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. Major Kong Says:

    Pretty much what Ed said.

    Note that this isn't a new thing. During WWII the Luftwaffe conducted "terror-bombing raids", while the RAF "de-housed the workforce".

  2. Andrew Says:

    I am actually quite willing to believe that Hamas would use human shields AND quite willing to believe that Israel's government would falsely accuse Hamas of doing so. In fact, my inability to find unbiased information on this subject is very frustrating.

  3. jestbill Says:

    The only "solution" to that mess is a time machine.

    The Allies shoulda woulda coulda done the job right. If you are going to create a country by moving a bunch of people in, you have to move the current residents out. You have to own your decision–no excuses.

    For another example, see Northern Ireland.
    Or North and South America.

    Life is hard. It's even harder if you are stupid.

  4. SamInMpls Says:

    I pretty much agree with all of this. And yet…

    A lot the people on the left are happy to criticize the conduct of Israel but far fewer are willing to make the similar critiques of US policy. The amount of internal conflict within the left over drones and NSA programs seemed to spike as soon as Obama took office. The divide between, say, Greenwald and the MSNBC crowd is rather profound, no?

    Conservative support for Israel and Liberal support for Palestine has more to do with US domestic politics than what is actually going on in Israel and Palestine. As someone (I forget who) recently pointed out: Dana Priest and Jane Mayer have to consider themselves fortunate that they broke their big stories while Bush was still in office.

    As someone with a basic undergraduate level understanding of the conflict, this had me nodding my head emphatically:

    "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."

    I will go you one further. If the US was involved in this sort of conflict, there would be no posturing for the moral high ground. In the political mainstream it would be assumed, almost without exception, that the US was acting with absolute and irrevocable moral authority.

  5. ladiesbane Says:

    It might be a trifle overweening to say that you know what "anyone with an ounce of honor and a sense of real leadership in the political-military sense would say", unless you assume that Anyone shares your values as well as your goals.

    This post reminds me of other simplistic ideas, to the tune of "I can balance my checkbook so Congress should be able to balance the budget". There is more involved than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio. It only looks simple because it's not oozing blood onto your good shoes.

  6. J. Dryden Says:

    You've written about it several times, Ed, usually targeting Israel's claims to the moral high-ground while pointing out that such claims are, polite cough, self-servingly selective.

    But I will add that I'm with Andrew on this one: I find absolutely nothing implausible about the notion that Hamas could, would, and does line up children to serve as human shields. They haven't the best track record when it comes to the immediate well-being of the people they claim to represent, and they appear to embrace the mindset of "principles over people," which condones attitudes like "If we lose a few civilians, that only strengthens our PR campaign."

    This doesn't excuse the Israelis, nor does it preclude your point regarding the inevitably ham-fisted way airstrikes seek their targets. That's unquestionably true, but I think it's important to recognize that both assertions are true, because otherwise we lose sight of the real victims in all of this:

    The people. The real, day-to-day, set-the-alarm-clock-to-go-to-my-shitty-job-but-at-least-I-have-one people. The ones that Hamas claims are SO important. The ones that Israel says are just 'victims' of their leaders (really, Israel? because the bomb-fragments read "Made In U.S.A"–pretty sure you guys dropped those.) The "nobody asked me if I thought this was a good idea" people. The "all I want to do is live in this wretched apartment and play with my kids and go where I want to go to worship" people.

    It's not Israel that's doing this. It's not Gaza. It's the remarkably small number of men who are eager to define their borders with corpses.

  7. Arslan Says:

    The "human shields" argument has been used in every US war/bombing campaign since 1991. It was used in Serbia in 1999, for example. When you count all the times Israel has accused Hamas of using them, you've got to ask yourself why anyone would think human shields would still deter any airstrikes.

  8. Talisker Says:

    I agree with about 90% of what Ed said, except for this:

    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.

    The problem is that the leadership on both sides is elected — in reasonably free and fair elections on the Israeli side, and kind-of sort-of fair ones on the Palestinian side.

    Netanyahu would not be in office without the votes of a lot of cab drivers, teachers, housewives, etc. Based on his earlier track record, they knew perfectly well what they were voting for. Sadly this is not a simple case of peaceful citizens being led by warmongering bastards, on either side.

