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Dueling Ethicists in Gaza

February 24th, 2009by Haim Watzman · 17 Comments · Culture and Ideas

Haim Watzman

What was most surprising about the conference on Battle Ethics in the Cast Lead Operation held on Sunday by the Ethics Center at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem was how much agreement there was among speakers with ostensibly different points of view. Everyone from noted liberal Mordechai Kremnitzer to the IDF’s favorite ethicist Asa Kasher dissented from the simplistic extremes and sought to balance the conflicting demands of defense and respect for human life.

As Daniel Statman noted at the beginning of the conference, there’s no need for a discussion of Israel’s battlefield ethics if one’s position is either that either fighting in general or Israel’s fighting in particular is absolutely and utterly criminal. Or if you think that in war Israel can do whatever it pleases, without any constraints, in order to win.

That these two extreme positions play a prominent role both in Israel’s internal debate and in the international polemic about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not, thankfully, deterred the philosophers, journalists, and legal scholars who spoke at the conference from thinking through the issues.

Kasher played a prominent role in drawing up the IDF’s code of ethics and is an important figure in the community of philosophers who work on just war theory. He’s best known for dissenting from one of the commonly accepted general principles of the international law of warfare—he claims that a country’s duty to protect its soldiers is no different from its duty to protect its civilians, and certainly greater than its duty to keep from harm the civilians of the country or entity it is fighting. Most just war theorists, such as the field’s seminal figure, Michael Walzer, hold that a country and army must, to avoid harm to non-combatants on the other side, incur extra risk to its soldiers.

Kasher doesn’t take this position simply because he likes soldiers. He argues, cogently, that his principle follows inevitably from the principle—accepted by all moral philosophers—of the fundamental sanctity of human life. If human life is sacred, he argues, then a soldier’s life is no less sacred than that of a civilian. And since a state’s duty is, first and foremost, to defend its own citizens—even at the cost of putting the citizens of an enemy country in danger—it follows that a state’s duty to protect the lives of its soldiers is the same as its duty to protect its civilians.

Noam Zohar, who sparred with Kasher in the conference’s final session, offered a gruesome thought experiment.

“Let’s suppose that a contingent of soldiers sets out on am extremely vital mission,” Zohar said. “Unexpectedly, they find themselves in a position where they run out of food. Let’s suppose that the only food they can possibly lay their hands on is a three-year old child from the enemy population. If they kill and consume the child they will be able to complete their mission; if they do not, they will have to abort the mission. Note that this is not a case of the child being harmed to prevent a terror attack. Are they permitted to eat the child in order to carry out their mission? I hope that we all agree that the answer is absolutely not.”

This admittedly extreme example demonstrates, Zohar claimed, that we all agree that the lives of soldiers do not necessarily take precedence over the lives of enemy civilians. Soldiers therefore must take on extra danger in order to avoid killing and harming enemy civilians.

But even Zohar accepted that this principle is a relative one. In fact, he declared that the extra risk that a soldier must take to prevent harm to enemy civilians is very small—at one point he defined it as “going from one percent chance of being killed to one and one-half percent.”

Kasher and Zohar differ on an important matter of theory. But the realities of battlefields are such that commanders at times have only a fraction of the information they would need to determine whether or not they are incurring an additional half-percent of risk. So it’s not clear whether Kasher and Zohar, were they serving as philosopher-advisers to a company commander in Gaza, would actually offer different advice about actual battlefield decisions.

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17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Eitan Press // Feb 24, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    How much do these intellectual discussions of ethics in conference centers actually influence the behavior of soldiers on the battle field in battle conditions?

  • 2 fiddler // Feb 24, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    There’s a fundamental contradiction in Kasher’s argument. If he argues that all human life is sacred, and therefore a soldier’s life is no less sacred than that of a civilian, he’s made the case that all life is equally sacred (and I’d agree). But then, almost in the same breath, he turns around and declares the sanctity of the life of civilians of the enemy country subordinate to the state’s duty to protect its own. That’s not only deep into Orwellian territory (all lives are equally sacred, only some are more sacred than others), but also utterly opportunistic as far as moral hierarchy is concerned. Either the moral plane of “sanctity of life” takes precedence over the plane “duties of the state” or vice versa, but not both, depending on which lives you’re looking at. My suspicion is that his departure point is moral supremacy of state matters and the “sanctity” stuff is just an excuse. That’s evident in that he gives “sanctity” priority in intra-state matters (equal protection for own soldiers and civilians), but gives up this priority the instant he looks at civilians with passports of a different colour.

