Archive for November, 2012
I was a little heartened when I readt his profile of Sami al-Ajrami by Sarah Topol a few days ago.
Ajrami is apparently the only Palestinian living in Gaza who reports events there in Hebrew to the Israeli media. He has figured out something that seems to go over the heads of pretty much everyone else I ever see who try to push the ‘Palestinian’ line — including most of the Jewish left. My bold:
Ajrami says he tried to create common ground by comparing the Israelis who fled their towns in the south for the relative safety of Tel Aviv to Gazans evacuating their homes in heavily-targeted areas of the enclave. “I can understand your misery, as people, as humans—but you have to understand the message from Gaza,” he remembers saying. “It’s the same misery and there are politicians who rule and govern in a way that makes a lot of civilians dead.”
Israelis are more prone to understanding that message, Ajrami believes, than if he accused the Israeli military of targeting Palestinian civilians. “They won’t understand me, and they will say: ‘What? Fuck, you are launching rockets randomly on our houses!’ They won’t understand and they won’t feel sympathy towards your misery,” he says.
Ajrami’s mission is not to be a one-way bullhorn on the situation. When he speaks as an Israeli expert on local television and radio in Gaza, he tries to explain that Israel is a segmented society, with different factions that should be engaged in different ways. “Let’s separate between Jews and Israelis, and Israelis citizens and Israeli government and the Israeli policy, because I can have the support of a lot of Israelis because they understand and they call for the end of occupation, just like me,” he says.
I wrote last week about the common experience of being shot at and the futility of trying to be The Victim in the conflict. Ajrami understands that. He sees that the way to make Israelis sympathise with Palestinian suffering is not to start telling them how evil they are and how much worse it is for Palestinians than for Israelis, while trying to downplay the impact of Palestinian terrorism. The way to do it is to concentrate on shared suffering and common experiences.
Fear, suffering, and anger are things that Israelis understand. Trying to claim a monopoly on these emotions is what hurts the Palestinian cause the most (the same, by the way, can be said for the people on the Israeli side of the fence who do the same thing).
We need more people like Ajrami, and we need people on the Israeli side broadcasting to the Palestinians in Arabic. In fact, it seems insane that nobody in Israel has thought to do that yet (or at least, hasn’t done it well).
It seems that nobody has been killed, thank God. Also, it is not guaranteed that Hamas carried this out, but Hamas were definitely celebrating it. There are reports that Israel has stepped-up its airstrikes over Gaza and Hamas/PIJ have stepped-up rocket fire in response. Who saw that one coming?
Just to be clear: an anti-war rally in Tel Aviv was cancelled because of this bombing. Everyone in Israel who wanted to end the offensive has just lost their case. All of the Israeli peaceniks that I follow are as shocked and scared as everyone else. These attackers have essentially guaranteed that there is no end in sight to this war.
**Update** at least 21 injured. Police say it was a definite terrorist attack
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There are breaking reports of a bus bomb in Tel Aviv, the first attack there since 2006. From what I can gather from Twitter and elsewhere, it was a female terrorist who threw a bomb onto the bus and then left the area. The police has arrested one suspect and are looking for another. There were over 10 injured, three critically. Luckily, the bus was mostly empty at the time.
Most importantly/disgustingly, Hamas is busy celebrating this as a ‘victory for Allah’ over the loudspeakers in Gaza. Celebratory gunfire heard throughout the strip.
This pretty much puts an end to any hope of a ceasefire agreement. What Hamas have just done is won themselves a long-protracted ground war.
A bus exploded in central Tel Aviv on Wednesday, wounding at least 10 people, three of them seriously.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blast on the No. 66 bus on the corner of Shaul Hamelech and Henrietta Szold Streets, but Israel Police suspect it was a terror attack. Passersby were ordered to keep their distance from the scene.
