Sunday, June 11, 2006

Reflections on Friday

The remains of a Qassam rocket that landed in
Sderot (Kobi Gideon/Baubau in Ha'aretz)

On Sunday, two days after the tragedy on the Gaza beach, a number of Ha'aretz columnists reflected on the event. None of their reflections were particularly surprising, though this does not invalidate them. The prophetic voice of Gideon Levy rang most scathingly against the actions of the Israeli army. According to Levy,
The events of this past weekend should not come as a surprise to anyone: The deterioration has been going on for weeks, and the question that should be asked is not what Israel is doing to counter the Qassams, but what it is not doing. An army that fires missiles at busy streets and tank shells at a beach cannot claim there was no intent to harm innocent civilians.
Levy has consistently deplored the cheapening of human life over the past five years, as he railed against the Israeli occupation in countless columns. In his critique, he also included another attack on the morality of the policy of "targeted assasinations." That policy, the ongoing occupation of the West Bank, the settlements, and the deaths of the civlians on the Gaza beach are all inextricably linked, for Levy.

The only thing missing from Levy's picture, of course, are the actions of Palestinian militants. Would this have happened if there had been no Qassam firing from the area of the beach? Is it not true that the Qassam-launchers have fired their rockets from civilian-populated areas at Israeli towns?

The consistent elision of the agency of the Palestinian organizations in Levy's eloquent appeals has drawn some legitimate criticism, sometimes in the form of parody. In a recent comment on Ha'aretz talkback (not a forum usually distinguished by high level of debate - though, to be fair, the Hebrew contributions are on average slightly higher than the imbecilic rantings of Ha'aretz's English readership), a reader posting as "Gideon Levy" responded to an article about a gruesome honor killing that the crime was the "result of the Israeli occupation." In Levy's defense, however, the prophet has no obligation to be balanced. He is singularly dedicated to the moral state of his people.

Bradley Burston, the Anglo columnist for Ha'aretz, also assumed the prophetic position, in a column entitled "The blood on our hands." Burston rightly deplores our (allegedly) quick ability to "disengage" from the deaths of these innocents. At the end of the day, he concludes,
We can live with it [the deaths], fundamentally, because we don't know what else to do, and because the only thing left for us to believe, is that it's wrong to negotiate.
Burston criticizes the army for holding out the option that these deaths might have been caused by a Palestinian "work-accident" (a possibility to which I also referred in my earlier post); such displacement, according to him, replaces feelings of guilt "with indignation over the world's propensity to pre-judge and condemn us." Perhaps that is true in this case. But, on the other hand, there have been cases where Palestinian militant groups blamed Israel for their own actions. We must only recall the rockets that exploded during a Hamas parade, as well as the many Palestinian victims of shooting by their own gunmen. Thus, it seems justified that the IDF wanted to complete its investigation before accepting responsibility.

Furthermore, Burston's column is ultimately an argument against unilateral action - as his use of the word "disengage" above indicates. I, too, favor negotiated settlements rather than unilateral solutions, but I would be hard-pressed to use this incident to support this position. The Qassam firing took place despite a ceasefire
; I see very little evidence that those carrying out the shooting would have felt bound by peace negotiations to stop launching rockets at Sderot.

While I mourn the loss of life along with Levy and Burston, and while I applaud their efforts to make Israelis conscious of Palestinian suffering, I am more persuaded by Ze'ev Schiff's conclusion that
Despite precise armaments, such incidents will continue to occur, so long as the war continues
And by the Ha'aretz editorial's observation that
Scaling down the counterattack on those launching the Qassams is akin to inviting [Israeli] families with children to up and leave the communities that are considered to be in danger.
As long as Palestinian militants continue their attacks, Israel is bound to act to protect its citizens, and cannot be expected to rely on goodwill, international law, or Abbas's promises to do so.


Noah Kaye said...

The way see it, it's a human tragedy and a catastrophe for Israel's image abroad. Of course, the necessity of the state to defend its citizens from rocket fire gets lost in all this -- look at the pictures! They're horrifying, and I cringe when I see them, not only because I find the idea of an entire family perishing at a picnic very sad, but because I can only imagine what plenty of decent people around the world who have no idea of what, say, the risks of living in Sderot are, will think. So to me, it's a disaster, at a time when Israel has to inflict a great deal of pain on the Palestinians to accomplish vital objectives. As for the term "massacre:" it does imply intentionality on the part of the IDF that's obviously fabricated. And that's made explicit in some of the coverage sited. But again, I'm not particularly surprised by that term. Which doesn't mean it's not worth criticizing. It's a very sad and unfortunate situation.

Amos said...

It's a tragedy that could have been avoided only if Israel had not engaged in any military action in the Gaza strip. Let's not kid ourselves; this is the ethical price of war. There is no war that does not lead to innocent people dying.

I am actually not convinced that this will be so disastrous for Israel's image abroad - I feel terrible saying this here, it seems utterly inappropriate given the far more important fact that 7 innocent people lost their lives on a beach. I think the Europeans are too busy watching the Mondial and worrying about terrorists in their own countries. Plus, again, this will sound terrible, this intifadah and the daily news from Iraq have desensitized people to violence. As for the Arab world - I think this will cause a short spike in people willing to do crazy things, and then most people will return to their slightly lower intensity hatred of Israel.

Hopefully now the IDF will again, at least for the next half-year be more careful about artillery shelling. I'm pretty sure the air strikes will continue as before, though there will be more sensitivity to "collateral damage."