Monday, July 31, 2006

By now every one has heard about the horrible slaughter in Qana, Lebanon. Fifty seven people, including thirty four children were killed when the house they had taken shelter in collapsed after being bombed by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Predictably, conspiracy theories have begun to fly, from the mere shifting of blame from Israel to Hezbollah...
Air Force Chief of Staff Brig-Gen. Amir Eshel said the building that Israel struck with missiles collapsed about seven hours after it was struck by Israeli jets. Eshel said something in the building might have caused the explosion. claiming the whole episode was faked for the cameras.
But the accumulating evidence suggests another explanation for what happened at Kana. The scenario would be a setup in which the time between the initial Israeli bombing near the building and morning reports of its collapse would have been used to "plant" bodies killed in previous fighting -- reports in previous days indicated that nearby Tyre was used as a temporary morgue -- place them in the basement, and then engineer a "controlled demolition" to fake another Israeli attack.

The most common apologetic argument is that this was a tragic accident brought on by the unconscionable tactics of Hezbollah.
Overlooked in some of the media coverage was the fact that another 150 rockets were launched at Israel's civilian population on Sunday.


Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman called Qana a "hub of Hizballah" and expressed Israel's regrets for the deaths of so many civilians and children. Sunday, he said, was a "horrible, sad and bloody" day.

Nevertheless, Gillerman noted that although the civilians were killed by an Israeli shell, it was Hizballah who was using the women and children as human shields.

John Averosis asks some hard ethical questions about this.
So here's the ethical question of the day. Someone is firing hundreds of missiles at your citizens each day, and launching them from civilians areas because think they think you won't hit back (or hope you do, and thus kill civilians, causing a storm of bad publicity). As for the civilians, it's an open question whether they are helping harbor the guys with the missiles or not, i.e., whether or not they have a say in telling Hezbollah to take a hike (and if they do have a say, would that change your answer)?

So the question is this, under those circumstances, what do YOU do as the leader of country that's receiving 100 rockets a day raining down on your cities?

Second question, which I've posed before. At what point does a local citizenry become responsible for the crimes it supports? When Israel is on the receiving end of bombs, I hear a lot of talk about how every Israeli is a legitimate target because they all support the government. So does the same apply to every Arab, every Muslim, every southern Lebanese, and every American?

He's asked variations of these same questions before and been roundly savaged for it. I think his desire for an open discussion of this issue is sincere--as opposed to Alan Dershowitz's attempt to manipulate his readers into abandoning basic pillars of international law. Sincerely asked, they are legitimate questions. It never hurts to examine the underpinnings of our beliefs; so I'll attempt to explain where I stand on this.

Aravosis asks, "At what point does a local citizenry become responsible for the crimes it supports?" The key to this is how much and how they support the crimes. Whether or not Hezbollah's actions are crimes, legitimate resistance, or something else is a question for another day. Let's assume that they are crimes. The responsibility of the local population lies on a sliding scale from clearly responsible (actively helping Hezbollah), through the highly ambiguous (tolerating Hezbollah's hiding among them), to clearly innocent (human shields somehow held captive by Hezbollah). Notice that all along the scale, Hezbollah is clearly guilty; it is only the surrounding population whose guilt is in question.

The relevant principles of international law are very clear.

Israel has a right to self-defense. Every country and, to a lesser extent, national group, has that right. This means, that if Hezbollah shoots at Israel, Israel has a right to shoot back. It also means that if Lebanon can't stop Hezbollah, Israel has a right to enter Lebanon to stop Hezbollah. This does not mean that is smart or good publicity for Israel to do so; it just means that they are within their rights to do so.

Collective punishment is against international law. Collective punishment is the act of a state holding an entire group responsible for the actions of a few individuals. During WWII the Nazis regularly told occupied areas that for every German soldier killed by partisan activity, they would randomly select ten civilians and execute them. They were not terribly picky about getting exactly ten and often rounded up to the nearest village. The goal was to terrify the group into quiescence and to force them to do the policing that the Nazis were unable to do themselves.