Large police forces were deployed to the area, and opened a manhunt after two suspected terrorists. Eyewitnesses say they saw a person plant an explosive and run away. Al-Arabiya reported that at least one of the suspected terrorists was a woman.
“A bomb exploded on a bus in central Tel Aviv. This was a terrorist attack. Most of the injured suffered only mild injuries,” said Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
You think YOU have it bad? You should hear about ME! Or: why Israelis and Palestinians need to shut up and listen
What do you feel when you’re being shot at?
The answer may seem obvious, but in the scheme of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it’s important. As everyone tries to ‘out-suffer’ everyone else and the stories of trauma in Gaza and in Southern Israel mount, people seem to be forgetting this basic truth: being shot at is fucking terrifying.
That’s right, being shot at is a very unpleasant experience. It means that the person on the other end of the trigger/rocket-launcher wants to kill you, and is trying to kill you. Of course, there is probably some context: perhaps that person has suffered immensely; perhaps they lost a sister or brother or son or daughter and they are venting their rage at the people that they blame; maybe you have had a much more comfortable life than they have – they have been living in constant squalor fear, while you have been able to life relatively normally, most of the time at least; maybe it’s not you they were shooting at, but the person next to you – you just happened to get caught in the crossfire.
All of this information is important, but when you’re being shot at, it’s an academic point really. No amount of context will make you think ‘ok, well fair enough, I guess it’s not really their fault that they’re shooting at me’. It seems ridiculous to say, but the way people talk, you’d think that was the natural reaction that most people have. Abstract discussions of ‘necessity’ and ‘proportionality’ do not make you forgive the fact that you and your loved ones are being shot at. All that you really have in your head at that moment is ‘fuck, I’m being shot at’.
Here is something that everyone needs to bear in mind as they try to take the mantle of ‘suffering’ and claim the moral high ground in the current Gaza incursion: Israelis and Palestinians are shooting at each other. It’s that simple.
Well, it isn’t that simple. There is a lot to be said about the fact that Hamas is shooting at the Israelis to inflict terror and the Israelis are shooting at Hamas to try and stop Hamas shooting at the Israelis. But then, the Israelis inflict terror in spite of themselves. Shooting at people will do that. Whatever you want to say about Hamas launching rockets from civilian areas, it makes very little difference to the people who are on the ‘business end’ of the response. All they know is that they were not firing rockets from civilian areas, but they are being shot at.
Then again, that makes no difference to the Israelis in Hamas’ ever-expanding rocket range. The fact that they are being targeted with much less powerful weapons and that they have bomb shelters to run and hide to does not make the fact that they are being shot at less traumatic. All of those things are true, and they are losing less loved ones than the Palestinians in Gaza, but they are being shot at, and being shot at is fucking terrifying.
I have, over the course of my relatively brief time in Israel, had to take shelter from Hamas rockets twice and had rocks thrown at me once. That’s a hell of a lot less than most of the people in Israel at the moment, but when those incidents happened, I was not thinking about how terrible life must be for the Palestinians who were attacking me. My thoughts were more along the lines of: ‘fuck, I’m being shot at!’
I am writing this post because I have been sitting at my computer screen for almost a week now, watching two Sides of the Conflict trying to out-do each other in terms of being shot at. And in all honesty, the Palestinians win hands-down. The big Israeli infographics with numbers of rockets are not quite as pity-inspiring as footage of families grieving over dead children. But, once again, that is beside the point. In fact, what is really going through my mind is: what is the point? Why is it so important to have suffered? Why are we holding up spent rockets and dead and injured children to the world and saying ‘you need to feel sorry for me, I’m being shot at!’?
And more importantly, why am I the only one who seems to be affected by all of it and see two different groups of people being shot at? Why do I have to put up with so many people saying ‘you think the ISRAELIS are suffering? Do you know how many people died in Gaza today?’ or ‘you think the PALESTINIANS are suffering? Do you know how many rockets were fired into Israel today?’
Why can they not both be suffering? What’s so hard about recognising that the war is hell on everyone?
