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Friday, July 28, 2006

Backward culpability and radical chic 


Apart from its structural and conceptual difficulties, one of the United Nations' biggest problems is that it attracts officials who say absolutely asinine things. United Nations humanitarian chief Jan Egeland revealed yesterday that his morality is utterly different from mine:

United Nations humanitarian chief Jan Egeland accused Israel on Wednesday of committing "catastrophic mistakes" in its attack on Hizbullah, which have caused civilian casualties and alienated the Lebanese public.

"It will create a generation of hatred," he said in an interview held with The Jerusalem Post after he had concluded tours of northern Israel, Gaza and Lebanon.

"I'm talking more as a friend of Israel than as an aid worker," said Egeland, who noted that he studied at Jerusalem's Hebrew University as a Truman Fellow, while his brother lived on a kibbutz.

I think that if there is one thing that all sides of this debate acknowledge, Arab and Muslim hatred of Israel has only deepened in the years since June, 1967. Israel's actions in this war could not have alienated the Lebanese public. A goodly proportion of the Lebanese public voted Hezbollah into the government, and Hezbollah is committed to Israel's destruction. Lebanon, like all Arab countries, seethes with hatred for Israel, and did before July 12. The Pew Global Attitudes Survey(pdf), conducted March through May 2006, found that only 1% of Jordanians and 2% of Egyptians sympathized with Israel in its struggle with the Palestinians, after the Palestinians had elected a government dedicated to Israel's destruction. The numbers for non-Arab Muslim countries were virtually as low (Lebanon was not surveyed, but it is hard to believe more than 5% of Lebanese ever had anything good to say about Israel -- yes, some of the Christians and other minorities may have hated Hezbollah more, but after years of occupation by Israel in the 1980s I simply do not believe that they liked Israel.) That same survey reveals that healthy pluralities of Arabs in Jordan and Egypt want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon so that it will drop it on Israel (revealing, once again, the widespread Arab contempt for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who will die when that happens). Arabs have been fed a steady diet of paranoid, anti-Semitic dialogue about Israel that it cannot redeem by failing to respond to Hezbollah attacks. There are many grounds on which to appeal to Israel, but Egeland reveals a twisted and ridiculous understanding of that part of the world if he thinks that Israel's conduct of the war has changed Arab opinion in any way that matters. OK, so it has gone from "intense fear and loathing" to "very intense fear and loathing." Of what relevance is that trivial difference?

Egeland does not, unfortunately, stop there:
The UN's under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Egeland called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. "The rockets have to stop. The terror has to stop. But please remember that for every civilian killed in Israel there are more than 10 killed in Lebanon. It has to stop on both sides." He charged that Israel had used "excessive" and "disproportionate" force in violation of international humanitarian law, and dismissed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's contention that proportionality is measured in relation to the threat posed by a force.

"You cannot invent new kinds of proportionalities. I've never heard that the threat is supposed to be proportional to the response," he said. "Proportionality is there in the law. The law has been made through generations of experience on the battlefield. If you kill more civilians than military personnel, one should not attack," he said.

Since Hezbollah has been shooting inaccurate weapons indiscriminately at civilian targets and Israel has at least been aiming at military assets, there are only two reasons why more Lebanese civilians have died than Israeli. First, Israelis have built bomb shelters and safe houses, because they know from long experience that they are at grave risk of enemy attack. Israel is a hardened target, even though it wishes it did not have to be. Given its own history of allowing combatants to take refuge behind its border, Lebanon should also be a hardened target, but Arab governments are too incompetent and care too little about their own people (except when be used as props for anti-Zionist propaganda) to have made similar provision. This is hardly Israel's fault. If Israel had not done this and hundreds more Israelis had died, would the world's complaint about "proportionality" be any different? Nobody honest thinks that it would.

Second, Hezbollah wants Israel to kill Lebanese civilians precisely because it knows that fools like Egeland dominate the media coverage. Everybody also knows this.

Then there is the question of refugees. The world cares more about Arab refugees -- there are about 600,000 displaced Lebanese compared to 250,000 displaced Israelis -- because the world believes, with good reason, that Arabs are not competent to deal with refugees and Israel is. Arab regimes feed this perception by "hyping" refugee status. Israel deals with refugees by resettling and reintegrating them. That was true in the years following 1948, when there were almost as many Jewish refugees from Arab countries as Arab refugees from Israel, and it is true now.

