Thursday, December 21, 2023

Even If (Most Of) What Detractors Say About The Founding Of Israel Were True …(Andrew Pessin) (Part 2 of 2)

Guest post by Andrew Pessin: (Subscribe to his free substack)
(Part 2, see part 1)

6. Decolonization and Collective Punishment

There’s another important way of making these same points.

Many of those justifying the October 7 massacre do so on the basis of supporting “decolonization.” As one representative professor, Marc Lamont Hill of CUNY, put it shortly after, “So many … academics who insist upon doing performative, virtue signaling ‘land acknowledgements’ at every public event are eerily silent as real liberation struggles are happening. Guess decolonization really is a metaphor for some folk…” He clearly derides those who are all talk and no action, so for him, at least, decolonization apparently justifies the slaughter. Similarly Students for Justice in Palestine, the national campus group with some 200 chapters, defended the massacre by proclaiming that “decolonization is a call to … actions that go beyond … rhetoric,” including “resistance … in all forms,” including “armed struggle,” and illustrated their social media with images of the homicidal hang gliders in case we missed the point. So all that slaughter is apparently fine for them and so many others, if it’s for “decolonization.”

Now many of these same people—those who openly celebrated October 7, who more gently justified it, and even who remained silent—have spent the weeks since October 7 angrily demanding a ceasefire, meaning that Israel should cease its military activity against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Among their main arguments is that this military activity constitutes “collective punishment” against the civilians of Gaza, who, they claim, were not responsible for Hamas’s actions. Now there’s much to be critiqued in this argument, including its presumption about the degree of civilian complicity and its poor grasp of the international norms and laws of warfare. But let’s grant them the principle, that collective punishment is morally objectionable, i.e. unjust. For surely it is unjust to punish people who are not themselves responsible for the injustice for which they are being punished?

But that is just the point. For now what is their ongoing “decolonization” campaign against Israel, in particular in its October 7 manifestation targeting mostly Jewish civilians including babies and children, but a massive example of the injustice of collective punishment?

Even if we grant that 1948 was itself an injustice, those babies and children, those dancing teenagers, and almost every single one of the 1200 killed on that day could in no way be held responsible for it. They were born long afterward, and even if they were “partying on stolen land,” as the M.I.T. antagonists above claimed, they were in no way responsible for that. They were born there, to parents who were born there, to parents who were likely born there, and so on—and so have every right to be there, to be raised there, to live there, and to defend themselves from the violence directed against them. Nor do the Hamas militants have any right to reclaim that land from them, for they themselves were born long after it was allegedly “stolen”—and may well themselves be descendants of colonizers who earlier stole that land from others.

The entire campus anti-Israel campaign—which overwhelmingly endorses not a “two-state solution” but the replacement of Israel with “Palestine,” “from the river to the sea”—is one large campaign of collective punishment against the vast majority of contemporary Israeli Jews. Like it or not, there is simply no way to violently undo Israel, and thus rectify or compensate for the alleged injustice of 1948, that does not ultimately perpetrate an equal or likely even greater overall injustice.  

The campus anti-Israel campaign is therefore not, despite its self-description, motivated by human rights and principles of justice, but in fact by flagrant violations thereof.  That is why the campus anti-Israel campaign is, at its heart, nothing more than a hate campaign against the Jews.

7. A Short Legal Interlude

This is not the place for a legal brief, but there’s a very important point that is both widely misunderstood and which coheres with the arguments just above. Detractors are fond of the principle that “resistance” to “occupation, apartheid, etc.,” including “by any means necessary” (i.e. violence), is justified by international law. When pressed for a legal source for that principle they invoke United Nations Resolution 37/43 (3 December 1982), in particular the clause that “reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.” With this in hand, along with the (counterfactually) granted assumption that the establishment of Israel was unjust and thus that contemporary Israel “occupies” Palestine either in part or in whole, it’s a small step to openly justifying the October 7 massacre.

Except that that is entirely wrong.

First, General Assembly resolutions do not have the force of law, merely of “recommendations.”

More importantly, the Fourth Geneva Convention, which does have the force of law, is precisely designed to protect civilians in the time of war. Article 33, for example, is unambiguous: "No protected person [i.e., civilian] may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited." There is no exception to this rule. The Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, article 51(2), is even more explicit: "The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack.” Period. The article goes on in detail to proscribe almost every sort of action that Hamas undertook on October 7 and has generally undertaken in its years of terrorist activity.

Even further, UN Security Council Resolution 1566 (2004), passed under Chapter 7 thus with the force of law, condemns all acts of terror “irrespective of their motivation,” and states explicitly that “criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages … are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature” (italics added).

And finally that same year, addressing these very issues, the UN Secretary General determined that “there is nothing in the fact of occupation that justifies the targeting and killing of civilians.” 

You can’t get any clearer than that. Even if the establishment of Israel were unjust, even if Israel may be said to occupy Palestine in whole or in part, international law proscribes the attacks on civilians that constitute the heart of “resistance” activity. My arguments above aren’t merely good ideas; they’re the law.

8. So What Is Left To Do, For Those Seeking Some Resolution To The IPJAMC?

Answering that is obviously beyond the scope of this article, but one thing seems clear. As Thomas Hobbes himself suggested when describing the transition from the pre-modern state of nature into civil society, the parties are going to have to find a way to get over past grievances and commit themselves to some form of forward-looking social contract. In Leviathan I.14-15 he provides some “laws of nature,” i.e. general rules based in reason “by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life … and to omit that by which he thinks it may be best preserved.” The sixth law states that “upon caution of the future time, a man ought to pardon the offenses past of them that repenting, desire it,” and the seventh, quite poignantly, that in deciding how to respond to past offenses we must “look not at the greatness of the evil past, but the greatness of the good to follow.” That obviously means that one must look forward far more than looking back; and it requires working with Jews and Israelis rather than trying to physically eliminate them (as Hamas just did) and “dismantle Zionism” (as the campus campaign would have it). I’m inspired here again by Hussain Abdul-Hussain, who, after rehearsing the history of violent Palestinian rejectionism that has repeatedly produced disastrous results for the Palestinians, writes this:

Repeat [the cycle of violence], at the expense of Palestinians, Lebanese and many other Arabs, who, instead of investing their time in building their human resources, growing their economies, improving their lives and working for a better future, these Arabs continue wasting their time on "Palestine," letting their collective delusion lead them to repeat their idiocy of warring with Israel. Delusion makes them think, again, that they've become stronger this time, that Israel has become weaker, that the world has changed (none of this has happened over the past century, unlikely to happen in the future). These Arabs then commit the exact same mistakes, not heeding past lessons. In Arabic, the proverb says "repetition teaches the donkey." It apparently does not teach the Free Palestine terrorists and their enabling global mob. My Take: It is high time for the Arab elite and intellectuals to break this cycle, learn from the past, let go of the worthless Palestine Cause and focus on a better present and future. Land is only a tool in the service of a better life. Life should never be sacrificed in the service of land (and Zionists don't die for the land, like many Arabs thinks, they die to protect themselves, their heritage, their freedom and their social contract).

In sum, even if most or all of what they say about the founding of Israel were true, no amount of those alleged grievances could justify the terror of October 7, “root causes” and all—and until the detractors start looking forward more than looking back, prospects for peace, much less prosperity, are dim.

Let 2023 be the beginning of 2024 and beyond, rather than the continuation of 1948.

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