This post is meant, for the near future, to bring my blogging about this situation in Gaza to a close; at some point, the conversation becomes about your own sizzle, not the geopolitical steak. I've said near enough what I want to say, and now like many people I am left with yet more grim moments of head-shaking and feelings of futility. There are few issues that can leave me feeling such a sense of helplessness.
I would add onto this post by Daniel Larison a simple point. I don't go around proclaiming the moral superiority of the Israeli leadership to Hamas because, as I have often repeated, I find one of our central problems in rationally discussing foreign policy the fact that we spend so much time talking about the superiority of one agent over another, we lose sight of a pretty well-agreed upon standard of moral dialogue: the notion that actions and agents have moral standing of their own, irrespective of their relative standing. I have tried to say, again and again, that Israel's actions have their own moral content, whatever the respective moral content of the actions of Hamas. Too much argument in this debate is wasted establishing the relative moral bona fides of one side or another. See, for example, Jon Chait, for a bright and principled person whose argument seems to me to be crippled by his inability to ask questions about the absolute moral standing of Israel's actions, rather than focusing on the superior morality of Israel. This is part of why I find Joe Carter's position so baffling; I thought I was arguing for the opposite of moral relativism.
Yes, if you insist on knowing, I find the actions and attitudes of Israel's leadership to be superior to those of Hamas. It's not close. How could it be? Israel is a flawed but functioning liberal democracy. It has a robust system of human rights protections, and though I would desperately like those protections to be more equitably applied to those living in the territories, they are a damn sight better than anything that Hamas would dream up if you gave them a thousand years. I do not cotton to the constantly asserted, never proven notion that the Palestinians would all choose at a moments notice to drive every Israeli into the sea; but do I believe Hamas has anything else on their mind? No, I don't. Yes, indeed, Israel's government is on a different moral plain entirely from Hamas. What, exactly, is that supposed to mean for our purposes? Why is that dispositive of anything at all? This is another moment in the weird phenomenon where those who claim to love a country most hold it to the lowest possible standards. Israel should be a vastly more moral agent in the world. I expect it to be, and I want it to be. If the most we can expect from the most vibrant and free democracy of the Middle East is "better than Hamas", then those nihilists you sometimes encounter who want to nuke the entire Middle East may have a point after all. Morality asks the most of those who are most capable of moral action; you and I have known that since our days on the playground. I expect more from Israel so I'm harder on Israel. That may not be fair. It's life.
I am sure that the accusation of naivete or idealism is applicable to my views on just warfare. All I can say in my defense is that, first, I think the unique nature of this particular debate pushes all of us into philosophical extremism. I find myself so quick to attack the killing of innocents in Palestine or Lebanon because I find the situation so strange, so daft, where so many otherwise principled people seem so quick to justify the killings of people they know to have committed no crime. In what other situation can you expect such rancor in favor of collateral damage, but in the discussion of Israel? When American troops kill innocents, as sadly happens, many argue for the necessity of the kind of combat that kills civilians. Very few, that I encounter, argue passionately for the righteousness of those killings, as they do with Israel/Palestine. Very few seem so preoccupied with absolving any responsibility whatsoever from the United States or its military. That is what people are saying, though, when they say that only Hamas is to be blamed for innocent death. I find myself reacting in such full throat against this killing not because I find the innocent dead somehow worse in Palestine than in Iraq or elsewhere, but because there are so many contrary voices concerning Israel and only Israel.
At the end of the day we must trust to the opinions of the people we argue with as they are expressed. There's a weird phenomenon whereby I or others like me post about Israel and Palestine, spending equal time or near to it decrying the insane behavior of Hamas as the counterproductive behavior of Israel; and yet our criticism is almost universally a product of the notion that we are showing unequal anger towards Israel, that we are being overly critical of Israel. I've talked already about some of the reasons I find it necessary to criticize Israel as I do. What I find underpins the criticism, rarely explicitly stated but seemingly assumed, is the idea that I don't really think what I'm saying when I condemn Hamas and their actions. To which I can only say, I do; there's little else that I can do. There is no referent for my intentions, just as there is no evidentiary way to disprove the idea that no Palestinian wants or could want anything else than to destroy Israelis. We have only the basic assumption that the Palestinians, like all people, ultimately want peace and prosperity. I have only the basic assumption of good faith behind my assertion that I want Hamas to stop firing rockets, and for the Palestinians to once and for all learn the patently fucking obvious lesson that Hamas has nothing of value to offer them.
It is on balance both an unfair thing to ask Israel to be better than her opponents and at the same time the only thing we can ask. I find that a fact of life on earth; the better you are, the more that is expected of you. Israel has enough of the conditions necessary to be the kind of nation we have imagined, in the last several hundred years, a nation could be-- peaceful, free, respectful of other people and cultures, even-handed, and strong. I want Israel to live up to that potential. Palestine is not yet there. That excuses none of their behavior, but it perhaps explains it. I look forward to a time when Palestine is ready to reject terrorism or cultural war. But it will take infrastructure, stability, freedom and a rise from poverty for it ever to be so. Israel alone can truly be partners with Palestine in that project.