I can tell you this: there are two traumatised and terrified peoples firing at each other over the Israel/Gaza border fence right now, they are both going through hell, and neither of them will ever stop so long as they keep pretending that THEIR people are the ones that are REALLY suffering. Just shut up for a second and pay attention to the world outside your little bubble.
I’m sure that, by now, everyone has heard about this bullshit going on in Gaza. This is one of those rare situations when I say that I hate to say ‘I told you so‘ and I actually mean it.
Meanwhile, you know that ‘Ahmed Jabari’ guy that Israel just rocketed into oblivion? You know, this guy:
Well according to my old friend and sparring partner Liam, when he wasn’t busy launching rockets at Israel, or procuring rockets to launch at Israel, or calling for the ‘rats’ to be driven out of Israel (by which he meant the Israelis), he was actually ‘Israel’s biggest ally in negotiations with Hamas’.
The guy was probably Israel’s biggest ally in negotiations with Hamas — ceasefires, returns of soldiers, etc. (Oh, wait, I thought Israel refused to negotiate with Hamas?) Yeah, he was a horrible terrorist, but so were plenty of other people that Israel talked to, and indeed became prominent Israelis themselves. I’m all for getting the bad guys — but choosing them should be done more carefully, and strategically.
Liam based his conclusions on something Gershon Baskin said:
The Israeli decision to kill Ahmed Jaabri was total insanity. Jaabri was behind enforcing all of the recent ceasefire agreements. He sent his troops out to stop the rockets and was prepared to reach a long term ceasefire. Jaabri was also the main interlocutor of the Egyptian intelligence service in reaching ceasefire understandings. Now who are they supposed to talk to? Who can expect the Egyptians to continue to mitigate our relationship with Gaza? Now the government and people of Israel will face a massive barrage of rockets and they bought the entrance card to Cast Lead II.
Aluf Benn is also in on the party, referring to Jabari as Israel’s ‘subcontractor in Gaza‘.
Now I’m not saying that it’s typical of Liam not to fact-check things that sound a little implausible but kind of fit into his general narrative that the Israelis never do anything right. I wouldn’t say that. Not that I really understand what’s so appealing about the idea that Israel took out the best friend it had in Gaza other than some kind of perverse combination of vindication and schaudenfreude.
But what I am saying is that Liam didn’t fact-check.
For one thing, none of those ceasefires were really ‘enforced’. If they had been enforced, there would not have been ceasefires, there would have been a ceasefire. Maybe he did clamp-down on non-Hamas militias a little, but there are other things that he didn’t do – like not give them weapons, or not prevent them from firing at all. In fact, I don’t really see the fact that he clamped-down on non-Hamas armed groups as particularly endearing – one of the groups he completely drove out of Gaza was Fatah. That wasn’t about helping Israel, it was about holding onto power.
Meanwhile, it is true that Gershon Baskin was negotiating with Jabari… through Baskin’s Palestinian Christian colleague Hanna Siniora, who was speaking to Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Razi Hamed, who was speaking to Jabari. It is also true that he secured the Shalit deal, and that he kept Shalit alive and relatively unharmed – if a little malnourished and isolated, as well as and completely sun-deprived and denied his basic as a prisoner, let alone a prisoner of war – although he wouldn’t release him without Israel releasing a few hundred mass murderers and a thousand other Palestinian prisoners.
So this, apparently, makes him Israel’s best buddy in Gaza? Well as they say, with friends like these…
But in all seriousness, the argument that Liam/Baskin/Benn put forward is pretty much like those people who want Bashar Assad to stay-on in Syria because ‘better then enemy you know than the enemy you don’t’. I reject that idea completely. The enemy we knew was terrible. I have no doubt that the next Qassam Brigades commander will not exactly be a saint, but he might be less competent than Jabari and he will definitely be less experienced (and he will also definitely be a ‘he’, as an aside).
