11 good reasons we’re all obsessed with Israel and Gaza…

Israel-2013(2)-Aerial-Jerusalem-Temple_Mount-Temple_Mount_(south_exposure)

A friend asked me what I thought of this piece in Tablet titled An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story in the World. It claims the media establishment is obsessed with Israel, suggests everyone hates the Jews, and that there are a lot of other stories we should be talking about and covering. I agree with the last.

This is a very long rebuttal to the article. The short explanation of the obsessive interest though, goes like this:

  1. Most people who buy newspapers and watch hard news are upper-middle class. Most gentiles in the UMS have friends who are Jewish, and rightly or wrongly that makes us interested. Few have Syrian or Egyptian or Iraqi or Irani friends (I do, some of them are even Jewish). Resources follow the interest of the audience, not vice-versa. The audience is interested, ergo the AP is interested. Matti’s editors told him to focus on Israel-Palestine because that’s the story that gets the clicks. When in doubt, follow the money.
  2. The Western audience is sadly not interested in tales of woe and suffering from the third-world (i.e. Asia, Africa, South America), except for brief moments when our conscience is pricked. We’ve got parochial interests, like all humans. And for whatever reason, Israel “feels closer” than the Congo or Chiapas. That’s also why we’re dumping buckets of ice-water on our heads and cutting checks to find a cure for a disease that afflicts a few thousand people a year. Meanwhile we continue on our merry lives oblivious to the 600,000 thousand a year dying of malaria and 700,000 of dysentry. They’re mostly kids, and both are easily preventable. We suck mightily. Mad props though to Bill Gates who cares about the right stuff when it comes to humanitarian causes.
  3. Most people know Wahabi clerics, ISIS, Al-Queda, Assad, Sisi or the al-Sauds don’t really care what we think about them (Hezbollah and Iran are not on this list, more about them later). The Israeli political establishment does, and it’s a two-way street. They give press conferences, they want the attention and get it. In any case there’s no debate about the others. Well, I did have one guy on my feed say “the Zionist media was misrepresenting ISIS”, but I took that to mean I’m not in an echo chamber.
  4. Some Americans are also upset about military aid to Israel and feel this makes the US complicit. In my view that’s a misunderstanding, the military aid to Israel and Egypt come as a package deal after the resolution of the Suez/Sinai crisis. It’s 4bn in payola to keep the Suez canal open for American trade vessels and the Fifth/Sixth fleets. It is difficult to stomach seeing US bombs dropped on civilians in Gaza, but all the Middle-Eastern countries have our bombs and planes and they use them, on their own people too.
  5. This is Israel-Palestine and once again, rightly or wrongly all three Middle-Eastern monotheist faiths consider the region and Jerusalem important. If everyone in the west were Buddhist or Hindu or Zoroastrian, we would be obsessed with Bengal/Bihar, Ayodhya/Hrishikesh or Iran/Turkey. But that is not the case, so we’re left with the obsession over Israel. Most people go to church every once in a while and hear stories that are set in that landscape. Their ears perk up when they hear the story in the news. Personally I think Cairo, Baghdad/Babylon, Istanbul/Constantinople and Tehran/Rey are as or more important historically and culturally. But I’m also agnostic.
  6. Some people look at Israel as the last bastion of European colonialism in Africa/Middle-East.
  7. There’s a huge discordance between the opposing views and their recollected histories of events. For what it’s worth, the “Israeli camp” hews to the account in Leon Uris’ Exodus. The “Palestinian camp” relates a different story, not as well known in the west, much of it corroborated by the New Historians (Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim etc). People end up with very strong feelings about who’s telling “the truth”.
  8. We’ve all been hearing and talking about Israel/Palestine for about 75 years. There are some huge themes involved if you live in the West. WW-2, The Holocaust, The Middle-East, The Clash of Civilizations, etc. etc. etc. These themes and the length of the conflict spark interest. It keeps flaring up every few years and for the past seven US administrations, there’s been some sort of “peace effort”. We’re all told we should be interested in this.
  9. Many of us are shocked that a country that we consider a vibrant democracy has been running a brutal occupation for 50 years and is killing hundreds of children a few miles away seemingly without much debate and when the threat appears minimal. This is disproportional. We expect that from the Assads and Sisis of the world, we don’t expect it from Israeli leaders who claim to be democratic. Yes, the US has done these things and worse, there’s no excuse except they were in the past or far-away. And we elected a president who said he’d shut those wars down (though he’s kept the drones going). Also note when the US went in to get Osama, his wives and children were left alive.
  10. Israel currently has a PM (I hope this is temporary) who evokes very strong partisan reactions in the US because he’s closely aligned with the hard right and uses American idiom (supplied conveniently by the same consultants who came up with such gems as Gingrich’s “Contract with America”). Suffice it to say, Netanyahu pushes a lot of American buttons.
  11. But really it’s because everyone seems to have an opinion on Israel-Palestine and so Duty Calls:
http://xkcd.com/386/
What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they’ll keep being wrong!

