Aug. 20th, 2006

rfmcdonald: (Default)
A couple of days ago, [ profile] landsmand pointed to an article written by one Smadar Haran Kaiser ("The World Should Know What He Did to My Family", in The Washington Post) regarding her personal experience with Hezbollah.

Outside, we could hear the men storming about. Desperately, we sought to hide. Danny helped our neighbor climb into a crawl space above our bedroom; I went in behind her with Yael in my arms. Then Danny grabbed Einat and was dashing out the front door to take refuge in an underground shelter when the terrorists came crashing into our flat. They held Danny and Einat while they searched for me and Yael, knowing there were more people in the apartment. I will never forget the joy and the hatred in their voices as they swaggered about hunting for us, firing their guns and throwing grenades. I knew that if Yael cried out, the terrorists would toss a grenade into the crawl space and we would be killed. So I kept my hand over her mouth, hoping she could breathe. As I lay there, I remembered my mother telling me how she had hidden from the Nazis during the Holocaust. "This is just like what happened to my mother," I thought.

As police began to arrive, the terrorists took Danny and Einat down to the beach. There, according to eyewitnesses, one of them shot Danny in front of Einat so that his death would be the last sight she would ever see. Then he smashed my little girl's skull in against a rock with his rifle butt. That terrorist was Samir Kuntar.

By the time we were rescued from the crawl space, hours later, Yael, too, was dead. In trying to save all our lives, I had smothered her.

Samir Kuntar, in case you're wondering, is the man who is supported by Hezbollah and whose release to freedom in Lebanon was made a precondition for peace in the recent conflict by the Lebanese government.

Monstrous? Yes, but this goes without saying. Hezbollah can be accused of many things, but it can assured that respect for civilian lives won't be cited on a charge sheet. This isn't too surprising, given how the recent launch of rockets into civilian-populated areas in northern Israel with warheads--ball bearings, shards of metal--intended to inflict disproportionate and inhumane suffering is a pretty flagrant war crime. Though expected, it's terribly disappointing that Lebanese mourn their dead while not caring what happens to Israelis.

This lack of sympathy is common to Lebanon's south, of course. For one item of proof, look at the Jerusalem Post's coverage of a recent celebration of the King David Hotel bombing in Jerusalem in July 1946 that killed 91 people.

[W]nd when Motti Golani from the University of Haifa noted obliquely that on June 29, 1946, the British authorities had arrested almost all of the leaders of the Yishuv, while on June 29, 2006, the Israeli authorities arrested almost all the leaders of Hamas, an incensed woman screamed out from the audience, "It's not healthy to make those kinds of comparisons."

"Leftist," muttered another elderly woman who still retains a heavy American accent. "He should tell this to [Hizbullah chief Hassan] Nasrallah."

The Hagana and almost all leaders of the Yishuv condemned the bombing in the strongest terms, distancing themselves morally and militarily from the IZL and ending the brief period of cooperation between the resistance movements. The IZL and many researchers have continued to insist that the Hagana directly authorized the bombing.

"Everything was coordinated with the Hagana," declared former prime minister and IZL leader Menachem Begin in a film clip from the Israel Broadcasting Authority's "Scroll of Fire" series.

The audience applauded.

Convened as Israel was fighting Hizbullah in Lebanon, the participants took great pains to distinguish between terror groups and freedom fighters. Former prime minister and current Likud MK Binyamin Netanyahu, popular as ever at the conference, said, "The difference is expressed in the fact that the terrorists intend to harm civilians whereas legitimate combatants try to avoid that."

"Imagine that Hamas or Hizbullah would call the military headquarters in Tel Aviv and say, 'We have placed a bomb and we are asking you to evacuate the area.' They don't do that. That is the difference."

"The warning was given early enough," insisted Menachem Begin in the same clip.

The British government has protested, but it's unsurprising that questions like morality don't matter to people of the ilk described below.

"Of course it's sad that so many people were killed, especially the innocent Jews," [one bomber] continued. "But we warned them. We gave them time to evacuate the building. The British were arrogant, they chose not to [evacuate]. We fought for our independence. It was the right thing to do. I would do anything for our country now, too."

