18 January 2009

This war zone

The main emotion I remember feeling on September 11th was confusion. It was obvious that a significant event had occurred, and I floundered for cues about its precise significance for me (my family, the country, etc). The first few days of Cast Lead were much the same. And at this point, this war has changed my life in about the same way that the war on terror (or the war on Iraq) changed my life. It's something to talk about.

[I should note, for the sake of completeness, that the war has hit much closer to home for my male friends, many of whom have been in and out of reserve service over the past three weeks. Niv's in uniform for 24 hours out of every 72 and Sarel's been at the border for over a week.]

It's not that I don't care. (I care! a lot!) But if you were to make a movie about my life over the past month, you wouldn't need special effects. I ride the bus to class, I work on application essays, I go to plays and concerts, and I cook dinner with a very handsome dude. Last weekend, I visited ʇɥbıɹq1nɟ friends in Rehovot. We went to a campfire cookout with Rotem's crew on Friday night and drove to Giv'at Brenner for hummus on Saturday. Yesterday, Rotem and I joined up with a youth group for a day-long orienteering trip. My philosophy class has been reading about religious conscientious objections from military service, and today we'll review excerpts from a book called "Terror in the Balance." There have been a lot of war conversations, and lots of regular conversations too.

All this talking haven't given me much clarity. War conversations are usually thick with rhetoric and implicit premises. But there's one thing that I almost always find myself saying:

I don't have accurate information about what exactly we're doing in Gaza (or exactly how, or exactly-exactly why) — and even if I did, I wouldn't have the tools to evaluate whether it is an effective component of a just, peace-seeking strategy. But from what I do know about the government/military institutions charged with making these decisions, I have serious doubts both about the war's effectiveness and its legitimacy.

These articles have also helped to clarify my thoughts. (Hans sent me the first and the third; the second article was mentioned in Leiter's blog.)

A perfect definition of "terrorism" by Glenn Greenwald.
Who the perpetrators and victims are of "terrorism" is almost always a function of who is wielding the term rather than some objective assessment. Aimlessly shooting rockets towards civilians (as Hamas and Hezbollah do) and dropping bombs from 35,000 feet that you know will slaughter many civilians while viewing that slaughter as a strategic benefit (as Friedman advocates) are acts that have far more in common with each other than differences.
Another War, Another Defeat by John J. Mearsheimer.

Israel’s leaders remain determined to control all of what used to be known as Mandate Palestine, which includes Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians would have limited autonomy in a handful of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves, one of which is Gaza. Israel would control the borders around them, movement between them, the air above and the water below them. The key to achieving this is to inflict massive pain on the Palestinians so that they come to accept the fact that they are a defeated people and that Israel will be largely responsible for controlling their future.

Is the Gaza War Legal? by David Luban.
I can't answer the question of proportionality. The fact is, nobody has ever proposed an operational test of how you weigh a military objective against "collateral damage"— our antiseptic euphemism for dead and maimed civilians who were at the wrong place at the wrong time.... But let's be clear about this: proportionality only comes in when the targets are legitimate.... If Israel is targeting all the institutions of Hamas's civil government of Gaza, including all those who work in those targets, it seems to be going after civilians ... according to the law of war as Israel's own Supreme Court understands it. If that's right, the attacks are illegal even without reaching the question of proportionality.

One more thing. Some twelve-or-so years ago, a Gazan gynecologist named Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish considered pursuing a medical fellowship in St. Louis. He was in contact with my dad then, and even though he didn't wind up coming, he sent our family "happy and peaceful New Years" greetings for years. On Friday, the Israeli army shelled Dr. Abuelaish's building and killed his three daughters.

This all happened about 60 miles from my house. You know you're in the first world when the earth breaks open at your doorstep and your carpeted floor doesn't even shake.

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