While you’re here, do take a look at the White House petition to support a single, secular state in Israel-Palestine with equal rights for all. That’s what I would like to see.

Now for the long form rebuttal:  Continue reading 11 good reasons we’re all obsessed with Israel and Gaza…

Misquoting Golda Meir

The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and The Jewish Journal ran an advertisement/letter, paid for by the Anti-Defamation League, which numerous Hollywood celebrities signed.

Unfortunately, Golda Meir was misquoted in the ad in a manner which twists the meaning of her statement. Two separate quotes were presented as one. In her oral autobiography “A Land of Our Own”, these quotes appear on page 242, in an section titled “Plain Talk – On Peace”:

Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us. (National Press Club, Washington, 1957)

When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons. (Press conference in London, 1969)

The ADL’s ad changed the word “sons” to “children”. In addition, they combined the two separate quotes delivered on two separate occasions. This transforms the meaning of her words since Golda Meir was referring to soldiers when she said sons.

The only source for the “children” formulation is David Beiden, a right-wing Israeli blogger who in 2000 published a note claiming he heard Golda Meir use this formulation in 1972.  Golda Meir’s autobiography was published in 1973 and uses the word “sons”.

While we’re quoting her and discussing the Palestinian condition, this is what she had to say after she visited Arab Haifa right after the Nakba:

It is a dreadful thing to see the dead city. Next to the port I found children, women, the old, waiting for a way to leave. I entered the houses, there were houses where the coffee and pita bread were left on the table, and I could not avoid [thinking] that this, indeed, had been the picture in many Jewish towns [i.e., in Europe, during World War II]. (as quoted in “The birth of the Palestinian Refuge problem revisited” by Benny Morris, p.309/10)

Golda Meir recognized the Palestinian tragedy that accompanied the founding of Israel when she saw it with her own eyes. This expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes has been extensively documented by the Israeli “New Historians”(including Benny Morris, Ian Pappe, Avi Shlaim), as has the role that Israel’s leaders played in it. This tragedy continues in the form of the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

Grassroots peace: Israeli settlers and Palestinian villagers talk it out

Haaretz published a piece on West Bank settlers and Palestinian villagers reaching out to each other for dialog. To quote one of the leaders, Shaul Judelman:

Our goal here is empowering moderate voices on both sides to be able to stand with their communities and look beyond the other side as a pure enemy and see that our destiny here in some way is together.

and one of his Palestinian partners:

We want to show the children another side of the enemy. At the end of the day, they are the ones who pay the price for the conflict. They are not responsible for what the grown-ups are doing. They are just the victims of the grown-ups and their lack of responsibility. We want to encourage them to have hope for the future.

There are many more who think like this and will be able to look past the fear fomented by politicians on both sides. It’s the reason a single state solution can work and may be the best option in the long-run. Do your small bit and sign the White House petition asking Obama to make it a policy option.

