Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Using Civilians as human shields, The Israelis do it too

I formed a rather controversial and unpopular opinion a number of years ago about a sectarian incident that happened at Holy Cross school in Belfast. This incident which received international attention at the time involved the all girl Holy Cross Catholic primary school which was located on the Protestant part of the otherwise Catholic Ardoyne area of Belfast. After an escalation of tensions in the area in the summer of 2001, caused by some sectarian murders, local loyalists began to obstruct access to the school for the Catholic pupils and their parents. The newly named Police Force of Northern Ireland which had replaced the Royal Ulster Constabulary over the summer as part of the Good Friday Agreement began to clear a path for the Catholic school goers. The images of hate filled loyalist faces hurling sectarian insults at children as young as four was a particularly disturbing sight. Things got even more ugly when loyalist terrorists, on three separate occasion threw pipe bombs at the school goers injuring police officers in the process.

Catholic children were subjected to sectarin abuse from loyalists

This seems like a pretty open and shut case. Loyalist sectarianism was exposed in all its ugly forms. And it clearly was. However, the opinion I formed which got me into a lot of trouble at the time was that it was wrong to use children to expose the savagery of loyalist sectarianism. To put it simply, if it were my child, I would have left them at home for the duration of the disturbances. I would not have let my child run a gauntlet of sectarian abuse in order to expose the bigotry of the other side. I believe this was the motive of some of the parents. Of course the parents involved were perfectly entitled to stand up to loyalist sectarianism. But those who continuously marched their children down the disputed road, particularly after the violence erupted, were in my opinion using their children to make a political point.

It is always wrong to use civilians, particularly children for propaganda purposes. We see this regularly in the Middle East. Hezbollah and Hamas are experts at putting civilians in danger by firing rockets from heavily populated areas and when the inevitable response comes from the Israelis you can be sure that the legions of camera men, photographers and other PR personnel that work for Hamas/Hezbollah will be there to capture dramatic images of the suffering. In my opinion if a citizen of Gaza or southern Lebanon allows attacks on Israel to be launched from their home then they bare substantial responsibility for civilian casualties that are suffered at that location in the event of an Israeli attack. However I also believe that the Israelis are not entirely innocent in this regard, certainly not when it comes to the issue of Jewish settlements.

A Jewish settlement in the West bank

A common accusation aimed at Hamas during the Cast Lead War was that they were using their own civilians as human shields. I am prepared to argue that building a civilian settlement in arguably the most disputed stretch of land on the planet is a similar tactic. I completely reject the "natural growth" argument of Israeli hawks. Israeli settlements have one Principal purpose, to undermine the future viability of a Palestinian state and in particular, Palestinian claims to Jerusalem. That goal of fulfilling the biblical prophecy of a greater Israel is achieved by placing Jewish civilians in the West Bank. It is wrong to put civilians at risk for the sake of a political or religious conviction. If a Jewish person from Europe, America or Australia decides to move themselves and their families to a West Bank settlement, land that is disputed in the extreme, then they are putting their children at risk for a political conviction. In the event that they or their family are attacked by terrorists, I believe that they must share some of the responsibilities for the consequences.

5 comments:

Paul said...

I couldn't disagree more Ted. It seems you're a. Making an analogy that the settler issue in Israel is similar in tactics and intent to the way, North America or Australia was settled by Europeans. I.e. Flood the country with your own kind of people to disposes the natives. The situation is more complicated than that. b. Settling in a disputed territory does not mean one possess culpability, if your family are then attacked by terrorists. Not least as there is no evidence of the settlers actually saying so and wishing ‘martyrdom’ on their own people, as Hamas MP Fathi Ahmad did during Cast Lead. Some settlers are doubtless nut jobs, but what they want is to settle in a land that is to them historically Jewish. It's not like they want the entire region or world to be Jewish, they just want their corner.

There is logic to what you say, but I consider it flawed if it is followed through by its implications. For instance 'In my opinion if a citizen of Gaza or southern Lebanon allows attacks on Israel to be launched from their home then they bare substantial responsibility for civilian casualties that are suffered at that location in the event of an Israeli attack.' This is in fact true, but it does not mean that the responding military force should not heed the civilians and take care not to injure them. I don't think you would apply that logic to other examples of civilians being used as cover closer to home. Say for instance a crowd pelts stones at soldiers, to allow cover for a gunman to engage the soldiers. Should the soldiers shoot into the crowd as they believe they share culpability with the gunman?

Anonymous said...