  • 3 Haim Watzman // Feb 25, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Fiddler, I of course could not in the space required give a full outline of Kasher’s arguments. His position is that all human life is equally sacred. But he also argues when it comes to states’ responsibilities to protect human life, there are distinctions. A state has a higher responsibility to protect the lives of its own citizens than the lives of citizens of other countries. This is in fact generally accepted, even if not explicitly, by most other political ethicists. For example, the U.S. cannot reasonably refuse to extend aid to save the lives of the victims of Hurrican Katarina in New Orleans, but it does not bear the same responsibility for the hurricane’s victims in, say, the Antilles. If that’s the case, and if one accepts his principle that a state’s obligation to protect the lives of its soldiers is no less than its obligations to its civilians, then it follows logically that a state should not incur additional risk on its soldiers to save the lives of civilians outside its borders.

    To Eitan–While commanders and soldiers in the field don’t parse philosophical propositions in action, these theoretical discussions do percolate down into the ranks, both in the form of the IDF’s ethical principles, which are taught directly to soldiers, and in terms of atmosphere of the society in which they they live, which is influenced in part by events like this conference.

  • 4 Y. Ben-David // Feb 25, 2009 at 9:52 am

    I would be interested to know if the Palestinians, both those of HAMAS in the Gaza Strip and FATAH of the Palestinian Authority have held similar, open discussions about the ethics of their use of violence against Israel. If they have, we can then get together and compare notes and then, when we go at it again in the future, we can, assuming the Palestinians have decided that deliberately targeting enemy civilians is not nice and that they should not let their own fighters hide behind the skirts of their own civilian population, we can then both work to keep the “collateral damage” to a minimum. If they haven’t done so, then it seems much of this discussion is going to be, at best, theoretical, as long as we have to keep sending our boys into harm’s way.

  • 5 fiddler // Feb 25, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Haim, I agree that a state has overall a greater responsibility toward its own citizens, but this and the universal, egalitarian principle of the sanctity of all human life are conflicting, not complimentary principles. Kasher, as I understand, tries to resolve the conflict by having it both ways. The distinction between soldiers and civilians (which I have to assume Kasher recognises) is a matter of the state: the state chooses who is fit to be a soldier and whom to send into combat. If it follows from the “sanctity” principle that own soldiers and civilians are entitled to equal protection anyway, then he declares the principle to rank higher in hierarchy than mundane state matters. It’s this declaration that conflicts with the (in itself reasonable) position of lesser responsibility for foreigners.
    Kasher seems to forget that it’s a soldier’s job to incur risks. When a government decides to send soldiers into combat it implicitly strips them of many of the protections that civilians (at home, away from the battle) enjoy. To shift this additional risk to foreign civilians is to shirk responsibility, and this is the result:
    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1065594.html

    YBD, I don’t know if the Palestinians have had a formal conference on this topic. Suffice to say they a) don’t have an effective central authority and a unified military like Israel and b) they are as diverse a bunch as Israelis, and there are plenty who absolutely oppose targeting civilians.

  • 6 Eclectic Radical // Feb 25, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    “…there are plenty who absolutely oppose targeting civilians.”

    Are you sure, if so on what do you base this surety, and do you specifically mean Arabs of Palestinian origin around the world, Arabs of Palestinian origin in the Middle East, Palestinians in the territories, or Palestinians specifically in Gaza?

    The Palestinians knowingly elected Hamas, Fatah launched a coup, and in the ensuing fighting Fatah lost control of Gaza but Hamas was unable to take over the ‘government’ they had been elected to ‘lead’ in the West Bank.

    The candidate who did specifically oppose targeting civilians got a tiny percentage of the vote, and Hamas won the election. Clearly, there were not ‘plenty’ if by ‘plenty’ we mean enough to stop Hamas from winning an election.

