The right to whose self-defence?

I have been meaning to start this blog for some time but for a world of reasons have been putting it off. Why start now?

Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 Associated Press

This is the question that many are asking about Israel’s assault on Gaza. It was in 2008, when Israel was last attacking Gaza, that I first began to think seriously and write about Israeli violence. I began with so called ‘Operation Cast Lead’ (the Palestinians and the overwhelming majority of the international community had many alternative names for it) and worked back through the histories to – inevitably – 1948. And so history repeats itself today, albeit with crucial differences (more on this in a later post). The parallels between 2008 and now are instructive: Israel has launched a multi-faceted war that includes not only the deadly air strikes but a carefully orchestrated PR campaign (proving itself fully literate in social media), a calculated psychological war (designed to terrify Gazans into submission) and a legal offensive (calibrated to provide the illusion of legality to win legitimacy). All of this will likely be followed by a devastating ground offensive. It is important to remember, therefore, that when we see Israeli violence what we are witnessing is not just an extreme form of technologically-advanced aggressive militarism, it is also the ‘cutting-edge’ of a series of other much more subtle technologies of war. Over the next few posts I hope to identify some of these technologies, but for now I want to make what I think is one of the more important points about the current situation in Gaza.

Israel’s ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’ is anything but a war of defence; in fact, it is a military offence par excellence. Indeed, in Israel it isn’t even called ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’: it is called ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’. The difference, of course, is significant. ‘Pillar of Cloud’ is a biblical reference (to Exodus), wherein it is written that when Jews fled across the desert 3000 years ago they were guided by a pillar of cloud. Israel often imputes its military operations with a divine meaning, but the question we must ask is why the pillar of cloud has evaporated into pillar of defence. Admittedly, something might have been lost in the translation from Hebrew to English but what has been added in translation is surely no coincidence.

Obama in the U.S. and Harper in Canada have both issued statements saying that they support Israel’s right to self-defence. It is, of course Standard Operating Procedure, for states to say that (some) states should have the right to self-defence; it is, after all a self-serving card to play. But isn’t it only some states that should have the right to self-defence? From a U.S.-Israeli point of view Iran for instance presumably doesn’t possess such a right. And what about the freedom-fighters in Syria? The rebel-forces are not a state and yet Obama supports their cause (at least in name) and has downplayed the Syrian states’ right to self-defence. All of this becomes very inconsistent very quickly and it emerges that the right of self-defence is not a right for all.

What it leaves me wondering is this: why does the U.S. and Canada not extend the right of self-defence to the Palestinians? Why is it that the right is granted to a military power with the capacity to kill countless Gazans and not to  Palestinians who have barely any means of defence anyway?  To be sure, Israel too is under attack, but the rockets fired from Gaza are not fired in self-defence; they are fired in frustration from living under conditions of brutality – occupation and blockade – imposed by the Israeli regime. For whom then is the right of self-defence? Not for those who need it most, apparently.

[Edit: Seamus Milne has made much the same argument as I made here: see his article at the Guardian]

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