Absent a move towards equal rights for all, Israel-Palestine is likely to descend into a version of Jim Crow on the Jordan. You already have two sets of laws. One for Israelis, one for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. They’re not enforced equally. This will lead to further calls of Apartheid, Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions.

The settlers quoted in the article recognize this, and they see clearly what this is doing to their own communities:

…it’s also an awareness that we’re not getting here from equal places at all and there’s a lot of work to do within both of our communities for that vision to come alive, and we both have a lot of responsibility to make a lot of change.

The settlers have become one of the most ostracized bad words in Israel. Nobody talks to us. The more our communities feel vilified, we play the role. I really see that happening.

If you truly respect the rights of Israeli Jews to settle in what they consider their ancestral homeland, you should also respect the equal-rights for Palestinians including their right to return to Jaffa or Haifa if they’re from there. That’s why the one-state solution is the only just option.

Sadly, extremism on both sides is undermining hopes for peace of any kind. Here in the US we hear a lot about Hamas terrorism, rocket attacks, kidnappings and hate. But the same sort of forces are gathering on the Israeli side as well, and you see hate crimes, mobs attacking Palestinians, arrests of anti-war protesters and callousness towards the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian children.

But that is not the whole story, and not what we should focus on if we want to see peace. These settlers recognize that as well and don’t like what it’s doing to their children:

Our children need to know that to hit an Arab because they are an Arab is the same as to hit a Jew because they are a Jew.

Part of this is because of how segregated the two populations have become. To quote one of the settlers:

I said I never thought I’d talk to a Palestinian. He said he never thought he would talk to a settler. He described to me how my kippa to his children is a symbol to be feared. I described to him how for me his village was a place you go and don’t come back. He tells me how afraid the Palestinians are of the settlers. I say: You’re afraid of me? I thought I was afraid of you.

Moderate voices who want to live in peace together deserve our support.

I’ve spent the last four years meeting Palestinians, hearing their side and learning how they see us. I realize, of course, that they hate us. They don’t believe that Israel is connected to the Jewish people. They think Israel is a colonial entity from the outside with no connection to this land. They construct a narrative of us just like we construct a narrative of them. For me it’s very important to bring people who are connected to this land to tell the story of what it means to be in the area of Bethlehem to Hebron for us. It has to be part of a dialogue.

We believe the Jewish people have a connection to the land. We believe in some sense that it’s right and proper that we’re here. But at the same time we know, or we’re coming to realize, that other people are here also, and we have to balance those conflicting truths. When you only live among your own and only know your own narrative, you are naturally very suspicious of the other who is just an intruder and just a thorn in your side and something that doesn’t belong there. But when you open up your heart and you see the other, you begin to see the truth is complex – that my truth is true, but it’s a partial truth and there’s another truth that’s also partial and I have to learn to put them together and make the larger truth. I believe we can do that.

I say amen to that. Or ameen if you prefer.

Why Doesn’t the US Support Equal Rights For All People In Israel/Palestine?

Israel_Palestine_Flag

I suspect it’s due to widespread mis-understandings and lobbying. I’ve created a White House petition, please sign it, it reads:

 

Support a single, secular state in Israel-Palestine with equal rights for all.

The Israel-Palestine “peace process” has been underway for over 40 years. Two generations of Palestinians and Israelis have come of age amid violence, occupation and still-born “peace summits”.

End this charade.

The ancient Mediterranean culture of Palestine and the followers of Judaism must find a way to inhabit the country they hold dear through dialogue as equals.

Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal rights in their native land. They deserve security, the right to live where they choose and freedom from fear.

This will come when they live together in peace and heal their wounds. When occupation, unequal laws, violence against civilians and political imprisonment ends.

As a secular, multi-cultural nation, the USA should not support any plan of partition along religious lines.

 

If you’re not convinced this is a good idea or necessary, do read and listen to the following writers. They convey the need and urgency for a single state solution more eloquently than I’ll ever be able to:

If you still want to know what I think…

The fact is that Israel-Palestine today is one state and has been for 47 years. It has one army and one government.  It is a state where fully half the population is disenfranchised and has limited or no rights.

