Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Israel's Conflict

The current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is dominating the world news, as it rightly should. It has the potential to grow into a catastrophic situation that would affect our global community in very direct ways.

Here are a few representative attitudes about the conflict. Whose perspective do you agree with, and why?

Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post last week. His position is largely what one would expect from someone in his position. He portrays Israel as the unilateral aggressor, waging a constant war against the Palestinians to subdue and destroy them, using the defensive actions of Palestinians as excuses for its aggression.

Charles Krauthammer responded, offering an alternate political perspective. He argues that Palestinians are (and always have been) committed to the complete destruction of Israel, have no interest in compromise, and have taken every concession Israel has offered and turned it into a staging ground for further unilateral aggression against Israel.

David Clark, writing in The Guardian, argues that both hardline Palestinians and the Israeli government have similar agendas... that both desire the escalation of aggression, and are opposed to peace. He argues that Mahmoud Abbas is the primary leader in the area espousing the proper commitment to resolve the situation peacefully. He makes no mention of the recent land concessions by Israel, so I'm not sure in what way he views those.

William Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard, gives a broader perspective, pointing toward Syria and Iran as the ultimate culprits. He argues that this has gone beyond a conflict between Israel and Palestine, and even beyond Israel and Arabs (since most of the Arab powers in the region are ambivalent about the conflict). He argues that instead this is an "Islamist-Israeli war", with stridently Islamist (and non-Arab) Iran as the primary motivating force.

A blogger called The Maverick Philosopher (from whose site I found Krauthammer's and Kristol's articles) gave his defense of Israel's current response, depicting the Palestinians as the "in the wrong" aggressors, and Israel's response (however disproportionate) as "in the right" self-defense.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel that either the Palestinians or the Israelis have the moral high ground in this situation? Do you feel that Hezbollah are pawns in a larger Islamist movement to eradicate Israel, as Kristol suggests? Do you feel that Israel is a pawn in a larger American movement to subjugate the Middle East, as Haniyeh suggests (or at least hints)?

How should the American government respond? Have you been pleased or troubled by our response so far?

Mark

13 comments:

Leigh de Paor said...

Thanks for the links.
I find it interesting that so many of the self proclaimed non-partisan media repeatedly parrot off the "disproportionate response" tagline without any understanding of military tactics.
How many of those who think the response is "disproportionate" have ever been involved in a military endeavour?
It would be fooish in the extreme to go to war with only a matched level of equipment/manpower when more is available. This will most certainly only result in a prolonged, tit for tat war of attrition in which nobody ever has a clear victory and you maximize the loss of life of your own people. Any commander who deliberately fought "Marquis of Queensbury" rules in a battle or war would and should be hanged for high treason and a total inhuman disregard for the lives of the men under his command.
Also remember how many times in the past that Israel has used "disproportionate response" in the negative, i.e. When she fought a major war against well armed agressors intent only on genocide and total destruction of the Jewish people with a handfull of poorly armed, untrained men and women.
Lets see people argue intelligently and humanely without using such intellectually bankrupt clich├ęs as "disproportionate response" in the case of war.
We aren't in the school yard now.

Douglas_Coombs said...

While Israel doesn't always seem to do things the most humane way, I often don't see how their response could be much better, assuming turning the other cheek isn't an option. It is ingrained in so much of Arab/Middle Eastern culture that Israel doesn't even have a right to exist. Until that changes, there will always be war over there. I've talked to several people from Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, etc. either at school or at work. I've yet to meet a single one who thinks Israel has the right to even be a country. "The Jews are really Russians. The don't have any historical claim to the land." "The Israelis should all be shipped back to Russia/Europe where they came from." I've been told this and more by grad students studying here in the US. When I considering that the people I've interacted with are all living and studying/working in the US, I find it scary. Usually, the people who make it over here are more educated and moderate in their outlook on world affairs than the average citizen.

To be fair to the Palestinians, some of their gripes, such as the placement of the wall in certain places are legitimate. On the other hand, the Palestinian government wasn't willing to negotiate on its placement.

Doug

Douglas_Coombs said...

