Sunday, February 27, 2005

The International Solidarity Movement

While checking out my "favorite" pro-Palestinian website, I read an article about a member of the ISM named Brian Avery who was shot in the face by Israeli soldiers in 2003. Whether the shooting was legitimate or not is an issue for Israel's military investigators to decide. That's not the point of this posting.

But it got me thinking. One of the most common questions asked about the ISM is why they don't protect Israeli civilians. So common, in fact, the ISM even answered it in one of their FAQ's. I don't think their answer makes a whole lot of sense; in fact it implicitly diminishes their underlying argument.

The site notes in a question about their position on suicide bombers that

"[w]e oppose the tactic of suicide bombings, especially those that have been carried out against civilian targets. We don't however think that it is a more brutal tactic than dropping a bomb from a fighter plane on a civilian-occupied apartment building, firing a tank shell down a crowded city street, or placing dynamite in a family home. They are all brutal and repulsive acts."

A fundamental problem with this answer is that it ignores intent. It conflates an act designed to kill indiscriminately and maximize the number of deaths with an act designed to target a specific person or group, but carried out in a negligent way. Even if we assume that the acts they ascribe to the Israeli army are commonplace, that does not prove these acts are designed to maximize the number of deaths of innocents. The soldiers could very easily be responding to fire or laying a trap for some terrorists. There is no conclusive evidence that Israeli soldiers purposely target civilians. Suicide bombings in Israeli cafes, however, can have no other purpose but to kill as many people as possible.

For the time being let's assume the two actions are morally equal. Why protect Palestinian civilians over Israelis? Their answer is two-fold:

1) We believe the root cause of the violence in the region is the illegal seizure of Palestinian land and the violent oppression of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. We are working to end this so that counter-attacks against Israelis may also stop.

2) Furthermore, the Israeli public is protected by a modern, well equipped and highly professional security apparatus, which includes sophisticated intelligence, surveillance and counter-terrorist units in addition to regular military and para-military units. The Palestinian people have none of this protection.

They also point out how they do go into cafes and ride buses, so to a certain extent they are protecting Israeli civilians (I guess that's their point in mentioning this fact).

The first part is wrong. But let's assume it's true for now. If they believe that protecting Israeli civilians is just important as protecting Palestinians, which can be the only reason why they would want "counter-attacks" to end, would they not be as successful by placing their members in Israeli cafes so Palestinian suicide bombers would know that detonation there would kill ISM members? Let's take a look at this point. Obviously they assume that the IDF will not commit these brutal acts if they know the ISM is there watching them. If the ISM did not deter the IDF, why would the ISM be there at all?

If the assumption is that putting the ISM in the territories will deter the Israeli army from acting with impunity, and we also assume that the Palestinian "counter-attackers" are equally moral, couldn't we conclude that Hamas will be deterred from sending operatives to blow up Sbarros? They could hang a big sign in Arabic outside of all major Israeli cafes "ISM members inside!!!" Surely this will deter Hamas, right?

Would this be more effective than just trying to stop the IDF? Even if we assume that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the others only attack because of Israeli actions, we still have to admit that the IDF responds to these actions. Palestinian leaders like Abbas often complain about how such attacks give Sharon an excuse to attack more Palestinians. If this statement is true, a goal of the ISM should be to minimize Sharon's excuses, right? Stopping Hamas will lead to saving Israeli lives, and will also take away Sharon's excuses and will save Palestinian lives as well. The current approach merely saves Palestinian lives. A moral approach should focus on saving the most lives. So why not use this approach?

That brings us to Number 2. The Israelis already have protection. Why do they need more? But if Hamas will really be deterred by the presence of ISM members in Israeli restaurants, that would save more lives. The amount of lives already saved by Israeli security forces practicing defensive measures in Israel proper (which I assume even the ISM would not criticize), is immaterial. They can save more. So instead of, for example, 100 lives being saved a month, now 150 lives could be saved. The net gain is 50. How is this any different than saving 50 Palestinian lives? In one case we start at 0 and in the other we start at 100, but the difference is still the same.

Both these reasons are red herrings. If you ask me, there are two real reasons why they don't help Israeli civilians. One, they don't care about them. Honestly, they just feel that Israeli civilians are equally culpable, either because they elect these leaders and sanction their actions or because every member of Israeli society is part of the army. I've heard both these ideas before from Palestinian apologists. The ISM just chooses not to admit this reason because they know that they'd have zero legitimacy if they supported killing babies because their father or mother voted for Sharon.

Two, they know Hamas couldn't care less if they kill them. Hamas won't actively kill people like Adam Shapiro because that would go against their interests, but every rational person knows that the presence of ISM members on Israeli buses will do nothing to stop a suicide bomber. Implicit in this idea is that the Hamas is less moral than the IDF because the IDF will be deterred but Hamas won't. The ISM can't admit this because that should make a moral person support the Israelis.

But the ISM doesn't claim to be moral. It admits that it's pro-Palestinian. So why does anyone grant this group any legitimacy?

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