Redefining Self Defence
As a social scientist I am well aware of the limitations of public polls on controversial issues. They are not necessarily objective or definitive, but they can indicate trends in thinking and behaviour. My internet provider AOL regularly runs reader polls on its daily news items and on Thursday it asked two questions about Israel’s behaviour.
In response to the first question Are Israel’s attacks justified? Thirty-five percent of respondents agree that they are, but 65 percent assert that they are not. That figure remained constant throughout the day.
In response to the second question, of the 40,000 people who voted on whether they think that Israel’s actions will provoke a wider conflict across the Middle-East, eighty-two percent say that it will, and only eighteen percent think that it won’t. Throughout the day these figures too remained remarkably constant. All we can say of this poll is that those United Kingdom AOL readers who choose to take part in these polls seem firmly of the view that Israel is not justified in its actions and even more firmly convinced that the middle-east crisis will escalate. Should such statistics turn out to be the view of the majority of the UK’s citizens, let alone world citizenry, then Israel could not avoid being labelled as a rogue state.
And what are these two conflicts ostensibly about? The return of one kidnapped Israeli soldier in Gaza and two kidnapped Israeli soldiers in Lebanon. The logic which believes that the massacre of innocent lives in these areas will ensure the safe return of the soldiers is misplaced. These are professional soldiers who expect to come under fire and be ambushed: that’s how skirmishes are conducted. The exaggerated Israeli response mirrors that of the Coalition’s campaign in both Afghanistan and Iraq. When six British soldiers lost their lives within a few weeks in the former, its soldiers went out and killed ‘a hundred’ members of the Taliban, although we know that soldiers don’t always stop to confirm that those in the gun’s sights are in fact Taliban. And in yet another abuse of human rights under investigation in Iraq, US soldiers are alleged to have massacred a large number of civilians in retaliation for the death of one of their comrades. The impression we are given is that this is how soldiers operate. The accompanying moral argument is that they are justified in doing so.
Massive and inhumane retaliation seems to be the order of the day. No matter how much the Israelis, the Americans and the British maintain that they are carefully selecting targets to minimise civilian casualties, the statistics speak otherwise. In the Israeli case the bombing of Lebanese highways, the port area, the international airport and power stations, brings suffering to the whole population. In Gaza the destruction of water and fuel supplies, as well as the general supply routes has created a humanitarian disaster. Lebanon has for most of its history served as the arena for other people’s battles and the Israeli destruction of its infrastructure, patiently rebuilt over the past ten years at huge cost, should be recognised as a crime against humanity. Israel’s ambitions are clearly to wage economic warfare on its neighbours to make certain they will always struggle to survive.
We are all aware of Israel’s ability to remove its enemies by assassination, a policy supported by the United States. Its agents operate all over the world. Some months ago three agents were apprehended in New Zealand in a passport scam which would no doubt have seen Israeli agents posing as New Zealand citizens visiting Arab countries. So why doesn’t Israel employ its very effective assassination policy in this instance? Perhaps it is because the world finds the assassination of an eighty year old paraplegic as happened ion Gaza, morally repugnant, but the killing of civilians more acceptable on the grounds that Blair and Bush and their cronies advance of the right of any state to defend itself.
But there may also be another reason. Hamas and Hizbullah are not simply movements which have sprung out of situations in Gaza and in Lebanon. Their backers and political masters are in Syria and in Iran. The problem is a far greater one than simply dealing with its local manifestations. To really resolve these crises on its borders Israel would need to launch a war against both countries. Many believe that this is Israel’s ultimate ambition, but one imagines that behind-the-scenes pressure from the US and its allies advocates against such a reckless act recognising that the entire Middle-East would erupt in a conflict that could have damaging results for the West, and in particular the supply of oil upon which its economies are dependent. How much easier, and morally, politically and economically safer it is for Israel to reduce Lebanon and Gaza to ruins.
There can be no doubt that no matter how much the tactics of Hizbullah are to be criticised, the opening of this second front on Israel’s northern border has to be recognized as an act of solidarity with the suffering population of Gaza. Bush and Blair’s various pronouncements about road maps to peace have proved to be nothing more than empty political posturing. If the West lacks the will to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it will necessarily be left to radical Muslim movements to fill the vacuum. Little wonder that 82% of those polled by AOL this week believe that the conflict will engulf the Middle East.