Friday, July 11, 2014

About Those Rockets | #Gaza

Here is a familiar-sounding reply to this week's complaints about the carnage in Gaza: "Well, if people wouldn't fire ROCKETS at Israel, none of those strikes would have been carried out, and people would not have died. And hey, what would YOU do if the people who lived across the border were firing rockets at YOU?" 

I call this "The Response." You hear it a lot it in the US from supporters of Israel. It has many variations, but the variations always hit the main points: "They started it; that's what happens when you start something; what the hell would you do in our situation?" The Response seems powerful. It tends to end discussions, which is, I think, why it's been popular for a long time.

For years, I bought it. Now I don't, and I wrote this article to tell you why. Once you look at The Response closely enough, you realize that there are at least three points at which it collapses under its own weight. 

The first level at which The Response fails is moral. Civilized governments don't bomb densely populated civilian centers. Period. Kids die when you do that. And make no mistake, that's what Israel is doing now: killing kids

What is happening in Gaza is, first and foremost, a moral failure.
If we in the USA object when a bunch of trigger-happy Chicago gang members kill kids (and we do object to that), perhaps we should also object when a country that receives $3 billion in aid from us, every single year, kills kids in far greater numbers. 

Of course, those gang members in Chicago might insist, with the tone of righteousness favored by thugs the world over, that they have various important scores to settle. 

No matter how intense their emotions become, though, nothing will justify them killing kids. There's no way to do that in a morally right manner.

By the same token, the pursuit of a military policy imposing collective punishment on 1.7 million civilians -- for failed rocket attacks, for kidnappings, for unsolved murder cases, or for anything else the PR experts choose to promote as a justification -- places Israel beyond any known realm of civilized behavior. You cannot target civilian populations in a morally acceptable manner.

The second level at which The Response fails is logical. Before I get into this one, let me be quite clear: I don't like rockets being launched at Israeli targets. Clearly the Israelis don't like it, either. 

I didn't preside over the circumstances that gave birth to Hamas, however, and Israel did. 

So. Asking me how I would feel if South Carolinians were firing rockets at me would only be relevant if I had ejected a million and a half North Carolinians from their homes ... and then established the world's largest open-air prison for them across the border in South Carolina. Which I didn't. The two situations aren't remotely equivalent, and we shouldn't compare them. 

Stop asking me that question, please. 

The third level at which The Response fails is causal. The Response assumes a world in which the causal chain always begins with someone firing a rocket, or otherwise acting aggressively toward, Israel. 

This is not the world in which any of us live. 

Consider: If you happened to live in the United States during the period when a major race riot was underway -- Detroit in 1967, say -- and you were asked by a newscaster what you thought about the chaos that had descended in the city, what would you say? Well, you might choose to declare solemnly that the black rioters who burned buildings and looted stores during those riots were breaking the law. 

"Burning buildings and looting stores is illegal," you might intone. "Burning buildings and looting stores is illegal. Burning buildings and looting stores is illegal." Your little mantra would be correct, but you would have accomplished nothing by repeating it. 

The reality of Detroit in 1967 was such that important things happened before people started burning buildings and looting stores. A deeper conversation than the one you offered by saying "Burning buildings and looting stores is illegal" would be in order. 

In fact, that deeper conversation would be important to everyone's survival, including yours. If you were to attempt to fast-forward over that conversation indefinitely, if you were to pretend for years or even decades that the whole problem began with people burning buildings and looting stores, you would eventually find yourself on the wrong side of history. And things would probably get ugly for you.

The bottom line. The dominant assumption in my country, as long as I've been alive, has always been that we would support Israel, financially, diplomatically, and militarily, no matter what. I believe The Response had a lot to do with that assumption. It stopped everyone cold for a long time. 

At some point, though, and perhaps sooner than leaders in Israel believe, Americans are going to begin questioning The Response, just as I have. 

Inevitably, some of them are going to lend their support to the rapidly accelerating campaign to boycott, divest from, and place sanctions upon, anything and everything having to do with Israel -- at least until Israel cleans up its act.