    Even the ‘pacifist’ candidate in question, Dr. Barghouti, does not ‘absolutely’ oppose targeting civilians. He explained in an article on the Huffington Post, when the Gaza campaign began, why Hamas was justified in shooting rockets at Israeli civilians.

    So I can’t totally accept your thesis.

    I agree that Dr. Kasher’s position is contradictory, but there is a philoshophical proverb of sorts: ‘an entirely consistent belief structure cannot be true, a partly consistent belief structure may be true.’

  • 7 Ole // Feb 26, 2009 at 6:52 am

    If all human life is equally sacred (a fair starting point) then that means ALL human life. That would mean you should not kill civillians. period. Hence the IOF should not and cannot kill civilians (except perhaps to save more lifes). One way to get around that could be to argue implicitly that Arabs are simply not humans. That would rule you out of any philosophical debate of course, but it could win you the argument in a lot of political debates.

    The other way is to say that there are several principles going on at the same time. On the ONE hand we have the moral and universalist “all-human-lives-are-equally-sacred” argument, and on the OTHER we have a realist and particularist political argument: “states need only or primarily care about their own citizens”. That would mean that from a moral point of view states killing other people is just as bad as when they kill their own citizens, but from the political p.o.w. it may be totally okay. That would indeed put those two spheres in conflict. That would mean that politics is essentially and necessarily amoral. In that case Kasher is making an argument against his own job: why then try to pretend that he can make political assumptions from moral platforms when they are incompatible spheres?

    One could of course also argue as “Eclectic” here does, that the state’s area of responsibility extends primarily and foremost to it’s own citizens. I would agree, but disagree with Eclectic’s conclusion that this justifies anything here. This is because the analogy with a natural disaster is simply false and misleading. Yes, a state has less of a duty to help victims of disasters in other states … UNLESS the state deliberately planned and made that disaster happen. Well… occupation and colonization of a country is not something that “just happened” to some random strangers. The state did make it happen – the state that decided to occupy and colonize other people is indeed responsible for the deaths of civilians, be they the occupied or it’s own citizens. It is not, in any way, comparable to a natural disaster.

    So if you want to get particularist and pragmatic in order to relativize the universalist ethics, then it will be a boomerang argument. First because there will then be no morals applied to state-affairs, and second because you will now be defending the exact same argument for the other “side”: killing your people is better that letting our people get in any danger, so we need to kill you before you can even make a threat. You gave up on universalism and egalitarianism and thus gave the same arguments to your enemies.

    Kasher is thus no ethicist. His relativist argument only works because he giving it to the stronger forces, who, on the other hand, demands different standards from others.

  • 8 Eclectic Radical // Feb 26, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Ole, I was objecting primarily to fiddler’s specific characterization of the Palestinians. It is extremely popular in this particular time to cast the Palestinians as suffering martyrs and Israel as an evil fascist state, in much the same way that not so many years ago (at least, not as historians figure it) it was popular to portray Israel (at least in the US) as a heroic, sainted extension of America and ALL Arabs as scary semi-barbarians just waiting to blow up a bus, a coffee shop, or a shopping mall.

    When I criticize the Palestinian ‘liberation movement’, I do not do so with the purpose of defending Israel. I do with the purpose of correcting what I believe to be misunderstanding of the history of the conflict and the facts of the current situation.

    The Palestinians bear responsibility for their refusal to accept a state in 1947, their share in the 1948 war, the assassination of King Abdullah I of Jordan, attempts to overthrow the Syrian and Jordanian governments, a great share of the civil unrest that destroyed Lebanon as a viable state, the rejection of the Oslo treaty, and the election of Hamas.

    Israel bears responsibility for its own actions, the Palestinians for theirs. It is both morally wrong and deeply tragic that so many civilians were killed in the Gaza campaign.

    It is also morally wrong for rockets to be fired at Israeli towns full of civilians.

    One fact should be noted regarding the disparity of casualties: the Israeli authorities make every effort to protect the lives of their citizens from the rocket attacks. Hamas does not take equal measures to do the same, and there is evidence supporting the claim that they have done the exact opposite on more than one occasion.

    Is it wrong for the IDF to kill Palestinian civilians? Yes. It is also wrong for Hamas to endanger them, having endangered them in the first place to fail to protect them, and to deliberately put at least some of them in harm’s way.

