30 December 2008

"Leaders Lie, Civilians Die, and Lessons of History Are Ignored"

You can find a pointed, angry commentary by Robert Fisk on the mess in Gaza here in The Independent.

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Blogger josean said...

Since you read (and quote) regularly The Guardian, I imagine you will have already stumbled upon this text by Nir Rossen.


I find it sums up pretty well the conflict, my opinion.I think it may help cure what IMHO is your only blind spot.

30 December, 2008 15:35  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


Here are some passages from Nir Rosen and my queries back. I think that Rosen is more or less completely unpersuasive. He is precisely the sort of apologist who ought to rethink his untenable position.

"Attacking civilians is the last, most desperate and basic method of resistance when confronting overwhelming odds and imminent eradication. The Palestinians do not attack Israeli civilians with the expectation that they will destroy Israel. The land of Palestine is being stolen day after day; the Palestinian people is being eradicated day after day. As a result, they respond in whatever way they can to apply pressure on Israel. Colonial powers use civilians strategically, settling them to claim land and dispossess the native population, be they Indians in North America or Palestinians in what is now Israel and the Occupied Territories. When the native population sees that there is an irreversible dynamic that is taking away their land and identity with the support of an overwhelming power, then they are forced to resort to whatever methods of resistance they can."

I do not disagree with Rosen's description of how Palestinian land is being stolen. There is no excuse for that. However:

[0] If the Palestinians do not attack Israeli civilians because they think it will have any real impact on the existence of Israel, the question is obvious: Why do they attack Israeli civilians? Rage? Desperation? Hatred? All understandable, perhaps. None is justifiable. And note too that at least Rosen tacitly admits that there have been attacks on Israeli civilians. His problem is trying to excuse those attacks.

[1] Putting aside the notion (with which I disagree) that Israel is a "colonial power", are such powers the only ones that "use civilians strategically"? Suicide bombers fall into that category, no? And what of the practice of sprinkling one's fighters and military resources throughout civilian neighborhoods and villages? Does Hamas engage in such strategic use of Palestinian lives?

[2] And, having been "forced" to adopt some tactic or other, the weak are absolved of all responsibility for the consequences of their actions?


"Beginning in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were deliberately cleansed and expelled from their homes, and hundreds of their villages were destroyed, and their land was settled by colonists, who went on to deny their very existence and wage a 60-year war against the remaining natives and the national liberation movements the Palestinians established around the world. Every day, more of Palestine is stolen, more Palestinians are killed. To call oneself an Israeli Zionist is to engage in the dispossession of entire people. It is not that, qua Palestinians, they have the right to use any means necessary, it is because they are weak. The weak have much less power than the strong, and can do much less damage. The Palestinians would not have ever bombed cafes or used home-made missiles if they had tanks and airplanes. It is only in the current context that their actions are justified, and there are obvious limits."

[0] I hardly disagree with Rosen's initial historical sketch. But we can trace the origins of this conflict back beyond 1948 and end up only with competing stories of tragedy and violence. Here I agree with Amos Oz (How to Cure a Fanatic) who thinks that competing narratives of victimization are a non-starter.

[1] How does killing or maiming civilians of one variety create "less damage" than killing or maiming civilians of another variety? (I find the calculus of casualties disgusting for if we think of Palestinians casualties as multiples of Israeli casualties we are led, as commenters in various threads on The Guardian have been to discount even 300 or so dead in light of numbers elsewhere.)

[2] What are "the obvious limits" to justifiable actions on the part of the Palestinians? And how do you justify those limits or condemn actions that overstep them?


Finally, Rosen asserts without much (any?) argument that the only solution to the conflict in Israel-Palestine is a 'one state' outcome. This is more than a stretch. It will not happen in our lifetimes.

31 December, 2008 13:29  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

PS: Rosen also claims:

"It is impossible to make a universal ethical claim or establish a Kantian principle justifying any act to resist colonialism or domination by overwhelming power."

Rosen ought to talk to East European dissidents like Havel or Michnik who did more or less precisely what he claims is impossible. (And the history of Soviet responses to political resistance in communist eastern Europe, presents a pretty bleak picture.)

That said, nothing I've argued presumes any sort of Kantian universalism. My claim is that the consequences of actions on both sides are disastrous.


31 December, 2008 13:36  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

PS2: I am not an historian of the region, but since you recommended Mr. Rosen, perhaps I might recommend Mr. Strenger?


31 December, 2008 13:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for dismantling what I thought was a truly appalling piece by Mr. Rosen, who just about stops short of calling for attacks on Israeli civilians.

It is shameful to see these arm-chair provocateurs continue to argue for a "one state solution." Hamas couldn't even form a "unity govt" with Fatah, their own people, but somehow Israelis and Palestinians are going to successfully merge into a single state? Let's get real.

This Rosen fellow, an Iranian, seems to me to be an unabashed spokesman for the pro-Ayatollah, pro-Hizbullah, pro-Hamas agenda. I wonder what he'll have to say now that the Arab League summit concluded that this conflict is Hamas's fault? Actually, I already know what he'll say -- the Arab govs are Western puppets that should be overthrown by those nice guys in such groups as the Islamic Brotherhood, Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Al Quaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba, and so on. Regular chips off the ol' block.

Hamas, an Iranian proxy, is a terrorist organization that sends kids to blow themselves up on Israeli buses. That's all they are. They are not a liberation movement, they are not concerned with "justice" or "equality" or "peace." And all this talk about Israel specifically going after civilians is bologna, especially when you consider that all Hamas has ever done, from their beginnings till now, is target civilians.

01 January, 2009 08:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. -- http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1051597.html

01 January, 2009 10:17  

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