Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lo Tirtsach

Writing in the Washington Post, Philip Gordon reports (via):

According to retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, the goal of the campaign is to "create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters." The message to Lebanon's elite, he said, is this: "If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land."

This certainly seems like a better explanation of some of Israel's choice of targets (a milk factory!) than any other I've heard.* At this point, information is contested, so maybe it will turn out not to be true. But let's assume for the moment that it's right.

It's hard to begin to describe how wrong this is, in so many ways.

Gordon focuses on the fact that this simply won't work. Bombing people, as history has shown many times, doesn't get them to do whatever it is you want them to do; it gets them to hate the bombers. So even if the means were moral in the abstract, they simply won't work in this context. And, as Matt Yglesias (who's been good on this issue) said recently, "War is a terrible thing. Waging it is a terrible thing to do, but sometimes a necessary thing. A misguided, counterproductive action, however, can never be necessary. A foolish war is never a just one." If the strategy won't work, then killing people in its name is pointless -- and immoral.

But, of course, the strategy is immoral in the abstract. Killing civilians -- whether directly by targeting them, or indirectly by destroying the infrastructure -- to get them to submit to your will is simply wrong. When it's done by individuals or non-state groups, we call it "terrorism". I don't see a good reason why it should be called anything else when its done by states.

Does anyone here really want to argue that terrorism is right? Okay, then.

Look: at least in the U.S., almost no one is questioning Israel's right of self-defense (although it must be done by moral means, which includes a proper regard for civilian life). Dove's Eye View linked to this very interesting exchange between MoorishGirl and the Head Heeb. In that exchange, Jonathan Edelstein (a.k.a. the Head Heeb) says that his position is that "
Israel has a just cause but is fighting unjustly." Assuming that "just cause" means essentially jus ad bellum, i.e. that it was attacked and therefore has a right to defend itself** -- I'd agree with. If Israel was going in and (narrowly, carefully) targeting Hezbollah, then I'd probably support it, with only the heavy heart that comes (or should come) with any war.

But that's not all that's happening. At a very minimum, Israel is clearly guilty of using grossly disproportionate force. But -- again, assuming the quote above is correct, and given the news about the sort of targets that Israel has been hitting (and not just a few times, which might be errors, but repeatedly) -- it seems that it is not simply killing large numbers of civilians as a byproduct of poorly-aimed fire against enemies in civilian areas. Rather, Israel is targeting Lebanese civilians, hoping to turn them against Hezbollah.

This is, as Philip Gordon points out (my word, not his), idiotic. And idiocy, as Yglesias (again, my words) points out, is immoral in and of itself, at least when it comes to waging war.

But targeting civilians is not simply idiotic. It is immoral. It is -- in a word -- terrorism. And it must be opposed -- no less when Israel does it than when Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Queada or any other group does.

As a text that conservatives are fond of quoting puts it, lo tirtsach: you shall not murder.

* Although even this doesn't explain why Israel is bombing the regular Lebanese army. As several people have pointed out (sorry, forgot where I read this), this doesn't make any kind of sense. Isn't that the army that you want to go fight Hezbollah?

** This qualification is necessary because aims can change in the course of a war, and it is possible that Israel's war, which began as an act of self-defense, has turned into sheer aggression. I don't know whether or not that's the case. But it does seem pretty clear that Israel was attacked and thus had rights of self-defense to begin with.

1 comment:

Leila Abu-Saba said...

Thanks again, Stephen. I'll link.