    I think grievances and mistrust have built up on both sides to the point where peace is, almost literally, unthinkable. People won't vote for it, and the military, political, and intelligence establishments won't risk their careers by backing it. It is a little like asking why the USA doesn't tear down its entire healthcare system and replace it with one built on the French or German model — no matter how rational this might be, it's not going to happen in the foreseeable future, and only a handful of idealists will admit to supporting it.

    (To be clear, I have no personal connection with the region, this is just the impression I get.)

  9. zebbidie Says:

    Israel is quite prepared to bomb homes for the severely disabled if it thinks there is somebody it wants to kill nearby. I hardly think that Hamas is still stupid enough to believe that this time the Israelis won't put a cannon round straight through the chest of any human shield, no matter how small or frail.

  10. RosiesDad Says:

    As Andrew and J. Dryden both point out, there is no reporting to dispute the notion that Hamas–like Hezbollah in S. Lebanon before it–sets up its missile batteries in residential neighborhoods, near schools and hospitals so that when the IDF acts to take out these batteries and causes civilian collateral damage (I hate that term), this damage can be held up as proof of what monsters the Israeli leadership are.

    It is true that the Israeli government is not acting on the public will of the people, whose position is much more moderate, but such is the weakness of Parliamentary government and the need to form majority coalitions. Along those lines, Netanyahu could justifiably be criticized for failing to have the spine to stand up to Israel's religious fundamentalists in the interest of representing the majority of the Israeli people who would love nothing more than a two state solution and an end to decades of conflict.

    On the other hand, the people of Gaza rejected Fatah years ago and instead chose to be led by Hamas, which is bound and determined to wipe Israel off the map and to push the Jews out of the Middle East. So if you were a leader in the Israeli government, how would you deal with them? (Consider too that the West Bank Palestinians and the Egyptians harbor no more warm feelings for Hamas than the Israelis do.)

    It is a complicated mess indeed.

  11. neil Says:

    "or the poor, defenseless, blameless Palestinians minding their own business until Israel decides to start killing people en masse."

    that is pretty much how it happened, though. the palestinians didn't go to europe to start harassing the zionists there.

  12. LK Says:

    Disclosure: I live about 25 miles from the Gaza border, my home town had sirens practically every day for the last two weeks, and the house where I live with three little kids doesn't have a shelter (or a concrete roof, for that matter). I consider myself lucky so far. Politically, I lean left (some would argue extreme left, but that is a relative term).

    Many years ago, a smart US politician (was it Kissinger? I'm not sure) said that Israel doesn't have a foreign policy, only internal politics. This is, to this day, an accurate statement. Even the Israeli foreign service (including the extensive propaganda apparatus) is more geared towards what messaging the leadership wants the internal consumers to believe it is giving, rather than what is most beneficial to Israel's cause by itself. The "human shield" discussion must be taken in this light.
    Not so many years ago, the IDF lost a Supreme Court case, after which it was forbidden to order Palestinians to perform dangerous tasks on behalf of soldiers. Prior to this decision it was common practice for a platoon tasked with the arrest of a wanted terrorist/militant (or whatever you choose to call them), to grab the closest kid off the street (often aged 10 or younger) and have them knock on the door of the house, open doors and bags and move furniture around to make sure they are not booby-trapped. This was done in many other cases, obviously, from removing Palestinian flags from electricity lines (they used to be forbidden, wouldn't you know) to escorting "regular" patrols. The context of the "human shield" focus in the Israeli messaging is "look at those uncivilized barbarians, we have Courts and Laws, and we have the Most Moral Military in the World (TM)". And again- this is mostly for internal consumption, as a preemptive measure against criticism from the left, not a real "excuse" for anything. There is at least one story making the rounds in the Israeli media about a pilot that aborted a bombing when he noticed kids on the site. On the other hand, three children were killed last week from a "warning shot" dud shell, so it's not a perfect method either.

    That said, there is evidence that Hamas is not beyond using human shields in a subtle way. While the IDF's air-force got into a habit of firing "warning shots" (basically a dud bomb) at buildings that are about to be bombed, Hamas speakers on several occasions said things to the effect that "our people are proud and strong, and will not be frightened by these cowardly acts, and will not evacuate when the enemy tells us to". When Israel warned citizens of several neighborhoods that the IDF is about to get in on the ground, and they are advised to evacuate (question in point- there isn't really where to evacuate to), Hamas speakers said that everyone should stand their ground and not yield.

