Thursday, August 7, 2014

Israel has the right to defend itself. What about the Palestinians?

Israel enjoys all the rights to military force that come with statehood. But what of those who have been denied a state? 
  Let's look only at today's reality for Gazans, the vast majority of whom aren't combatants. (Even if we get carried away and declare voting patterns sufficient reason to deem civilians demi-combatants, let's recall that most Gazans weren't old enough to vote in 2006, the last time elections were held.) That's nearly 1.7 million people who were nowhere safe for nearly a month, and hundreds of thousands who lost or were run out of their homes. They're still trying to eat, sleep, and find family members without a regular supply of electricity or water. They were killed in their hundreds and injured in their thousands, by a foreign military raining bombs from the sky and marching across their border.
Do they have a right to self-defense?
Let's posit a circumstance in which wealthy Palestinians fund, train, and arm a small defensive force intended only to respond to Israeli assault. Israeli armed personnel carriers cross Gaza's border — Gazan Defense Forces respond with rocket-propelled grenades. The IDF bombs commercial centers — the GDF has surface-to-air missiles. Would that be okay? Would Israel and the U.S. accept that?
We know the answer. We can already hear the cries that "the Palestinians" can't be trusted to "only respond." And that anyway, Israel wasn't assaulting! This was self-defense!
Sometime in recent-ish history, humans came to a general agreement that only state agents may legitimately wield violence. I can't holster up and pat down suspects, but my local police can; my friends and I can't declare war on our adversaries, but the U.S. government can. This is why the whole concept of "war crimes" exists: We've agreed that war is legitimate under certain circumstances, but we've also agreed that some kinds of violence remain beyond the pale.
Israel is a nation-state. It has a military, and not just any military, but the region's mightiest, armed with M16s and F-16s and the U.S.-funded Iron Dome.
The Palestinian people, on the other hand, have no infantry, no air force, no air defense — and no state. They don't have the former, because they don't have the latter.

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