Although the Nazi example is the best known, the tactic hardly originated with them. It is as old as imperial power and written language. It has been the preferred tactic for dealing with guerilla style insurgencies since wars began. The Assyrians used it, the Romans used it, The European powers used it to conquer and hold Africa, we used it against the plains Indians, and Saddam used it in Kurdistan. It is the favorite demand of rightwing bloggers whenever they need to display their toughness. It is also the sick logic that drives tribal vendettas and gang warfare. And, oh yes, I think it is wrong.

To a certain extent, these two principles collide with one another. Often, to get at the people most responsible for war-like action, the state must go through or over people who are less responsible. International law recognizes the inevitability of this collision. International law recognizes that there will be--to use a horrible phrase--collateral damage. The law against collective punishment does not expect the state to produce no collateral damage when pursuing aggressors; however, it does prohibit intentionally targeting non-combatant civilians and expects the state to make reasonable efforts to limit collateral damage.

With that as background, my answers to his questions--based on my own understanding of international law, civilized behavior, and state morality--are:
[W]hat do YOU do as the leader of country that's receiving 100 rockets a day raining down on your cities?

I would send troops in to try and stop those who are launching the rockets and destroy their supplies. By "stop" I mean capture or kill; merely driving off is a distant third choice. My obligation to international law and basic morality is to get the most responsible people while limiting the bystander casualties as much as possible. This means bombing the general area from which the rockets came is not a legitimate option. Every time the Israelis target a building, it should be based on a defensible belief that the building is a current threat--not that it was used as base in the past, that it is a current and continuing threat.

In the course of its history, the Parthenon in Athens has been a pagan temple, a church, a tourist attraction, and an ammunition dump. If Turkey and Greece went to war tomorrow, the Turks would not be justified in blowing up the Parthenon because it had once been used for a military purpose. They would only be justified in blowing it up if it they had good reason to believe that it was being used for a military purpose at the time of their attack.

In order to specifically target the truly responsible, I need good intelligence and I need to send my military as close as possible--foot soldiers on the ground, if necessary. This might mean more casualties for my own side, but that is one of the responsibilities of making the choice to go to war. The decision to use force should not be easy or clean. In an ideal world, every time a leader chose to use force, they would be required to place a close relative in the first line of assault.
At what point does a local citizenry become responsible for the crimes it supports?

Unless every man, woman, and child supports the activities in material way, the "local citizenry" never become responsible. If the village leaders support Hezbollah and allow its presence, they deserve to be punished. If individual adults help Hezbollah, they deserve to be punished in some way proportional to the extent of their help. Children and random family members of those adults never deserve to be punished.

The government of Israel has attempted a strategy that allows them to bypass their responsibility to limit bystander casualties. At the beginning of the current offensive, they air dropped leaflets warning the civilian population to get out of the way. Their argument is that any adult civilians who stay have willingly put themselves and their families in the line of fire, possibly expressly to protect Hezbollah. Therefore, the responsibility for their deaths lies in their decision to stay and not in the Israeli leadership's decision to attack. As a moral argument, if falls down by failing to take into consideration those who are unable to move. As a legal argument, since the action amounts to mass expulsion, I doubt as if it's legal (I'm open to correction on that last point).

Finally, John brings up the double standard of making all Israelis responsible for what their government does, or in somehow mourning dead Lebanese children more than dead Israeli ones. I hope, after reading the above, you can guess that I reject any sentiments along those lines.

Responsibility goes hand in hand with power and freedom. Those who have the power to make and enforce decisions bear responsibility for the results of those decisions. The Israeli cabinet member far from the fighting has far more power and freedom in ordering a peasant to leave his farm than the peasant does in deciding whether follow those orders. The rootless and armed Hezbollah fighter has far more power and freedom than the peasant who is tied to the locale. The peasant, however, has far more power and freedom than his dependents. But for the peasant, the decision is not a simple go to safety or stay in the combat zone. The choice is to leave all he has to the mercies of looters, invaders, and weather and take his family on the road during a battle with no food, shelter or idea just where "safety" is, or to stay and hope for the best.

It's all muddy and there are no perfect answers. There is, however, one unarguable truth in this: children should never be held responsible for the crimes of their grownups.

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