Sunday, July 27, 2014

Scott Aaronson and Andrew Sullivan on Gaza

Scott:

Hamas is trying to kill as many civilians as it can.

Israel is trying to kill as few civilians as it can.

Neither is succeeding very well.

Andrew:

My old sparring partner, Jeffrey Goldberg, has been busy pondering why Hamas has sent hundreds of rockets – with no fatalities – into Israel. He argues that it does this in order to kill Palestinians. It’s an arresting idea, and it helps perpetuate the notion that there are no depths to which these Islamist fanatics and war criminals will not sink.

It also helps distract from the fact that Hamas itself did not kill the three Israeli teens which was the casus belli for the latest Israeli swoop through the West Bank; that Netanyahu had called for generalized revenge in the wake of the killings, while concealing the fact that the teens had been murdered almost as soon as they had been captured; and that Israeli public hysteria, tapping into the Gilad-like trauma of captivity, then began to spawn increasingly ugly, sectarian and racist acts of revenge and brutality. It also side-steps the rather awful fact that this nihilist and futile war crime is all that Hamas has really got left.

Yes, they conceal armaments and rockets and weapons in civilian areas – and that undoubtedly increases civilian deaths. But what alternative do they have exactly, if they wish to have any military capacity at all? Should they build clearly demarcated camps and barracks and munitions stores, where the IDF could just destroy them at will? As for the argument that no democratic society could tolerate terrorist attacks without responding with this kind of disproportionate force, what about the country I grew up in, where pubs and department stores in the mainland were blown up, where the prime minister and her entire cabinet were bombed and some killed in a hotel? I don’t recall aerial bombing of Catholic areas in Belfast, do you? Or fatality numbers approaching 200 – 0? Democratic countries are marked by this kind of restraint – not by calls for revenge and bombardment of a densely populated urban area, where civilian casualties, even with the best precision targeting and warnings, are inevitable.

And there is, for all the talk of aggression on both sides, no serious equivalence in capabilities between Hamas and the IDF. The IDF has the firepower to level Gaza to the ground if it really wants to. Hamas, if it’s lucky, might get a rocket near a town or city. I suppose Israel’s reluctance just to raze Gaza for good and all is why John McCain marveled that in a war where one side has had more than 170 fatalities, 1,200 casualties, 80 percent of whom are civilians, and the other side has no fatalities and a handful of injuries, Israel has somehow practiced restraint. One wonders what no restraint would mean.

And look at the image above. Part of our skewed perspective is revealed by it. Imagine for a second that Hamas had leveled a synagogue. Can you imagine what Israel would feel justified in doing as a response? Or imagine if a Jewish extended family of 18 had been massacred by Hamas, including children? Would we not be in a major international crisis? At some point the lightness with which we treat Palestinian suffering compared with Jewish suffering needs to be addressed as an urgent moral matter. The United States is committed to human rights, not rights scaled to one’s religious heritage or race.

Scott has 196 comments, some taking his facile oversimplifications to task.