As the dead bodies pile up, the otherwise estimable Charles Pierce throws up his hands. He can't take a position on this conflict because, he says, both sides suck. That's also why Kos won't touch the issue. At least they don't try to justify their neutrality by saying that if they took a position, people would call them mean names. An aversion to nastiness is one of the reasons David Atkins and Kevin Drum refuse to write about the I-P conflict.
Let me be clear: I would never argue that bloggers (or pundits) are obligated to comment on this issue or any other. It's a big world with a lot of important stuff. (I haven't seen a lot of blog posts about the war in Congo, either. I know I haven't written any.)
But to read these explanations for why they won't take a position -- and other commentary by liberals -- is to enter into a fantasy land where Palestinians live in freedom next to Israel. Scrubbed from the picture is Israel's occupation of the Palestinians. This occupation is at the root of the conflict and, if you're any kind of liberal, it should dictate your moral math.
First, let's dispense with the myth that Israel has given Gaza back to the Palestinians.
...[T]he Gaza Strip remains occupied, both effectively and legally – and is recognised as such by the UN. Israel is in control of Gaza's land and sea borders, territorial waters and natural resources, airspace, power supply and telecommunications. It has blockaded the strip since Hamas took over in 2006-7, preventing the movement of people, materials, and food supplies in and out of the territory – even calculating the 2,279 calories per person that would keep Gazans on an exemplary "diet". And it continues to invade the strip at will.
The blockade is collective punishment, full stop. And the impact on children in particular is horrifying. Forget for a moment the explosive violence, like drone strikes,
that kills and injures children and consider the subtler, slower forms.
- Stunting, or long-term exposure to chronic malnutrition, remains high, found among 10% of children under five.
- Anemia, usually caused by dietary iron deficiency, affects most children in Gaza (58.6% of schoolchildren4, 68.1% of children 9-12 months) and one-third (36.8%) of pregnant women. If untreated, iron-deficiency anemia adversely affects child development and pregnancy outcome.
- Sanitation-related diseases with serious implications for child mortality, such as typhoid fever and watery diarrhea in children under three years of age, have increased at clinics serving refugees in the Gaza Strip. Gaza’s polluted water supply will have long-term health implications, but current monitoring is insufficient to measure the impact of untreated sewage and poor water quality.
If you believe people have the right to be free, if you believe in human rights and international law, if your sympathies lie with the weak, if you believe military occupation breeds extremity and terrorism, if you believe in peace through peace as opposed to peace through pummeling, you have a clear position on this issue whether you realize it or not.
You can trace the history of this conflict back dozens -- or, for that matter, thousands -- of years, you can weigh competing historical claims to the land, you can try to figure out who was responsible for the recent escalation or the failure of Oslo, but residing at the core of this conflict, against which other facts melt away, is the occupation.
People have to the right to live free from military domination. In demanding self-determination, Palestinians are not relying on archaic or secondary principles. As Edward Said put it:
This Palestinian insistence is no unique, decontextualized aberration; it is fully supported by every international legal and moral covenant known to the modern world.
The right to self-determination comes with no exceptions or qualifications. It supersedes all interests of the occupying nation. Defenders of Israel argue that unlike Hamas, Israel doesn't intentionally kill civilians. Often this is the entirety of their moral case. But this is sophistry. Israel does violence it knows will kill civilians, many more than are killed by Hamas. In any case, it is the responsibility of Israel to end the occupation, period, and Hamas's terrorism doesn't relieve it of that responsibility. Israel cannot deny Palestinians their right to be free from occupation in the name of security. (Talk about preemptive war.)
It would be terrific if a moderate, competent leadership emerged among Palestinians, but it's not incumbent on them to form a government to Israel's liking. Indeed, it's virtually unimaginable that a people under occupation would produce a strong moderate leadership. Occupation, as liberals know, breeds extremism, terrorism, and corruption. For Israel to demand a Palestinian government it trusts as a condition for ending its occupation is like demanding that people you're drowning stop complaining before you shut off the water.
So: don't focus on this issue if you're not so inclined. I mean, I heard something about the climate changing -- that might be worth a blog post or three. But if you write about this issue, American liberals, even for the purpose of explaining why you don't write about it, please stand with the powerless and reject bogus arguments about "self defense."
The issue is not about whether Israel has the right to defend itself. Of course it does. But what it doesn't have is the right to use disproportionate force in order to maintain an unjustified and illegal occupation and the subjugation of millions of Palestinians, which is the taproot from which these events spring.
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