Friday, January 9, 2009

On intentions

Many observers of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict who sympathize with Israel and its residents, but also criticize the large scale killing of Palestinians, often insert a caveat into their criticisms that goes something like this: "Yes I know that Israel is killing exponentially more Palestinians that Palestinians are killing Israelis, but there is no moral equivalence between the two, because Israel is doing it to protect their state and adheres to Western morality, but Hamas has no regard for human life and kills indiscriminately." Cf., Andrew Sullivan.

The problem with this formulation is that it places too much emphasize on the intentions of those committing the violence in the conflict. It also, by stressing the concept of "moral equivalence", elides the very real disparity in military and state powers between the two groups. Hamas has no state. Israel does. Not only does this affect the daily lives of their residents, but influences the tactical decision that each respective leadership can entertain. Meaning, Hamas has no apparatus for controlling its members actions or the actions of rogue attackers against Israel. Hamas simply cannot be expected to be held to the "Western" standards of war, like Israel, if it does not enjoy the benefits of a nation-state.

The crux of the problem with the aforementioned defense of Israel is that one cannot fully know the intentions of other individuals. The emphasis here is on individuals--the Israeli government, like Hamas, is not homogenous. People in either party may view violence as a means to a larger end, or simply as a good inself. We don't know, and it hinders understanding to view both groups as homogenous, and ascribe a Western morality to one, and barbarity to the other. Also, intentions themseves are inchoate concepts--the why of a military operation will always be infintiely more complex than the what. Who knows why individuals do certain acts, including ourselves.

Also, the idea that the IDF is more concerned with human life may just not be true.

Or, would Sullivan's thinking consider the Irgun or Stern Gang to be barbarians?

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