Monday, September 21, 2009

How Can We Possibly Have An Honest Debate If People Say Mean, True Things About War Crimes?

Last year, Israel rained down massive, collective punishment of the people of Gaza--actions that constitute war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity. At least that's what Richard Goldstone and his team of UN investigators reported last week. The report also said that Hamas was guilty of committing war crimes by sending rockets into Israel aimed at civilian targets, but on a far smaller scale. The findings of the report were dismissed both by Israel and the Obama administration as being overly harsh on Israel.

David Landau, the former editor-in-chief of the Israeli newspaper H'aaretz, wrote about this report in Sunday's edition of the New York Times, and frankly, he did not care for the report's findings one little bit! In fact, he thought the report was mean and disproportionately critical of Israel, which is not fair at all.

Yes, Palestinian deaths numbered around 1,400, and Israeli deaths came in at 13. Yes, there is strong evidence to suggest that Israel used white phosphorus on an imprisoned population, and shot Palestinian civilians who were literally waving white flags to surrender. And bombed UN schools. But, yeah, you wouldn't want anything about this massacre to be disproportionate.

Landau makes the childish claim that Goldstone is at fault here, because he was so mean in his report that now Israelis won't want to talk about their feelings honestly. He writes:

"But Judge Goldstone has thwarted any such honest debate — within Israel or concerning Israel. His fundamental premise, that the Israelis went after civilians, shut down the argument before it began."

What a evil "premise" for an investigator to begin an argument with. What's unfortunate for Landau, and the New York Times, is that he clearly doesn't know what the word "premise" means. Hahahaha, silly editor-in-chief.

What he means to say--and this is a common mistake people for people who can't argue properly--is "conclusion." Goldstone arrives at the conclusion that Israelis targeted civilians, he doesn't begin at that premise. It's a common mistake, to confuse "premise" (the beginning assumption of a debate) with "conclusion" (the end point one arrives at after examining evidence). It's especially common for the head of a major newspaper to make that mistake. Or he might have been employing a dirty rhetorical trick.

In Landau's critique of the report, he offers no counter-arguments, no examples of bad methodology, and no flaws in the logic of the report. He simply doesn't like its conclusions, so he dismisses the whole endeavor as a wasted opportunity. According to Landau, we should have maybe asked some questions and called it a day, I guess.

"When does negligence become recklessness, and when does recklessness slip into wanton callousness, and then into deliberate disregard for innocent human life?
Are widespread civilian casualties inevitable when a modern army pounds terrorist targets in a heavily populated area with purportedly smart ordnance? Are they acceptable? Does the enemy’s deployment in the heart of the civilian area shift the line between right and wrong, in morality and in law?"

When a rhetorical question has a clear answer, should we stifle it in an absurd attempt to maintain civility in discourse?

"These were precisely the questions that Israeli politicians and generals wrestled with in Gaza, as others do today in Afghanistan."

Yes, we should have wrestled with those questions, but not drawn any conclusions. I get it now. Silly me, I thought there was value in making legitimate accusations of wrong-doing when the evidence warranted it, but I guess that would count as a wasted opportunity, to, um, hold people accountable for their crimes, I guess.

What Landau fails to recognize is that the findings of this report are so horrific that even in describing them, one will risk angering those who are blindly "pro-Israel." And, yes, roughly 9/10ths of the report is spent documenting Israel's crimes, and only 1/10th documenting Hamas' crimes. But, as Norman Finkelstein argued on Democracy Now!, that's what you would expect in a massacre that left 1,400 dead on one side, and about a tenth of that, 13, dead on the other.

This type of inability, or unwillingness, to call a crime a crime ensure that this type of behavior will happen again. Whether the offender will be the USA, Isreael, or another occupying power is anybody's guess.

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