The most horrifying implication of Egeland's statement, however, relates to the conduct of war. According to the Egeland principle, culpability for the use of civilians as shields or camouflage lies not with the soldier who disguises himself, hides among the people, and shoots from residences, schools, and mosques, but with the uniformed soldier who by dint of his uniform marks himself as a legitimate target. If this is established international law, as Egeland says it is, then international law is contemptible. Under the Egeland principle, the more an enemy soldiers shields himself with civilians -- innocent or otherwise -- the less the enemy may respond. Under that logic, Israel should round up a few thousand Lebanese to scatter among its tanks and infantry when it goes after those rocket batteries. Will the world then think that Hezbollah commits a crime when it shoots back?

It amazes me that the international law fetishists, who will cry foul at the slightest alleged infraction by the United States or Israel, do not object to entire military campaigns conducted in violation of centuries-old standards. This idea that insurgents that do not wear uniforms are somehow not responsible -- or not as responsible -- for the collateral damage caused by uniformed soldiers fighting back is deeply insidious. My own opinion is that this strange sympathy for soldiers who fight from behind civilians springs from the left's romantic attachment to Hezbollah's military ancestors, the Maoist guerrillas of the Cold War. The middle-aged elites who dominate the media, universities, and international agencies do not in their gut hold Hezbollah responsible for civilian deaths because, deep down, they also think Che Guevara t-shirts are cool.

UPDATE: Joshua Brook of The New Republic weighs in with a very useful primer (free reg. req.) on the law of "proportionality," and how various human rights groups and others have twisted it to condemn Israel:
On Wednesday, U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland became the latest human rights advocate to butcher the concept of proportionality. "Proportionality is there in the law," he said. "The law has been made through generations of experience on the battlefield. If you kill more civilians than military personnel, one should not attack." In fact, this one-to-one principle has no basis in the law. There are plenty of scenarios under which the proportionality principle would permit such a strike--say, an attack that killed two Hezbollah operatives about to launch a missile, while also killing three civilians who were being used as human shields.

Brook does not hammer home the obvious implication: that the human rights chief of the United Nations is either ignorant of the law of war, or deliberately misrepresenting it to make a point of propaganda against Israel. In other words, Jan Egeland is incompetent or lying. One struggles to imagine what the third explanation might be.

CWCID: Instapundit.

17 Comments:

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Fri Jul 28, 09:31:00 AM:

Excellent essay, TH.

The "targeting civilians" meme seems to have gained traction as a way to criticize Israel's actions in this conflict. It's been pointed out before that it if Israel were truly targeting civilians the toll on civilians would be an order of magnitude higher. It is Hezbollah who is targeting civilians by sending rockets into Israeli villages and cities. Thanfully, Hezbollah's actual capability in this regard has so far been limited, but it's not for lack of desire or effort.

If the Lebanese are smart they will realize once things have settled down that Hezbollah is dangerous to their collective health. It is dangerous internally as a political party for the threat it poses to the liberal society and individual freedoms I dare say most Lebanese want; it is also a danger for the reprisals it invites from outside when it uses Lebanon as a base from which to attack Israel. Israel is not going to stand idly by and meakly suffer this threat to its security and survival; no, it is going to actively resist it. Greater Lebanon should take its cue and resolve to do the same.  

By Blogger al, at Fri Jul 28, 09:35:00 AM:

Thank you for the article, unfortunately I do not think we can chage anything in that perception. Demagoguery of proportionality is even more horrific when you think that no other country would impose proportionality boundaries on itself Let us say France would be in the same position. Let us say Europe would not recognize the right of France to exist, would attempt aggression every ten years, would fire missiles at French cities daily from Spain and Germany, and would sponsor hundreds of suicide bombers to attack civilians. What would be the proportional response of France? Jacques Chirac recently declared that France would use nuclear weapons against anybody sponsoring terror against France. That would be proportional for France. If that is proportional for France, then what is proportional for Israel, country which was actually subjected to all that for 50 years?  

By Blogger al, at Fri Jul 28, 09:37:00 AM:

One more thing: I am sure that you must post this movie on your blog. I did it on mine but you have way more traffic , so please take a look on this video:
I wonder what eagland would about this movie :
The title is : UN ambulance picking up fighters in Gaza Strip
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqGjz7iJTns&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Efriendsofmicronesia%2Ecom%2Farchives%2F001394%2Ehtml  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Fri Jul 28, 11:52:00 AM:

Well, it's very rare that I'm tempted to use all caps in a comment, but some of Egeland's statements are truly outrageous. Rightly understood, proportionality is quite appropriate and an essential element of just war theory, which remains the proper framework for analyzing the moral issues here. The problem is that Egeland, and others, are "inventing new kinds of proportionalities."