The “two-state peace process” does not serve the interests, or secure a positive future for Israelis and Palestinians. All it does is fuel the careers of the consultants who are in the “peace process industry”. They’ve been milking this rich cow for almost 50 years, and would be happy to milk it for another 50.

Partition of Palestine was never a good idea. How did it make sense to give over half the country of Palestine to the Jewish population when they were less than a quarter of the population? What right did the Allied Powers, the UN have to do this? They took away the people’s right to determine their own future. This is why a Palestinian Muslim or Christian who was born in Haifa or Jaffa cannot return. It is an injustice.

Today, Palestinians within Israel number almost 6 million, they’re half the population. The two state “solutions” being discussed would leave them with less than 20% of the country. And that number is falling every day since Israeli state has been illegally building settlements in the West Bank for 50 years.

I have some experience with partitions. In 1947, the country I was born in (India) was partitioned (by an Allied power). My father is from Punjab, a state that had a roughly equal Muslim, Sikh and Hindu population. Each half of Punjab was ethnically cleansed and a culture centuries old torn apart.  Incidentally, the Roma/Gypsies are from this part of India and look remarkably like my family, so there’s the Holocaust connection.

The same thing happened in Israel-Palestine, though the Palestinians bore the brunt of the suffering there and still are.

India is a secular democracy with many, many minorities. They are linguistic, religious, caste based, regional. You name it, we have a minority for it (including 150 million Muslims)[1].  Pakistan was meant to be a refuge for united India’s muslims.

Of course, once you’ve asked whether everyone’ Muslim, the next question is whether everyone is the right kind of Muslim. So today, in Pakistan, which was meant to protect India’s Muslim minority, Sunnis are murdering Shia and blowing up Sufi shrines.

The same thing eventually happens to any country built along religious lines. So a “Jewish State” of Israel can look forward to divisions between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, between Orthodox and Reform, between North African Jews and Arabian peninsula Jews. That is just human nature.

This is why the country I chose as my home (USA) and thankfully, the country I was born in (India) are secular democracies. This is why it is critical to separate church from state to ensure the rights and primacy of the individual.

The only right position to have is that faith is a personal matter. The state has no role to play in it. The moment you deviate, both your religion and your state will be captured by power-hungry charlatans who want to use these powerful tools for their own ends.

In the end, I support a one state solution because I want everyone to live in a country like the USA, where all people equal under the law (though we too are still perfecting the union).

  • 1. India also had a small (in Indian terms) number of Jews who had lived in peace for centuries in India but whose ranks have been decimated by emigration. The city I grew up in, Bombay, has numerous structures named after Baghdadi Jews who migrated there. India also took in a number of Holocaust refugees.

What happened to Ben-Gurion’s Oasis in the Desert?

After reading Mark Levine’s response to Jon Voigt’s open letter, I had to write about why many people like think as Jon Voigt does, and how political trends in Israel make his views rather quaint.

Sunset in the Negev
Sunset in the Negev

A desert in bloom

There is a lot to admire in the words, and many of the deeds, of Israeli leaders in the early years. Mapai/Labor were in charge and the kibbutz movement was ascendant. Ben-Gurion’s oft-quoted dream of making the “Negev desert bloom” is what people are thinking of when they see Israel as a project to create an oasis in the desert. The residual goodwill from that period are part of the reason an earlier generation sees the whole period with rose colored glasses and that is where Voigt is coming from (and Woody Allen as well).

Ben-Gurion’s powerful image of the desert oasis suggested a barren, sparsely populated land. This is part of the reason so many people still believe that all of Palestine was populated by nomadic tribes prior to 1948. This may have been true about the Negev Bedouin, but even they alone were over a 100,000 in 1948. In comparison, the entire Jewish population in then Palestine was around 600,000.

