Thursday, July 20, 2006


Walzer on Israel, Lebanon, Palestine

Via Norm I came across Michael Walzer's piece in The New Republic. I wasn't too surprised to find that it was rather soft on Israel and its assaults upon Lebanon and Gaza. Still, having recently read and enjoyed Just and Unjust Wars, I think Walzer deserves to get a hearing. And he does describe the attacks on power stations in Gaza and Lebanon as "an attack on civilian society".

Nonetheless, though I dislike both the title and practice of "fisking" (the former is too dismissive of Robert Fisk and the latter is usually fairly small-minded, not-as-clever-as-it-thinks-it-is stuff), I've given Walzer's article a bit of a going over, while trying to avoid excessive sarcasm, context shaving, unfairness etc.

Indented bits are Walzer, the rest isn't:

since Hamas and Hezbollah describe the captures as legitimate military operations--acts of war--they can hardly claim that further acts of war, in response, are illegitimate.

True enough - but nor can attacks on the Israeli military be seen as illegitimate, or terrorist. Yet the capture of an Israeli soldier is described as such by the IDF, and the UN proposes a solution based on the release of captured Israeli soldiers without any equivalent move (unless you count giving the Palestinians back the kidnapped quarter of their legislature) on the part of the Israelis.
The further acts have to be proportional, but Israel's goal is to prevent future raids, as well as to rescue the soldiers, so proportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do.

Really? So Israel's inflicting of hundreds of civilian casualties on Lebanon is proportionate "collateral damage" for an operation in response to a tiny fraction of that figure (counting civilian and military victims) being inflicted upon Israel because, for example, Hamas and Hezbollah say they want to destroy the Israeli state, something they have no prospect at all of achieving?
no state can tolerate random rocket attacks on its cities and towns. Some 700 rockets have been fired from northern Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal a year ago...It doesn't matter that, so far, the Gazan rockets have done minimal damage

A UN report issued yesterday said the Israeli Army has carried out 168 airstrikes and fired more than 600 shells into Gaza, while Palestinian militants have fired 177 rockets toward Israel.
The report said 100 Palestinians have been killed since the Gaza offensive began, not counting the 13 yesterday.
(Via Lenin).

Israel has waited a long time for the Palestinian deal with the rocket fire from Gaza

Walzer might have mentioned that Sharon's government gutted the capacity of the PA to do very much at all.

In the past, I am sure, some Palestinian attacks were motivated by the experience of occupation.

How very generous!

But that isn't true today. Hamas is attacking after the Israelis departed Gaza and after the formation of a government that is (or was until the attacks) committed to a large withdrawal from the West Bank.

As I understand it, Hamas, was not behind the rocket attacks from Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal, so Walzer must be referring to the tunnel attack that killed several Israeli soldiers and captured another, Gilad Shalit. Israel, Walzer says, had "departed Gaza" - hence this attack can't possibly have had anything to do with "the experience of occupation". Well, as Gideon Levy wrote in this bracing howl of righteousness in Ha'aretz: "It's no accident that nobody mentions the day before the attack on the Kerem Shalom fort, when the IDF kidnapped two civilians, a doctor and his brother, from their home in Gaza." (See reports by Reuters, carried at the Turkish Daily News, and the BBC.) *

In any case, if the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are part of one nation ("Palestine") then it can hardly be said that Gazans are unaffected by the ongoing occupation of the West Bank. They are Palestinians, and part of their country is still occupied.

Similarly, Hezbollah's attacks came after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The aim of these militants is not to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel; it is to destroy Israel.

Here Walzer claims to know more than he possibly can. We don't know to what extent Hezbollah's attack was inspired by solidarity with the besieged and terrorised Gazans, and to what extent it was a (Syrian?) power-play in Lebanese and regional politics. Given both these possibilities (and the possibility of mixed motives), it seems very, very badly reductive to just arbitrarily attribute it to a presumably permanent and total desire to "destroy Israel".

Admittedly, that is a long-term aim that derives from a religious view of history. Secularists and pragmatists have a lot of trouble acknowledging such a view, let alone understanding it.

And some apologists for Israel have a lot of trouble acknowledging that "the destruction of the state of Israel" remains (thankfully) a very abstract threat, certainly compared to the destruction of (as in, "denial of existence to") the Palestinian state, not to mention of Lebanon.

the Israeli response has only a short-term aim: to stop the attacks across its borders.

Only a short term aim - to inflict a "very, very, very painful" toll, "setting Lebanon back 20 years", and thus to "change the rules of the game". Here, Walzer again claims to know rather more than he can, and possibly less than he should. Again, his epistemological extravagance cuts Israel's way.

(See also Chris Bertram's criticism.)

*This underreported story was mentioned by Noam Chomsky in that same interview. Knowing Chomsky was very good about responding to emails, I asked him for sources, which he duly gave. He didn't mention the BBC report though, which I got from the comments at that Chris Bertram post.)

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