Thursday, July 27, 2006

Why Do We Care?

As anyone who follows the various comment threads on the subject will know, those who support Israel's current assault on Lebanon often suggest that criticisms of Israel are completely disproportionate. "People are dying in far greater numbers in Iraq or in DR Congo," they argue. "Why don't you write about that instead of picking on the tiny beseiged state of Israel?"

It's easy to dismiss these comments as a cynical attempt to change the subject but I don't think that's what it is in most cases. Having read an unhealthy number of threads on this over the last two weeks, it seems clear to me that many Israelis and their supporters genuinely don't understand why people in the UK are so exercised by what's happening.

So I thought I'd try to explain something of my own position on the subject. What's happened today is a perfect illustration of it but we'll get to that shortly.

Before that, I should say that I do not deny that there are some moronic anti-semites out there and they're making more noise than usual at the moment. This is reprehensible. From what I can gather, they are a small minority, certainly in this country. That's not to excuse their racist views, of course, but I do not believe that the majority of criticims of Israel's current activities are motivated by anti-semitism as is sometimes claimed.

So why all the fuss? For me, this report says it all.
'World backs Lebanon offensive'

Israel says diplomats' decision not to call for a halt to its Lebanon offensive at a Middle East summit has given it the green light to continue.

"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world... to continue the operation," Justice Minister Haim Ramon said.

His comments came ahead of an Israeli cabinet meeting to decide whether to intensify the military offensive.
Despite the fact that the participants in the Rome conference vowed to work towards a sustainable truce with the "utmost urgency", the Justice Minister is essentially correct. By refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire, the international community has implicitly given Israel the green light to continue to impose collective punishment on the people of Lebanon.

But really, it wasn't the international community as such which gave this green light. As the front page of the Independent showed so very clearly last week, it's actually the governments' of the United Kingdom and the United States who are enabling Israel to continue its assault on Lebanon. And our special friends, the US government, are also busy sending shipments of armaments to Israel to aid them in their devastating attack.

But I believe that Israel's actions are both morally wrong and dangerously counter-productive. When my government supports such actions, implicitly or explicitly, I'm going to say something about it. In my own tiny way, I hope to add to the pressure which might make them change their approach. That's what democracy is all about.

The tragedy is that the British government actually could exert some inflence here through the special relationship chain which runs from the UK to the US to Israel. But they are not doing so. This is, I believe, a disgrace and a large part of the reason why I write about the current conflict.

Of course, this doesn't explain why I should make more noise about this than about Iraq, which my own government is in up to its neck. But as regular readers will know, I'm hardly silent on that subject.

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RK said...

There is one Hezbollah tactic that is rarely commented on that I think you should consider. That is their conscious decision to hide themselves amongst the civilians, to base themselves in Mosques and Churches and to place their rocket stockpiles in the basements of residential buildings. Hezbollah know that their greatest weapon is the propaganda they get from dead Lebanese civilians. The indignation of the west only reinforces this tactic and ensures more Lebanese are put in harms way. The blame for the Lebanese civilian cost of this war is partly down to Israeli tactics but it is also, shockingly Hezbollah’s.

None of this excuses Israel from trying to minimise civilian loss but it does mean you should view the resulting deaths as the direct consequence of a Hezbollah tactic to hide amongst civilians and the inevitable Israeli attempts to target Hezbollah for waging war on them.

Joe said...

RK, anywhere you go in Israel you'll find Israeli troops travelling on civilian buses and trains - would you say that this means civilian deaths from attacks on public transport are simply an inevitable consequence of the Israli tactic of hiding among civilians?

Jherad said...

rk - That is what terrorists do. It seems that when terrorists strike from within our own countries, we are well aware of the fact we simply cannot *bomb* the areas they are thought to operate from, and to heck with the consequences - but when it comes to those crazy Arabs, nothing is too much.

I am angry because I expected more from Israel. I was naive. I am angry because where 'just drop a bomb on the bstards' was simply an passionate response to IRA atrocities made by drunken sops in pubs years ago - now our governments are saying it. And doing it.

I am angry because I am confused. I am no pacifist - military action is required at times, but I truly believe it must be proportionate, minimise civilian casualties, and be well targeted. This action is just... indiscriminate. Kill everything that moves at grid x,y. I am confused because that is so obviously wrong to me that I cannot fathom how people are supporting it. Have people dehumanised those in the east so much in their own minds that such slaughter of innocent men, women and children is acceptable for so few Hezbollah kills?

Finally, I am angry because this is like watching a trainwreck in slow motion - and there doesn't seem to be the slightest thing I can do to stop it. Majority public opinion is ignored, protests are ignored, and we can't vote this to stop for *years*.

Steve G said...

The line of argument you summarise as '"People are dying in far greater numbers in Iraq or in DR Congo," they argue. "Why don't you write about that instead of picking on the tiny besieged state of Israel?"' has always struck me as a tad disingenuous.

Had the world, and particularly the USA, regarded the Arab and Israeli conflict with the same lack of interest it pays to most disputes in sub-Saharan Africa, the conflict would doubtless long since have been resolved in a manner not wholly favourable to Israel.

I'm also a bit confused by rk's line of argument. Had the British government decided to take a similarly robust line about, for example, PIRA's 'conscious decision to hide themselves amongst civilians' and started flattening parts of County Armagh (and Kilburn?) I think it might well have come in for a bit of justifiable criticism.

Jherad said...

And another thing...

(Sorry about that! I won't keep tagging bits on, I promise!)

I bristle each time I hear policitians answer a call for ceasefire with 'Surely you cannot be suggesting a unilateral ceasefire? With Hezbollah rockets killing innocent Israeli civilians every day?'

That is *exactly* what should happen unless the military action is redefined immediately. It is painfully obvious that continued action of the current style will only increase the civilian bodycount, and foster support for extremism.

War is bloody. Nations are trying to turn anti-insurgency/terrorist offensives into Health and Safety efficiency exercises for their own troops, but the blood toll is still paid - only by the innocent. Stop the unfocused airstrikes, stop the shelling - at least against populated areas, and recognise that there is no easy way out. Soldiers will die. Wars kill people, and you cannnot, must not, exchange potential soldier deaths on 'our' side for many more civilian deaths on 'theirs'.

Anonymous said...

I was staying in Israel the summer of '81 and read about the PLO firing rockets over the border from Lebanon on a regular basis, this caused very few casualties and damage but the Israelis invaded their northern neighbour the following year regardless, a thousand or more Palestinians and Lebanese died in the immediate action and during the occupation of the south over nearly 20 years hundreds more died on both sides. Eventually the Israelis realised that a buffer zone was no protection as they were in amongst their enemy. That 20 years didn't buy them any peace, the only way they can have that is to give up lands they have seized illegally.

Oh an while I'm at it me lil hamster, I don't think the British public were "exercised" by Israel's actions more like incensed, the other week you reckoned I made a "derogative" remark ?? think you were groping for derogtory old boy.

Mark said...

"Exercised", in this context is perfectly correct. And that's "derogatory".