Either way, I feel like Liam is jumping to conclusions a little by condemning the strategic expertise of the Israeli government and intelligence agencies based on one journalist’s Facebook status. But that’s just me I guess.
Facebook and Twitter feeds along with email in-boxes have taken the place of the old newspaper front page, except that the consumer is now entirely in charge of what he or she sees each day and can largely shut out dissenting voices. It’s the great irony of the Internet era: People have more access than ever to an array of viewpoints, but also the technological ability to screen out anything that doesn’t reinforce their views.
“The Internet amplifies talk radio and cable news, and provides distribution for other sources like Newsmax,” said Trey Grayson, 40, the former Kentucky secretary of state and the current head of Harvard’s Institute of Politics. “Then your friends, who usually agree with you, disseminate the same stories on Facebook and Twitter. And you assume that everyone agrees with you!”
Grayson continued: “It’s very striking for me living in Cambridge now. My Facebook feed, which is full of mostly conservatives from Kentucky, contains very different links to articles or topics than what I see in Cambridge. It is sort of the reverse up here. They don’t understand how anyone would eat Chick-fil-A, watch college sports or hold pro-life views.”
“Social media has made it easier to self-select,” added 45-year-old GOP strategist Bruce Haynes. “Who do you follow on Twitter, who do you friend on Facebook? Do they all look the same and say the same things? If so, you’ve created a universe for yourself that is wedded to its own self-fulfilling prophecies.”
John Stuart Mill, 1859:
Unfortunately for the good sense of mankind, the fact of their fallibility is far from carrying the weight in their practical judgment, which is always allowed to it in theory; for while every one well knows himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions against their own fallibility, or admit the supposition that any opinion of which they feel very certain, may be one of the examples of the error to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable. Absolute princes, or others who are accustomed to unlimited deference, usually feel this complete confidence in their own opinions on nearly all subjects. People more happily situated, who sometimes hear their opinions disputed, and are not wholly unused to be set right when they are wrong, place the same unbounded reliance only on such of their opinions as are shared by all who surround them, or to whom they habitually defer: for in proportion to a man’s want of confidence in his own solitary judgment, does he usually repose, with implicit trust, on the infallibility of “the world” in general. And the world, to each individual, means the part of it with which he comes in contact; his party, his sect, his church, his class of society: the man may be called, by comparison, almost liberal and largeminded to whom it means anything so comprehensive as his own country or his own age.
Israel has been hit with hundreds of rockets over the past couple of weeks. There is nothing new about this — Israel has been hit with thousands upon thousands of rockets for the past decade or so — except that the situation is becoming untenable. The people of southern Israel are tired of living in bomb shelters, periodically closing schools, and having to make a decision every night about whether or not it’s safe to sleep in the second story of their homes and put the bomb shelter too far away to reach should a rocket land overnight.
Before anyone says anything, I am not trying to downplay what the Palestinians in Gaza are going through. I am trying to explain how Israelis are feeling and how they are thinking. Whatever else may be said about the rocket fire, it is not ‘harmless’ at all, it is terrifying for the people who have to live through it on a daily basis. The casualty rate is low only because of the insane precautions that the population has to go through, but being under constant threat is no way for 1/5 of the country to live.
The entire Israeli public are demanding that something be done. This crosses any kind of partisan and factional lines that you could imagine. Even those who are generally in the peacenik camp have been amping-up their rhetoric. Holding an outstretched hand does not seem like a great idea when you’re being shot at. Wheat we are looking at, potentially, is a repeat of 2008/09’s Operation Cast-lead. It’s an outcome that nobody wants, but if it’s the only way to stop these attacks, it may be needed.
