Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dogs of war and men of hate, With no cause, we don't discriminate

(The Dogs of War-Pink Floyd)

I clearly remember the 6 Day War of 1967, it was quite scary. And I remember hearing about the Suez Canal crisis in 1956; I was only 6, but it was on the news every night.

History in the Middle East is complicated, especially by empire-building western nations. England, France, and the US have all made changes in the region which have reverberated for years, and causing consequences many years later. If you don't believe that, ask the Iranians about Mohammed Mossadegh.

I was hitch-hiking through Europe in the summer of '72, and spent a few weeks in a campground in Amsterdam. We (ex-wife & I) had been planning to go to Israel and work on a Kibbutz. That never happened. But I remember talking with a Canadian fellow who had just come back from Israel. His words stick with me today:
Imagine a country where every one of its neighbors hates them.

Clearly that's not a great political imperative or analysis; the same might be said for many countries on earth. But in light of the recent attack on Gaza, it resonates a bit.

Liberals have a natural inclination to defend the underdog in most fights. Israel at one time was clearly an underdog. The foundation of the country was questionable, but it happened, so we move on. And Egypt and other Arab countries have struck out at Israel many times. The animosity is evident, and sad.

But in this latest case, where the brutal blockade and repression of Gazans has been condemned by many, Israel has overstepped its legitimacy:
Numerous world leaders have called for a cessation of the violence, but so far there has been little indication that peace might be at hand. France has called for a meeting of the foreign ministers of EU member states in Paris on Tuesday evening to discuss the situation. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the phone Monday evening and pushed for an immediate cessation of hostilities. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the blame for the violence lies squarely with Hamas.

Juan Cole has probably the most definitive and even-handed analysis at Informed Consent. On the parity of the Israeli attack:

Israel blames Hamas for primitive homemade rocket attacks on the nearby Israeli city of Sederot. In 2001-2008, these rockets killed about 15 Israelis and injured 433, and they have damaged property. In the same period, Gazan mortar attacks on Israel have killed 8 Israelis.

Since the Second Intifada broke out in 2000, Israelis have killed nearly 5000 Palestinians, nearly a thousand of them minors. Since fall of 2007, Israel has kept the 1.5 million Gazans under a blockade, interdicting food, fuel and medical supplies to one degree or another. Wreaking collective punishment on civilian populations such as hospital patients denied needed electricity is a crime of war.

The Israelis on Saturday killed 5% of all the Palestinians they have killed since the beginning of 2001! 230 people were slaughtered in a day, over 70 of them innocent civilians. In contrast, from the ceasefire Hamas announced in June, 2008 until Saturday, no Israelis had been killed by Hamas. The infliction of this sort of death toll is known in the law of war as a disproportionate response, and it is a war crime.

And on the current irrational actions by Right-wing leaders in Israel:
The Israeli government appears to have rejected international calls for a 48-hour truce to allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza. Lack of electricity, fuel, medicine and even food is threatening to create an even deep crisis there than during the Israeli blockade that has been in force off and on for the past year.

In fact, an Israeli ship rammed a vessel attempting to deliver medical supplies to Gaza, severely damaging it and endangering the passengers, who included Karl Penhaul of CNN and former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. The boat, which was in international waters, could easily have sunk.

The fable of David & Goliath seems to have been perverted. Instead of being the modern incarnation of David, Israel seems to be acting like Goliath. Hopefully another David won't use his sling against them.