Another thing, I stumbled across this sentance in a story on the war in Gaza, "Under cover of machine-gun fire early Wednesday, tanks moved into the Mughazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip and took over several rooftops as bulldozers leveled farmland."

Bulldozing farmland is inexcusable. The US should certainly be doing more to pressure Israel to stop such actions.

Doug

Kevin said...

Although the situation is complex, as I suppose all vast conflicts are, I believe that, overall, Israel does have the moral high ground. I've observed far more deceit, chaos, and evil from the Palestinian side. Or perhaps, as William Kristol suggests, I should instead call it by some more culturally and ideologically focused name, since it extends beyond the Palestinians.

But it does seem to me that the Palestinians have long been shaped and used as the pawns of a larger movement. Indeed, I suspect that the Palestinians themselves would be far better off surrendering unconditionally, though this would obliterate a fundamental tenet of the larger movement.

And yet I wonder if they even have the ability to act in unison. They seem enslaved by an ideology which reenforces the goals of factions and the birth of terrorists. It seems like lies and hatred are so pervasively embedded in and perpetuated by their culture that they do not see it anymore. It is not propaganda; it is a fact of their existence. Israel and the US are their persecutors, the ubiquitous sources of their misfortune. Not their own culture or ideology. Not their government. Not the friendly terrorists next door.

I fear that Haniyeh, et al., may be learning the wrong lessons from the sanctions and attacks against the democratically elected Hamas PA. Their ideals are being challenged and not their democracy. The election of Hamas may have been a praiseworthy stand against rampant corruption, but it also permitted a holistic economic response against the PA based upon Hamas' ideals representing the Palestinian People. Will they actually change their ideals and culture, or merely change the PA's apparent association with militants?

I share Doug's concerns and I am losing hope that there can be a lasting peace without a significant ideological and cultural shift. It seems like the terrorist culture festers and abounds in any ostensive peace. Such peace does not beget peace, but rather a cyclical and perpetual war. And thus I look askance at those who demand a ceasefire, who would hold immediate peace above justice and a lasting peace.

I agree with The Maverick Philosopher; disproportionate force is not in itself immoral. Indeed, it is preferable that justice be swift and effective, and thus overwhelming. As Leigh de Paor describes, the call for proportionate force in war is a call for eternal conflict. Thus, it seems to be yet another attempt to distort the world's view of Israel's moral basis, in order to curtail the long and terrible siege that is necessary to bring a lasting end to the conflict.

On the other hand, the call to protect innocents is noble, though I have not yet seen evidence that Israel is being rash or wanton in their response, given the nature of the war and their abilities.

Regarding your other questions, I don't know who is a pawn of whom, but there are clearly aligned ideologies and cooperation between parties within each side. And, being a war, each side is attempting to subjugate the other; of course, I believe each side has vastly different views regarding what "subjugation" entails. Inasmuch as I am aware of it, I think the US's response thus far has been reasonable.

Kevin

Mark Congdon said...

Kevin,

The "Palestinian Media Watch" site you linked to is excellent. I especially found interesting the page giving examples of (quite recent) Palestinian TV programs declaring that Israel has no right to exist. As long as that attitude is publicly proclaimed by the Palestinian government (and the governments of Iran and Syria and sometimes other countries), I see no room for compromise or peaceful resolution.

At the same time, Doug, I agree that it seems that arbitrarily bulldozing farmland is inexcusable. It also seems unfathomable to me. Why should Israel want to destroy Palestinian farmland? Does anyone know of any explanations for this behavior from the Israelis? Was that particular farmland important as a strategic defensive location, or something of that sort?

Mark

Kevin said...

Mark,

Wikipedia's article on UNRWA has a brief section on curriculum as well. It amazes me how the U.S. monies and the overall subsidizing of Palestinian life does not buy more good will. It is such a bizarre situation; a bizarre cycle of terrorism, retaliation, and subsidy.

What concerns me is how much easier it is to effect a superficial change than to actually change the culture. To change perception rather than reality. Similarly, it also fascinates me how words are used to influence thought. e.g. "occupation" and "occupied territories".

