January 10, 2009

In the End, the Civilian Loses. The War Between Israel and Hamas

Photo from Amir Farshad Ebrahimi's photostream on Flickr

What do we gain by war besides terror, citizen deaths, and collateral damage? I have been following the Israeli war against Hamas. I call it the war between "Israel and Hamas", but increasingly it looks like a war by Israeli on the people of Gaza with aid workers as occasional targets. Certainly that statement is quite strong and not quite fair, but when one state enters a another states' territory to take out a non-state actor--what option do you give the civilian population living there?

As of this writing, 834 Palestinians (roughly half of them civilians and a third of the total children) have died and 13 Israelis, 11 of them soldiers. This dramatic difference is no doubt strongly linked to the differences in force used (rockets and rifles vs tanks, air strikes, and all the trappings that come with a modern army) in addition to the fact that the war is taking place in Gaza. I think we need to consider the issue of proportionality here and whether Israel is justified in using the amount of force it has used up to this point.

If you have been following the war at all, I am sure that you have heard the mention of white phosphorus over and over again. While not technically against international law, it has been traditionally used in wide-open spaces to mask the movements of tanks and large groupings of troops. Its use in Gaza is controversial because of the areas population density. Being a dumb and indiscriminate weapon, it is impossible to use it with confidence in avoiding excessive civilian and collateral damage. White phosphorous, which burns at extremely high temperatures, does not extinguish on contact with the skin. It keeps burning. Despite international outcry Israel continues to use what many might call a terror weapon.

For the last two days, Israel has agreed to a 3 hour ceasefire allowing aid to get in and citizens the chance to buy food and other essentials, but certainly 3 hours is not enough time to distribute international aid to those in need. Aid appears to be getting in, but without proper time for distribution it can have little beneficial affect.

While many things are appalling in this war (and any war), I can not ignore the fact that Israelis deserve the opportunity to live in their own land without fear of rocket attacks by Hamas. However, I continue to have faith in diplomatic options, the alternative, which we are seeing now, is simply not a humanitarian option.

In war the civilian always loses, because even when the threat of imminent death and the armies have done, they are left with the aftermath, which might be less appalling at first, but no less deadly in the end.

Quotes from recent news sources:

But the most important strategic decision the Israelis have made so far, according to senior military officers and analysts, is to approach their incursion as a war, not a police operation. Civilians are warned by leaflets, loudspeakers and telephone calls to evacuate battle areas. But troops are instructed to protect themselves first and civilians second.

Israeli infantry units are going in “heavy.” If they draw fire, they return it with heavy firepower. If they are told to reach an objective, they first call in artillery or airpower and use tank fire. Then they move, but only behind tanks and armored bulldozers, riding in armored personnel carriers, spending as little time in the open as possible.

As the commander of the army’s elite combat engineering unit, Yahalom, told the Israeli press on Wednesday: “We are very violent. We do not balk at any means to protect the lives of our soldiers.”

--New York Times, "A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery"

1 comment:

Danny Shapiro said...

Oh boy. Talk about controversy.