Friday, August 8, 2014

Israel and Palestine - Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

So, I want to address a very specific argument I am seeing a lot of from the side supporting Israel's actions in Gaza. It's the 'human shield' justification, which says that since Hamas is hiding behind civilians, using civilian facilities, etc; Israel is justified in attacking civilian targets, and not responsible for the civilian deaths. Those deaths are on Hamas.

Now, I have heard counterarguments against these allegations that Hamas is using human shields, including evidence that Israel is fabricating evidence to that effect. There is the claim that Gaza is so population dense, that the people have nowhere to go. And there is the whole question of whether or not someone should have the right to order someone else out of their own home so they can drop a bomb on it. But, the pro-Israel side will no doubt have counterarguments to these counterarguments, and trying to sort out the fact from fiction in the midst of all the propaganda is a massive and knotty task. Inevitably, both sides present their 'evidence', reject or explain away the others' evidence, and end up in a stalemate of butthurt.

Therefore, for the purpose of this discussion, we are going to make some assumptions for the sake of argument. I am not implying that any of these assumptions are actually true or false. I simply want to isolate the human shield argument and judge it by its own merits, without getting distracted by extra variables. So, for this article, we will assume:

1. That the State of Israel is legitimate in every way, has the right to exist where it is, and has the right to defend itself when attacked.

2. That Hamas is a real threat, its activities pose a significant danger to the civilian population of Israel, and Israel is completely justified in defending itself against that threat with deadly force.

3. That Hamas is, in fact, using human shields purposefully, storing weapons in civilian buildings, hiding behind women and children, and forcing or tricking people to remain in areas that are going to be bombed, for the purpose of producing dead Palestinians that can be used as propaganda.

So then, assuming all of the above is true – if you are Israel, what do you do?

Let's start with an analogy. If you are in your home, and there are crowds of people on the street outside your house, and someone in the crowd starts firing gunshots into your window (and there are no police that can be called), what do you do? Well, what you don't do is pick up an automatic weapon and start firing into the crowd. It doesn't matter if the shooter is purposefully hiding in the crowd and using them as a shield. Your right not to be assaulted does not trump the rights of the people in the crowd not to be assaulted, and neither do theirs trump yours. You are equal, and writing them off as collateral damage does not magically change this, or justify taking their lives.

"Well, warn them to disperse first!" someone will say. After all, Israel is supposedly warning the Palestinians to get out of an area before bombing them. Forget that this would, of course, give the shooter time to disperse too. But now, let's say that this crowd is actually in a fenced area. Their small neighborhood has been boxed in from all sides by a tall electric fence topped with barbed wire, and they have no way out. Nevermind that you built the fence and guard the only exit, that's not important. Thanks to this fence, though, the crowd has nowhere to disperse to. They can shuffle a bit, and maybe leave you a few empty holes to fire your automatic rifle down. But if you start sweeping side to side, they have nowhere to go.

"The crowd should just turn in the shooter! They know who it is, they should grab him and hand him over!" Except for, you know, the shooter has a gun and all. Remember that the crowd has been living with this shooter in their midst for a while now. They are scared of him. They don't want to get shot, either by you or him. They are afraid to criticize him, lest he retaliate against them. He's got friends, after all, and their little gang is rather rough. The crowd is caught in the middle, scared of both sides, with nowhere to run to, and no way to defend themselves against either one. And, for some reason, they don't entirely trust you either.

That is, they are hostages, and essentially being held hostage by both sides of the conflict. Coming to this realization should start shedding some light of perspective on the situation. Because in a hostage situation, great care is usually given to protect the lives of the hostages while taking down the hostage-taker, even if the hostage-taker is hostile and aggressive.

So, what should Israel do? If this is a hostage situation, and they are partly responsible for keeping those hostages, step 1 would be to release those hostages. The absolute first step in dealing with Hamas should be the immediate end of the Apartheid against the Palestinians. Open the fences and let them out. Give them back the freedom to move and live where they choose. Let relief and supplies in. That would be a great start.

But then, you still have to deal with Hamas, and if you release the Palestinians then you let Hamas out as well to tromp through Israel causing havoc. This is an inky problem, but so is any hostage situation. Going after them must be handled with care, just like you would when dealing with a criminal who has taken hostages. I can't give a detailed step-by-step guide on how to do so, but I'm sure there are plenty of hostage negotiation experts and tactical experts who could. Hamas could be hunted down and systematically eliminated in such a way that minimized civilian casualties, despite their human shields, with a bit of patience and tactical forethought. You cannot convince me that the mighty IDF would have any problem doing this.

Would there be mishaps, perhaps a stray Israeli bullet here or there that might claim a civilian life? Probably. Mishaps do happen in difficult situations like this, even when the utmost care is given. It's not okay, but it is a far cry better than dropping bombs on a civilian populated area. And when you value the lives of those civilians, view them as hostages to a militant organization, and make preserving their lives and dignity as much a part of your mission as protecting your own people, then you will make every possible effort to prevent civilian casualties. And, in a war zone, that is often the most and the least that we can ask.

In short, the human shield argument, even if it's valid, does not justify the bombing of populated civilian areas like we are seeing in Gaza. It doesn't justify over a thousand civilians killed since the beginning of the attack, including many women and children. These are real people, individuals with names, faces, family, friends, hopes, and dreams. Now they are dead. I've said before, and I will say again, that I fully support the right of the people of Israel to live in the land peacefully, and I fully support their right to defend themselves if attacked. But I cannot support what the State of Israel is doing now, or its continued Apartheid against the Palestinians, who also have those same rights. There is no way to justify it.

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