Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dilemmas of Just War in our Age

I haven't put anything on the blog yet about Lebanon, and when people have asked me what I think, I have generally demurred. The reason is that I am trying to grapple with the troubling issue: how can a state defend itself against attacks from an armed group that does not play by the rules of war? Specifically, how can a state (which has a duty to protects its citizens) respond to an enemy that--on purpose--intermingles with civilians? A reader at Talking Points Memo poses the problem and laments the lack of discussion on this issue. In yesterday's mail, I received this week's New Republic where Michael Walzer judiciously lays out the issues and some tentative conclusions. As Jonathan Chait points out in the on-line version of that journal, we may not have answers to these questions for some time. Thus, I think (contra Juan Cole)that assertions that the Israeli army has committed war crimes are pre-mature. I'm not ready to give Israel a free pass, but there is a big step from harming civilians (bad) or civilian infrastructure (bad but perhaps necessary) to war crimes (bad and criminal). On the other hand, it seems quite obivous that Hezbollah's mixing itself with a civilian population in Lebanon, using civilian residential buildings to store weapons, and indiscriminately targeting civilians in Israel are war crimes (Hezbollah does not even pretend to be going after military targets in Haifa or Nahariya.) For another judicious consideration with which I generally agree, see this discussion by Norman Geras at his Normblog.
There is also some interesting discussion in--of all places--these comments to a posting at History News Network.

I don't expect that this posting will be of any interest or use to people who:
a) believe that Israel can do no wrong and that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic or, if it comes from a Jew, treachery.
or b) believe that Israel's status as a sovereign state is illegitimate, and that Israeli civilians are fair game.
Comments that state these views or obviously proceed from these premises will be deleted.

Comments that offer serious reflection on the difficult issues involved are welcomed.

3 comments:

charedilite said...

"that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic"

I know that it is PC to separate criticsm of Israel and anti-Semitism. However, a recent Yale study by Kaplan and Small finds that "anti-Israel sentiment consistently predicts the probability that an individual is anti-Semitic, with the likelihood of measured anti-Semitism increasing with the extent of anti-Israel sentiment observed."

While we should guard against confusing criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, blatantly anti-Israel articles may indeed reveal anti-semitic underpinnings.

Richard Davis said...

Although we talk about rules of war, when push comes to shove, the rules vanish. No nation is likely to go quietly, if they have the capability of surviving by breaking the rules.

In the case of Lebanon, it is clear that the State of Lebanon sides with Hizbollah. There are numerous facts to substatiate this position. Firstly, Lebanon allows a militia to operate freely in the south of the country. If Lebanon is simply incapable of exerting sovereignty over this area, it should register and objection to Hizbollah militia, state it is incapable of removing them, and request outside help. That hasn't really happened.

Secondly, the President of Lebanon has, in Arabic, praised Nasralla and stated that the government supports Hizbollah. A parlimentary leader is negotiating on behalf of Hizbollah.

Thirdly, Hizbollah is a political party in Lebanon, with members in both parliament and the cabinet.

Fourthly, polls show that 70% of Lebanese support Hizbollah, and support the original kidnapping of the soldiers.

Thus a case can be made that the State of Lebanon is at least partially engaged in military action against Israel. This surely changes the way one would view the destruction to Lebanese infrastructure and bombing Beirut.

Adam said...

To charedilite: I would point out a distinction between "criticism of Israel" and a generally "anti-Israel" position. Some criticism of Israel comes from people who have "anti-Israel sentiments" generally or mainly and other criticism of Israel comes from people who do not have such sentiments.
And I don't think it's a big surprise that there is a strong correlation between a general anti-Israel position and an antisemitic point of view. (Of course, even the study you note would allow for the fact that some anti-Israel positions are not connected to anti-semitism.)

But even so, my comment was concerned with the easy elision of that middle point such that any and all criticism of Israel is seen as antisemitic. And there are certainly people in the Jewish community who hold that position.

PS Who are Kaplan and Small and where was this study published? I would like to see it. How, I wonder, do they measure "extent of anti-Israel sentiment"?

To Richard Davis: Your comments about Lebanon raise further complications and I thank you for that. But Lebanese civilians are still civilians whether they support their government or not and whether their government is at war with Israel or not. And I have seen no evidence that the Lebanese army uses civilians as human shields the way Hezbollah does. This becomes particularly important when Israel operates militarily in areas where Hezbollah has less of a presence and where the target may well be the Lebanese army.