06 January 2009

Humanitarian Crisis? Who Should You Believe?

". . . there is no humanitarian crisis in the [Gaza] Strip,
and therefore there
is no need for a humanitarian truce."
~ Tzipi Livni, Foreign Minister, Israel*

"This is, in our view, a humanitarian crisis ... It's very hard for me
to see any other way
you could describe it, given the conditions in
which the population are living."

~ John Holmes, United Nations
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs**

"After 10 days of uninterrupted military operations in the Gaza
Strip, what we're dealing
with is clearly and beyond doubt in my
mind a full-blown and major humanitarian crisis . . ."

~ Pierre Kraehenbuhl,
International Committee of the Red Cross***

Sure, Livni made her blatantly absurd statement at the turn of the New Year when the Israelis were "only" conducting air strikes, that is, before they mounted the land invasion of Gaza. But take an incredibly densely populated, economically depressed area - one, indeed, that might in 'normal' times be viewed as presenting a humanitarian crisis - and start bombing it. What do you get? Ms. Livni cannot possibly be that ignorant or duplicitous. (And she arguably is the most attractive of the candidates in the upcoming Israeli elections!) Even if we grant that the Israelis did not intend to create a humanitarian crisis, it is implausible to deny that creating one was a entirely predictable result of their actions. (For some sense of the predictable civilian casualties and even predictable inadvertent death from 'friendly fire' I recommend this report that npr broadcast this morning.)

Moving on, we might discount John Holmes' assessment insofar as he speaks for the notoriously anti-Israel United Nations. We might discuss the accuracy of that characterization, but it is likely that many Israelis and Americans view the U.N. in just those terms. But the ICRC is - as I've noted here before - notoriously averse to public statements, let alone anything that might resemble political criticism. Perhaps Ms. Livni will retract her earlier assertion?

From my perspective it seems both true and almost beside the point to stress the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The population there surely should be spared further terror and suffering. But focusing on humanitarian issues means shifting the terms of debate. It means focusing on symptoms instead of on the underlying political crisis. The Israelis should withdraw and desist because their actions are politically unjustified and politically damaging to their own interests.
* Ha'aretz; ** AP; *** BBC.

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Blogger Public Squalor said...

Jeez - has there ever been a war that didn't result in a humanitarian crisis?

And you are right that the political dimensions of this conflict must not be obfuscated. A ceasefire is a necessary first step but there needs to be a legitimate political solution. And I don't think that's possible as long as the U.S. maintains its partisan support of Israel.

peace -

06 January, 2009 18:50  

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