Monday, November 19, 2012

Ron Smith: A kind of terrorism

I am looking at the picture on the front page of the ‘World’ section of this week’s Weekend Herald.  It shows the vapour trails of missiles departing in the direction of Israel.  Around the picture and on the following page, there is extensive reporting of the human consequences.  You fire on your adversary from amongst the buildings of your own down-town (Gaza City, in this case) and then you protest when your adversary fires back.  What sort of nonsense is this?  And the media dutifully reports on it: “Innocents pay cruel price in conflict!”

If the people of Gaza are really concerned about this loss of innocent life, they should be protesting that their militia is firing from the cover of a civilian area, and thus exposing their civilian population to harm, when the inevitable retaliation occurs.  As a matter of fact, using civilian cover for military operations in this way, is explicitly forbidden by humanitarian law.  Both Geneva Convention No IV and the Statute of the International Criminal Court refer to utilising ‘the presence of protected persons (civilians), to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations’.
Hamas could dispatch their missiles from open ground, away from human habitation. Of course, that would render them much more vulnerable, both before and after launch, which is why they don’t do it.  That is also why humanitarian law prohibits the use of civilian ‘shields’ (‘rendering military forces immune from military operation’, as above).

So why aren’t international authorities (UN, ICRC, ICC) and media commentators noting this and condemning it?  Are they afraid that they will be criticised (or worse) by supporters of the Palestinian cause?  Or, depending on who we might be talking about, is it that they are actually supporters of the ‘cause’ and wish to advance it.  But this latter is to conflate the justice of the cause, with the moral status of the means used to promote it, which, as I noted on a previous occasion (‘More on Justice and War’,16 October)  is entirely contrary to the spirit of humanitarian law.  It may be understandable at the level of emotion (or cynical advantage) but it is not morally defensible.

Once we allow the principle that the ‘better cause’, or the weaker party (or both) have a lesser obligation to humanitarian law (or no obligation at all), we will have totally lost any possibility of limiting the harm of war (and, particularly protecting the innocent), through institutional humanitarian restraint.  Belligerents do tend to believe that they are in the right and they frequently have supporters that share that belief.  Not only that, but a strong Leninist interpretation of the old aphorism that ‘ends justify the means’, is a great temptation to belligerent parties, in that it disposes of all doubts.  We should have some doubts.  We should be insisting that the parties conform to international law.

There is another way of addressing the present case and others like it, and that is to say that it is not a war at all, since wars, proper only occur between states.  What insurgents, militants, revolutionaries and terrorists do, is thus not a matter for humanitarian law.  It is simply a matter of crime.  In the specific case, it could be argued that ‘Gaza’ is not formally a ‘state’, even if the Palestinian administration, of which it is technically a part, aspires to such recognition.  It is thus not bound by humanitarian law.  This would be to introduce the serious complication of judging belligerents, on either side in a conflict, by completely different standards.  Again, this is not a desirable endpoint.  To deliberately ignore the legitimacy of the tactics of one side in a conflict, is to invite derision for the whole project of bringing an expectation of humanitarian restraint to violent conflict.

Of course, it is understood that contriving innocent casualties serves the Palestinian cause very well.  It mobilises attention and it demands sympathy.  It is, in fact, a kind of terrorism: ‘The propaganda of the deed’, as the early nineteenth century Russian theorist described it.  It also fits the United Nations formulation of the concept, which entails violence against civilians for the purpose of compelling governments to do something.  In the classic case (IRA or PLO) the terrorists target arbitrary citizens of certain states, with the intention that a general alarm causes the population to demand that their government do something.  In practice that did not work well, since the flow of sympathy was manifestly in the wrong direction.  The ‘new terrorism’ corrects this.

This explains why the authorities in Gaza are so accommodating to journalists.  It also explains the otherwise inexplicable U-tube footage of a few days ago, in which an apparent victim of an Israeli attack was carried away, only to be filmed a while later walking away, seemingly unharmed.  As the report hinted, it does remind us of the infamous ‘al Dura martyrdom’ of 2000, in which the bogus shooting of a twelve-year-old Palestinian boy was staged for the cameras. 

 None of this is to say that we should not be concerned about the continuing loss of life in Gaza.  But it is to say that we need to understand the tactics of the parties and what their objectives are.  And if we are to make moral judgements, or even imply them, we need to attempt to apply the underlying principles in an even-handed way.