    It is equally wrong for Hamas to attack Israeli civilians.

  • 9 The Phosphorus Question, Revisited // Feb 26, 2009 at 10:21 pm

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  • 10 Ole // Feb 26, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Eclectic: You’re straying a bit away from the philosophical argument now (which is of course okay – just saying). If you want to talk history instead of ethics, I’d much rather wait until you read some more on the topic. From a ethical view it is absurd to claim that the Palestinians are responsible for the occupation. Your argument is even more absurd since you claim that Palestinians living today (in the areas occupied since 1967) are responsible because the rulers of their ancestors did not accept the occupation of other territories in 1948. That is a weird and bizarre argument …

    Back to the actual discussion: If it is okay for a state to occupy an external territory in order to colonize it, inevitably meaning having a war on the original inhabitants (in order to break the inevitable resistance as well as to transfer the people), then there is no such thing as “all human life is equally sacred”. AND there is no such thing as pragmatic morals in the international relations with the particularist interests of sovereign states. There is only a) no relation what so ever between ethics and politics, or b) non-universalist ethics with different standards for different types of humans.

    And from the pragmatic standpoint: it’s not like the state of Israel is taking care of the interests of it’s own citizens by occupying (thus bringing war) other territories. That is both illegal and amoral.

  • 11 fiddler // Feb 27, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Eclectic Radical, I made none of these sweeping characterisations. “The Palestinians” are no more a monolithic block than your own, or any other people, and just like in any other, there are vastly varied attitudes towards violence. I thought that goes without saying.

    Ole, good point about natural vs. man-made disasters (although Haim, not ER brought it up).
    But as for your last point, Israel taking care of the interests of its own citizens by occupying other territories, isn’t that exactly what the entire adventure of (political, revisionist) Zionism has been about from the start? There was simply no way to create a Jewish state anywhere in the world without occupying a territory which happened to be populated overwhelmingly by non-Jews.
    Right-wingers like YBD say, we got away with it then, so why shouldn’t we now? But that’s claiming a customary law of entitlement to do wrong, and on the flip side also ignoring that the two wrongs need not be rectified in the same way. Even if Israel evacuated the WB and the Golan Heights and shared Jerusalem, it doesn’t logically follow that the Jews in Israel proper must be pushed into the sea.

  • 12 Eclectic Radical // Feb 27, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    If we stick strictly to the issues of philosophy, we still cannot escape the historical facts that led to the choices we are judging, and still face a complex moral question. By Ole’s previous statement, dating the occupation to 1948, am I to assume that he does not believe Israel should exist? The statement about Zionism made by fiddler raises the same question. I am not asking these questions as an indictment, but because I think there is some ambiguity in the statements.

    In fact that is the problem. The moral issues of Israel’s origins are very ambiguous. Secular Zionism evolved in Europe, and many European Jews emigrated to Palestine before and after WWII. Yet the majority of Jews in Palestine in 1947 were Palestinian Jews rather than immigrants or the children of immigrants. Yet the leaders of the national movement in 1947 were primarily the children or grandchildren of European immigrants. Yet the native Palestinian Jews clearly believed their ‘Jewishness’ their defining national trait rather than their Palestinian nativity.

    The Arab revolt against British rule in Palestine in the 1930s was primarily anti-Jewish and it was settled by the British ban on further Jewish entry into Palestine. This makes it difficult to categorize subsequent Palestinian actions during 1947 and 1948 as something other than ‘anti-Jewish’. Yet today’s Palestinians are not responsible for the actions of their ancestors and have the right to self-determination. Yet today’s Palestinians have also shown evidence of ‘anti-Jewish’ motivations beyond mere ‘independence’. And with all due respect to fiddler, those who do not have not carried the day in elections or risen to high position in the Palestinian leadership.

    Both sides have an equal claim to the right of self-determination under modern political-philosophical tenets. If the Palestinian Jews see themselves as Israelis, the philosophy of self-determination says they are Israelis and they have a right to exist as ‘Israel.’ Palestinian Arabs who see themselves as ‘Palestinian’ have the same and equal right to exist as ‘Palestine.’

