Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Mercy Rule

There is no war going on in Gaza. I can prove this with one simple statistic, a score almost: 385 to 4.

Those are your death totals as of this morning for the Gaza "conflict." Israeli forces have killed more than 385 people including at least 62 civilians. Hamas' rockets have killed 4 Israelis.

In Gaza they have no electricity, no fuel, precious few other supplies. This is business as usual, of course, given Israel's harsh control of the region. Their hospitals are depleted and "stretched to the maximum" according to the Red Cross.

And in Israel they are in terror - terror! - because some rockets reached all the way to Beersheba, meaning thousands more Israelis could, potentially, someday be hit by rockets.

Of course, they could also be struck by lightning.

"What I don't get," a friend of mine's dad said last night, "is how come when the Palestinians fire rockets into Israel every day, that's not news, but when the Israelis fight back, that's a big story."

The answer is simple: Because the Palestinian rockets are wildly ineffective. They very rarely kill anyone. The news story would read: "Rocket Fired Into Israel: 0 dead, 0 wounded." Not exactly A1 material, at least not when it happens every day. It would be like the sports page leading with "Charlie Brown Fails to Kick Football."

The Beersheba rockets didn't actually hurt anyone. No one was so much as injured. But the specter of these utterly ineffectual rockets has whipped the Israelis into such a frenzy that they may launch a ground assault on Gaza.

Yes, if people were launching rockets into my town all the time, I'd probably want the government to do something about it too. I get that. And yes, the people firing the rockets are utterly unreasonable deuchebags.

But what Israeli and US politicians have done is turned the rockets into a full-fledged propaganda device. These rockets - these rockets which very rarely kill anyone - are the sole rationale given for this massive military mission that has already killed several hundred people, and will probably kill several more before this is all over. It is the sole rationale for every Israeli raid.

Yet no one in the American media or political structure has stepped in to point out the obvious disproportion between Israel's actions and the threat it's facing.

"Israel is acting in clear self-defense in response to heinous rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza," declared House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. "As a sovereign nation, Israel has an unequivocal right to take action to ensure the security and safety of her citizens."

"I strongly support Israel's right to defend its citizens against rocket and mortar attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza, which have killed and injured Israeli citizens," quothe Harry Reid.

And, for the crowning ridiculousness, the White House declared that Hamas has "once again shown its true colors as a terrorist organization" by firing those dastardly rockets.

Nor have US media outlets called them on it. Take this Washington Post report on Israel's rejection of a humanitarian ceasefire. The entire first five paragraphs are from the Israeli perspective, why the Israelis didn't accept the deal - "it did not contain the necessary elements to make the truce permanent." From there it explains what attacks Israel conducted, followed by this paragraph:

Hamas continued firing as well. By Wednesday afternoon local time a barrage of more than 20 rockets and mortar shells had struck southern Israel, including five that crashed in and around the city of Beersheba, about 25 miles from Gaza. There were no serious casualties reported.

Yes, the Post reported the lack of casualties. But by beginning with the phrase "Hamas continued firing as well," it implies that Hamas' activities are essentially congruous with Israel's, and vice versa. Which is exactly the terms Israel wants everything framed in.

Israel wants this situation portrayed as a conflict, a war. In a conflict a cease-fire must be mutual. But 385 to 4 isn't a conflict, or an "all out war" as Ehud Barak colorfully described it yesterday. It's a massacre. If this were a football game, the mercy rule would be applied.

But Israel has no room for mercy. It is playing for all the marbles. It is pretty obviously intent on nothing short of the utter annhilation of Hamas, and it doesn't care how many Palestinians have to die to accomplish that. The rockets have fuck-all to do with it. They're a fig leaf, an excuse.

And it's a fig leaf every American politician and most media outlets are hiding behind. Why?

Because we like the Jews. We just plain like 'em.

Israel is a democracy. It shares our basic Western values and culture, we can go on vacation there, it's great. More importantly, Jews aren't scary. We have Jewish comedians and actors and politicians and businessmen. We have Jewish friends and colleagues, and, crucially for politicians, Jewish constituents. No Jews, to my knowledge, have ever flown a plane into an American building, at least not on purpose.

Muslims do not have it so easy. Remember the whisper campaign about Barack Obama being a Muslim? "That's a lie!" we Obama supporters were quick to protest. It shouldn't have mattered if Obama was Muslim, but we knew it did matter to the voting public, so we loudly pointed out that it wasn't true. We knew America wouldn't elect a Muslim.

That's the undercurrent beneath the Israel/Palestine debate in this country, or I should say, lack of debate. To voice the slightest equivocation in support for Israel is heresy.

During the election, Obama was once attacked for having a passing friendship with Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American professor at the University of Chicago, who happens to hold pro-Palestinian views. Nothing radical, he got along fine with Jewish students and even local Rabbis, he just happened to take the Palestinian point of view. When he left the university, Obama, a staunch supporter of Israel, said that his conversations with Khalidi had been "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases."

Seems reasonable and healthy right? And yet this association was deemed fittingly damning fodder for a political attack, albeit a clumsy and little-regarded one.

Now, this bias of ourse is being tested to its utmost. Israel has, in response to nothing in particular, killed almost four hundred people in about four days. Its pleas that it cannot live under constant fear of rockets would be touching, were we not to consider the Palestinians who likewise must live under constant fear of Israeli attacks. Since rocket attacks happen every day, and Israel seemingly needs no greater provocation to attack, its bombs are just as unpredictable as the once-in-a-blue-moon rocket deaths.

Yes, the assholes in Hamas are asking for this. But the people of Gaza aren't, and Israel is doing its damndest to ensure they can't escape. At least sixty-two innocent civilians have been killed. The hospitals are out of supplies, and Israel won't stop the bombardments to let more in.

And this is fine. Because Israel has the right to defend itself. Israel is our friend. It'll all be over soon. We're winning 385-4.

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