Tag Archives: B’Tselem

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

Quoting Golda Meir

There’s a quote of Golda Meir’s doing the rounds in many discussions of the Israeli government’s war on Gaza.  It is regularly misquoted as:

we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our children, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their children.

Bob Schieffer used this in a ridiculous closing segment on Face the Nation, after allowing Benjamin Netanyahu to make a number of un-challenged statements about fact and motive.  Perhaps Bob Schieffer wanted to join the  rush (check any internet discussion board) to use it as a sanctimonious  justification for the many children killed in the bombing of Gaza or to validate the Israeli government’s assertion that it’s all actually Hamas’ fault (or even that of the Palestinians). It is of course, the Israeli Defense Forces who are dropping the bombs and shells on Gaza.

Of course, Bob Schieffer had the Golda Meir quote wrong. The correct quote is easy to find.  It’s on the last page of her autobiography and it’s right there on Wikiquote.  It goes like this:

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.

— Golda Meir at a Press conference in London (1969)

Sounds completely different doesn’t it?

This was said two years after Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan and Syria  in what’s known as the Six-Day war.  The Six-Day war was itself 10 years after a coordinated attack by Israel, Britian and France to take the Suez canal from Egypt (known as the Suez crisis). The Suez Crisis itself happened 10 years after the Nakba, when Israeli forces frightened perhaps two or three hundred thousand Palestinians enough that they fled their homes, sometimes at gunpoint. The Israeli state then passed laws to limit their ability to return. The Nakba happened shortly after the Second World War in which 6 million Jews and possibly 10 million other civilians were systematically murdered by the Nazis and their henchmen in addition to many millions more being dispossessed of their homes and property. Since the 1880s, Jews had been migrating to Palestine to escape European pogroms, growing anti-semitism and the Nazis. So that’s some of the context.

To come back to Golda Meir and whether or not it is right to use this quote in the current conflict.  She was not talking about bombing the homes of Palestinians who oppose Israeli occupation from F-16s flying high above them.  She was not talking about killing whole families with young children.  She was not talking about children. She was talking about sons recruited for Arab armies.  She was lamenting a dreadful waste of young men sent by older men to die for their glory and tribute.

Golda Meir was an astute politician, and she lived in a time when people did not talk about killing children.  Or make up sanctimonious justifications for it.

Continue reading Quoting Golda Meir