Thursday, January 8, 2009

Drick Boyd: "The Need for a New Paradigm" (on Palestine and Israel)

From Drick Boyd's Blog:


Upon receiving the letter from Adam Beach that I posted below, a colleague at Eastern who had received the same email, posted a response that simply supplied a link to “another perspective” on the issue. The link (below) was to an article by syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

As I read the article I was convinced again of the futility of trying to say who is right or wrong, whose justified or not. While most seem to want to polarize the issue as , I consider myself anti-war, pro-Palestinian, and pro-Israel, which in fact means I advocate a radically new paradigm for addressing the ongoing conflict there.

In his article Krauthammer states that the “moral clarity [of the Israel- Gaza war is] not only rare but excruciating.” He states that Israel is “morally scrupulous” about contacting Palestinians and telling them they are going to attack them, while Hamas “unscrupulously” positions its rocket launchers in civilian targets such as schools and hospitals. He says that Hamas has fired 6.664 rockets in the last three years, whereas Israel has fired fewer, though more accurate weapons. He claims that Hamas uses civilian noncombatant deaths and injuries as part of their strategy, going so far as to say, “For Hamas the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians.” He points out that from an early age Palestinian children are taught in schools to believe that Israel as a nation must be eliminated, and that Hamas has a deliberate strategy of ongoing disruption and conflict. Furthermore, when Gaza was granted sovereignty and Hamas was elected to govern they did not begin building roads, schools and other infrastructure, but instead “devoted all their resources to turning it into a terror base -- importing weapons, training terrorists, building tunnels with which to kidnap Israelis on the other side. And of course firing rockets unceasingly.” By contrast in his view all Israel wants is “a sustainable and enduring ceasefire….If this fighting ends with anything less than that, Israel will have lost again.”

Krauthammer’s analysis and perspective has much to commend it. There is no doubt that Hamas has provoked this attack by its unrelenting attacks on Israel, and is morally culpable in the deaths of its own citizens. Furthermore, he may be correct in saying that Israel’s goal is “peace” and a ceasefire. Yet his analysis seems to ignore two important pieces of context.

First, Israel’s power and military strength completely dwarf Hamas. Furthermore, Israel’s policy of continual degradation of the Palestinian people has invited this response. The building of the wall, the cutting off of economic opportunity, and now the limiting of humanitarian aid to the region only cause the innocent to suffer more. Furthermore, their objective is not to “get even” but to obliterate the Palestinians; not just Hamas, but the whole region, hammering it into submission. Their tactics only fuel the very fire they seek to quell.

Second, while Hamas may be the enemy on the ground, they are not the real enemy; the real enemies are Syria and Iran who fund and fuel Hamas’ activities. For obvious reasons Israel does not want to directly take on those two nations (nor they Israel), and instead Israel obliterates Iran’s and Syria’s proxies, the Palestinian people. Though Israel recognizes this disparity, it seems to place its emphasis on oppressing the Palestinians rather than dealing with the root of the problem in its relations with Syria and Iran.

To say that Israel is morally scrupulous because it forewarns its victims, is to say the bully is justified in hammering the 90 pound weakling because he told him he was going to beat him up before he did it. Furthermore, having the right to defend oneself (which I affirm) does not therefore give one the right to kill innocent citizens (which I don’t affirm). The issue is not dead Jews vs. dead Palestinians; it is dead human beings, whose blood runs red no matter who fires the shots or who is killed. In its attempts to defend itself, Israel has contributed along with Hamas to causing untold suffering on innocent people. They have not tried to appeal to those innocent people, but have simply counted them as “collateral damage.”

Contrary to Krauthammer, I do not think there is any moral clarity on either side of this conflict. As long as both Hamas (& Syria and Iran) and Israel use violence as a means to peace (an oxymoron that most of the world’s governments have failed to understand), not only will the war continue, but also the innocent will bear the brunt of suffering. In that scenario no side can claim any moral high ground.

Krauthammer’s analysis only highlights the need for a new approach, one that (1) seeks to protect the innocent victims of war and oppression, and that (2) is willing to avoid the easy polarities and finger pointing and instead and call all responsible parties to account. Because of the vested interests of the governments involved, including our own, I don’t see this new approach coming from the politicians or even the United Nations. It will need to come from a counter community of international peacemakers, which alone has the moral authority to speak for justice and peace in such a morally vacuous situation. At this point all sides are operating solely out of a defensive and self-interested posture (as Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us nations can and must do), and so morals may seem like a luxury the combatants are neither interested in nor can afford to consider. However in the end morality is not a luxury, but rather is the very essence of what is needed if there is to any semblance of peace in the region.


Joshua Lore said...

Dear Michael,
I recently shared this with Adam after reading Krauthammer's "view," and I want to share it with you as well since you've taken time to focus on it. I want to provide a missing piece of information that in absence, distorts reality into the sort of thing that was portrayed at the beginning of Mister Krauthammer's article. This may not directly add to the point you're making here, but it's important to be mentioned following an assertion that the article made regarding these "phone calls to forewarn citizens and militants," and the moral scrupulousness that they supposedly reflect.

Recent commentary on CNN (of all places): "According to CNN, Israel is employing psychological tactics against Hamas by sending recorded phone calls to Gazans saying ""Urgent message, warning to the citizens of Gaza: Hamas is using you as human shields. Do not listen to them. Hamas has abandoned you and are hiding in their shelters", or dropping leaflets reading "that the IDF will continue using full force against Hamas. Hamas is your enemy."

A recent article on CNN quoted a statement by an IDF spokesperson discussing these "psychological tactics," stating that they were developed over recent months in the event of a war in the occupied strip, designed to turn Gazans against the militant group, and to isolate them.

I don't provide this to turn the balance of the material back toward a "pro-palestine" position. The distortion of solid, admitted facts in Krauthammer's article however, obfuscate the insufferable absence of any sort of moral scrupulousness regarding a very ugly facet of this recent course of events.

You may even be aware of this, but unfortunately that particular article is too convincing, based on a virile lie, to those who don't. It doesn't benefit Israeli's any more than it does Palestinians.

Thanks for your attention and bringing up the important points you have here though, Michael. Necessary words.


Joshua Lore said...

Another of the phone messages showing this scupulous concern for Gazans that I meant to include says, "The military also has other means to deal with Hamas. If we use them, the cost will be very painful for you." You of course being the person getting the call.

Michael Serra said...


I'd like to post your comments if you don't mind, as an addendum to Drick Boyd's...

This is all very terrifying indeed. Thank you for keeping me posted.

- Michael