The news media (well, NPR, at least) has been covering the recent Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip, making me more and more unsettled. Years ago, I was closely monitoring the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I even compiled a 200 page chronology of violence and its numerous resultant deaths. I also served as the faculty advisor to a group of Palestinian students at State Cloud State University. In 1990, following the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi army, the U.S. moved troops into Saudi Arabia and launched an invasion of Kuwait and then southern Iraq. My pacifist principles motivated me to engage in an act of civil resistance by blocking entrance to a federal building the morning after the U.S. invasion. My arrest (with about 30 other people) led to judicial proceedings that were eventually dropped “in the interest of justice,” according to the district attorney. Nonetheless, the war, my arrest, and activities involved in mounting a defense, took an emotional toll on me, and I ended up scaling back the anti-imperialism, anti-war activism that had motivated me in years past. Perhaps it is merely due to my current exposure to news reports, but Israel’s recent bombardment of the Gaza Strip has re-awakened my indignity over Israel’s violence or more to the point, U.S. support for Israeli violence. It is ironic that the U.S. is considering greater sanctions against Russia for manufacturing the equipment that shot down a Malaysian passenger jet, while it manufactures the fighter planes that are killing Palestinian civilians and provides other military, intelligence, and diplomatic assistance to Israel.The latest data I can find regarding the death toll in the conflict indicates that nearly 700 Palestinians have been killed. A list of the names and ages indicate that those killed represent a broad swath of Palestinian society, men, women, infants, children, and the very aged. (See http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/20528.) Thirty Israelis have been killed. Two of the Israelis were civilians, most of the remainder were soldiers likely killed in the ground invasion. At least one was killed by friendly fire. The hostility between these peoples is certainly driven by many factors, but surely the most potent factor is the death of friends and family members killed by the opposition. In this instance, the responsibility for death falls overwhelmingly with the Israelis. It does not take subtle analysis to understand that the main drivers of this animosity are the actions by the Israeli government in launching air strikes that they know full well will result in the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians.
The justifications coming from Israel are that they are responding to threats to their people as any nation would and that they must degrade the Palestinian capacity to inflict harm on Israel. Three things should be noted here. First, the capacity of Palestinians to inflict harm on Israel is minimal, indeed, pathetic. After weeks of rockets launched against Israel, there has been very little property damage and nearly no one killed by those rockets. Second, Israel’s claim to respond to threats as any other nation would ignores the fact that the Gaza Strip is occupied by Israel, and consequently, Israel has a legal responsibility to maintain normal life there. I’m certain that if Israelis were expected to live under the conditions in the Gaza Strip they would not find this “normal life.” Resistance to the occupation is of a very different moral character than cross-border aggression between independent states. Third, Just War Theory requires that belligerents refrain from killing non-combatants and that retaliation be proportional to an assault. The list of people killed by Israeli air strikes reveals that non-combatants make up a majority of the people killed by Israel and of course a ratio of more than 20-1 is hardly proportional. It begs the question: “How many innocent people is Israel willing to kill in order to “protect” its population from Palestinian rockets that pose such a relatively weak threat?” Apparently hundreds are acceptable. Are 1,000 innocent deaths acceptable? Are 4,000 innocent deaths acceptable. Is there no limit to the number of innocent people that Israel may kill to "protect" its citizens -- not from actual killings, but from the threat of killings? As this number gets larger and larger, it becomes clear how little regard the Israeli government has for human life and how inflated its regard is for its own citizens’ lives. Nationalism (if you buy into that) might justify a greater regard for the lives of one’s compatriots, but human decency sets limits. Today, Israel’s government is devoid of human decency.
And now for the real reason I’m writing this: U.S. support for Israel makes us complicit in the war crimes that are currently unfolding. It is ironic that the U.S. is considering greater sanction against Russia for having manufactured the rocket which destroyed a Malaysian airliner when Israel is employing jets made in the U.S. that are killing a much greater number of people. We must call upon our government to end its historic support for the Israeli government and recognize that it – as having the most powerful military in the region – bears the primary responsibility for the situation within its borders and the territories it occupies (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip). We must call upon our government to stop supporting the purveyors of violence and insist that they reach an agreement with the Palestinians that recognizes the basic human rights of the Palestinians.
Having written all this, I must acknowledge that U.S. complicity in the war crimes currently being committed by Israel is but one of many acts of complicity – along with acts for which the U.S. is directly responsible – that are causing great suffering and death around the world. By singling out the war crimes that are being committed by Israel, I do not mean to diminish our responsibilities for the events and conditions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, and elsewhere, where our political, economic, and military aid is causing suffering and supporting oppressive governments.Once upon a time, U.S. support for Israel was the point of the spear of U.S. imperialism. With the invasion and occupation of numerous states in the Middle East in the past two decades, Israel’s unique role changed, but as the U.S. presence is declining in the Middle East, its relationship with Israel is returning to its past condition, and we are called upon to raise our voices to try to reverse our country’s reprehensible influence in the region.