January 15, 2009

Ideology, Legality & Morality In Regards to Gaza

The debate about Israels action is still raging on Jewish Atheists site after quite a few days. I would like to address JDHURFs comments specifically because they, though I believe are wrong, seem to carry some sort of "authority" behind it. Specifically this post will deal with how ideology, legality and morality play a role in this situation and how one affects the other... if at all.

The thrust of JDHURF's comments imply that though Israel has a right to defend itself, the manner in which it is being done is basically a war crime. Specifically the issue of collective punishment, disproportionate attacks and blockades all of which he contends are against International Law (IL) and therefore, immoral. These are his opinions and are also share by humanitarian organizations, which all state they look at the entire situation "objectively." Question is, is there a priori ideology and does it affect how they look at the situation and how does it affect how they interpret IL. And what about morality, how does that play a role?

I think there is no doubt that underlying all of this (an anything0 is ideology. Questions like; does Israel have a right to exist? a right to the land it won? Do Arabs in general want Israel are all examples of ideological questions. Sure, the question of territories is also a legal one, but one cannot deny the ideological basis for each side in trying rationalize the law in their favor. I believe, people like JDHURF and organizations like Amnesty International, ideologically (and therefore also legally) are disgusted by the fact that Israel occupies the territories. This in effect will dictate how they look at the entire situation from now on. It will influence them in how things should be dealt with. This is an important point because now, the tilt will always be, by defintion, slanted towards the benefit of the Palestinians.

For example: How many peole remember, at various times when different humanitarian organizations criticize the check-points that Israel was using? Humiliation! Degradation! they would cry. Of course, they are right. There is a feeling of degradation that the Palestinians would feel. But, is it immoral? Well, that depends who you ask. To the Israelis, who ideology for the most part does not come from a sociology class but from years of experience will say its a necessity. Do ALL arabs kill Jews? No. But there are enough that do and more than enough that believe its a legitimate way to fight occupiers by blowing themselves up. To the humanitarian worker, its not that Israelis are not important, but its just that more sympathy, almost by default has already been shifted to the Palestinians, hence their grievances are are now more of a priority. Any consequences that might arise, must be treated separately. The fact that bombers will come in becomes irrelevant to the greater cause and all check-points (though they work) are not to be permitted. Of course, someone might respond that sticking them in cattle cars can also work to keep bombers out. To this, there is simply no reply. Actually, there is, but to such extreme examples, there is no point but to simply turn around and sigh to oneself.

Coincidentally, this is why people like XGH, Dovbear (perhaps to a lesser degree) and JDHURF SAY Israel has the right to defend itself, but can never figure out how. Their mind is simply torn by the obvious that check-points and walls and blockades work vs. their other ideology build squarely on the legal aspect (ie, Israel can defend itself, but must follow these simple rules). Hence, so far all I have heard from this is that this is just a sacrifice Israel must endure. A missile every once in a while is just the price you will have to pay for living in this region. Of course, this in of itself highly immoral. What government can allow such a thing? But they have no other response or solution. Oh ya, except to say they should talk. That always works. A good example of ideology getting in the way is this:
There could also be argued that there are “all sorts of reasons” for torture, as Alan Dershowitz argues, but that doesn’t matter, nothing justifies torture, nothing justifies collective punishment and nothing justifies the blockade of Gaza.
JDHURF thinks he is being objective here. The problem is he is not. Any reader will see a subjective stance. He believes torture is bad no matter what. He believes blockades are bad no matter what. These are clearly opinions based on his subjective values. Of course, its his right. But to cloak it in anything less than subjective and not objective as he keeps trying to say is plainly dishonest. I believe torture is permissible under certain circumstances. I can bring justification. He can believe otherwise and bring his own justification. This is pure subjectivity at its best based on two different value systems. This is not a judgmental call against him by the way.

This brings us to the legal aspect. JDHURF has been copying and pasting legal text as proof of Israel committing war crimes. There is a problem wit this. First of all, JDHURF, nor I, are International legal experts. No legal text works in some vacuum on its own. There are any number of factors that play a role. JDHURF often quotes this.

“Under international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute…A crime occurs if there is an intentional attack directed against civilians (principle of distinction) (Article 8(2)(b)(i)) or an attack is launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality) (Article 8(2)(b)(iv). Article 8(2)(b)(iv) criminalizes:
Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated”

The problem is, experts can interpret this any which way. What does it mean "excesive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated?" Who decides this? Obviously, JDHURF is interpreting it for his advantage. Someone else will interpret it for their advantage.

This website takes another approach.

Side note: On this same site, the quoted law does not say "concrete" or "direct" in it:
or an attack is launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality) (Article 8(2)(b)(iv).

So there is always interpretation that plays a role. Do I have any reason to believe that JDHURF who admitted to being a leftists, is somehow looking at this objectively without ideology getting in the way? Absolutely not. A good case scenerio is his comment here:

According to the Geneva Conventions, an invading army is responsible for caring for the sick, wounded, and hungry in the territory it controls. Israel clearly does not observe these conventions, effectively blocking the delivery of food and medicine, firing upon ambulances and preventing them from reaching the wounded, and leaving the sick and wounded under its own control to die. 

The problem with him bringing this up should be obvious. Israel does not control Gaza. It's not being re-occupied. I don't think any other country though, would call for a 'time-out' and allow for humanitarian aid to come in. But, one thing is important, it's all about ideology that he brought this quote. It's first an emotional response to innocents dying, and then looking for something to aide to bolster that ideology in legal terms. Its nothing abnormal. We all do it. So I am not convinced by the legal jargon. There is no intelligence needed to go to a website and copy & paste legal text. I mean the U.S. has also killed thousands of Iraqis and other than the fringe left (which perhaps should say something there) I don't recall seeing anyone screaming that America should be prosecuted for war crimes.

