Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Uri Avnery: Thumbs Down

Avnery: http://www.counterpunch.org/avnery01122009.html


Avnery’s argument is that the depiction of Hamas using women and children as shields is like saying the “Red Army” held Leningradians hostage and provoked retaliation from the Whermacht or that the “Churchill gang” held Londoners hostage leaving Germany with no choice but to flatten London. The analogy includes media saying that Hamas offers Israel no choice but to bomb Gaza killing and injuring women and children.

Let me try to argue against Avnery:

1. I grant Avnery Israel’s superior force and forces. I don’t know what he means by a wider gap in the political arena nor an "infinite gap"in the propaganda war considering the world’s outcries and condemnations these days.

2. We are perpetually driven back to the argument that the rocket fire on civilians is reprisal for the “siege”—his word—as if the blockade, my word, sprung ex nihilo. That "as if" is the real untruth. It does not even grant Israel the benefit of a plausible rationale: as if Hamas is not dedicated to its destruction, as if Hamas didn't seize power in Gaza by a kind of coup and was as murderous to Fatah and its supporters, writ small, as it deigns to be against Israel, writ large, as if Hamas did not immediately begin rocketing Israel, smuggling in increasingly dangerous weaponry, engage in attempts at suicide bombing, as if Egypt, about whom nobody complains, did not do its own blockading virtually simultaneously with Israel's, as if Hamas is not indifferent to the plight of Gazans as it advances its genocidal agenda.

3. I grant Avnery, in his telling phrase, that every war is a (not “the”) “realm of lies”. But surely he overstates things and sets himself up self-justifyingly for a kind of quasi martyrdom when he says “…everybody accepts that it is right to lie for one’s country. Anyone who speaks the truth runs the risk of being branded a traitor.” This is anticipatory argument from self proclaimed courage and virtue.

4. Avnery is too simple minded and sweeping about the psychology of the propagandist: “The trouble is that propaganda is most convincing for the propagandist himself. And after you convince yourself that a lie is the truth and falsification reality, you can no longer make rational decisions.” This too is anticipatory argument: now from diagnosis. That is to say, everyone who disagrees with him is a self induced, self convinced propagandist, with nothing to say.

5. I will, for the sake of argument, not knowing the facts, grant him the mistaken bombing of the U.N. school and the attempt by Israel to rationalize it. And I will grant, not knowing other facts, for the sake of argument, and in fact making concession to the tragic nature of war, other such mistakes. So what? War is Hell! Mistakes happen! There are no pristine wars with points deducted for low blows. IIn this regard, a microcosm of Avneri's hysteria is calling Ehud Barak a ‘sociopath”, with “moral insanity”.

6. Let's say that Hamas got power legitimately in Gaza, that it holds the support of a substantial number of Palestinians, that real grievances exist. So what? Avnery’s argument is that given Israel’s view of Hamas as a foreign conqueror of Gaza imposing its will on a docile populace without legitimate grievances, its “operation is based on erroneous assumptions”. His argument assumes what he fails to demonstrate and ignores what is clear. How does he know that the campaign was * based* on causing Gazans to rise up against Hamas? Can he not grant Israeli deciders' their understanding that the campaign could intensify popular support for Hamas? He ignores the obvious: Israel putting up with years of civilian targeting, meant to terrorize Israelis and sap their will, all with a view ultimately to destroying the state. He ignores the clear, Occam’s razor fact of Israel's refusal to put up any longer with this intensifying barrage, violative of its sovereignty, and part of an overarching agenda to destroy it. He ignores Israel's clear intent to damage Hamas, to eliminate, or, more likely, deter and so minimize the rockets, to visit damning consequence for their launching. Isn’t it possible, likely,—completely to invert part of Avney’s argument— that Israel’s deciders took into account and risked Palestinian reaction to try to stop or at least to deter the rockets and like tactics?

7. If there had been no rockets, there would not have been this campaign.

8. Avnery knows that Hamas buries itself amongst civilians. But he does concern himself with that (nor with the civilian based onslaught by Hamas lo these many years.) He chooses to highlight civilian casualties when it is next to impossible to separate military and civilian targets in the Gaza. He casuistically calls Israeli deciders monsters and sociopaths because Hamas wins when civilian shields prevent Israeli retaliation or when civilians are maimed and killed by attack. Part of the casuistry consists in deriving an explicit 80-1 military strategy from the ratio between Israeli death and Gazan deaths.