In perusing this topic, I also read a piece by Larry Elder yesterday. In part of it, he summarizes an article from 2002 by Joseph Farah which gives an interesting, albeit simplistic, history of the conflict.

I'm curious about the bulldozing of farmland as well. I came across a section in the Wikipedia article about Rachel Corrie that includes this explanation of her incident: """The IDF said that the demolitions were intended to uncover explosive devices, and destroy smuggling tunnels and firing positions.""" I presume there is a similar military explanation for the latest incidents, but I haven't found any specific explanation for Mughazi.

Kevin

Mark Congdon said...

I came across some very interesting information today. It appears that there has been quite a pattern of doctored photos, staged traumas, and deceitful captions flowing out of Hezbollah in this situation. The stories (primarily of Israel targeting Red Cross ambulances) and pictures (Photoshopped smoke encompassing Beirut, a staged fire in a pile of old tires labeled as a downed Israeli airplane) have been use prominently in Time, the NY Times, etc.

In at least two cases (Reuters and Time), they have had to admit that their pictures or information were falsified as a result of amateur fact-checking on blogs.

How can we trust any information we're receiving through the media, when they are not able to do as good of a job of fact-checking their own stories as amateur bloggers can?

Here's some links to get started... these link to other related stories, and on and on.

Michelle Malkin
Targeting ambulances?
Other falsifications

Jeff Goldstein provides some valuable commentary:
"what this should remind everyone is that modern wars are as much about propaganda as they are about battles being fought in the trenches"

Is it possible to get information about a war such as this without it passing first through a propaganda filter? Is it possible to have a systematic way of recognizing propaganda filters and removing them, to get to an approximation of useful information upon which to act?

The situation, as it stands, is certainly frustrating.

Mark

Kevin said...

I've been following some of those stories as well. Unfortunately, it moves so fast, I've largely given up the attempt to keep up with it all. Michelle Malkin's recent Fauxtography Watch post includes a couple of YouTube videos which give a pretty good summary.

Little Green Footballs and EU Referendum appear to be the origin of several of these stories.

I'd say that effective propaganda is by far paramount to physical violence. It shapes public perceptions of reality by which we make decisions. During war, it can sap and distort the morale of even the greatest forces. The only hope by which terrorism could win is through propaganda, and the degree of success they have had thus far is truly frightening.

Of course, propaganda is only bad if it propagates lies and half-truths. Sadly, the truth is often much more nuanced and harder to determine, placing the "good guys" at a decided disadvantage. This is the primary explanation I can see for the relatively poor performance of U.S. and Israeli propaganda.

Now, however, bloggers have taken up the gauntlet, and even with meager capabilities have produced propaganda that illuminates the superficial lies, and draws attention to these issues. I think it also helps that these lies are captured in images, which often seem to affect a quicker, visceral response than the oftentimes more subtle lies embedded in the written word.

Sadly, I imagine conspiracy theorists thrive in this environment, where the existence of such obvious fakes begs the deeper question of our ability to detect more capable attempts at insidious propaganda, or even the permitting of evil acts for propaganda (as some claim regarding 9/11). At some point, though, we must draw a line and judge solely based upon the evidence and not conjecture.

The free press bears a terrible moral responsibility which they often seem to slough. Whether they want to or not, the press implicitly makes the moral decisions they try so hard to avoid. They must consider and relay to a greater degree the veracity of their sources and the context of their reporting.

e.g. a quote from Christopher Allbritton is making the rounds, which suggests to me that reporters are indeed being swayed by terrorist groups, even if it is subtle:

"To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I'm loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist's passport, and they've already hassled a number of us and threatened one."

Propaganda is the cousin of bias. Considering the ubiquity of bias and the immense value of propaganda, I don't think we will be able to escape it entirely. However, there may be more we can do to limit it, should the free press be willing to expend the capital to do so, primarily through transparency and copious supplemental information from independent sources rather than the consolidation of sources we see today.

A Jacksonian came up with a list of guidelines for news agencies, which is interesting. I'd boil it down to the following points, where "media" refers to an image, video, etc.:

1) collect the maximum amount of additional metadata with media, including camera type, settings, timestamp, GPS coordinates, etc.

