January 27, 2006

More on Palestine & Israel

At the risk of driving a point into the ground, I'd like to point out something in the D's editorial page today that exemplifies what I find maddening about what is, essentially, a defense of suicide bombing.

In trying to answer Feoktistov's challenge to "find anything within mainstream Israeli society even remotely approaching the level of hatred and blood-thirst in mainstream Palestinian culture," Paul Pope supplies the following
Just today, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that "some 46 percent of Israel's Jewish citizens favor transferring Palestinians out of the territories, while 31 percent favor transferring Israeli Arabs out of the country, according to the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies' poll..."
There is only one relevant question here: Is there any moral equivalence between a suicide bombing and mass deportation? This is what Pope would like us to believe. While mass deportation is morally wrong, suicide bombing is a whole 'nother magnitude of wrong, and equating the two is unsound moral logic.

Pope ends by saying that Israel is a racist state. Yes, that is true, but what does that make the Palestinians?


  1. That is not the point. Displaying the humanity of the Palestinians and their condition is not meant to justify suicide bombing. Discussing the high prevalence of racism among Israelis is not meant to justify suicide bombing, or even draw a moral parallel. The purpose is to explain that this is not a good vs. evil situation.
    Pope makes his point - there is racist hatred in each population. Nowhere does he try to sanction or justify suicide bombing. Nobody has said suicide bombing isn't wrong.
    Feoktistov painted a horribly one-sided picture, and now there is a slightly more nuanced picture to look at.

  2. Yeah, I meant to change the wording on "a defense of suicide bombing" after I had written the rest. I meant to stress the moral equivalence point, which I do think is his intent as it answers Feoktistov's challenge. There is no point in citing that poll if Pope doesn't want us to weigh it against Feoktistov's poll of Palestinians showing overwhelming support of suicide bombing. Pope goes on to give two examples of morally outrageous acts by Israelis against Palestinians—clearly, he's trying to balance the Israelis' intolerant behavior against the Palestinians'. And the message he wants us to get is that, somehow, these things more or less even out, or that if there is an imbalance, it is a distinction without a difference—that the distinction between Palestinian behavior and Israeli behavior is less important than the fact that both have some bad parts to them. I don't buy that. Moral distinctions are the reason for morality. The fact that things are gray on both sides should not prevent a comparison of two different shades.

  3. not amused12:06 PM

    Why is this blog so right-wing now?

  4. If by right-wing you mean anti-terrorism and critical of Democrats and Republicans.

  5. not amused1:42 PM

    I'd just like to point out that the above is not a sentence. Also, referring to your position alone as "anti-terrorism" is a fascistic rhetorical move worthy of Karl Rove. Congrats, you've crossed the line.

  6. It wasn't meant to be a sentence. Take your pettiness elsewhere.

    And comparing me to a recognizably evil political figure and mentioning a failed and noxious political ideology just because I disagree with you is a rhetorical move worthy of, well, a Republican, and not a very bright one at that.

  7. not amused5:46 PM

    I didn't call you a Fascist, I identified little-f fascism in your argumentative technique. Framing the debate by saying, "If by 'right-wing' you mean 'anti-terrorism'..." is very much a Rovian technique. This is not a personal attack, but rather an attempt to awaken you to the little-f fascist within.

  8. And I said "mentioning a failed and noxious political ideology" not "you called me a fascist" or even "you made a personal attack."

    And please explain your idiolect—what do you mean "little-f fascist?" Because, umm, there's not a whole lot of academic consensus on that notion.

  9. The willingness of a state to engage in mass deportations and ethnic cleansings is also a measure of the willingness of a state to engage in the mass killing of civilians. I, in fact, work through the logic of what lessons Israel should learn from the historical experience of Nazi Germany.

    Mass killing is the moral equivalent of suicide terrorism. Racism is not sufficient to explain either the Palestinian use of the suicide tactic nor Israeli willingness (before the late Sharon period) to move populations, flatten homes, and kill Palestinians. The true explanation is that the political elites of both societies were trying to convince the respective populations that longing for control over Palestine was extremely costly. Now both sides are exhausted and wish to disengage.

