Sunday, February 17, 2008

Checkpoints Don't Kill People -- People Kill People

Checkpoints, Israelis and their defenders concede, cause major discomfort for Palestinians. But they are justifiable because a) they save lives, and b) Palestinians share some sort of collective reponsibility for their terrorists, whom they hail as martyrs.

The common responses to these arguments are that a) an occupying army is responsible for the welfare of the occupied people, and that b) the measures it takes to ensure the security of its own population cannot be disproportionate to the pain and suffering it causes to the occupied population. Or to be blunt - saving the lives of your people does not override destroying the lives of an occupied people, if the measures you take are disproportionate.

There will be arguments, obviously, over what is disproportionate, but those arguments should not be held hostage to the sensitivities of the people making them. That is why we need a stronger system of international human rights law and its enforcement, not a weaker one. I am always more sensitive to my pain than to yours.

Haaretz reported yesterday that an Arab woman died because soldiers would not let her reach an ambulance to take her to a hospital. Instead, she was taken back to her village to die. The IDF spokesman said that the husband should have informed the "local military coordination office for humanitarian cases" that an ambulance was arriving. In other words, the soldiers at the checkpoint did not have the authority -- or the desire -- to let the woman through. Read about it here.

More Palestinians have died because of Israeli checkpoints than have Sderot residents because of Kassams. In the last year alone, there was a sharp rise in such incidents, despite the fact that there were no successful suicide bombings So in 2007 ten sick Palestinians died because of checkpoints in order to save -- possibly -- the lives of Israeli citizens. See here I counted ten on B'Tselem's website. And I am not talking of lives ruined or livelihoods destroyed. I am talking about physical deaths.

Some of my readers say that these deaths were not intentional. But they were. Because these people were intentionally prevented from getting medical care. It doesn't matter, either legally or morally, whether other lives could have been saved. It doesn't matter, either legally or morally, that ambulances have been used to smuggle weapons in less than a tenth of a per cent of ambulance use by Palestinians. So don't bother to remind me about it. Certain things cannot be done. I could reduce the murder rate in Washington DC by 98% if I clamped down a dusk to dawn curfew every night and shot violaters on sight. Does that give me the right to do that?

Some of my readers will, say, "Look, war is hell; it's us or them; life is tough, get over it." To those readers I say, "Fine -- as long as you have no problem with the morality of the suicide bombers beyond the fact that they are killing your family." I understand the tribalism that motivates that. I love watching the Godfather.

What really nauseates me are the people who have no problem with wiping out neighborhoods in Gaza -- such as the current Israeli minister of the interior Meir Shitrit -- and then try to claim the moral high-ground. Look, if your morality is "It's us or them", then when they blow up our babies, they are not being immoral -- they are just doing what we are doing.

There should be no illusions.

That's one of the few things I like about the New Republic's Marty Peretz. His morality boils down to "Do it to them before they do it to us." He knows that the Occupation is hell on the Palestinians, but that's their tough luck. Or as he puts it in an interview with Haaretz here

I'm not under the impression that Israeli occupation is kind and sweet. No occupation is kind or sweet. But bad things happen everywhere.

Ah, to be able to talk like John Wayne and still be Jewish, what a rush that must give Peretz! It may not make up for TNR's flaccid circulation, but it sure beats Viagra.

Justice, equity, fairness, self-determination, democracy -- those things don't make much of a difference to tough Jews of Peretz's generation. And I mean, "of his generation". Because they are, thank God, a dying breed. Oh, sure, the young modern orthodox neocons are around, but they are about to be sent to think-tank (and blogger) hell, come the Obama election.

There is change in the air, and I am not just referring to TNR's plummeting readership. Let's put it this way....if I wanted to sound like Peretz, this is what I'd say:

Marty, Israel's bleeding, and you won't be able to stop it. The younger Jewish generation won't really be affected by Birthright, and in your lifetime you will see the only hardcore Zionists go Republican. The problem is not that "all occupations are not nice."The problem is that the longest Occupation in modern history --Tibet's problems will be solved before Israel's -- will catch up with Israel, and unless it is able to extricate itself from its suicidal death-wish -- which you, and other of your ilk, support -- it will plunge further into the chaos.

Then, Marty, you can erect your Museum of Zionism, commemorate the New Masada, as you sit by the waters of Washington and rail against the anti-Semites and the self-hating Jews that were responsible for destroying the third commonwealth. And you will weep over the decline of the the only sort of Judaism you understand (besides gastronomic Judaism)...."neofascist Judaism," "tough guy" Judaism, "'goyische' Judaism."

In short, the Judaism of the qena'im, the Zealots.

You've won before in Jewish history, Marty.

But never for long, thank God.

6 comments:

David L. said...

Well said Jerry.

I attended the Religious Zionist Shabbaton in Chicago this past weekend and there was a lot of this "being mean spirited" is a Jewish virtue attitude in the air although it came more from participants than facilitators.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your summation of the situation.

You're pinning a lot of hopes on Obama. You've got my support, reluctantly, because I've a lot of small loyalties to Clinton which I don't want to let go of. But in some ways it's as if you're on the frontier, and it makes me feel like I'm supporting my troops when I believe in your hopes.

richards1052 said...

"It may not make up for TNR's flaccid circulation, but it sure beats Viagra."

Thanks for the belly laugh, Jerry. Anyone who claims that some of the wittiest writing around isn't being done in the blogosphere hasn't read that jewel.

Jerry Haber said...

Anonymous, I don't pin a lot of hopes on Obama re Israel/Palestine. For my take on that, you can see my post, "Why I Still Support Obama"

http://themagneszionist.blogspot.com/2008/01/
why-i-still-support-obama.html

pabelmont said...

You wrote: "There will be arguments, obviously, over what is disproportionate, but those arguments should not be held hostage to the sensitivities of the people making them. That is why we need a stronger system of international human rights law and its enforcement, not a weaker one. I am always more sensitive to my pain than to yours."

Thank you! thank you. Let more people say, with you, "arguments should not be held hostage to the sensitivities of the people making them." We in the USA need to overcome the system of censorship, taboo, corruption, fear of broken rice-bowls, etc., which puts various subjects "out of bounds" for "civil discourse" -- topics very much including [a] I/P generally and [b] removal of settlers as a matter of law.

Therefore, thank you also for: "[W]e need a stronger system of international human rights law and its enforcement, not a weaker one." The removal of ALL settlers NOW is one of the most important actions clearly implied by international humanitarian law, and the need for it can be seen by reading the post-1967 history of Israeli settlers in Hebron.

pabelmont said...

JH --
I attended, several years ago, a law-school conference celebrating the progress of human rights in international law. Notably, it failed to mention the Fourth Geneva Convention, which IS a law or convention, while contriving to mention the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which ISN'T.
What will it take to get USA law schools to convene conferences on I/P, occupation law, etc.?
How about religious seminaries?
In short, how can academics, many holding tenure (generally, an unbreakable rice-bowl), break the silence and get a conversation going?
How can academics (or anyone else) "give permission" to Americans to discuss these hard issues -- and thereby, quite possibly, to discover that peaceniks and law-niks have long been a silent majority?