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Catfish and Cod
Thursday, May 20, 2004
What were they thinking?
(Link path: The New Zealand Herald/Reuters)

Palestinian demonstrators were killed today when tanks and helicopters fired into the crowd. Israel says it wasn't deliberately firing at civilians.

But what were you doing using tanks and helicopters in a highly urbanized environment in the first place? Everyone knows that leads to civilian deaths -- especially when people are demonstrating against you.

Whether you support the defense of Israel against terrorists or not (and I do), the only conclusion you can draw is that Israel is not concerned about Palestinian civilian deaths, that the life of a Palestinian is not worth as much as the life of an Israeli.

If you accept such tactics, then your strategy must be considerate. There are times when America has judged civilian casualties to be acceptable, most notably in the firebombings of Japan and Germany. But if you go that way, you have already accepted that this is a total war against your enemies that can only end in the surrender of an entire people. You're committed to blowing away every means of making war the enemy has, and to hell with the consequences. Unconditional surrender of one side or the other is the only possible end. Such is a "war to the knife", as Jerry Pournelle puts it. If Israel really wants to do that, it had better relinquish its alliance with America and go to it. The end results will not be pretty, and they will not necessarily be in Israel's favor, but they will be final.

If, on the other hand, Israel has any intention of ever making peace with the Palestinians, and the Arabs using the Palestinians as their proxies and human shields, then they had better abandon such tactics and at least make a good faith effort at conducting a clean war. The Israeli people, far and away, oppose further interventions by their army, settlers, or government in the Gaza Strip. The Likud Party doesn't, but they don't represent Israeli society as a whole and never have. If Israel wants to make a peace agreement, they ought to pull their army and their settlers behind a wall, and tell the Palestinians to go stuff themselves. If the Palestinians start trouble after that it's their fault for not suing for peace, not the Israelis'. But no matter whose fault it is, both sides should respect the others' noncombatant civilians, or lose the moral high ground -- and American support.

I know, I know, that last sentence sounds like a bad joke after all the suicide bombings conducted by the Palestinians over the years. But just as Nick Berg's murder does not excuse Abu Gharib, the Palestinian suicide bombings do not excuse heavy-handed Israeli tactics. Our civilization upholds standards, and one of those standards is that every effort should be made to spare civilian lives, unless it's impossible to conduct the war otherwise.

Israel doesn't have to demolish homes or fire tank rounds or helicopter missiles in crowded urban areas in order to secure its borders. There are other ways to keep the Gazans from attacking Israel, and Israel should use them.