Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Massacre Mania Part 1

When dealing with Palestinian discourse, four words tend to overwhelm every discussion: 'settlements,' 'occupation,' 'apartheid' and, of course, 'massacre.'

There have been practically no encounters between Israel and Arabs in which an accusation of a massacre of some sort wasn't made. The most recent incident, last December's Gaza operation, is being played out now, as both sides offer discrepant civilian death counts and cite contradictory 'expert' sources. A UN war crimes investigation, led by Kapo, former South African judge Richard Goldstone, has just concluded, based on evidence that is already being challenged, that "Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity."

The report demands that Israel conduct an investigation of its own within the next three months. Amongst other information the report appears to have ignored, is the fact that the IDF has already examined more than 100 allegations regarding the conduct of its forces during Operation Cast Lead, which have resulted in a further 23 criminal investigations.

The fact that no other investigation is underway against any other state, despite recent conflicts in which thousands of civilians have been killed, is yet another example of the double standard Israelis find so infuriating. For example, for years the government of Sri Lanka fought Tamil rebels in the north of the country. The Tamils are claiming independence for this area where they constitute a majority of the population. Over the course of this period it is estimated some 70,000-80,000 civilians have been killed (as compared to the 500-700 Gaza civilians killed in the recent fighting). Has the UN Human Rights Council equally condemned Sri Lanka and singled it out as it has Israel? In fact, they dismissed it as "an internal matter."

How about Russia where the recent invasion of Georgia claimed, according to some sources, around 20,000 lives? As for Chechnya, there are no solid figures for the number of civilians killed since the second war began in late 1999, but estimates range anywhere between 25,000 and 200,000. When Russian soldiers have admitted brutality, condemnation from the UN has been conspicuously absent. "I remember a Chechen female sniper," a Russian soldier told L.A. Times reporter Maura Reynolds. "We just tore her apart with two armored personnel carriers, having tied her ankles with steel cables. There was a lot of blood, but the boys needed it."

It would appear that it is only the Jewish 'moral compass' that some critics see as out of whack. But our ‘moral compass’ is just fine, thank you. Anyone who knows anything about Judaism will understand the abhorrence at taking lives - any lives - Israeli soldiers feel. While I'm not dismissing the possibility that terrible incidents have occured - we're still dealing with flawed humans in a citizen's army, after all, who make mistakes, get angry, are stupid - anyone familiar with the situation knows that much of the criticism of the recent mission in Gaza came from Israelis. Self-criticism and introspection is alive and well here.

Beyond Gaza, it's worth remembering that other alleged 'massacres,' such as the Jenin libel, have already been debunked, even by experts generally sympathetic to the Palestinian cause (Most NGOs and international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, tend to deal in half-truths, which are more difficult to counter, rather than outright lies).

All of which reminds me of a saying about truth and war. But Benjamin Disraeli really put it best when he wrote: "It is easier to be critical than correct."


Jay said...

Nicely written, Morey.

Joel Rothschild said...

Generally well-put, but I have two quibbles: First, as far as I can tell, Richard Goldstone genuinely believes his actions may do good for Israel and at least should not harm it. Such belief isn't irrational, though one may reasonably disagree. At best the Kapo reference is in extremely poor taste. But do you really think rebuking specific Israeli gov't actions is tantamount to anti-Zionism? I hope not. If I wanted to live in a culture of oppressive groupthink I could go be some kind of goy...

Second, I think your central argument is weakened by the defensive and somewhat fruity Moral Compass of Judaism stuff. Even if it were true that all Israeli soldiers abhor the taking of any life -- which is very easy to disprove by counterexample -- you're essentially trying to counter one double standard with another. (No, Jews aren't supernaturally bad, Jews are supernaturally excellent!) The stronger argument, which you make persuasively when you stick to simple facts, is that double standards generally compromise the idea of international "laws of war."

Morey Altman said...

Hi Joel,

Regarding you first point, I agree. He obviously believes he's helping Israel. I was wrong to call him a Kapo. I meant Judenräte.

As for your second point, I never said any such thing. Israel isn't above criticism, nor is any criticism inherently antisemitic; but, singling out one country, is highly suspect. And repeatedly singling out the same country - Israel - even more so. Even UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon has said he "is disappointed at the council's decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world." (Is it any wonder Canada and the EU refused to have anything to do with this probe?)

That's my point. Singling Israel out implies one of two things: Israel-bashers either believe Israeli Jews are morally deficient OR they are holding Israeli Jews up to a higher standard than anyone else. Either assumption is wrong. There are those who are claiming Jewish standards SHOULD be higher than the Arabs; that's racist on two counts. But, the UN Human Rights Council and this report are saying the former: they are demanding that Israel conducts a thorough open examination or they will do it for us. How patronizing! In fact, Goldstone has gone further, suggesting that an 'Israeli probe (is) unlikely to be serious.' He is self-righteous, condescending and biased in his assumptions.