To reiterate: under long-established just war theory, proportionality means that action must be limited to what is reasonably necessary to accomplish lawful objectives. To state the obvious, that is very different from what Egeland claims.

For a sound (if slightly elliptical) analysis of proportionality in the current conflict, read Michael Walzer's article over at The New Republic. Walzer literally wrote the book (well, one of more recent books) on just war theory.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Fri Jul 28, 12:24:00 PM:

Great update, TH. Brook's article is more helpful than Walzer's.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Fri Jul 28, 12:30:00 PM:

Btw, Egeland is the same guy who rushed to term the US contribution to tsunami relief "stingy." This was at the very time when, thanks to the good offices of the US Navy, we were actually over there saving lives.  

By Blogger John B. Chilton, at Fri Jul 28, 02:44:00 PM:

I find it peculiar that the state of Lebanon would both rebuke Israel for bystander casualties and arrest those who are assisting Israel better pinpoint its targets.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jul 28, 02:51:00 PM:

Egeland is the one inventing new definitions of 'proportionality'. Nothing in international law speaks about the ratio of deaths among civilians and combatants.

And there is no 'proportionality' being violated here - that idea simply means operations are to be limited to the needs of victory rather than pursued with arbitrary cruelty.

The UN is a fine idea. The League Of Nations was equally so. Among my fine ideas are: that I should be able to walk on water, become invisible at will, and never sunburn.

It is tragic that decades pass with governments being unwilling or unable to notice that wish is not fact.  

By Blogger Tom, at Fri Jul 28, 04:05:00 PM:

So according to Egeland the Israelis are just supposed to sit there and take it. Since Hezbollah hides among civilians, any attack on them will necessarily involve civilian deaths. It is likely that these civilian deaths will, on a day-by-day basis, exceed Israeli civilian deaths. Thus, Hezbollah becomes immune to attack.

Reason 12,346,448,874 to get out of the UN.  

By Anonymous Dan, at Fri Jul 28, 04:39:00 PM:

Scurvy I respect your knowledge about just war theory but it will cause us to lose to the Islamists and I couldn't give 10 shits about the "necessary force to achieve lawful objectives".

That is a recipe for disaster and you know it.

I propose a question, how many nuclear devices must go off before we get serious in eradicating this evil scourge?

One, 2 or 10?

I propose another question that gets to the heart of the matter: Were our parents and grandparents, who wrought unspeakable destruction upon Germany and Japan,(who, in the beginning, had far more legitmate gripes and committed far less atrocities then modern day Islamists) barbaric, uncouthe idiots unworthy of wisdom?

We need to toss "just war theory" right out the window and develop a new strategem for winning and fighting. Their 1350 year fight against us has earned them it.

What is needed is a new practical war theory for fighting Islamists. And lawfullness (as judged by the idiotic world nations aligned against us) will NOT be front and center.

We however do not have the fortitude to do what is necessary. We will lose this war in the long run.

Dan-O  

By Anonymous drago, at Fri Jul 28, 08:41:00 PM:

"That same survey reveals that healthy pluralities of Arabs in Jordan and Egypt want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon so that it will drop it on Israel"

jesus, that's terrible. why would they want to do that?  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Jul 28, 10:25:00 PM:

Because they are ignorant, hateful people who don't understand anything about the world aside from what their governments, imams, and in some cases Al-Jezeera feeds them; all of which constantly repeat how terrible Israel is and how Jews (or, according to an Arab blogger I read, 'THE JOOOOOOZ!!1!') are behind all the world's evils.

All those weird conspiracy theories that spread around on the Internet about how a secret cabal of Jews manipulate world finances and control the United States and are out to humiliate and destroy Arab culture are accepted as fact in much of the Arab world. Conspiracy theories in general are accepted as fact in the Middle East.

Seriously.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 29, 08:50:00 AM:

I can see that it is necessary for Israel to defend itself, and that means destroying Hezbollah.

What I don't understand is how this is anything but a stopgap solution? How do you propose stop the children and family members of the killed civilians in Lebanon from multiplying material support for Hezbollah (or at least their cause) geometrically? For every civilian you kill, his friends and family will want revenge. I know I would.

