Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gaza (updated)

Israel has crossed the line again.  Yes, every nation has a right to defend itself.  But the IDF's raining down of death upon an occupied people, besides being a blatant violation of the Geneva conventions and plenty of other international laws, is about as  effective a form of self-defense as the death rained on Sderot by Hamas on a much smaller scale.  There is a precedent for this brutal foolishness:  the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which only strengthened Hezbollah, by most accounts.  

Yet, there seem to be few options for reversing events in any permanent way.  The Palestinians have a right to resist, including by force, of course.   However, while miring down an Israeli ground invasion (should it come) with street fighting might end this particular assault, it won't stop future bombing raids.   If anything, it will just lock in a new pattern. Hamas will be practically bound to go on the offensive, as will, in turn, Israel and so on.

Appealing to Israel can only go so far, too---the country tuned out world public opinion long ago.  And now, in particular, it has turned inward, into its own politics, with an extraordinary degree of self-reflection and courage in some instances, but inward nonetheless.  Indeed, one explanation for the carnage of the last few days is the need of Olmert-Livni-Barak triumvirate to look tough before the upcoming Israeli elections (see Jonathan Cook's detailed analysis at Electronic Intifada).  

At the risk of sounding American-centric, peace with justice has to start in the United States. As Israel's main ally, America has the most leverage over Israel and, equally importantly, as the country furthest out of sync with the rest of the world on the Middle East conflict, it has the most room to grow---grow in its understanding of the situation, grow in its engagement, and grow in its generosity of heart.

Citing polls showing that an overwhelming majority of Americans already "favor taking neither side," Salon's Glenn Greenwald bemoans the fact that "no mainstream politician would dare express the view that 70 percent of Americans support."  Greenwald goes on:
Americans shouldn't be in the position of endlessly debating Israel's security situation and its endless religious and territorial conflicts with its neighbors.  That should be for Israeli citizens to do, not for Americans.  But that distinction -- between the U.S. and Israel -- barely exists because our political leaders have all but eliminated it, and have thus imposed on U.S. citizens responsibility for the acts of Israel.
But this is simplifying things.  There's a massive wellspring of support for Israel in the States at a popular level, whether it is reflected in a given poll or not.  Tracing images of Israel in American political discourse back to the early, post-revolutionary period (when, of course, Israel did not even exist as a state), Walter Russell Meade recently wrote in Foreign Affairs:
Both religious and nonreligious Americans have looked to the Hebrew Scriptures for an example of a people set apart by their mission and called to a world-changing destiny.... 
This mythic understanding of the United States' nature and destiny is one of the most powerful and enduring elements in American culture and thought. As the ancient Hebrews did, many Americans today believe that they bear a revelation that is ultimately not just for them but also for the whole world; they have often considered themselves God's new Israel. One of the many consequences of this presumed kinship is that many Americans think it is both right and proper for one chosen people to support another....
The United States and Israel also have in common their status as "settler states" -- countries formed by peoples who came to control their current lands after displacing the original populations.....
In the United States, a pro-Israel foreign policy does not represent the triumph of a small lobby over the public will. It represents the power of public opinion to shape foreign policy in the face of concerns by foreign policy professionals.
If we are to force Israel back from abusing its outsized military power and, ultimately, from its own self-destruction, we have to start among American citizens, not fighting AIPAC or persuading Harry Reid... or even Barack Obama.  

UPDATE: Haaretz has a good piece on rivalries within the Israeli leadership in regards to the atrocities of the past few days.

UPDATE II: Check out the Wikipedia entry for the Fourth Geneva Convention, which concerns treatment of occupied civilians.

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