    But I think the main point is Talisker's- while the reasons people vote for the parties they do are not always clear, and in many cases one would vote for a side they have deep disagreements with, even on major issues (I know I did), in both Israel and Gaza one has a strong case in claiming the elected leadership is sorta kinda representative of the public will. Many of the people who voted for Netanyahu in the last elections think he's too soft, too lefty. And it's a good thing most people outside of Israel don't read Hebrew, since the flame and hatred on blogs, FB groups and comment threads these days make me scared for my own well-being, let alone any non-Jew in Israel. And somehow I have the feeling it looks and sounds roughly the same in the Arabic-written fora on the other side.

  13. Robert Trenary Says:

    The ultimate false equivalence in this current edition is illustrated by a 'scorecard' that counts "Rockets Fired" at Israel on one side and "Bombing Attacks" on the other side.

    It is true that both Israelis and Palestinians are experiencing the fear that an exploding projectile might hit them, an anxiety producing event. The similarities end there.

    Your complaint about the 'human shield' argument should be framed against the larger question of why such an sad justification is even broadcast uncritically.

    Worse, imho, is the "no country would sit still while rockets were launched" justification.

    To which one must ask in return, what people would sit idly by living under decades long occupation, roadblocks, imprisonments, settlements, house demolitions, and now this bombing of an imprisoned civilian Palestinian population (while Israelis sit on hills and cheer as in an amphitheatre) ?

    The imbalance of the US reporting in the face of the facts of this slaughter is sickening and I hate that my taxes and government are involved.

  14. Xynzee Says:

    @LK: Reading between the lines of what you said, it sounds like "we shall stand our ground" means those who want to run, will be forced to stay.

    One thing to remember is that while there may be an "elected government"—term used loosely—that is comprised of members of Hamas, Hamas itself is a group or organisation rather than a state. Just because someone lives in a neighbourhood where Hamas has control doesn't necessarily equate into being a supporter/member of Hamas.

    To paraphrase: while all members of Hamas are Palestinian, but not all Palastinians are members of Hamas.

    Therefore, being a member of Hamas or not can easily shift upon need or requirement. So was the house that was shot up by the IDF really a Hamas leaders? Or some poor schmuck who happened to live next door?

    Given this lack of "state", has meant that over the years, Hamas has had no qualms about popping across the border to launch missiles from Lebanon. Thereby sucking in people who really would like to stay out of this.

    Isreal doesn't help the situation with stupid acts of antagonism—eg. Settlements.
    Hamas ultimately has to realise that Isreal is like breaking one's back in an accident. They can fight it and try to wish it away all they want, but the fact remains Isreal is here to stay. The best thing is to learn to live life around the situation and do one's best.

  15. Middle Seaman Says:

    Some wrong facts. The government of both the Palestinian Authority and Israel are elected. We may not like the results, but I also think that Obama is a Republican. The PA didn't have an election for a long time. The rightwing in Israel was reelected this year, but that is what happens in the US too.

    The relationship between the PA and Israel is close. There is a lot of cooperation although peace wasn't signed, violence is negligible. There are regular contacts, many warm relationships and quite a few human rights, justice, etc. organizations with people from both sides.

    The current Israeli government is mean-spirited, e.g. Cheney like, and convinced of its ways. The PA seems more moderate. Hamas is an Al-Qaida like group. They are the pits. The Gazans, on the other hand, are people like you and me under oppression.

    Hamas does build tunnels and rocket stock piles in residential building, schools and hospitals. That doesn't imply that Israel has the right to bomb them to hell. What is badly missing is the Israeli government pausing for a moment and reassessing the civilian casualties in Gaza. Militarily, the rockets will be replaced while the civilian in Israel, although constantly under attack, are well protected by an Israeli developed anti rocket system.

    Some civilian are killed by accidents. War and accidents are twins. The 4 Gazan kids that were killed on the beach were a mistake. Pretending that that there are no mistakes is either stupid or mean-spirited. When you bomb a residential building it's intentional. You better think a 1000 times before you do it.

    Yet, casualty numbers, intensity of conflict and future chance in the P/I conflict are way better than in other conflicts. Look at Syria, Iraq, Africa and even the Ukraine.

  16. anotherbozo Says:

    I have a recommendation and a question.

