivated brand of thinking to look at Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon and argue that one is a terrorist and the other a paragon of virtue. Nobody has the moral high ground. That was abandoned decades ago in favor of a grinding slugfest, a war of attrition led by dead-enders in both camps.

One thing, however, consistently bothers me. It bothers me so much that after ten years I finally feel like it's worth pointing out, and it explains why I find the current Israeli political leadership so unworthy of respect. It's the "human shields" argument. They use it over and over and over again. The U.S., not incidentally, used it during the 1991 Gulf War as well. All but the most Kool Aid-soused partisans understand that the "human shields" argument is bullshit. It is a charge you level at the enemy when you killed a bunch of civilians and you aren't willing to accept responsibility for it.

War is awful. Awful things happen to innocent and not-so-innocent people alike. When a nation chooses to wage war, it needs to accept its fundamental..awfulness. When you decide to go to war, you have to be prepared to kill civilians because the killing of civilians is an absolutely unavoidable part of modern warfare. You take the greatest possible pains to avoid doing it, but it happens. Here's what anyone with an ounce of honor and a sense of real leadership in the political-military sense would say when a bunch of Palestinian civilians are killed in air strikes: "We regret that civilians were killed. While we make the greatest effort to avoid harming civilians, we recognize that it is a reality of this kind of warfare. Our enemy operates from urban areas and thus even with great caution, civilians are unfortunately in the line of fire. We hope to end this conflict as quickly as possible so that no further suffering is necessary."

In other words, grow some fucking balls and own it. Be responsible for your own actions and, if you honestly believe your cause is just, defend them. Instead, we get "human shields." Yeah, that must be why there are dead civilians. It certainly couldn't be that military strikes are nowhere near as precise as governments the world around would have people believe. Which seems more plausible – Hamas lining up children to serve as human shields, or an Israeli strike on a military target causing collateral damage to nearby civilians?

If a nation is not willing to accept the consequences of waging war and instead pursues the cowardly tactic of attempting to shift moral responsibility for its own actions onto the enemy, it should re-examine the virtuousness of its cause. If the act requires a propaganda-based defense to justify it, the nation would do well to consider whether it is truly the best course of action.

And that's all I have to say about that.

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56 Responses to “OWN IT”

  1. mew Says:

    @Phoenician in a time of Romans

    Interestingly enough, just this morning Israel shelled a UN shelter. A UN spokesperson stated that the precise GPS coordinates of said shelter had been given to the Israeli military command. Instead of avoiding the area, they specifically targeted it.

  2. Andrew Says:

    I am a woman-loving and gay-friendly atheist quarter-Jew who definitely doesn't fit the Hamas demographic. I absolutely support Israel's efforts to stop the rockets, plug the tunnels, and defend its territory. I am also a staunch supporter of a two-state solution and would not piss on a Likudnik who was on fire.

    Just last night I got into a Facebook argument with some American orthodox Jews who make Netanyahu look like a flower child. When these paragons of Jewish morality didn't have answers to my nuanced, moderate points, they resorted to name calling, including calling me an anti-Semite and a Hamas supporter. But the biggest revelation was their ability to say with a straight face and no apparent sense of absurdity that every dead Palestinian civilian is the fault of Hamas. What cojones! We dropped NUKES on Japan, and while in the South Park world we had the temerity to blame it on Dolphin and Whale (if you haven't seen the Whale Whores episode, stop reading and watch it IMMEDIATELY – I'll wait), in the real world I'm pretty sure we never suggested that the Japanese did it to themselves.

  3. aerial drones Says:

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  4. Eric Titus Says:

    I've also always wondered about why the human shields argument is so effective. It's not like the Israeli government hasn't disavowed bombing civilian infrastructure (ie powerplants, water facilities), and it blames hamas even when there doesn't appear to be any evidence of them (and Israel's remarks are reported with authority because that's the way the media works). In other words, I'd disagree with Ed that civilian deaths are an unfortunate consequence of war. Instead, civilian deaths, displacement, and infrastructure destruction are a way to "pressure" that gazan population into abandoning militancy. Somehow that never seems to work as planned…

  5. ConcernedCitizen Says:

    "Which seems more plausible – Hamas lining up children to serve as human shields, or an Israeli strike on a military target causing collateral damage to nearby civilians?"

    That's a false dichotomy, Ed, because both those situations occur.

    In Hamas's case, they don't generally line children up, as happened during the Iraq-Iran war of the 80's (there's a tie-in here to Islam and the idea of martyrdom, but I'll save that for another post). They do, however, fire their rockets from beside schools and mosques, and from residential neighborhoods. Why? Because they know that their enemies–the loathsome Jews, who they believe should be wiped from the face of the Earth–won't launch a retaliatory strike for fear of killing more civilians than they would otherwise be able to avoid.

    Feel free to criticize Israel, but don't forget which side cares more about the civilians (on BOTH sides).