I’m catching up now with events in Lebanon. Every single time I have travelled to southern Africa, a major Middle Eastern crisis has begun right after I arrived. I realize that given how often such crises unfold, that’s roughly like saying, “The sun comes up in the morning whenever I visit South Africa”, but still.
I don’t have a lot to add to what’s being said in many venues. The disproportionate character of Israel’s response strikes me as being both unwise and unjust, and the same for unqualified American support for those actions. The unwise part seems more pertinent: the actors in this situation (including Hizbollah and Hamas) have a deeply flawed understanding of cause-and-effect, of the likely outcomes of what they’re doing. But then, what else is new in the Middle East?
I am a stickler for consistency, so I also really do struggle to understand how we can fiercely act in response to terrorism, defined as deliberate attacks on civilian populations, and then find ways to justify or excuse military action which either has enormous effects on noncombatants or which even appears to deliberately target them.
Crooked Timber draws attention to a particularly egregious case of such excuse, Alan Dershowitz’ argument that civilians in Lebanon aren’t civilians if they stay in their own homes and communities. At the least, his definition of “civilian” and “combatant” would clearly apply also to Israelis who stick up for the legitimate right of their nation to defend itself and seek the freedom of its soldiers. Or, as one commentor at Crooked Timber observes, it would seem to be roughly the same logic as Ward Churchill’s justly infamous argument about “little Eichmanns”. Not seeing a lot of cries for Dershowitz’ resignation just yet, but I’ve been out of touch.
I guess that’s just me hobgoblinly dreaming of consistency again. Asking for that in this case is obviously unrealistic, it always is. It’s one thing to say, “Israel has no choice to fight Hizbollah in this way, horrible as the costs are”. I think that’s still wrong, but it’s something that some kind of meaningful debate could form around. There’s no question that Israel has some difficult, maybe impossible quandries to struggle with in trying to legitimately defend itself. But to try and categorically justify what’s happening on the logic that some civilians are less civilians, that they’re all legitimate targets: how is that different from terrorism?