Everyone engaged in it is interested in proving that one side is righter than the other. Since no action in the region has occurred without plausible provocation for 4,000 years or so, this requires constantly shifting the metrics by which you measure whichever side you happen to favor. Point out that Israel is killing a lot of civilians and you are told that they had to do something in response to the Hamas rockets. Point out that practically, the response they chose has absolutely no strategic or tactical benefit, and a huge potential downside, and you are castigated for your lack of moral outrage about Hamas's attacks on civilians. Either Israel is doing this because it hopes to gain something, in which case the whole thing is hopelessly ass-backwards - they are strengthening Hamas and worsening their international political position - or it thinks that it's okay to kill boatloads of civilians purely for revenge against Hamas; revenge for attacks that have so far killed and injured almost no one. This rather undercuts the argument of moral superiority, because guess what? That's what Hamas thinks it's doing.After all of this, McArdle suggests that it's "sad" there's a "stable equlibrium." Why would one who adopts a position of moral equivalence be "sad" if the Middle East balance of power is at a "stable equilibrium"? Considering that materially Israel is thousands of times more powerful than Hamas and the rump-Palestian Authority, such parity - if demonstrated as objectively true - should be seen as a disaster for Israel's survival as a sovereign state and a boon to those who see Palestinian terrorists as morally equal.
On the other side, there's a tendency to forget, or forget to mention, that whatever the provocation, a plurality-to-majority of Palestinians constantly and actively wish to kill large numbers of Israelis purely for revenge. Gaza wants to be at war with Israel, and then hide behind the protections of not-quite-war, because they haven't the foggiest hope of winning anything like a real war.
I'm of Northern Irish descent, and I grew up in New York City in a mostly Jewish high school, and so as you can imagine, I've heard all the arguments about who's really to blame about a zillion times. And all I get out of it in the end is that the whole thing makes me sick and sad. I don't see any untainted victims. I see a bunch of people who have been stomped on by history beating up each other in revenge for past wrongs that can't be righted, lashing out whenever they think they can get away with it without losing the foreign funding that allows them to continue the fun. And I don't ever blog about it because one is not allowed to have an opinion on the matter - no matter what I say, I'll be excusing terrorism or, irrelevantly, the holocaust, or shilling for western imperialism.
The saddest, truest thing that I've ever heard about the conflict is a friend who said that it seems to him like a stable equilibrium. In that spirit, I'm turning comments off on this post. Happy New Year.
Not only that, McArdle's not very good at posing hypotheticals. If she or anyone she knows has actually said that Israel's response "has absolutely no strategic or tactical benefit, and a huge potential downside," then frankly she has no business talking about Middle East international politics (or she needs to spend some time with Zbigniew Brzezinski). Israel planned, for two years, last weekend's airstrikes down to the finest detail. The overwhelming number of those killed were Hamas terrorists, and the civilian lives would have been spared had not Palestinian rocket depots been set up within civilian residential lodgings. The airstrikes and likely ground incursion have restored strategic confidence to the Israelis, and breaking the Hamas resistance may well be key to success on West Bank diplomacy.
But the "4,000 years" thing is particularly a killer. Conflict in the Middle East - while driven fundamentally by religion - is existentially about national sovereignty, and that systemic element is the basis for this crisis of states and national peoples, which dates back roughly 100 years to, say, the Balfour Declaration. There really was no "Palestianian" people at that times. Bedouin and nomadic peoples of Arab extraction would be the most accurate ethnic designation. The push for a true Palestinian "nation" is a 20th century phenomenon. Prior to this, the Ottoman empire maintained authority across the region, and the grand muftis and Arab grandees enjoyed power, prestige, and privilege under a what was essentially an imperial Islamic caliphate. As for "plausible provocations," since 1948 - when Israel was established with the blessings and legitimacy of international law, embodied by the will of the United Nations, and out of the existential bleakness of the European Shoah - Israel has been in a constant state of siege, fighting at least a half-a-dozen wars and with roughly a third of the nations of the world calling essentially for the elimination of the Jewish state in Eretz Israel.
Much has been written this last few days on Israel's "disproportionate" response. Readers can check my blogging tags below for some of my earlier posts. Here I'm simply going to let Melanie Phillips have the (next to the) last word, drawing on her powerful essay from earlier this year, "This Blog And (Some of) Its Readers":
I have noticed a persistent complaint by some readers posting comments on my blog entries which I think requires some comment and clarification ... They seem to believe that it is wrong for me to write about Israel as often as I do ... Some of these readers, as is painfully obvious from their comments, simply have a big problem with Jews – at least, Jews who identify with and defend the Jewish people. But others, whose instincts may be rather more decent, seem to be labouring under one or two misapprehensions. So let me make a number of things clear ....I would only add that it seems chauvinistic and ethnically-insulting for McArdle to suggest that growing up "in New York City in a mostly Jewish high school" gives her some kind of superior insight to Israel's predicament. Having said that, McArdle's nevertheless smart to close comments on her post. Israel-Palestine's the hottest of the international hot-button issues, and Lord knows it brings out the nastiest of the fever-swamp nasties.
... the reason why Israel figures so heavily in any discussion about the predicaments of our era is that Israel is the defining moral issue of our time. It is Israel, and the century-old existential onslaught against the Jewish people in its ancient homeland, which stands at the very centre of the titanic fight by truth against lies, fact against propaganda, freedom against totalitarianism, liberty against slavery, justice against injustice and reason against irrationality in which the entire free world is currently engaged. Israel is the quintessential canary in the mine. It is the front-line in the defence of the free world. If it goes down, the rest of us will go down. Those who are on the wrong side of the Israel issue are on the wrong side in the great struggle for civilisation against barbarism. That is why I return to it again and again.
Hat Tip: Memeorandum.