Paul, I fear it is your logic that is flawed. If the Israeli government both encourages and protects settlement in disputed areas, then it is they who bear responsibility for any harm that comes to those who illegally occupy the land. It isn't simply a matter of 'they want their corner'. They've already procured vast swathes of land illegally and this is simply another ploy.

Ted Leddy said...

Paul

"Flood the country with your own kind of people to disposes the natives". That is not quite my line here. Israeli hawks and Christian Zionists alike rigorously oppose a two state solution because they know it means an end to the dream of a greater Israel as per biblical prophecies. This is the principal motivation for continued settlement expansion.

I stand by my main point that it is wrong to put ones family in potential danger by moving to such sensitive land because of religious or political convictions. If people feel so strongly that the land is "historically Jewish" they should join the IDF or lobby the likud or whatever. Moving civilians to what is essentially the front line, is a despicable tactic that could legitimately be compared to the Human Shields strategy that is so often used by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Having said that I'm aware that many Jewish settlers are poorer Jews, originally from Arab countries who move to the settlements for economic reasons. But I have little tolerance for the fanatics, particularly those who cross oceans to live in a West Bank settlement. They, I believe must bare some of the responsibility if they or their families become victims of Palestinian violence.

"but it does not mean that the responding military force should not heed the civilians and take care not to injure them". I agree with this. That is why I referred to "substantial" responsibility, not total.

"I don't think you would apply that logic to other examples of civilians being used as cover closer to home". Probably not in all honesty. I suppose I hold a different standard for my own country. But as you can tell from the contents of my post. I am certainly not above criticising Irish Republicans for putting civilians at risk to make political points.

I would think I am fairly consistent here. I think it is wrong to use civilians in this way, Israelis, Arab or Irish.

Paul said...

'I would think I am fairly consistent here. I think it is wrong to use civilians in this way, Israelis, Arab or Irish.'

I think we all agree on this. However whilst there is no doubt that some settlers go to Israel out of a desire to fulfil a scriptural destiny this still pales into insignificance when compared to the Islamic view of the conflict (or Islamist). For one thing the actual 'Biblical' view of a greater Israel is from the sea to the river Jordan. Did you know what the land promised to the Zionists by the League of Nations was? It was exactly that so whilst these extreme Zionists may seem and indeed in many cases are a bit potty, they do have a certain legal validity to the territory they are going to. In fact of course as history can testify the Zionists led by Ben Gurion, settled for less than their legal entitlement as Gurion amongst others believed settling for less was worth it if they got peace with the Arabs. What they got was war, with an attempt in 1948 to purge the region of Jews by the Arabs, a war the Israelis won their sole aim survival. Martin Gilbert - 'Israel'.

In essence what we have are settlements, amongst which there is an extremist minority looking to settle in a small area. Compare that to the Islamist vision, a desire for a caliphate across the region where Jews and Christians (those that survive the onslaught) live as dhimmi with lesser rights. That puts things in perspective and whilst I like many Israelis regard some of the settlers as fruitcakes, I cannot accept that settling in a disputed territory, one where you do have a legal basis for developing and living there, renders one culpable if you are then attacked by supporters of Al Qaeda/Hamas etc.

Ted Leddy said...

Paul

I was aiming to confine this debate to the context of the Israeli Palestinian conflict (not the wider problem we have with global Jihadists). I make this point now because I agree with you that Jewish fanaticism pales in comparison to Islamic. But in terms of the peace process itself, I do consider settlements to be a major obstacle. I am also convinced that there is an element within Israel who do not accept the Palestinians as a legitimate people entitled to their own state. Such hawks argue that the concept of a Palestinian is a hoax and that they are simply refugees left over from the Arab Israeli wars. Settlement expansion is the key tool in delegitimizing the Palestinians as a people. As someone who wants to see the success of the Northern Ireland peace process replicated in the Holy Land I will opposed any conduct I believe obstructs an agreement that leads to a secure Israel and a viable Palestine.

I did not know that about the League of Nations. But I doubt whether it would serve as a legitimate legal claim today as the state designated to Israel in 1948 by the UN was considerably smaller than all the land from the "sea to the river".

On the main issue of this post. I do believe the comparison is valid because Jewish settlements will be attacked, just as sure as a militant in Gaza carrying an RPG will be. Placing civilians in disputed territory is a type of land grab that makes the other side look like barbarians when they resist it, because they are attacking civilians. I would respect the "Greater Israel" hawks more if they just took the sacred land using the IDF, rather than putting up civilian enclaves.