2) the published media may of course be modified, but provide for easy public inspection of the original raw media with all metadata for both the published media and any media which contextually surrounds it but is not published.

This is, of course, a lot to ask, but the more independent information there is, the harder it is to fake. A Jacksonian also goes over examples of written propaganda where ostensibly factual reports actually use half-truths that are contextually false.

Kevin

Kevin said...

Another solution that the concluding paragraph of a Washington Times op-ed suggests is that the government should pick up the slack left by the Western media that refuses to prominently identify its own faults and inaccurate reporting that shapes public opinion (ostensibly against said government):

"Once the facts emerge in such cases, the full weight of the government's communications efforts should be made to ensure that the correct information is distributed broadly -- both nationally and internationally -- and is not limited largely to conservative publications and blogs, as it is now."

Kevin said...

On the topic of Israel, HonestReporting.com has a Brief History of the Region.

Perhaps I'm venturing beyond Israel's Conflict into the Press and Propaganda, but Little Green Footballs (LGF) has a brief article on some of the inner workings of the Associated Press TV News (APTN) called How Much Does It Cost to Buy Global TV News?. Of note:

- AP is non-profit, but APTN is for-profit and those profits are fed back to AP.

- """Local crews are sometimes employed directly by APTN, or more often “stringers” are hired for a particular event or paid for the footage they have already captured."""

- """Requests for the use of “sensitive clips” are referred directly to the Library director. This is not the case with clips that paint Israel in a bad light. Likewise, the re-showing of Palestinian celebrations on 9/11 is considered “sensitive”."""

- """While most of the world takes news pictures with minimal interpretation beyond editing, the Arab Gulf States have asked for and receive a different and far more expensive service. These states pay for a complete news report service including full editing and voice overs from known journalists."""

- """The slant of the stories required by the Gulf States has a definite effect on which footage is used and discarded. This affects both the Gulf newsroom and the main global newsroom.

This full service feed is much more expensive for the customers than the usual service, but it is also much higher margin for APTN. This is partly because there is great commonality in what they can send to most of the Gulf States taking this service: stories are made once and used in a number of countries."""

Kevin said...

MEMRI also tracks the Middle East Media. MEMRI TV recently added a category showing the indoctrination that children receive called "Inciting Children".

Anonymous said...

Why would Israel bomb Palestine Farmland?
Is it possible that arms were buried there; an underground bunker or perhaps they missed a target. Hopefully it can be explained by one of these.

Can anyone comment on bilical Israel vs. modern day Israel as it relates to why Israels are hated so much. I understand the viewpoint that the Jews are seen by Palestine as having no rights to life. Ultimately is all the blood shed over land?
If too long to answer here please recommend a book that gets to the heart of the matter. As a mother of young children it is very painful to see innocent children/babies perish in this war.

Mark Congdon said...

Anonymous,

Welcome!

Why would Israel bomb or bulldoze or do whatever they did to Palestinian farmland? I don't know. Nobody here does, credibly. None of us were inside the war-room headquarters of the Israelis when they made that decision. So, unfortunately, it becomes one more example of a political Rorschach test. If you generally trust Israel, you'll assume that they had valid reasons to bulldoze farmland. If you generally distrust Israel, you'll be convinced that they did it to spite the Palestinians and cause needless pain to innocent civilians out of a racist hatred.

As for biblical vs. modern Israel, there are no clear answers. There was a recent post on the topic at the RedBlueChristian blog, and there are some interesting discussions going on related to that topic at the Jesus Creed blog. All the entries in the Romans category from August 15 onward have been related to that topic.

Ultimately is all the blood shed over land?

I don't think the vitriol coming from the majority of Arab Muslims toward Israel can be explained purely in relation to the land. It's not just the land that is the problem... the Jews themselves are portrayed as evil, needing to be completely wiped off the planet. I wish I could understand better where that type of hatred and racism comes from, but I have a hard time fathoming it.

As a mother of young children it is very painful to see innocent children/babies perish in this war.

As a father of young children, I strongly agree. We must pray and work for peace however we are able.

Thanks again!

Mark