    U.S. news coverage has historically been skewed so heavily in favor of the Israel Lobby (I don't want to think Sheldon Adelson, but he is part of the picture) that only the news media's love of upclose and personal, "human interest" stories of the recent gore is helping to create some approximation of balance. Though probably most citizens here don't know the full scope of the regular battery of humiliations endured by workaday Palestinians, e.g., recent draconian restrictions on Gaza fishermen. My own knowledge is sketchy, which is part of the problem. Not to sound pro-Palestinian if that should construed to be pro-Hamas.

    Anyway the recommendation is to see "Five Broken Cameras," the Oscar-nominated documentary of the West Bank incursions and enforcements, told from the point of view of one farmer. It can be viewed free:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K-mGWy9iUg

    My question relates to the absence of wiser voices out of Israel. Amos Oz, the novelist, once wrote an op-ed piece for the NY Times, and Hanan Ashrawi of the PLO used to be a regular guest on news shows here, but neither has been in evidence lately. But I figure there must be reasoned blogs out of that region now. Anyone know any? I mean blogs that are at least bilingual. Oz apparently doesn't keep one. I know some of the most articulate and thoughtful people on earth must live in Israel, and they must be expressing their thoughts on line. Anyone know any websites?

  17. LK Says:

    @anotherbozo try 972mag. I know some of the bloggers there (not all), and while they are considered radical left here, they at least try very hard to show the facts that support their views.

  18. LK Says:

    @Robert Trenary would you believe it if I told you that in many Israeli eyes news coverage around the world is considered extremely pro-Palestinian? I agree that there is some hypocrisy in the "no country would sit idly by" kind of statement, but I still believe it to be true. The question no one dares to ask is whether raining fire and brimstone on the other side is the only alternative to "sitting idly by", to which I would reply in the negative.

    @Xynzee the rationale is very similar on both sides- Hamas thinkers believe that if they pester Israeli Jews long enough and hard enough (rockets, mortars, suicide bombings, stabbing and shooting, kidnappings and lately attacks through their underground tunnel complex) the Jews will all leave and they will be able to claim Israel for their own. With increasing emigration of academics and hi-tech entrepreneurs, they can fool themselves into thinking it's a viable strategy. On the other hand, the Israeli right (especially the hard-hat religious right) believe that with more settlements, more land-grabs, and more pestering of Palestinians, the Palestinians will leave (at least the West Bank and Israel proper, as there are no Jewish settlements in Gaza since Sharon's "disengagement"), and they will be able to claim Palestine for their own. With some of the smaller, more battered villages evacuating themselves in the West Bank (south mt. Hebron is a good example, but not the only one), they, too, can fool themselves that this can work.

    Not much you can do with religious zealots, you know.

  19. nick Says:

    https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/07/a-plague-on-one-house/

  20. quixote Says:

    @LK, very interesting and informative comments.

    The Israeli – Palestinian mess shows one more time — as if we needed more reminders — that mixing religion and state is a recipe for constant disaster.

  21. nick Says:

    In my brief time on this earth and my even briefer time engaged in the debates around this conflict it constantly shocks me how widely accepted this whole "Jewish state" thing is. Is this not a hard core racist conception? I fail to see what's complicated about this. The shouts of anti-semitism when this stuff goes off are insufferable.

  22. Xynzee Says:

    Nick: not sure I follow with your, "…widely accepted "Jewish state"…" comment.

    If you mean, "widely accepted" to refer to the fact that Israel is carved out on a map, and happens to be run by Jews, then what's the issue?
    The fact is, Israel is carved out of the map and for the foreseeable future is not going anywhere. So like golf, you gotta suck it up and play it where it lies(sp?). Anything else is like telling all non-First Nations to go back to where they came from—heck why not have *everyone*on Earth to pack up and return to the Rift Valley region. It's not going to happen.

    Now if you mean, why should Israel exist at all, well that's a debate for a far different day.
    Ultimately, the answer is the same as above.

  23. quixote Says:

    nick, Judaism is a religion not a race. Or did I miss a memo? The problem is not that a Jewish state is racist, it's that it assumes religion has any function in a necessarily secular institution like a state. (Necessarily, because a state, unlike a church, will always have people of different religions in it.) It's the same mistake Hamas is making. And ISIS (or whatever they're calling themselves today).

    And as to why there's this genuflection toward a Jewish state, unlike any other religiously oriented one, that's a reaction to the Holocaust. It's ironic that the Allies guilt over that means they carve out a piece of the Levant instead of, say, Germany. But then again, that's the place the Jews wanted.