So you either kill them all, or eventually, you have to stop the multiplying of hatred somehow - but that takes far more sacrifice, since inevitably it will involve spending lots of money and/or not responding forcefully in the face of repeated attacks. If Israel were to commit to rebuilding Lebanon's infrastructure and helping its government the way we are doing in Iraq, then their current strategy might be productive in the long term. But they aren't and it won't.

Killing two civilians to kill one hezbollah fighter is taking one step forward and two steps back for Israel's eventual goal of living in peace in the middle east.

There's another point that is worth mentioning too: unreservedly condemning the killing of civilians is moral clarity, albeit of a different kind than you like. We liberals whom you love to hate want to see Hezbollah disarmed, and the vast majority of us want to see Israel win, but we can still ask (since no one on the right does) "at what price victory?"

Failing to condemn the killing of civilians cheapens the value of human life. When human life becomes cheap enough, we will all drown in blood.  

By Anonymous Dan, at Sat Jul 29, 11:40:00 AM:

Typical liberal thinking in above commenter. Liberals think that is something WE do that causes Islamists to hate us. (revenge, grievences, politics, etc.)

Islamists hate us because we are infidels. They have said so themselves and they keep saying it. They keep telling us we must be conquered and all the world made Islamic.

I for one believe what they say, After all, Islamists don't have a sense of humor, you know?

And even if I didn't believe what they say, I believe my own lying eyes about all the Islamic terrorism that has been going on for 1300 years.

So you Liberals keep on worrying about killing the civilians that helped Hezbullah arm themselves to the teeth in the first place. And I'm sure you anguish over the fact the world is not a cheery happy place and because it isn't, we must be to blame.

Me? I go to sleep at night knowing there is a lot of evil in this world that must be faced down with steely resolve if I wish my grandchildren to live without fear of getyting beheaded because they are Christians....

Dan-O  

By Anonymous Dan, at Sat Jul 29, 11:51:00 AM:

Liberal above:

We didn't kill every last German and Japanese in WW2 did we? Did we "multiply" the hatred a million zillion times evn though we killed quite a few million? Of course not.

We defeated them in a war and broke their WILL TO FIGHT. And they were forced to change as a result.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 29, 02:17:00 PM:

Dan-O: I second much of your rebuttal to anonymous.

The main problem is that anon has made a wish rather than an argument. There is no historical indication that treating Israel's Muslim foes kindly, or rebuilding what is broken in war will change any attitudes. It is true that killing a Muslim fighter does not solve your problem. But not killing one means he will kill you. Show me evidence to the contrary.

Every group that Israel is fighting advocates the total destruction of Israel. Every one. They do not advocate that Israel surrender and not bother them, or accept an occupation, or change policies. They formally advocate total destruction. Some speak of destroying the state of Israel and others demand the genocide of Jews - either those in the area or everywhere on Earth.

Let's look at history since Camp David and the Oslo Accords:

The PLO finally and grudgingly ended the demand for that destruction. Almost from that moment they began losing support from Muslim governments and Palestinians. Eventually they became history. The Hamas replaced them. Guess what Hamas advocates?

Some nations made peace with Israel. Jordan and Eygpt most importantly. And they have not had further problems. It is no accident that those at peace with Israel are governments rather independent of Muslim fundamentalisn. Look at the map.

History does show kindness can sometimes convert enemies to friends. Usually after one side is so thoroughly beaten that even the most pig-headed see peace is better and renounce their prior policy. It does not occur when rabid haters still think they can win.

sign me AnonymousK  

By Blogger Tom, at Sat Jul 29, 03:46:00 PM:

"For every civilian you kill, his friends and family will want revenge. I know I would."

Lord what muddled thinking. OK, Anonymous, imigine this. Your country is occupied by a terrorist mob. Another country with a democratic government comes to destroy the thugs. Some of your civilians are killed in the process. I understand personal loss, but what are you upset about?

Bty, I was referring to France being occupied by the Nazis and then freed by the US and UK.

According to the website of the D-Day Museum, "Between 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed, mainly as a result of Allied bombing" during the battle for Normandy. This fits with what a tour guide told me when I was in Normandy some years back.

And for all of the policy differences we have with the French, every one that I've met is truely grateful we saved them. Maybe embarassed that they couldn't save themselves, but grateful nontheless.  

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