    These rights are conflicting, and that conflict must be resolved for a peaceful settlement. The main bar to resolution is the belief on each side that their rights are paramount and the other side’s are of lesser value. In this basic sense, neither side can be excused or absolved. Regardless of the morality of the actions of either side in the conflict, which has frequently been worthy of severe condemnation, each side is ‘right’ and each side is ‘wrong’ and the only possible settlement is one where each side acknowledges the other’s legitimacy and a consensus of the rights of both sides is reached.

    I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I see people who understand that, such as the authors of this blog, on the Israeli side. I have not seen an equal understanding on the Palestinian side. Even Dr. Barghouti holds Hamas ‘justified’ for its rocket attacks on Israel, and he is the pacifist.

  • 13 Ole // Feb 28, 2009 at 2:27 am

    I mentioned 1948 because you did. You were the one who claimed that the present Palestinians being killed by the IOF in the areas that were occupied in 1967 are to be blamed for their ancestors having rejected the occupation and division of their land in 1948. That is bizarro-logic.

    But to your suspicion – yes, you are welcome to label me as political “suspicious” ;) Because I do not think it can be justified to create a European colony in a territory where there are already people living, declare that colony a sovereign state with political privilege and dominance for those European colonizers and transfer of the original inhabitants. No of course I do not find that acceptable or justified. NOBODY who believes in democracy and human rights find that acceptable. No progressives, no radicals and no liberals. It is simply incompatible with being either democratic, humanist or left-wing. If anyone proposed to do something like that today, it would be non-justified, and so it was 60 years ago.

    Now, I hope I do not insult the host of this debate, whom I have nothing but respect for. Because to say that the creation of a zionist state was wrong does not change the fact that it is there now, and to say that Europe should have taken the responsibility for Jewish refugees does not change the fact that Europe did not do that. It was not the Palestinians responsibility but it became just that – and today that thing is the Israeli state’s responsibility. That it was not right to do it does not make it undone, and does not mean it is right to undo it – that depends on how the undoing takes place. To say that it was not a solution at all to crate a new refugee-problem by settling European Jewish refugees in Palestine does not mean that one wants the descendants of those refugees to now move away. Nothing of the sort is implied in recognizing history and it’s mistakes.

    Likewise: It was wrong to commit genocide against the inhabitants of North America – I hope we agree on that? But to admit this was wrong does not mean you are then committed to the destruction of the US and the expulsion of all descendants of Europeans from North America, does it? You can be for a US that acknowledges that it’s creation happened on the blood of others and that that particular thing was wrong but which will then strive from now on to not commit similar wrongs in the future. In other words: to strive for progress you need to recognize past injustices.

    Now, I assume that either genocide or legal racial domination is not acceptable options for anyone moderately left? But democracy, equal rights and co-existence might be, right? Well, to say that it was wrong to force a foreign state on a people does not mean you are now for future injustices against the now-citizens of that state. ON THE CONTRARY – to recognize past injustices is a necessary prerequisite for creating future understanding and equality.

    There is no way one can say “I want to fight for equal rights and justice in this country” without implying that those did not exist in the past and today. In order to realize those things you darn well have to recognize that something was wrong before. To say something is broken is a way better step toward fixing it that denying it is.

    Now that was the philosophy part. As regards the history-part, I repeat my previous statement that in order to discuss that you need to actually read about it. Your post is full of non-facts. For example: There were not a “few” but 600,000 European settlers in Palestine in 1947. The actual Palestinian Jews were a vast minority in the new Jewish community, and they had generally lived peacefully with their Muslim and Christian (and Atheist) neighbours. That was one of your mistakes – the second follows from the first: That Palestinian were first and foremost revolting against the settlers because of their “Jewishness”. That is complete and utter bigoted nonsense. As I said, and as anyone can look up, there were Jewish Palestinians before the European colonization. There was a revolt in 1936, yes, against the European colonization. Would you also claim that other people being driven out of their homes by Europeans and then revolting against that where simply just “anti-Christians”? Nonsense!