    What's that saying? When the gods want to punish you, they give you what you want.

  24. nick Says:

    I agree. The Jews in Israeli aren't going anywhere and I don't believe they should. I wasn't trying to suggest that. I'm referring to Israeli state policy that insists on Israeli being a "Jewish state". This is one of the stipulations that Israel insists that Palestinians accept and why the Israeli state still insists that Palestinians do not accept Israel's "right to exist". Palestinians have accepted the Israeli state since at least the 1990s, but not the stipulation of a "jewish state"….because it's racist. From my observations it seems that this "jewish state" business is absolutely uncontroversial in the United States. Barack Obama says it all the time. In fact, I think it goes further than that. I suspect that if you even suggested that Zionism (as it currently is deployed and had been deployed for a very long time) is racism you would be permanently ejected from mainstream media discourse. I think It's unlikely someone who would even consider asserting the idea would be allowed near such a platform.

  25. nick Says:

    Oh. I should clarify that I was agreeing with Xynzee's comments.

    In regards to quixote's comment, you missed the memo. I will admit I don't know exactly how a "jew" is defined in Israel. I'm pretty sure the law itself is rather unclear. But it's not really that important because de facto, jewishness acts as a racial concept in Israel. That is to say the state of Israel was founded with the law of return, where any Jew proven to be a descendant of Jews could become a citizen of Israel. Jews descended from jews marry other jews descended from other jews, all purporting to trace their biological origins back to a much older genetically close group of humans. Racial or ethnic designation, whatever you want to call it, Israel defines itself based off of a highly specific biological inheritance and insists that it will retain that "character" and its institutions will reflect that "character". It fits the racist mold for me.

  26. LK Says:

    First of all I must thank everyone on this thread for the rational, reasoned and cool-headed discussion. It's so rare on the intertubes these days, and is the sole reason why I keep coming back and replying. And thanks also to Ed for hosting this oasis for us.

    @nick: from 1975 to late 1991 the UN had a declaratory resolution saying that Zionism is a form of racism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_Resolution_3379). While the reasons to make this statement in the first place, and to later recant, are purely political and have nothing to do with the veracity of the claim, I personally, as both a Jew and a Zionist, agree that there is certain merit to this comparison. But one needs to go no further than UN resolution 181 which in practice created the state of Israel, and see that it explicitly refers to a "Jewish State" and an "Arab State" as the desired outcome of the end of the British Mandate in Palestine (http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/7f0af2bd897689b785256c330061d253). And with the Holocaust as a culmination of decades if not centuries of antisemitism in Europe (including many economic sanctions, discriminatory laws and physical attacks) it is not a big leap of logic to want this "Jewish State" to be a safe haven for Jews from all over the world, similarly to how we expect all nations to treat refugees today. But the point is that Jews have considered themselves both a religion and a people for a very long time. This is, in some sense, a remnant of the days when religions were local (or at most regional), and each small "state" had its own religious structure. But even under the modern-day definition (to quote Ed in the OP) of a common language, history and culture, Jews have at least some claim to nation-hood (tenuous under a critical eye, but still). Genetics, by the way, have nothing to do with it (despite what many Jewish pseudo-scientist will try to sell you), as by the time you go far enough back to trace all Jews to a common ancestor, you can practically trace all human beings to a common ancestor (http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/05/07/charlemagnes-dna-and-our-universal-royalty/).

    Now for the gory details. The law in Israel is actually pretty clear- if you can prove you had a Jewish grandparent (one is enough), you are eligible to citizenship in Israel by "Right of Return", even though you might not be considered Jewish (Judaism is hereditary on the maternal side only, according to orthodox Halachaic law). If you converted to Judaism (and there is an extensive body of Supreme Court decisions explaining why only "state sanctioned" conversions by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel are recognized today, and what other types of conversions from other times and places may be considered and why), you are eligible as well. In all other cases your path to citizenship will be long and perilous, and not guaranteed at all. And yes, "Jewishness" is a de-facto racial concept in Israel today, and both the state and the public are finding new and clever ways to show this racism to non-Jewish people almost on a daily basis.