  10. John, there is no way that I'm defending mass deportations, but simply saying that there is a real moral difference between a) that a (sizeable) minority (46 or 31%) theoretically supports that action and b) the brute fact that there are suicide bombings and that such actions are supported, tacitly or openly, by a significant majority, as the elections just proved. Those two just don't balance out, and we should not pretend they do. I'm not saying you are; I'm saying that's the position I'm arguing against.

    However, I would say that it's also misleading to try to balance a hypothetical moral wrong against an actual wrong. And I'm not certain that your explanation involving the political elites is correct. Given the strength of the Muslim beliefs about jihad and martyrdom, I find it difficult to believe that such a tactic was designed to dissuade the Palestinians from desiring to retake everything "from the river to the sea" as they're fond of saying. To me, that's as preposterous as saying that bin Laden ordered 9/11 to show how costly waging a war against America would be. And do you really think the Israeli actions in Lebanon in '82 and '83 constituted a way to show Israel that Palestine wasn't worth fighting for? Parsimony seems to be against you.

  11. the brute fact that there are suicide bombings and that such actions are supported, tacitly or openly, by a significant majority, as the elections just proved.

    This is a load of hogwash and you know it. The election of Hamas can not simply be viewed as a vote for suicide terrorism; it is possible that the Palestinians were simply voting against Fatah. (There hasn't been a parliamentary election since 1996.) Let's consider it in the American context. Many people voted for Kerry in the last election. Was a vote for Kerry a vote for any of the Democratic proposals at the time? Might it not have also been a vote against Bush, that and no more? Hamas has, among other things, provided much needed social services for the Palestinians. As a voter, corruption and vague future promises of peace from Fatah, or, the promise of less corruption, more services, and vague future promises of peace from Hamas sounds like a no brainer to me.

  12. Let me clarify my theory of elite struggle. I suggested that Israeli elites were trying to convince Palestinian elites that the struggle for all of Palestine was futile. The Palestinians were doing the same thing in reverse.

    Israeli leaders, particularly since the accession of the Likud under Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, believed that strategic depth of territory was necessary for the defense of Israel. The Lebanese interventions, as well as decade earlier cooperation with Jordan during its little civil war, was aimed to end the PLO as an organization. The PLO migrated from Jordan to Lebanon and continued to harass Israel from the borders of Lebanon, which, by that time has collapsed into a civil war. The intervention of 1981 finished what 1978 started; the mission was a success if you limit the parameters of evaluation to whether or not Sharon, then defense-minister, successful ejected Arafat et al. from Lebanon. What the Ministry of Defense did not foresee is that the Israeli army would become the target of Hezbollah once the PLO had been removed. After the ascension of Rabin to the premiership, the Israeli elite began to believe that you could cede strategic depth for protection from insurgencies. However, they did not want the Palestinian elites to believe that they had just run in terror due to an insurgency, and tried to negotiate a settlement while applying military pressure. Sharon personified this election when he ascended to high office and thoroughly killed off militant leadership in Palestine through "targeted strikes."

    Next post, for Palestinian logic.

  13. The Palestinians had also modified their strategic goals from 1948 to 2005. Just as the Israelis abandoned their strategic depth--the rhetoric about a return to "pre-1967" borders--so did Palestinians elites shift their goals.

    The original goal was, as far as I can tell, concocted with the rest of the Arab League and consisted in wiping Israel off the map. As Palestinian nationalism coalesced, the attacks of the fedayeen which plagued Israel from 1950 to 1967 intensified. The remembrance of what the Israelis like to call the "War of Independence" as Al Naqba (the disaster) adequately reflects their view of what they considered to be a colonial enterprise.