  • 14 Ole // Feb 28, 2009 at 2:55 am

    Oh… if I might make one more analogy to not be accused of anti-Americanism too: I was born in Skåne which is the southern-most part of Sweden. It used to be part of Denmark but Sweden conquered it in 17-something. Not only did Sweden conquer it, the Swedish state also massacred the population and colonized the area with their lords and drove the surviving farmers out of their homes, and made them an ethnic underclass.

    Was that right? No! Does saying that this was wrong mean I want to commit any similar atrocities (or any at all) against the descendant of the Swedish aristocracy from back then? No. Is it then irrelevant? No – atrocities must be recognized. If there was still structural and/or formalized discrimination against the Skånish people and a Swedish racial dominance in the region then it would be very important to recognize that Swedish supremacy in the area was founded on injustice. But even without that, it still has a practical relevance for today: To recognize that Sweden (as so many other states) was founded on imperialism and colonization as well as the cultural hegemonization of the many different ethnic groups is quite an important tool for breaking nationalist myths about cultural unity that are created to deny rights and equality to other cultural minorities (and recent migrants).

    Just saying this to make the argument general. Now I have denied the justice in the creation of the states of USA, Israel and Sweden. The question is: how do we get on from there in order to build true equality? Can we do that without admitting former injustices?

  • 15 Eclectic Radical // Feb 28, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    I agree completely about the recognition of past injustices, nor do I think you anti-American for mentioning some of the past injustices (there are a whole lot more) of the United States and its development. I have never denied past injustice, indeed I have made repeated reference to the atrocities of the conflict.

    I would say that there were very good reasons why European Jewish refugees, in the wake of WWII, would not WANT Europe to ‘take responsibility’ for them. If you wish to stay philosophical. Nor does modern political philosophy justify ‘taking responsibility’ for people, against their wishes, who possess the moral right to determine their identity and future for themselves. ‘Taking responsibility’ for people in such a manner is precisely what my ancestors did in North America, as you have aptly pointed out. ‘Taking responsibility’ for the Native Americans did more damage to their culture and killed more of them than any of the actual wars.

    Historically, you are not entirely correct. I have read quite a lot of history and continue to read more on a regular basis. The main issue of the 1936 Arab revolt in Palestine was Jewish immigration. It is not bigoted to say so, it is a fact. Calling it a ‘non-fact’ does not make it so. It was such an important issue that after defeating the revolt, the British voluntarily placed extremely strict limits on Jewish entry into Palestine as part of the reconciliation process. No limits on any other European entries were enacted or requested.

    Once again you accuse me, in error, of the same basic claim: that I am saying today’s Palestinians deserve what is happening because of their ancestors actions in 1947. Again, I will deny this. I have simply illustrated a pattern that began in 1947 and has been repeated. Their ancestors’ actions contributed to the CAUSE of the chain of events since. Cause and justification are not the same thing and one can recognize a causal fact without attaching another meaning to it.

    I understand and share your view on colonization. Yet to call Israel a ‘European colony’ and leave it at that is to accept propaganda at face value. As you have said, there have been Jews in Palestine for a long time. More than that, some parts of Palestine have had Jewish majorities or have even been exclusively Jewish since deep into the history of the Ottoman Empire or even further back.

    The expulsion of Palestinian Muslims from their homes was a direct result of the 1948 war. It was a terrible injustice, accompanied by terrible atrocities. I admit it entirely and fully.

    But it is simply incorrect to label the attempt to establish two Palestinian states, one for Jews and one for Muslims, as a ‘occupation and partition’ of the Muslims’ land. The UN Settlement was based on the population of the area and apportioned so that Jewish areas would become the Jewish state and Muslim areas the Muslim state. The occupation of non-Jewish areas came about because of the war, which came about because of the rejection of the UN Settlement. This is NOT a justification of the war or its effects, merely a statement of the causal relationship.

    Because you mentioned the Native Americans (and no, I don’t think you are anti-American for doing so), I am going to address the issue of ‘taking responsibility’ for the Jewish refugees following WWII. This idea, that a larger or more powerful group can ‘take responsibility’ for another group irrespective of its wishes is the fundamental problem we are discussing.

