Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Bias of Outrage

UPDATE: below

As I've repeatedly argued, "Treating similarly situated persons differently is the very definition of bias. Melody Music v. F.C.C., 345 F.2d 730, 732 (D.C. Cir. 1965)." Keep that in mind when reading Norm Geras's excellent analysis of those claiming Israel committed war crimes in Gaza:
Hamas have been fighting in a way that endangers civilians -- and I mean Palestinian, not Israeli, civilians. Those with a genuine concern for human rights have not failed to notice this. Thus, in calling for an 'impartial international investigation into allegations of serious violations of the laws of war' in the Gaza conflict, Human Rights Watch referred upfront to violations 'by Israel and Hamas'; it called -- as none of the voices I have surveyed above, and the general chorus of which they are but a small sample, did -- for an investigation into 'alleged violations by both sides'.

This is a matter of some importance. For it begins from a reality of the conflict which Israel's accusers have preferred to overlook, namely, that the commission of war crimes, so far from being incidental to the way Hamas fights, is integral to it; Hamas fights from within the civilian population it purports to, and to some degree does, politically represent. It fights so that its enemy, Israel, can only with maximum difficulty hit military targets -- Hamas fighters or weapons or installations -- without at the same time endangering Palestinian civilians. Israel is obliged, nonetheless, by the laws of war to take every step it reasonably can not to jeopardize these lives. My point is not to acquit it of that responsibility. It is, though, to emphasize that Hamas has exactly the same responsibility, one which it flouts by the very methods of self-defence it uses, methods putting 'its own' civilians at risk and leading to regular violations of the laws of war.

How could the angry chorus denouncing Israel, and only Israel, have missed this? . . .

That suggests a different hypothesis is needed as to what has been the cause of public outrage over Gaza. It is not so much human suffering as such but human suffering in so far as Israel was responsible for it. The identical human suffering in so far as Hamas has been responsible for it -- to this the denouncers seem to have been rendered blind. For it is no longer now a matter of weighing numbers of deaths and magnitude of suffering caused by Hamas's rockets in Israel against the suffering caused by Israel in Gaza. No, what we are looking at is a quantity of suffering in Gaza for which Hamas as well as Israel is responsible. By its methods of fighting Hamas virtually ensures that any military reaction from Israel will incur civilian casualties. I have already said that under the laws of war this does not clear Israel of the obligation not to deliberately target civilians or to put them recklessly in jeopardy. However, that obligation, of which Israel's one-sided critics are so well aware, rests just as squarely on the heads of Hamas, who regularly disregard it; and yet those critics somehow fail to see the obligation on the other side of the conflict or else lose their voices when it comes to saying something about its consistent violation.

It might be said here in defence of the one-sided critics that their stand is motivated by a belief that Hamas's cause is a just one whereas Israel's is not. It's not a view I share, but I'll let that pass because it isn't relevant to the issue. The laws of war, and the requirements of ius in bello (governing how one fights), oblige not only those whose cause is, putatively, unjust but also those presumed to have justice on their side. The silence over the crimes of Hamas that have brought death and disaster on the Palestinians in Gaza -- just as Israel's military campaign has -- is the silence of rank prejudice. Twinned with a vocal outrage against Israel, it tells us that it is not only a concern for human suffering that has been at work; a plain political animus is also present, funneling the outrage in one direction only.
Citing John Milton, I titled a recent look at Israel's critics: Eyeless In Gaza. Norm has the better Miltonian label for anti-Israeli bias: One-Eyed in Gaza--read the whole thing.


From the February 13th Guardian (U.K.):
Amnesty International said Hamas forces and militias were involved in a "campaign of abductions, deliberate and unlawful killings, torture and death threats against those they accuse of 'collaborating' with Israel, as well as opponents and critics". It said at least two dozen men had been shot by Hamas since the end of December and "scores of others" shot in the legs, kneecapped or beaten.Amnesty gave detailed accounts of some of the cases and said there was "incontrovertible evidence" that Hamas security forces and militia were "responsible for grave human rights abuses".


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Their problem is only incidentally with Israel. Their real enemy is reality. They want something other than reality to be true. They want evil to go away by pretending it isn't there. Israel is a standing accusation to their world-view, and must be eliminated.

Carl said...

A liberal is someone who thinks Saddam was harmless and the Palestinians peaceful--but Bush a war criminal.

OBloodyHell said...

> ...It is not so much human suffering as such but human suffering in so far as Israel was responsible for it.

Not really accurate -- missing a crucial word:

...It is not so much human suffering as such but human suffering in so far as Israel was avoidably responsible for it.


While acknowledging not having spent any time looking into the matter, I suspect Israel has more than adequately bent over backwards to avoid unneeded casualties.