    1967 and 1973 changed the strategic thinking of Palestinian elites because they had to go into exile to other Arab states from which they could launch attacks on Israeli territory. The dramatic conquest and subsequent humbling of the Israeli military giant meant that it was no longer productive to imagine a future without Israel; it was not impossible to catch the Israelis by surprise, the 1973 war proved that, but between their superior technology, brilliant generals (like Sharon), and American support, Israel was an accomplished fact. Thus, the elite thinking split three ways. First, there was the old guard, who, with Arafat would go into exile in Jordan, then Lebanon, and then to Algeria and turn to a life of political, though not suicide, terrorism. Second, there were the militants who wanted to create a state of permanent insurrection to grind down the Israeli military and resist the growing settlement blocks in the West Bank and Gaza. Like most militants in the region, they became radicalized over time. Finally, there were those Palestinians who pushed for citizenship and inclusion within Israel, or, for political existence along Israel in a separate state.

    Your remark Given the strength of the Muslim beliefs about jihad and martyrdom, I find it difficult to believe that such a tactic was designed to dissuade the Palestinians strikes me as particularly naive because we can't explain the rise of suicide terrorism with sole recourse to Islamic beliefs. If that was the case, we would have to have witness suicide terrorism from the earliest days of the nationalist resistance, circa 1950, which we do not. In fact, suicide terrorism emerged as a modern phenomena, first used by the Tamil Tigers; this tactic spread across the word as a useful, effective method of resistance. Now as to why some groups choose suicide terrorism over non-suicide terrorism, I cannot say. What I can say is that all the smoke and mirrors about Muslims wanting to die is large pile of horse pluckey.

    By now, after the death of Arafat and the destruction of most of the political, security, and terror apparati in the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan, and Gaza, as well as the fence, the elite will which encouraged and channel suicide bombers has faded.

    The last thing I will say is this: suicide terrorism is not a moral question. Either all warfare is murder, or we must recognize that the decision to use force for most politicians and political elites is not a moral question but a political one. It seems silly and a bit imperialist to judge suicide terrorism from a moral point of view. From the Palestinian point of view, suicide terrorism is a technology in a war of national liberation; it would be silly to demand that the Palestinians deploy tanks, Apache helicopters, and infantrymen. Israel's point of view is one in which it is fighting a counter-insurgency against a struggle for national liberation. History is not on its side here.

    It's not about morality, racism, or evil--all words often over-used in these tired debates. The struggle is about about the liberation of the destiny of one nation which has found itself in intercourse with another that seeks its security at the expense of that nation's well being. The struggle is about whether Israel will ever know peace for its children and normalize relations with its nations. The Palestinians ask "Need we always be oppressed" whereas the Israelis query "Need we always be pariahs?" It's not clear that ascriptions of evil answers the respective questions of either side.

  14. John, your statements about suicide terrorism are absurd and are exactly the kind of thing I want to attack.

    First, if you believe that I am saying "Muslims want to die," you misunderstand both me and the entire purpose of most religions. The purpose, I am arguing, for "martyrdom," which is how the suicide bombers understand their actions, is the attainment of immortality, not the attainment of death. Martyrs don't want to die; they want immortality. Your understanding of religion is, apparently, a "large pile of horse pluckey." [And the Tamil Tigers thing is not really a counterargument; while their actions are not driven by religion, their religious beliefs do make a difference—their belief in rebirth is (apparently) strong enough to overcome a fear of death.]

    It seems silly and a bit imperialist to judge suicide terrorism from a moral point of view. This is patently ridiculous. Not all "technologies of war" are ethically on par. Firebombing Dresden is on a whole different level from protecting the Kosovars, and if you can't see that, I would say you have basically sunk into a black hole of relativism and I hope you dig your way out sometime. You sound like Foucault with his brain removed.

    Finally, that you compare a Democrat voting for Kerry to a Palestinian voting for Hamas is just nuts. If Dems had killing Texans as part of their platform or their history, I wouldn't vote for them, regardless of who was in office. Maybe you would, though. It would be just another "technology of politics" or some such bullshit.