    But Israel still has a very large minority (about 20%) which are not Jewish, the vast majority Arab Muslims, who by both decent and common history overwhelmingly consider themselves Palestinians. While they have nearly all the same rights as Jews in Israel (leave the details and excuses aside), they ae discriminated against in too many ways to count. They are still represented in the parliament, and can be found in nearly all parts of the civic sphere (arts, business, media, practically everything except the army and affiliated sectors) but usually at a much lower rate than their share in the population. With this background, one can view the Israeli demand that the Palestinians accept Israel as a "Jewish State" as asking for approval of this discrimination from the cousins (and sometimes brothers ans sisters) of those discriminated against. It's a poke in the eye, used as a dirty trick to prevent acceptance of any agreement unless and until all other terms are deemed good enough (or perhaps until never).

    Also @quixote, in the 1890's and 1900's there was a debate in the Zionist movement whether Zionists should claim territory in Israel or somewhere else (Uganda was a leading candidate). In the end the "Zion" side one the debate, probably not least on the practical reasons that it would be easier to convince the devout Christian leaders of the world's powers that the "older sister" deserves to return to her "old home". The San Remo conference, the British Balfur Declaration and the British mandate in Palestine (all long before WWII was even on the horizon) all seem to follow this logic. The Holocaust was probably the trigger to the actual division resolution (or at least a strong contributing factor), but it wasn't the only reason. And the fact is that there was a continuous Jewish population in what is today Israel for at least two millennia. All that is not an excuse to disenfranchise, discriminate against, or chase away the local population, of course (which is what Israel did on too many occasions).

    Last thing (and sorry for the long-winded comment) as for the "character" or cultural angle, this is actually in debate among Jews in Israel to this day. There are circles and communities in Israel who would consider a progressive Muslim to be more "one of us" than on orthodox Jews, and other places where a secular Jew will be shunned (if not stoned away) just as vigorously as a Christian or Muslim. The current right-wing government is much more religiously-inclined than they would have people think, and the law-making and budgetary proposals reflect this policy. In many cases despite outcries and demonstrations from the left (and some times the media). But again, once you take it as an excuse, a trading-card in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation, it makes much more sense.

  27. blahedo Says:

    Something that is not often pointed out in these discussion but bears strongly on the question of "human shields" is the sheer density of the Gaza Strip. Go look at maps of the Gaza Strip and Chicago, at the same scale, side by side. The shape is similar, although Chicago is actually somewhat larger; but the density of the _city_ of Chicago is less than that of the entire Gaza Strip—12700/sq mi for the Gaza Strip and 12000/sq mi for Chicago. And there are parts of the strip dedicated to greenhouses, or the defunct airport, or various other things, so that the density of the built-up parts of the strip is considerably higher.

    So think about what you know of the denser parts of Chicago. How many areas are more than a block or two from residences? One doesn't need to posit any sort of "human shield" strategy to see that putting military assets _anywhere at all_, let alone trying to find places with tactical advantages, will put them in the near vicinity of some number of civilians.

  28. Ed Says:

    Regarding the "Judaism is a religion and not a race" statement, not all Jews will back you up on that. The whole born-to-Jewish-mother=Jewish idea is taken quite seriously in some quarters, both among Jews and among those who would seek to single them out and do ill to them.

  29. DR Says:

    The other piece of this (which blahedo was getting at) is that it would be virtually impossible for Hamas to station their weapons and forces in an area where they wouldn't be creating "human shields." I mean, I suppose they could find some unoccupied beach, station their troops and shit there, and (while they're at it, they might as well) erect a giant sign saying "bomb me," but does anyone—even the most ardent rightwing yahoo—seriously expect them to do so?

    Beside being a natural consequence of the size and population density of Gaza, Hamas has to blend in with the population and civilian buildings to have any chance of not getting bombed to smithereens right from the get-go. Israel and other western countries have the luxury of having military bases in distinct separate areas (a) because of their sizes and (b) because unless the Ruskies go nuclear, they're not going to get bombed from above.

  30. DR Says:

    @LK, re: 'I agree that there is some hypocrisy in the "no country would sit idly by" kind of statement, but I still believe it to be true. The question no one dares to ask is whether raining fire and brimstone on the other side is the only alternative to "sitting idly by", to which I would reply in the negative.'

    People whip out that whim as if there were no precedent for this sort of thing. To the contrary, think about the IRA. Andrew Sullivan put it nicely: "As for the argument that no democratic society could tolerate terrorist attacks without responding with this kind of disproportionate force, what about the country I grew up in, where pubs and department stores in the mainland were blown up, where the prime minister and her entire cabinet were bombed and some killed in a hotel? I don’t recall aerial bombing of Catholic areas in Belfast, do you? Or fatality numbers approaching 200 – 0? Democratic countries are marked by this kind of restraint – not by calls for revenge and bombardment of a densely populated urban area, where civilian casualties, even with the best precision targeting and warnings, are inevitable."