But what if hypothetically, all sides conclude, legally speaking, Israel is in the wrong? Does that automatically and objectively mean Israel is immoral? Well, if you ask JDHURF and Amnesty, they will obviously answer yes. It's not like Israel crossed a red light here. They are killing innocent people as described by IL and IL decisions of ethics are objective. As JDHURF says so politely:
Israel of course has a right to protect itself, but it must do so without breaking international human rights law, it’s very simple, it’s not one or the other: either Israel protects itself by committing war crimes or it doesn’t protect itself at all (that’s your ignorant and illusory dichotomy). 
Your argument that international law is subjective is just downright breathtaking in its idiocy.
For something to be subjective there must not be any factual arbiters, it is simply the emotional opinion of the person – preferences of taste and sound and so on – while something is objective when it is founded upon factual analysis and evidentiary reasoning. International law is not subjective in any sense, it is objective in that it is founded upon the factual analysis of specific acts and policies and their specific consequences. That you don’t understand the difference is staggering to the mind. That you argue that international law is subjective in order to render it meaningless and justify Israel’s war crimes and breaking of international law is yet further evidence of your militant extremism.
The problem is of course its subjective. What facts are you talking about here? That innocent people don't like to be killed? Well DUH!! But that is not what is being discussed here. The discussion is about parameters that were set. I am not saying IL is necessarily wrong, I am saying the parameters were laid down by human beings and could have gone in different ways. The fact that there are arbitrators does not make it objective, because they are still human beings debating as to where the parameters of war should lie. Considering acts of war have always changed in the course of human history, how on earth can someone claim its objective is beyond me. The fact that you say these parameters are objective does not make them objective. Just because you keep repeating something over and over, does not make it true. A council could have easily said, by looking at facts on the ground that blockades are illegal...UNLESS the nation that has launched the blockade has done so for defensive purposes and can legitimately show it. This is just as "objective" as anything else they said. Was the court ruling allowing same sex marriage in california objective? Of course not. It was a 4-3 victory and could have gone the other way. So even though its the law, its based on subjective reasoning of what they believe the law is referring to.

(BTW, I never knew if you think IL is subjective it automatically makes you a militant extremist. Oh well.)

But what if JDHURF is right, what then? IMO, Israel's first priority is towards its borders and citizens. The problem is, IL, according to JDHURF does not take specific things into account. Israelis for the most part have had to deal with a culture that doesn't subscribe to the exact western notion of war, ethics and values as wel do. How does IL deal with this? Well it doesn't. It can't. It's not going to have once set of rules of this culture and another for some other culture. But what happens when the way one deals with one culture won't work when dealing with another. This is why, IMO, IL does not necessarily equal morality. If Israel was dealing with a western nation, ti would fight a certain way, but here, its dealing with a culture that has taken death proudly, and killing others while dying is one of the greatest honors. Is this everyone? No of course not, but certainly it seems this culture has been taken over by this methods. So how do you deal with it? How do you deal with a government puts their civilians in harms way for a greater cause, knowing full way the consequences? I don't see it possible for Israel to fight a conventional war, dictated by IL the way JDHURF sees it and come out alive. Different cultures have different values. Some cultures are antithetical to the way we dream the world should function, and its a dream to think you can fight them in a conventional way. This by the way was the case with Japanese in WWII.

Modern sensitivities don't like to admit that some cultures want someone dead and evil lies in their ranks. Well, the world did once, thats why they were able to vanquish it. It knew what it had to do, and it did it, no matter what. Israel has to deal with this now, but once again, some people don't get this, cause its smacks of some old world notion of morality and racism and so, ideology rears its head again and Israel is wrong for having to deal with a mess that doesn't care for your rules. Israelis on the other hand see us in the western world, and rightfully so, as blind to the obvious. It is very hard for me now to beleive what JDHURF said:

Furthermore, your premise that the entire population of Gaza wants to destroy Israel is hysterical propaganda. The only statistics available on the view of Palestinians towards Israel is a majority acceptance of the two-state solution. So that is a bold-face lie on your part.

I mean, if they TRULY believed in a two state solution, and maybe they do, why on earth would you give the scepter to a group that obviously hates Israel and would rather see it destroyed? How on earth do you want me to take a statement like that on face value as truth?

So is a blockade, collective punishment illegal? Maybe, but war is always a collective punishement and not always terrorism. JDHURF believes otherwise:

As I said, although you ignored it, War in general is also very clearly different from willful collective punishment: the elementary difference between legitimate self-defense and terrorism.

Again, he is coming from his ideological perspective and from his ideological perspective, he is being totally reasonable. So there is nothing to even to respond to that. Morally speaking, Israel has to do what ever it needs against an unconventional enemy that could care less about IL. In the end, the moral responsibility of the Palestinian people lies with Hamas. It was their job to keep them safe. ( I am curious if anyone actually spends their time protesting Hamas's action with the same vigor as they do Israel's). So you can scream "war crimes all you want. It doesn't matter. Because, once again, morally, Israel needs to do what it needs to do. No wonder more than 80% of Israelis support this operation and mind you, Israel does not have 80% exteme right wing settlers. Israel cannot live with its hands tied behind her back while an enemy slaps her around and laughing knowing she can't hit back. Going by JDHURF, strict reading of how war should ALWAYS be waged, Israel would not be able to last. A good war, is one that ends decisively. Once and for all. Problem here of course is that Israel is not dealing with a uniform enemy, making it much harder. No, Israel has to deal with the hand it was dealt. But certainly, that doesn't stop those on the sideline, yelling at them as if they were dealing with a conventional force. I can guarantee you, that WWII would never have ended with this sort of mentality. Luckily for us, it didn't exist then.