In a move eerily reminiscent of the Bush administration’s redefinition of “torture” to the point that “anything’s okay so long as the person doesn’t die or suffer permanent organ failure”, Dov Weissglas, the longtime adviser to Israeli premiers is now talking about projecting Israel’s war against Hamas onto the bodies of Palestinian children and other noncombatants.
This, from today’s HaAretz:
- “It’s like a meeting with a dietician. We have to make them much thinner, but not enough to die,” said the prime minister’s adviser Dov Weissglas.
A couple of posts ago, I was getting into a discussion about the quite foreseeable effects of a cutoff of external aid to the OPTs, which I said could lead to actual deaths from starvation.
I still think that. But to even get into that argument, it seems to me, is to set the bar for acceptable human behavior far, far too low. (Like the Bush definition of “torture.”)
After getting into that argument, it became clear to me that we should oppose all attempts to intentionally– in pursuit of a political objective– place any barriers at all on the flourishing of noncombatant persons. Just “not forcing them to starve” is ways too low a bar to hold up.
In a sense, nearly all of the present corpus of international humanitarian law as it has developed since the 1850s aims at separating civilian populations and other noncombatants from the harmful consequences of warfare. Certainly, any deliberate attempt to entangle civilians in a political battle between two political leaderships– in the way that, for example, Shimon Peres did in his disastrous April 1996 military aggression against Lebanon– should be completely rejected and opposed.
This is exactly the same basic principle that underlies the prohibition on terror attacks against civilians… There too the aim is to use the deliberate infliction of harm on civilians to sway the decisions made by political leaders.
In both cases, this deliberate entanglement of civilians in a political/military battle should be completely opposed.
Shimon Peres may claim (as indeed, he did to me in person in March 1998) that he “didn’t intend” to kill the 120-plus old people who were killed by IDF shelling in Qana. Ah yes, but what he and the rest of the Israeli leadership clearly did intend– and we know this because they said it very publicly at the time– was to put such huge pressure on the civilian population of Lebanon that they would rise up and beg their leaders to ‘cry uncle’ to Israel.
And along the way there, in the course of that panic-driven uprooting of one-third of the population of Lebanon (which yes, was enitrely a part of Peres’s plan… he said he wanted them to be forced to go to Beirut), quite predictably old people died and babies and the sick and infirm died, purely because of the uprooting. That was entirely foreseeable, given the record established during tens of previous rounds of IDF-spurred mass uprootings in Lebanon. Then on top of those foreseeable deaths, given the amount of lethal firepower used in the assault, it was not surprising at all that 120 old people ended up getting killed in Qana…
So anyway, as I said, that 1996 attempt to entangle a neighboring population in a hard-fought political battle ended up disastrously for nearly everyone concerned… except Hizbullah, which at that point won nearly all of its long-fought battle for the liberation of South Lebanon from Israeli occupation. (That victory didn’t fully unfold till 2000; but the strategic balance had tipped definitively in April 1996.)
See, here’s the thing about attempts to entangle civilian populations in violence and coercion: they very frequently backfire. I could argue this, certainly, about Peres’s pathetic and very harmful aggression in 1996. I think I could argue it convincingly about the terror campaign that Hamas and others waged against Israel’s civilian population since 1987… In both cases, the fact that the assault comes against civilians stiffens the reolve of civilians. It doesn’t cow them. (Maybe the Hamas leaders realized that. Maybe that’s why they agreed unilaterally to halt their operations against targets inside Israel back in February of last year?)
So where is Israel’s learning curve on this issue? Can’t Israel’s leaders, too, look back at the past (including April 1996 in Lebanon, but a lot of other occasions, too) and realize that this latest attempt to starve the Palestinians into submission is likewise doomed to fail?
That HaAretz piece goes on to say this:
- Some officials suggested separating the Palestinian population, which would continue receiving the aid, and its government. This was also the American administration’s position, it was said at the meeting.
Gosh, can these people really all be that stupid? But no, they’re not! Look at the next paragraph:
- Israeli National Security Council head Giora Eiland questioned whether separating the aid from the PA would be effective at all, since the overwhelming majority of Palestinian workers in the humanitarian organizations are Hamas people.
Exactly. (Readers might want to go back and check point #3 I made in this JWN post, Tuesday.)
… At a broader level, I must say I’m finding it a most enjoyable spectator sport, sitting here and seeing all these Israeli and US officials running round like headless chickens as they try to figure out how to respond to Hamas’s electoral victory. (All except Giora Eiland, that is. A very sensible man.)