  31. DR Says:

    *whip out that meme, I meant to say.

  32. LK Says:

    @DR you might have missed my point beneath the subtlety, but we're on the same page. The UK did not "sit idly by" when it was bombed by the IRA- it acted, sometimes fiercely, against its attackers. But it did so in a way that did not involve (as I said above) raining fire and brimstone on mostly civilian areas. And eventually both sides were able to sit at one table and discuss a (more or less) peaceful resolution to the mess. Sadly I don't see this restraint in my country's leadership today (on the contrary), and don't see either side willing to sit at any sort of table, short of being gagged, chained and dragged there kicking and screaming.

  33. LK Says:

    Also, the "score" is now closer to 500-30, which is worse in any reasonable measure. And we probably don't have final numbers on either side, for different reasons.

  34. Eau Says:

    What about numbers? Just plain old counting. Dead Palestinians vs dead Israelis? Sheer weight of ordinance dropped?

    And while we're talking human shields, have the Israelis set up the hypothetical beach with all the soldiers and the 'bomb here' signs? No? Then why the fuck should Hamas?

    I can't remember anyone – ever – tell me Hamas or the Paleztians as a whole are blameless. Strawman. But when I see kids with rocks vs tanks, I struggle to see this as either a fair fight or any kind of 'both sides do it' situation.

    One side has the power to change the situation without surrendering and being wiped out, the other does not. Their is no equivalence here. There is blame for both sides ( and the UK, the US, Egypt, plenty of others). But the responsibility to stop this shit lies with those who have the ability to stop this shit ( hint: not the Palestinians).

  35. LK Says:

    @Eau This is not a balanced situation, and Israel, as the stronger side, has a much greater responsibility to stop shit from happening.

    BUT.

    By and large, except for the main military compound in the middle of Tel Aviv (which is large enough to be accurately targeted by some of the Hamas rockets), military bases in Israel are removed from civilian settlements, and while they don't carry "bomb here" signs, they are easily identifiable in Google Maps. Even the makeshift camps used for the troops gathering outside the Gaza strip are not anywhere near any major civilian concentrations. And still, the vast majority of Hamas rockets are aimed at civilians. No moral high-ground here for either side, IMO.

    And on the other side of the "kids with rocks vs. tanks" picture (which in recent days became "kids with deadly Cornet anti-tank missiles vs. tanks"), there is the "Hamas militants launching rockets bearing 300lb. warheads at kids" picture. Eight years ago Israel's much maligned defense minister decided (against criticism from all sides) to fund the Iron Dome development, thanks to which my kids don't face as high a risk of death as we would otherwise. Yes, this is also part of the imbalance of power. But the fact remains- there are soldiers on the other side aiming their best and deadliest weapons at my kids, at the same time as soldiers from my side are aiming weapons at the other side's kids. Fair fight? Probably not. Symmetry? Definitely yes.

    And as for the "being wiped out" part- With Egypt and Syria torn by internal conflict, and Lebanon cut off from much of the Iranian funding, the existential threat on Israel is pretty close to zero. But Israel can't "wipe out" six million Palestinians any more than the Palestinians can "wipe out" six million Israeli Jews. And the crazies on both sides are crying for this solution exactly (read my previous comments above).

    And still, we, as the stronger side, bear a much greater responsibility. And I'm ashamed to say Israeli leadership does not seem to acknowledge that responsibility. Let's hope the "responsible adults" Kerry and Ban can twist arms fast enough and strong enough to stop this round sooner rather than later.

  36. Robert Says:

    It always strikes me how some people are disturbed by the idea of a 'Jewish state', as if there are no Muslim or Christian states. There are Palestinian Muslim citizens of Israel, with the right to vote and hold political office. It's the desire to extinguish the nation's identity as a Jewish state that the Israelis object to.

    That said, I believe that the current state of affairs is what the Hamas leaders* wanted to have happen, as it tends to diminish support for Israel.

    *The ones holed up in Qatar.

  37. Andrew Says:

    There are Muslim and Christian states, but as a nonbeliever, I'd prefer not to live in one, and I'm not all that keen on spending my own country's tax dollars and threatening its national security to prop one up.

