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18 Jan, 2009

Israel’s hypocritical might-is-right strategy doomed to fail

Originally Published: 18 Jan 2009

How many times have we heard this line: “There is no justification for killing of innocent civilians”?

The centrepiece of the “war on terror”, this well-known response is invoked each time an act of violence is allegedly committed by “Islamic terrorists.”

Now, it appears that there IS a justification for killing of innocent civilians – as long as it is Israelis who are doing the killing, supported as usual by the governments of the United States, several European countries and, sad to say, a number of Arab governments, too.

Claiming this justification is a dangerous and losing proposition. The vicious Israeli attacks on Gaza – called “genocide” by the UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann — have set the stage for more violence for years, if not decades, to come.

Although the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza is justified and defended daily on the TV news by Israeli government spokespersons, it was best placed in a broader context by the Jewish-American columnist Thomas Friedman in the New York Times on January 14, 2009.

In a column headlined “Israel’s goals in Gaza,” he described it as being part of an “education” for Hamas, similar to the “we will teach them a lesson” strategy used against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. I quote from Mr Friedman’s column:

“Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its air force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large.

“It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians to restrain Hezbollah in the future.”

After the guns fell silent, Mr Friedman wrote, Lebanese civilians turned on Hezbollah and asked: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what?”

Said Mr Friedman, “That was the education of Hezbollah. Has Israel seen its last conflict with Hezbollah? I doubt it. But Hezbollah, which has done nothing for Hamas, will think three times next time.”

Mr Friedman said that in Gaza he “still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to ‘educate’ Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population.

“If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.”

As Mr Friedman has couched this conflict in pedantic and scholarly terms, here’s a question: “Which teacher will assert that the best way of getting an errant student to behave better/study harder is by beating him/her?”

Once condoned and applauded, corporal punishment has been banned in schools because it is not an effective way of either furthering an education or “teaching a lesson”. It may yield a temporary fix but invariably leads to psychological wounds which open up later in life.

In the Middle East, as well as other global hot-spots covering all colours, castes and creeds, conflicting parties are caught in a vicious cycle of trying to teach each other a lesson.

As the most militarily powerful state in the Middle East, the Israelis feel their ability to “educate Hamas” should not be underestimated. The rationale is that if “nonstate actors” continue to kill innocent Israeli civilians, Israel has every right to retaliate by killing a hundred times more innocent Palestinian civilians.

Effectively, the state actor is telling the nonstate actor, “I will do unto you what I do not wish done unto me.”

As both a policy and a strategy, this might-is-right license to kill is proving to be an utter failure and increasingly anachronistic.

Even a horse-trainer knows that you don’t teach the animal to follow orders by kicking it. The animal will not only not learn the lesson, but it may well kick back.

And if the animal happens to be a tiger being trained for a circus performance, the trainer had better watch out.

Today, the world is watching the world’s fourth largest military power vent the fury and frustrations caused by its deep-rooted psychological insecurities and schizophrenic paranoia on an essentially defenceless population, and then seek to justify it.

This effort to “educate Hamas” is playing out on TV screens worldwide, leaving millions with indelible impressions in their minds and a burning desire to make the educational process a two-way street.

In the United States, millions of gullible Americans are again being lied to, and again believing the lies, just like they did the lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which also led to hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths.

During the Vietnam war era, such TV images helped distinguish lies from facts and brought about an end to conflicts. Today, they help perpetuate it.

Have world leaders learned any lessons at all? How many more innocent lives need to be lost before they do?

A small glimmer of hope may lie in the fact that thousands of Jews are distancing themselves from the education strategies of the Israelis.

An Associated Press report on 15 January quoted the Jewish British MP Michael Kaufman as declaring: “The present Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt from Gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians.”

Kaufman, a frequent critic of Israel who was raised as an Orthodox Jew, was quoted as commenting on the claim that large numbers of the Palestinian victims were militants. “I suppose the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants,” he said.

“My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town…. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed. My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza,” the MP was quoted as saying.

Mr Kaufman learned the real lesson of the Holocaust.

Innocent civilians are innocent civilians, regardless of which side they are on. Two wrongs do not make a right. If supposedly responsible state actors claim to be justified in slaughtering innocents, they can hardly deny the right to non-state actors seeking freedom from occupation.

That’s when the rule of law ends, and anarchy begins.