9. I say if Hamas buries itself amongst civilians which then causes the burial of civilians, of women and children, then so be it. The fault and the immorality lie squarely with Hamas. And if Israel takes measures to minimize its soldiers’ loss of life in trying to take out Hamas to stop it from firing rockets when Hamas uses women and children as human shields, then so be it. I do not lightly say their death is tragic. But the moral lines in this campaign are clear. Israel has nothing to apologize for, save for inevitable, tragic error.

10. Avnery’s blatant appeal to emotion—a little girl twisted in pain crying Mam! Mama!, as terrible as that is—is misplaced. His fury should be directed at Hamas, and not a bad word does he have for it--just the opposite, they are freedom fighters--the cause of such desecration of innocent life.

11. How does Avnery know that the “planners” thought Israel could escape media scrutiny, could escape media evidence of what its campaign’s destruction? Why would he think they are so stupid, so unknowing of the world? He's in fact conflating efforts to mimimize with efforts to evade all public attention. That Israel here had to act is the point. It has tried in nearly impossible circumstances to avoid civilian harm. It has acted knowing civilian casualty is inevitable. Between rock and a hard place it prefers its own citizens’ lives and well being over that of Hamas wanting fanatically to destroy it at the cost of Hamas's brothers', sisters' , children's and parents' lives. And in this, says Avnery, Ehud Barak is Stalin.

12. Avnery is certain that Israel cannot win this war even it kills every Hamas fighter to the last man. I do not know what the future holds should Israel come within range of its objectives. Fanaticism will have been dealt a terrible body blow. The rocket attacks will have been ended or deterred and minimized; and a clear signal of unyielding, iron strength and will—staunch even in the face of horrible civilian casuality—will have been sent: that signal, as stated by Martin Peretz, “Don’t fuck with the Jews.” From such strength, Avnery’s apocalyptic predictions notwithstanding, may come better prospects for real and reasoned compromise, for a two state solution between Israel and a partner for peace who knows, as do some in the Middle East who have learned in and by blood, that Israel is there to stay.

13. In Avnery’s equation Israel is analogous to World War 11 Germany and Hamas with its Palestinian support is analogous to the “Churchill gang” and the defending “Red Army” in the siege of Leningrad.

Contra Avnery, and just to be clear, let me repeat what part of what David Harris wrote elsewhere, which fits in here:

…Israel seeks to defend itself in a highly complex environment, where the adversary, Hamas, cravenly uses civilians as shields and mosques as armories. For that right to protect its citizens, which any sovereign nation would exercise under similar circumstances, it is labeled as the successor to the demonic force that wiped out two-thirds of European Jewry, including 1.5 million children.

How many times does it need to be said?

Israel left Gaza in 2005. Israel has repeatedly renounced any territorial ambitions there. Israel gave Gazans the first chance in their history to govern themselves. Israel has a vested interest in a peaceful, prosperous, and developing Gaza. This point cannot be stressed enough. After all, the two are destined to share a common border.

Israel has only one overarching concern in Gaza: Does it pose a security threat to neighboring Israel? The answer, tragically, is clear. That was the result of a decision taken in Gaza, not Israel. Hamas was chosen to rule, and choices have consequences. After all, Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist. Why were tunnels built across the Egyptian border? What are the Iranian-made Grad missiles going through those tunnels to Gaza meant for? And why are Hamas fighters going through those tunnels in the other direction for training in Iran and Lebanon?

More than 10,000 rockets, missiles, and mortars have been fired at southern Israel from Gaza in the past eight years. Towns and villages have lived under constant threat. If some of those projectiles were crude and missed their targets, it was not for lack of trying. Their aim is to kill, maim, and intimidate as many civilians as possible. Everything is fair game—homes, hospitals, schools, playgrounds. The trauma this has created cannot be adequately described.

And for what? To “liberate” Gaza? Well, Gaza is already under Hamas, not Israeli, rule. No, more likely, to eventually “liberate” Israel from Israeli rule…

We need reasoned debate on these highly charged issues. That is not helped by Avneri's hysterical drivel.

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