Well, there have been a couple of alternatives floated. Take Nervana Mahmoud, for example:
Going to war, however, is not the only option. There is potential for a political out, as some analysts advocate, including Khalid Elgindy of Brookings. A smart move would address both elements of the problem: the lack of a state that Israel can deal with and the non-state players. The solution for Gaza is two-fold, a conditional acceptance of Mahmoud Abbas’s U.N. bid in return for demanding that the Egyptians reinstate the U.N.-recognized Abbas government in Gaza and empower his security team to run the Rafah border. In addition, Israel announces its willingness to engage with the emerging Sunni alliance—Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt—to formulate a plan to dismantle Gaza militants’ military capabilities in return for lifting the siege. Such a gambit could snooker Hamas supporters into either accepting the deal, offering alternatives, or a rejection, which would make them appear to be the opponents of a political solution.
Clearly, among the different schools of foreign policy, Mahmoud falls into the ‘remedial class’. Let’s break this down item-by-item. First, Mahmoud wants Israel to offer to the Egyptians — who are led by the Muslim Brotherhood, let me remind you — that Israel will provisionally accept a UN bid that Egypt has not really expressed much investment in, in return for Egypt forcibly expelling the MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD-offshoot Hamas regime and instead installing a secular-nationalist Palestinian regime led by corrupt officials whose relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood could be best described as ‘sworn enemies who have been killing each other for years’. Do I have that right? Just checking we’re on the same page.
And then part two of this genius plan is for Israel to show that it is ‘willing to engage’ with Egypt, Turkey and Qatar. That would be the Egypt that has just decided to stop supplying Israel with natural gas, the Turkey that has just suspended all formal relations with Israel, and the Qatar that never had formal relations with Israel. Leaving Qatar to one side for a second, Mahmoud is suggesting that Israel engage with its two former allies, both of which have become increasingly belligerent towards Israel as a result of Islamist parties taking over.
I like this idea better:
Today, Hamas functions as the official political leadership of the entire Gaza Strip. The party sets both domestic policies – such as the institution of Shari’a law – and foreign policy. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh represented the entire Gaza population when he welcomed the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. And the emir effectively recognized Hamas as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians living in Gaza.
Recognizing Hamas as responsible for what happens inside Gaza – which has clear geographical borders – would serve Israel’s interests. Instead of struggling to distinguish among a myriad of players – Hamas, Salafis and international jihad-affiliated terrorist groups, as well as the Gaza civilian population – Israel should view the “state of Gaza” and its Hamas government as directly responsible for any act of aggression emanating from the territory under its control. Israel’s response to such attacks would, therefore, be directed against the territory of Gaza as a whole.
It makes no sense for Israel to provide an enemy state with electricity, fuel and other goods as it currently does. This makes sense only if a fabricated distinction is made between those in Gaza who fire at Israel and the wider “innocent” population. In reality, however, the majority of Gaza’s population continues to support Hamas, which rules the entire Gaza Strip domestically and represents it internationally.
In contrast, if Hamas provides stability and prevents smaller terrorist groups operating inside Gaza from firing on Israeli civilians, Israel could reciprocate by providing fuel and electricity and keeping trade borders open.
Before I start, let me apologise for the absence of posts recently. I’ve been very busy and have not really had time for this blog. Hopefully it will pick up again towards the end of the month.
Anyway, today’s ITW features an article by one Susanne Krasmann from the University of Hamburg, entitled ‘Targeted Killing and Its Law: On a Mutually Constitutive Relationship’. Krasmann is a follower of the ‘Foucauldian’ school of philosophy. We have encountered this school before on ITW here and here, but Krasmann is different, because she actually makes some very good perceptions.
The trick employed by the Foucauldian school was explained by Martha Nussbaum in a critique of leading Foucauldian Judith Butler:
obscurity creates an aura of importance. It also serves another related purpose. It bullies the reader into granting that, since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on, some complexity of thought, where in reality there are often familiar or even shopworn notions, addressed too simply and too casually to add any new dimension of understanding. … When Butler’s notions are stated clearly and succinctly, one sees that, without a lot more distinctions and arguments, they don’t go far, and they are not especially new. Thus obscurity fills the void left by an absence of a real complexity of thought and argument.