Of course, the West Bank is not the Negev, and neither was much of the coast with its heavily populated Palestinian villages and towns. They were both parts of a thriving Mediterranean culture that had traded with and influenced the entire area for millenia. In Palestine, there was a mixed community of Muslims and Christians, along with some Jews who had lived side by side for centuries. In 1948, that community was torn asunder in what they call the Nakba. Some 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes by the Jewish militia, or fled in fear. Many of their villages were razed to the ground. It was this that moved Golda Meir to say, after a visit to Arab Haifa in 1948:

It is a dreadful thing to see the dead city. Next to the port I found children, women, the old, waiting for a way to leave. I entered the houses, there were houses where the coffee and pita bread were left on the table, and I could not avoid [thinking] that this, indeed, had been the picture in many Jewish towns [i.e., in Europe, during World War II]‘.

To come back to the desert though. The Negev Bedouin had a way of life which deserves respect. They had lived and survived on that unforgiving land for centuries. After 1948, they were forced into settlements, and thousands expelled into Jordan or Egypt. This has diminished their culture (not to mention dispossessed them of their lands). So even that ostensibly inoffensive project is more questionable than many claim. In some ways, the treatment of the Bedouin parallels our own country’s treatment of the Native American tribes living on the Great Plains.

“I have heard you intend to settle us on a reservation near the mountains. I don’t want to settle. I love to roam over the prairies. There I feel free and happy, but when we settle down we grow pale and die. A long time ago this land belonged to our fathers, but when I go up to the river I see camps of soldiers on its banks. These soldiers cut down my timber, they kill my buffalo and when I see that, my heart feels like bursting.” — Satanta, Kiowa Chief 

Continue reading What happened to Ben-Gurion’s Oasis in the Desert?

A Person’s A Person, No Matter How Small.

A Person’s A Person, No Matter How Small.

How Dr. Seuss taught me everything I need to know about Ferguson, Syria, Iraq and Gaza.

 

Tonight, I was putting my daughter to bed and reading her a book. I happened to pick up Horton Hears a Who! and it fit the news I’ve been thinking about for the past week or two. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the persecution and murder of minorities in Iraq and Syria, and the bombing of homes and towns in Gaza that caused the deaths of four hundred and thirty children and at least a thousand adult civilians.

There’s no way to improve his words, so I’ll just turn it over to Dr. Seuss.

“I’ve never heard tell

Of a small speck of dust that is able to yell.

So you know what I think?… Why I think that there must

Be someone on top of that small speck of dust!

Some sort of a creature of very small size,

Too small to be seen by an elephant’s eye

some poor little person who’s shaking with fear

That he’ll blow in the pool! He has no way to steer!

I’ll just have to save him. Because, after all,

A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

 

I can’t let my very small persons get drowned!

I’ve got to protect them. I’m bigger than they.

“Should I put this speck down?…” Horton though with alarm.

“If I do, these small persons may come to great harm.

I can’t put it down. And I won’t! After all

A person’s a person. No matter how small.”

 

“… a family, for all that we know!

A family with children just starting to grow.

So, please,” Horton said, “as a favor to me,

Try not to disturb them. Just please let them be.”

 

All that late afternoon and far into the night

That black-bottomed bird flapped his wings in fast flight,

While Horton chased after, with groans, over stones

That tattered his toenails and battered his bones,

And begged, “Please don’t harm all my little folks, who

Have as much right to live as us bigger folks do!”

 

They beat him! They mauled him! They started to haul

Him into the cage! But he managed to call

To the mayor: “Don’t give up! I believe in you all!

A person’s a person, no matter how small!

And you very small persons will not have to die

If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now and TRY!”

 

And that Yopp…

That one small, extra Yopp put it over!

Finally at last! From that speck on that clover

Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean.

And the elephant smiled. “Do you see what I mean? …

They proved they ARE persons, no matter how small.

And their whole world was saved by the Smallest of All!”