  38. mothra Says:

    Just to add my two cents' worth, if you are wondering why on earth any Palestinians would vote for Hamas politicians over Fatah, Fatah long had a reputation for being very corrupt and not helping Palestinian citizens at all, whereas Hamas DID help by providing social services. So, if you are living in a shithole and one leader is offering you a hose to clean it out and the other is promising you a hose, maybe, sometime, one day, then you will likely be choosing the one who is handing you the hose today. And then there are many Palestinians who like the idea that Hamas at least is showing some strength and not caving to anything Israel wants. Granted, the strength shown is absolutely the wrong kind of strength, but to people at the end of their ropes, it's somewhat understandable where the temptation comes from to support Hamas.

    It's all just awful and none the the rocket attacks or aerial assaults will make it stop–it will just keep breeding generations of Israelis and Palestinians who resent each other.

  39. mew Says:

    They just mortared a hospital this morning. It looks increasingly like they are specifically targeting these "human shields." This kids playing on the beach and old ladies lying in hospital beds aren't collateral damage; they are the intended targets.

  40. geoff Says:

    @anotherbozo, Uri Avnery is an Israeli peace activist who writes an excellent weekly column which you can find here: http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery

    Charles P. Pierce today compares the war in Gaza to Dick Cheney's dove hunting exploits: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/The_Gobshites_In_The_Levant
    Hilarity ensues.

  41. tommytimp Says:

    A plague on both their fucking houses.

  42. Daphne Says:

    Avoid the "Kool Aid" cliche, please. Otherwise very well written.

  43. NickT Says:

    "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."

    Corpses do tend to be relatively uncommitted to ideologies of any sort.

  44. DR Says:

    @LK I knew what you meant; sorry, I could have made it more clear that my post was trying to springboard off yours rather than contradict it.

  45. noshoes Says:

    Both sides suck, but look at the numbers: 450+ Palestinians killed, 75 percent civilians; under 20 Israelis killed, most of them soldiers in the ground invasion. Another fact: if you don't want to kill civilians, don't bomb them. One more question: exactly how are the air strikes stopping the rockets? That is, supposedly, the reason for the air strikes and ground invasion, isn't it?

  46. LK Says:

    @noshoes the air strikes are supposedly targeting rocket and weapons stores, as well as launch sites (the longer rockets need more steady "launch pads" that are stationary and can't be set up ad-hoc) among other targets. The excuse for the ground invasion is the extensive tunneling operation Hamas had, which includes dozens of 1~2 mile long tunnels starting in concealed entrances in Gaza (mostly inside houses) and ending well inside Israel, often within a few hundred yards from Israeli towns and settlements. These tunnels enabled the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit way back in 2006, and attacks connected to them (either inside Israel, when used offensively, or when defended by Hamas as they are discovered by Israeli forces on the ground) are where the vast majority of Israeli soldiers were killed.

    As for the actual reason for the attacks- I'd say its basic warmongering on both sides. Being so incompetent in running the civilian side (and yes, this applies to Israel's leadership as well) means you need a dick-waving military operation every few years to keep the masses happy.

  47. skwerlhugger Says:

    The Gaza strip appears to be the sixth most densely populated political territory on the face of the planet. One man's human shield is another man's neighbor in a modern-day Warsaw Ghetto.
    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0934666.html

  48. Jado Says:

    "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."

    How am I supposed to know if you are a lunatic wingnut bloodthristy warhawk or a godless commie terrorist if you won't pick a side?

  49. eau Says:

    Hey, ed's title for this article just reminded me about all that oil (gas?) under and just offshore from Gaza.

    That couldn't have anything to do with this whole situation could it?

    Nah…

  50. Phoenician in a time of Romans Says:

    Is Israel going to take its troops and put them in nice isolated target areas, giving the coordinates to Hamas so they can rain down their rockets on those troops rather than Israeli cities?

    No? Does that mean Hamas gets to claim that Israel is hiding behind human shields too?

    The side with the superior firepower always claims the enemy is "hiding behind human shields" if, in the process of rooting them out, civilians are killed. The only alternative to this would be if Hamas would voluntarily line themselves nicely, kneel down, and let themselves be executed cleanly by Israel.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. aerial drones Says:

    My relatives every time say that I am killing my time here at web, but I know I am getting experience every day by reading such good articles.

  54. 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…

  55. 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).