Sunday, July 16, 2006

It started when....

So much to say on the situation in the Middle East right now. I'll start with a couple of phrases that have been bothering me.

The first is that this recent fighting started when Hamas and Hizbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers. That is in some ways true, but doesn't begin to tell the whole story.

You could say it started when the international community imposed a strict blockade on Gaza in response to the Hamas victory in the elections. You could say it started when Israel initiated it's policy of assassinations that has continued throughout the second Intifada. Or that it started with Hamas and others sending small home-made rockets into Sderot. Or with the break down of the Camp David talks in 1999. Or the occupuation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967. Or the displacement and dispossession of 800,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948-49. Or the persecution of the Jews in Europe.... you get the picture.

The point is this was and still is a hot conflict. There may be quiet from time to time, but it is a lull between battles, some violent, some not. Looking at who started what and when is just about pointless. People like David Brooks in the NYTimes who are saying, for example, that Israel was trying to disengage from the Occupied Territories and give Palestinians a chance to build an independent state, but were met with rocket fire and kidnappings, are either simply unaware or deceitful. It ignores a lot of very recent history.

The other phrase that is bothering me is that the Israeli reponse is "disproportionate". It's not that the response is disproportionate. It is that the response is targeting civilians, by targeting essential civilian infrastructure. Israel is hardly even hitting those who took their soldiers, Hamas and Hizbollah. Israel is focusing much more attention on electrical stations, bridges and, in Gaza, government ministries. If Israel responded disproportionately on Hamas and Hizbollah targets I wouldn't care much. But they are hurting people who had nothing to do with these operations, and hitting them in ways that endanger their health, sanity and lives. It is de-developing these countries, making ever-weaker and failed states. It's a disaster on many different levels.

None of this does anything to Hamas or Hizbollah except strengthen them. What Israel is doing is against international law and it is just plain morally wrong. The Israelis have made it quite clear that their strategy is to make the average person hurt so bad that they turn on Hamas and Hizbollah. That is not happening. People are rallying around Hamas and Hizbollah. Some people who just a few months ago hated them now admire them.

The Israelis have done this for a long time. It seems the first time was in the 1960's when they blew up 13 Lebanese planes at the Beirut airport for a hijacking by the Palestinian PFLP. The Christian dominated government at that time detested the Palestinians. They probably would have loved an attack on the PFLP. Why did Israel strike Lebanese targets? Did it make people fear Israel or hate them even more?

Another recent occurance was in the middle of the second intifada. Hamas and Islamic Jihad would send suicide bombers into Israel, an obnoxious and despicable action itself, and Israel would respond by hitting the PLO-led Palestinian National Authority. Israel at this time didn't hit Hamas, didn't make life more unbearable for them and their supporters. No, it hit the PNA. What did that do? Destroy the PNA, especially its ability to maintain order, as strengthen Hamas for fighting Israel while the PNA spoke of peace and reconciliation.

It's not about proportionate or disproportinate. It's about hitting civilian targets and killing innocent people. It's about radicalizing populations to the point that you have no "partner for peace".

Fine, Hamas and Hizbollah kidnapped soldiers, and Israel is going to respond, it's war. But respond against those who took the soldiers, not the innocent people who are just trying to live their lives.


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