 

Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote Horton Hears a Who! after a visit to post-war Japan that changed his mind on how the US should treat Japanese reconstruction.

I wish all our kids aspire to be Hortons when they get big and the lad who said Yopp while they are little.

Henk Zanoli 91, helped save a 12 year old child from the Nazis

Yad Vashem and the Israeli government gave him a “Righteous among the Nations” medal. And then Israeli forces went ahead and killed six members of his extended family in Gaza by bombing their home.

So he gave the medal back along with this heart-breaking letter explaining his reasons. He concludes by saying:

If your state would be willing and able to transform itself along the lines of that set out above and there would still be an interest at that time in granting an honor to my family for the actions of my mother during the second world war, be sure to contact me or my descendants.

For most, this would be the appropriate moment to reflect on whether Netanyahu and Likud are alienating Israel’s best friends. But that must be because you don’t have the mindset of our friends on the right and you’re not with us on everything, so you must be against us.

This is how various newspapers are covering the story:

The Economist does a really good job of summarizing the story:

HENK ZANOLI (pictured) is a 91-year-old retired Dutch lawyer whose personal history encapsulates the reasons why the Netherlands and Israel have had such friendly relations since the foundation of the Jewish state in the wake of the second world war. Mr Zanoli’s family was, as the Dutch put it, “right in the war”—i.e. members of the resistance. In 1943, Mr Zanoli escorted an 11-year-old Jewish boy from Amsterdam, Elchanan Pinto, back to the family home in the village of Eemnes, where he and his mother Johanna hid him for the rest of the war. (His father, Henk Senior, had already been sent to a concentration camp for his resistance activities; he would die at Mauthausen.) Mr Pinto subsequently emigrated to Israel. Three years ago, the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem awarded its “Righteous Among the Nations” medal, given to non-Jews who rescued Jews from the Nazis, to Mr Zanoli and (posthumously) his mother.

On August 11th, Haaretz’s Amira Hass reports, Mr Zanoli sent Yad Vashem its medal back. Mr Zanoli’s great-niece, Angelique Eijpe, is a Dutch diplomat, deputy head of the country’s mission in Oman, and her husband, Ismail Zi’adah, is a Palestinian economist who was born in Gaza’s al-Bureij refugee camp. On July 20, the Zi’adah family house in al-Bureij was hit by an Israeli bomb, killing six members of the extended family, including the family matriarch, three of her sons, and a 12-year-old grandson. In an elegant and sorrowful letter to Israel’s ambassador in The Hague, Mr Zanoli explained that he could not in good conscience keep the Israeli medal.

Continue reading Henk Zanoli 91, helped save a 12 year old child from the Nazis

A tale of two boys shot: St. Louis and Hebron

Michael Brown , 18 was killed Saturday, in St. Louis, apparently shot by a bullet from a police officer’s gun. The FBI will investigate this as a possible civil rights violation. It is front-page news across the country.

A few hours later, Khalil Al-Anati was killed in Hebron, apparently shot by a bullet from an Israeli soldier’s gun who may have been shooting into a crowd of protesters throwing stones. The Israeli military police is investigating. The story is buried in the inner pages of the newspapers that bother to cover it.

The human rights organization B’Tselem requested inquiries for over 300 killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces between 2000 and 2011. This has resulted in 9 indictments. The vast majority of military inquiries are closed years later with no action taken and no comment on why they were closed.

Thousands of children as young as 9 have been arrested and harshly interrogated, often for no reason other than a relative of theirs is wanted.

In St. Louis there have been vigils and protests, and the entire country is riveted. Everyone is wondering whether Michael’s only mistake was being born black.

In the West Bank, hundreds attended the funeral, but there is no major protest. Perhaps because this is the 17th shooting of an unarmed civilian in the West Bank this month. This month has been particularly difficult. On average Israeli soldiers kill only one or two unarmed civilians in the West Bank. A pace has been steady for years except for the years where protests are thick. Some are killed because they stray too close to a fence, around a settlement or border with Israel. Some are killed because young Israeli soldiers in armored Hum-vees panic and shoot into or around a crowd of Palestinian teenagers throwing stones.