    We agree (despite whatever differing views of history before 1947 we may have) that what happened to the Palestinians in 1948 was wrong. It would have been equally wrong for the nations of Europe to attempt to ‘take responsibility’ for the refugees of the Holocaust. A very few of them wished to stay and did. The rest left, because they had very little confidence in what form ‘taking responsibility for them’ might have assumed. Regardless of the factual validity of their fears, their fears were extremely reasonable under the circumstances. They did not wish Europe to ‘take responsibility for them’, ‘Europe’ had just done just that and they wanted no more of it. Under those circumstances, they had every right to refuse such an offer even had it been made.

    I am not attempting to say that the Holocaust justifies the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes or that conflicting wrongs make a right. That is precisely my entire point, this whole cycle has been one of conflicting wrongs committed in stark repetition and simply making everything worse.

    There are three versions of the history of this conflict: the version in which Israel is an evil European colony repressing the poor, helpless Palestinians; the version in which the Palestinians are barbaric killers who wish to see all the Jews dead; and the objective, factual version. Israel is a country, like any other, established with high ideals and fallen tragically short of them. The Palestinians are angry and marginalized, victimized as much by other Arab nations as by Israel.

    I do not deny former injustices, or current injustices. I simply do my best not to fall into the Manichean trap that this is somehow a struggle between good and evil, one way or the other.

  • 16 Ole // Mar 1, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    ‘Taking responsibility’ for refugees is not a paternalistic or antiquated concept. It is still very much in use and very very relevant. It has nothing to do with doing things against the wishes of the refugees – on the contrary. After WWII Europe repeated the sick idea of “solving the Jewish question” by getting rid of the Jews. The Allied Powers did not really give shelter to Jewish refugees neither during or after the war (where there were thousands of displaced people in Europe). They did not allow them to travel, they closed their borders and set up a commission to decide what was to happen to these people. Now THAT is paternalistic. Instead of allowing European Jews to remain in Europe with protection and freedom – which would of course have been possible after the war – or giving each person the choice of where to go, the Allied only (only) asked the zionist organization which had the same “solution” to the “problem” as the anti-semites: get the Jews out of Europe. So the refugee ‘burden’ was placed by Europe on Palestine – a country that had nothing to do with it. It is not uncommon or unreasonable to talk about state’s responsibility for refugees, and unfortunately, if states in general do not give refugees freedom to migrate and settle then some countries who do will feel it as a ‘burden’. This is no different today where Europe is still trying to push refugees away, and paying North Africa to do the ‘dirty work’. Many European Jews did really not have anywhere to go but Palestine – it is not that they had a free choice (do you really think that a majority of urban Europeans most wanted to spend the rest of their lives in a rural Middle Eastern country if they could actually go anywhere?). Our states did not give them a choice – just like they did not give the Palestinians a choice. So yes! Palestine/Israel was indeed a European colony. It was founded by European states against the wishes of the inhabitants and settled with Europeans who did not have much of a choice because of the actions of the European states. That is a tragedy and wrong. This started even before the war: the “free” European countries were not giving shelter to Jews and did not allow them to travel, they had the same types of anti-migration regimes as they do today. So in the 20ies and 30ies Jews migrated en masse to Palestine – who can blame them? They were not allowed in Europe, but parts of Europe encouraged them to “go away” to that other place (hence zionism and anti-semitism are two sides of the same coin: the same “Jewish problem” and the same “solution”). There were already established zionist agencies (with European support) in Palestine at that time, buying up Palestinian land and throwing farmers out, and there were zionist terror-groups like Irgun trying to settle the “Arab Problem” in the 30ies. That and the half a million European settlers did of course (!) create some resentment: People were being driven out of their homes and their land! The 36-uprising was against zionism and colonization.

    So please do not make this a question of religions: it is not and never was a matter of “muslims vs jews” – it was a matter of European state’s ranging from indifferent to hostile doing what Europe has been doing for centuries: imposing it’s will on other nations, and zionist and anti-semitic organizations encouraging a racist idea, and Jewish refugees who had little freedom of choice, and Arab land owners and Aristocrats being pawns of the European empires, and Arab (being jewish, muslim, christian, atheist, druus etc) peasants and others who had as little choice as the European Jews. Complicated, yes. But mostly religious? Hardly.

  • 17 Ghosts of Gaza // May 11, 2009 at 2:59 pm

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