Benjamin Netanyahu, former and perhaps future Israeli prime minister, was one of the people in attendance at this celebration. Killing Britons by the dozens is bad when it's done by Islamist terrorists, it seems; if it's Zionists who commit this mass murder and you're a Zionist, well, another story.

In his The Nation article "The Semantics of Terror", Ian Williams was quite right to conclude that terrorism is seen in many ways by different people, usually in the light of their own personal prejudices. As a single example, many of the New York City firefighters killed on 9/11 might well have supported NORAID before al-Qaeda's visit that that American metropolis. Violence directed at one's own group is unjust; violence directed at other groups, now, can be a different story for too many people. This blatant hypocrisy is proof of Fred Halliday's thesis ("The Time of War", at Open Democracy) that people invested in the outcome of a particular clash must rank among the last groups whose claims to authority should be considered in an evaluation of the justice of a situation.

There is an enormous historical regression involved here. It involves seeing membership of a particular community, or claims of affinity, ethnicity or religious association with others, as conveying particular rights (or particular moral clarity) on those making such claims. In purely rational terms, this is nonsense: the crimes of the Israelis in wantonly destroying Lebanon's infrastructure, and the crimes of Hizbollah and Hamas in killing civilians and placing the lives and security of their peoples recklessly at risk, do not require particularist denunciation. They are crimes on the basis of universal principles – of law, decency, humanity – and should be identified as such.

[. . .]

In such times, the moral clarity of Isaac Deutscher and Hannah Arendt is essential, even where subsequent history and philosophical debate have moved arguments on. Any hope, for example, that a solution to inter-ethnic conflict could be found on the basis of proletarian solidarity must be dispelled as ineffectual at best, dangerous at worst: proletarian solidarity did not save the Jews of Europe in the 1940s and has not reconciled Arabs and Jews thereafter.

Equally, a condemnation of the actions of militarised states and guerrilla groups must be based on more than a rejection of their demagogy and chauvinism; it requires a quality that has been long neglected (including by the left, as is evident in much discussion of the war in Iraq), namely respect for the laws and norms of war, as in the Geneva protocols (1949), the additional protocols (1977), and related documents. Across the world there are movements of solidarity – including with Hamas, Hizbollah, or the "Iraqi resistance" – that, while invoking universal principles of war against Israelis, fail completely to apply the same principles the behaviour of the guerrillas and other groups, even though many have committed terrible acts of barbarism, murder, intimidation of civilians, and fostering of inter-communal hatred.

[. . .]

The sustained independence of mind and clarity of principle of figures such as Deutscher and Arendt should guide judgment and commentary on the latest middle-east war. The alternative is more missed opportunities for peace, and more debates [. . .] where vitriol and the refusal to listen replace the deliberation, understanding, and reason that the global public sphere desperately needs.

If anyone is going to say anything about any conflict that's going to be worth my respectful attention in the future, they are going to have to be strictly and scrupulously honest. Anything less is worthy only of a fisking, in brief or in detail.
rfmcdonald: (Default)
It was decidedly interesting to watch the 2005 film Rumor Has It ... and the 1967 classic movie The Graduate back to back this weekend. The Graduate deserves its classic status, not least for the acting and the cinematography that so superbly conveys Benjamin Braddock's confusions; Rumor Has It ..., though more comedic and light in tone, was an unfortunate casualty of the ongoing Jennifer/Brad/Angelina pop-cultural crisis, never less than competent and frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

The plot characteristic that most distinguishes Rumor Has It ... from its nominal prequel is its lack of existential crisis. In The Graduate, Benjamin is never not despairing or benumbed, Mrs. Robinson never hopelessly lost. Had The Graduate been filmed today, the angst would have ended as soon as the protagonists got their Prozac filled and their therapists' advice. That's the universe of Rumor Has It ..., where all of the characters' fundamental problems with reality are ironed out in the end by a renewed if critical embrace of tradition.
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