Maybe the Palestinians have run out of rage, because four hundred and thirty children have been killed in Gaza over the past four weeks.

Khalil Al-Anati was 12 years old. His mistake was playing outside his house while an Israeli military convoy drove past and someone else threw stones at them. Just another “human shield” meant to be smashed to smithereens.

Perhaps his real mistake was being born Palestinian.

Why Do I Criticize The Israeli Government? My Response to Sam Harris

Bombardment of Gaza

Sam Harris has a transcript of a podcast on his website titled “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel“. It’s thought-provoking and cogent, but in the end unpersuasive.

You should read or listen to Harris’s podcast in it’s entirety. What I’m going to do here is evaluate and examine many of Sam’s arguments and others you may have heard. Sam makes as good a case as you can possibly make for the Israeli government while hewing as close as possible to a secular, humanist point of view. I’ll quote liberally, but the podcast must be heard in it’s entirety for it’s full effect.

A note on philosophical inclinations towards justice. If you’re a utilitarian, the case is quite clear.  Israeli action has caused the deaths of close to 2,000 people in this latest attack on Gaza in summer 2014.  Most sources agree that 65-80% of these are civilians (the Israeli government claims over half were not civilians).  Over 400 children have been killed.  At the other end, Hamas has managed to kill over 60 Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilian and one Thai civilian in addition to damaging some buildings and setting off sirens all across Israel generally disrupting everyone’s day. Israeli forces have destroyed key infrastructure in Gaza, leaving most of the population without water or power and around 500,000 without access to their homes, a great number of which have been destroyed.  In utilitarian terms, the case is clear, the democratically elected government of Israel is by far the worse offender and it’s actions are disproportionate. Even in terms of rocket strikes, the numbers are disproportionate.  Hamas has launched a little over 2,900 rockets, the IDF has struck over 3,800 targets, often multiple times.  In some ways, it feels like heavily armed US cavalry running down entire Native American villages because they’ve attacked a white settlement.

But I am not a utilitarian in the strict sense of the word, as I suspect few of us are. In my view, for an action to be above reproach, you must utilize just means to achieve just ends. It is impossible to argue the Israeli government’s means are completely just (in this instance or in past actions), and I would say the ends are not either. Kant’s categorical imperative is that you cannot use rational beings as a means to an end. So you cannot kill 25 civilians to assassinate a single Hamas leader. Even if your goal of assassination is just.  [This in itself is questionable. Israel’s government feels differently about assassinations when its own officials are targeted. Begin started the ’82 Lebanese war over an assassination attempt (by a rogue faction of the PLO which was not in Lebanon).]

As Americans we understand all this is true, and we actually live these principles in some instances.  Bill Clinton recently said about Osama Bin Laden “I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.”  When Barack Obama finally had an opportunity to take out Osama Bin Laden, he sent 24 US commandos and support staff 200 miles from their base to do the job. They did not kill his two wives, who were shielding Osama Bin Laden when he was found.

In stark contrast, Israelis forces in the past month alone have bombed numerous homes over the past few weeks, killing hundreds of people, whole families and over a hundred children. In one instance, 17 civilian members of the Hamas police chief’s extended family were killed by a bomb targeting his aunt’s home while he was visiting it.  The demolition of homes, via bomb or bulldozer have been part of Israel’s strategy to bring “quiet” for quite some time.

A final note. This is written for an American audience. Here in the US, we get a rather bland view of Israel-Palestine relations, heavily tilted in favor of the Israeli right-wing (which has been in power for about 20 years now). If you’re reading this in Europe, you should probably stop, the pendulum has likely swung the other way in your media. If you’re in France, you should probably try to get your elected representatives to do their best to stop the mobs that are threatening Jews and destroying their property.

Continue reading Why Do I Criticize The Israeli Government? My Response to Sam Harris