In even plainer terms than that, what Butler, Krasmann and our favourite Frenchie Michel Foucault like to do is write disgustingly dense an indecipherable passages about nothing very interesting. They do not have much to say, so they take as long as they can to say it, using the most obscure language possible, so that the average reader just assumes that, because they can’t understand what the hell the writer is talking about, whatever it is saying must be intelligent. All too often, it’s completely the opposite.
Which brings us back to Ms Krasmann. Here is the particular passage that sparked this post:
When targeted killing surfaced on the political stage, appropriate laws appeared to be already at hand. ‘There are more than enough rules for governing drone warfare’, reads the conclusion of a legal reasoning on targeted killing. Yet, accommodating the practice in legal terms means that international law itself is undergoing a transformation. The notion of dispositifs is useful in analysing such processes of transformation. It enables us to grasp the minute displacements of established legal concepts that, while undergoing a transformation, at the same time prove to be faithful to their previous readings. The displacement of some core features of the traditional conception of the modern state reframes the reading of existing law. Hence, to give just one example for such a rereading of international law: legal scholars raised the argument that neither the characterization of an international armed conflict holds – ‘since al Qaeda is not a state and has no government and is therefore incapable of fighting as a party to an inter-state conflict’ – nor that of an internal conflict. Instead, the notion of dealing with a non-international conflict, which, in view of its global nature, purportedly ‘closely resembles’ an international armed conflict, serves to provide ‘a fuller and more comprehensive set of rules’. Established norms and rules of international law are preserved formally, but filled with a radically different meaning so as to eventually integrate the figure of a terrorist network into its conventional understanding. Legal requirements are thus meant to hold for a drone programme that is accomplished both by military agencies in war zones and by military and intelligence agencies targeting terror suspects beyond these zones, since the addressed is no longer a state, but a terrorist network.
However, to conceive of law as a practice does not imply that law would be susceptible to any form of knowledge. Not only is its reading itself based on a genealogy of practices established over a longer period. Most notably, the respective forms of knowledge are also embedded in varying procedures and strategic configurations. If law is subject to an endless deference of meaning, this is not the case in the sense of arbitrary but historically contingent practices, but in the sense of historically contingent practices. Knowledge, then, is not merely an interpretive scheme of law. Rather than merely on meaning, focus is on practices that, while materializing and producing attendant truth effects, shape the distinctions we make between legal and illegal measures. What is more, as regards anticipatory techniques to prevent future harm, this perspective allows for our scrutinizing the division made between what is presumably known and what is yet to be known, and between what is presumably unknown and has yet to be rendered intelligible. This prospect, as will be seen in the following, is crucial for a rereading of existing law. It was the identification of a new order of threat since the terror attacks of 9/11 that brought about a turning point in the reading of international law. The identification of threats in general provides a space for transforming the unknowable into new forms of knowledge. The indeterminateness itself of legal norms proves to be a tool for introducing a new reading of law.
The first paragraph is not that hard to follow, primarily because she is citing the work of international legal scholars and not going off on her own wank (I couldn’t think of a better word to use). Here’s what that second paragraph reads like when translated from the academese:
While the law is shaped by the way that it is enforced, the way that it is enforced is itself shaped by the different historical interpretations of the law. The process of putting the law into practice changes the way that we look at what is or is not legal. Thinking about law this way helps us to understand the problem presented by law enforcement aimed at anticipating and preventing future crimes instead of punishing past ones. The law is incapable of dealing with ‘unknown unknowns’ — ie things that we not only do not understand, but cannot see coming. Actually identifying potential threats allows us to then begin developing tools to incorporate them into our legal system.
There is more to it than that, but I don’t feel that any of it needed to be there. This is actually a pretty strong argument and does have an impact on the way that the law treats targeted killings. I just wish that I hadn’t had to read that paragraph over several times to figure out what it was actually saying.