Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Missiles in the Middle East

Rocket from Gaza

I recently received a call from the Tulane Students forJustice in Palestine for a candlelight vigil "to remember and honor those who have died or been injured in the recent Israeli bombings of Palestinian land." What struck me as strange about this call is that the Palestinian organization Hamas had been firing missiles into Israel for weeks before the Israelis finally responded. If the Students for Justice in Palestine ever protested the Palestinian bombings of Israeli land, I wasn't aware of it. This is an odd sort of justice, in which one party is assumed to have the right to strike at the other with impunity.

The death of civilians always presents a moral challenge to the use of military force. But before condemning Israel, one should consider the alternatives. Israel could have simply allowed Hamas to continue its attacks, something no other nation would have been expected to endure. The Israelis could have immediately invaded the Gaza Strip and re-occupied it, but most analysts believe that would have entailed even more civilian deaths.  Or, Israel could have done what it did: fire back in the hopes that this would dissuade Hamas and make the more radical step of an invasion unnecessary. Logically, it seems to me that if anyone is going to protest Israeli action, one would have to argue that the Israelis had some better alternative. And  they don't.

Hamas can, at any time, stop the Israeli missiles by ceasing their own attacks. But the organization continues to use the densely populated region of Gaza as a base. The leaders of Hamas probably want to provoke Israeli retaliation because it intensifies anti-Israeli feeling in the population of Gaza and encourages popular reactions against Israeli in other Arab countries, as well as among foreign groups prone to seeing the conflict as a simple dichotomy of Palestinian victims and Israeli victimizers. That cynical willingness to sacrifice one's own people is what we should really recognize and remember.

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