Anonymous said...

What are the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict? Within hours of the historic 1948 United Nations decision to create a Jewish state, Israel was attacked without warning by six Arab nations promising to complete Hitler's work.

Despite repeated assurances from Jewish leaders that all non-combatants would remain unmolested, many Palestinian Arabs then fled to refugee camps in Lebanon and the Gaza strip, at that time part of Egypt.

They expected to return to their homes in a few days once the Arabs armies were victorious. But the unthinkable happened. The Jews won. Ever since that time, the Palestinian Arab leaders have kept their people trapped in squalid refugee camps as a political weapon.

This demonstrates Yasser Arafat's mastery of another Marxist-Leninist political tactic, "The National Question." Based on the works of Lenin, Marxist-Leninists have for decades encouraged the independence aspirations of indigenous peoples and minority groups to bring about the overthrow of the existing social order, and eventual socialist control.

Arafat's Soviet instructors soon helped him to see that world opinion could be mobilised behind his cause if the refugees became "Palestinians" rather than Arabs. By becoming "Palestinians," the Arabs succeeded in turning the Arab-Israeli conflict from a war of annihilation against the Jews into a struggle of dispossessed natives against colonialist invaders.

Brian said...

A kind of Terrorism.
The more I read and see of the actions of the United Nations, the more I realise how this organisation has been subverted and re-aligned since its inception after World War 11. That changes should occur is only to be accepted, as any such organisation would be of little use if it failed to match up to present day demands.
The main trouble is that this United Nations has been totally hijacked by clever and unscrupulous political left wing idealists, whose motives are almost identical with those of our long gone unlamented Communists.
Well before the outbreak of the present conflict between the Gaza terrorists and Israel, rockets had been falling upon the territory of the Jewish state. One must admire their patience in not delivering one telling knockout blow against Hamas and ending their operations. Again our media and worldwide media have failed to inform the general public of these continual violations against Israel until Israel took the only way it could to protect itself.
One indeed might ask the obvious question WHY??? But here again even in little “God’s Own” we have opened our Parliament to those of the Muslim faith who wish to become Members of Parliament. We even go as far as allowing them to swear obedience to the laws of New Zealand upon their Koran. Rather an amusing and hypocritical gesture, in view of the fact that this self same Koran demands that all infidels be destroyed in the promotion of a Muslim world.
I have often wondered why not even one Member of our Parliament has raised this point, as to whether a Muslim member puts which obedience the New Zealand state, or to Allah, I would hazard a guess that Allah wins hands down, or should it be knees down?
Dr Smith has hit the nail on the proverbial head, Terrorists, freedom fighters whatever name is in vogue are looked upon as “in the right”, while Israel has become the bogey, crushing the Arab spring! Well after spring comes summer, and then a winter of discontent; so we can expect to see more and more violence in the Middle East, escalating out of control when Iran joins the party.
That does really put the second term United States President in a very precarious situation, not yet on his knees, unlike a certain Presidential Democratic predecessor.

Anonymous said...

Having and obeying the rules of warfare tends to be something only the strong can do. Without supporting one side or the other it is obvious that Hamas or the PLO is not militarily able to take on the IDF in the open. To do so would be suicidal.
Were I a freedom fighter (which in there eyes they are) I'd use the means I had available and stuff the rules.
In the end this conflict will only be resolved when Israel and the Palestinians agree on a solution whereby each gets a viable state. That or the ongoing demography changes in Israel as its Arab population rises leads to a democratic resolution from inside. In many ways there are no innocent adults in the Israel/Palestine situation only innocent children.

Charles said...

Ron Smith makes fine points and is amoung the few in Western media who understand the tactics of torrorism, of which Hamas are very adept. However we could go further and observe that Hamas and all the other Islamist maniacs are also the modern face of Fascisim, in this case Islamic Fascisim.
Like all fascists they are racist, sexist,homophobic psycopaths. It absolutely astounds me that it is the left these days that ignores this and gives Islamists succor. And where are the feminists? Islam in general is horribly sexist. The only explanation I have for the left's wilful blindness is their intense hatred of the US and general delusion that any opponent of the West deserves support. That to me amounts to a form of self hatred, typical of the left in general.

Anonymous said...

We must never forget the Nazi holocaust; it rears its ugly head everyday in Israel to threaten Jews with genocide in the hands of unabated evil.