Regarding soldiers, I was speaking in general terms, and I made it clear some soldiers will commit, for myriad reasons, unacceptable acts (due to mistakes, anger, stupidity), which must be examined by the IDF. As I mentioned, IDF inquiries have already led to 23 criminal investigations, and there will be more. I could have added 'evil' as a factor but I don't believe in it, and racism, which may sometimes be a factor, but in my experience, I have yet to meet a single serving soldier or reservist who has indicated the slightest pleasure in hurting Arabs (most would rather be playing soccer against them.) That's not to say they don't exist, but I think they're rare. I would, however, expect specific racist acts to also be investigated.

Shana Tovah.

Morey Altman said...

Joel, I want to add one more thing just so we're clear. There was no problem with Goldstone, as a Jew, criticizing Israeli Jews. We believe that such criticism, when it comes from the heart, is mandated. To allow a fellow Jew to come into harm without intervening is prohibited. The problem is the self-serving UN Human Rights Council, which is flawed and tainted by hatred. Goldstone was wrong to assist this group in any way, as both a Jew and a judge. He has damaged his integrity in both worlds. Of course, this is exactly why they badgered him into running the probe. It was a win-win for the UNHRC. If he didn't condemn Israel, they would have castigated him as a lying Zionist and Jew; that he has delivered the report they wanted, confirms in their twisted minds that there are 'good Jews' and 'bad Jews (the ones that support Israel.) And the very fact that this group cynically bent over backwards to ensure that a Jew led the probe speaks volumes about their racist world view. In any event, I hope he comes out of this clean. I agree with you that he believes he's doing the right thing. But, that naiveté was also a factor in many of those who facilitated the plans of Nazis, hoping that some Jews might be saved by their efforts. The difference, however is that most of them had no choice; he did. Ok, that's my rant. Have a great year.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm just wondering if there is acceptance that bad shit happened in Gazza?
Wether other bad shit has happened in Georgia is besides the point.
There are many investigations going on regarding other conflicts (Iraq and most recently Afghan high jacked tankers.)
None of this either excuses nor make worse what was a rather tough Gazza action.
If the IDF commited war crimes, it had nothing to do with them being Jewish.
Accepting that they may have done it (or keeping an open mind and saying they MAY have not) seems a a more sensible way forward. "Israel right or wrong" underlying messages, are frankly beneath you and I don't believe is the real opinion of right mionded people (in Israel and everywhere else).
Reports come and go and there have been many in history...and there will be many in the future.
Similarily talking about the shit Hamas did doesn't change the alleged wrong doings of the IDF.
The IDF isn't Hamas and so a comparison demeans the IDF when talking about wrong doing.....
Hamas isn't in the same ball park.
That doesn't mean that the IDF shouldn't be held responsible for misdeeds.

Morey Altman said...

Thank you for your comment.

There is acceptance that some unacceptable incidents occurred, and the proof of that is how many international articles are based on stories that originated in Israeli newspapers. Israelis are nothing if not opinionated and self-reflective. And as I pointed out, investigations are on-going and the IDF has asked that people come to them with information on incidentswhich should be investigated.

You are correct that Gaza shouldn't have anything to do with war crimes in Georgia or anywhere else, but my point is that there's a double standard. The UN has never demanded investigations of incidents in Afghanistan or Georgia or Sri Lanka. Why not? Why just Israel? In the case of the tanker incident, there will be an investigation but it's essentially internal. NATO has asked for a Canadian general to conduct an investigation, and it's unlikely the report will be publicly released. If the Americans or British have been conducting investigations into their own activities, they do not release them publicly, yet Goldstone has demanded that Israel do this. So, what's galling is this condescending attitude, like Israel isn't really a grown-up country because it was ostensibly created by the UN and must forever be treated like a child. But I can assure you, as someone living in Israel, the introspection is real, as are the internal demands for more accountability from the army. I would actually suggest, if you're interested, take a look at Ha'aretz newspaper. You'll get a good sense of the internal debate that's going on.

Josh Grundleger said...


Well put. I think the double standards that you point out really emphasize the unfortunate international bias. The Chechnayan incident is disgusting to say the least. I think, though, there are a few other points that compliment what you've said. First, Israel has overwhelming military superiority. If they really had the aim of inflicting suffering on the Palestinians they could have done a much better job. This speaks to the fact that Israeli exercise much restraint. Second, due to its intrinsic biases the Goldstone report can only lead to harm. If such a report is theoretically designed to draw out instances of abuse, it fails by clouding the very few (if any) real abuses with a pile of made-up allegations. It also serves to further push Israel from ever working with the UN. If the UN's goal is to make the situation better it should aim to incorporate Israel into the process. By continually driving them away it undermines its stated goals.

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