16 December 2012

The phantoms of ceasefire, proportionality and other Middle East myths - Part II

Farmer Jones and farmer Smith, or Parable of Proportionality.

Wild West circa 18..

It was a warm and sunny April morning. Farmer Jones was having his second cup of after-breakfast coffee, preparing for a long workday, half-listening to the voices of his kids from elsewhere in the house, half-listening to the chorus of birds outside his window. Suddenly a volley of gunshots, mixed with sounds of broken glass and shouts from other rooms of his substantial house, disrupted what promised to be another beautiful morning.

Quickly dropping under the windowsill Farmer Jones felt a few stings on his arms and neck, but immediately established that it's just a few scratches from small shards of glass or other flying debris. Crouching on all four, he left the kitchen and called for his wife, getting an immediate response from her and the kids, who have already hugged the floor in different rooms. The family was used to such occurrences, and everyone was sounding more or less calm.

To get to the "armory", as Farmer Jones and his wife referred to his gun locker, was a matter of a few seconds. This time Farmer Jones pulled out a marksman's rifle, recently bought for him as a present by his rich uncle Samuel. "You don't have to use it, but I shall feel better knowing you have one," was uncle Samuel's explanation for the gift. Making a notice to thank Samuel next time he talks to him, farmer Jones quietly slithered out of the house through the back door and, using the shrubbery surrounding the back yard, crawled to a point where he could covertly observe the area where his farm bordered that of farmer Smith, his neighbor and sworn enemy. A reflection from an old gun barrel, shiny after years of use, caught his attention immediately. Focusing the superb optical scope on the spot was a matter of seconds. Farmer Jones briefly thanked the fates for making him spend a few hours training and tuning the rifle.

The image that sprung into view of the scope made him smile, in spite of the earlier fright and boiling blood. Farmer Smith, all 140 scrawny pounds of his poisonous personality, wasn't even hiding appropriately, almost fully visible behind a bush, where he lodged his gun on a branch for support.

The distance didn't present any difficulty with that rifle, and farmer Jones was able to blow away the scoundrel easily with the first shot. However, once again farmer Jones checked himself. In all previous altercations with farmer Smith so far neither Jones nor any member of his family was seriously hurt, farmer Smith being a notoriously poor shot. Farmer Jones, a gifted shooter, did his best not to cause serious injuries to Smith. But the cup of farmer Jones' resentment was overflowing. He focused his scope on Smith's knee and pulled the trigger. The piggish squeal, heard clearly over the distance, told farmer Jones that the bullet was well spent. He turned back, not bothering to watch the ensuing activities of his neighbor's household. This was the day when his legal nightmares started.

The feud between farmer Jones and farmer Smith was going back in time for several generations. It was really impossible to firmly establish the initial reasons for the rivalry, but several mutual accusations of property theft, cattle rustling and poisoning various farm animals were passed down the genealogical tree faithfully. Farmer Jones, being well-to-do and, in general, a forgiving kind of fellow, tended to laugh off the stories and even made a few approaches to farmer Smith in an attempt to bring the whole rivalry business to a peaceful end, but was scornfully rejected by the latter. The latest flare-up was concerned with a few cows that, according to farmer Smith, were poisoned by his neighbor, big clamps of Johnson grass freely growing over his place notwithstanding. Farmer Smith was of a habit to blame his numerous business misfortunes and his permanent state of almost-poverty and tittering on the brink of financial ruin on somebody else. And Farmer Jones was most frequently that somebody.

The feud with farmer Smith could have been settled by farmer Jones forcefully or otherwise, but the problem was that most of surrounding farms in the county were populated by a myriad of Smith's relatives, mostly no good freeloaders, as poor as farmer Smith or worse. Granted, there were a few wealthy, even fairly rich relatives, but their assistance to their impoverished brethren was scant and infrequent. But all of them, poor or not, were firmly on the farmer Smith's side against farmer Jones. A few of them have even become a sort of lawyers, after doing some prison time for various offenses. In any case, as a voters, this bunch of relatives was a formidable force in the county.

After a perfunctory investigation, farmer Jones was charged with "disproportional use of force", attempt to murder, causing a major injury and other sundry charges. Skillful defense lawyer was able to rubbish all of the charges, presenting incontrovertible evidence of farmer Smith's potentially homicidal behavior, however the jury, liberally seeded by various distant members of the Smith's clan, thought differently, and farmer Jones, while not sent to jail, is burdened with compensation he has to pay to farmer Smith - till death do them part.

The local newspaper, Progressive Daily, hailed the groundbreaking court decision, describing in lavish detail the hitherto unheard of precision rifle used by farmer Jones, his generally bloodthirsty attitude, standoffish behavior and suspicious wealth. Militant inclinations of farmer Jones and his cruel treatment of farmer Smith, "whose rifle, as it is widely known, has a bent barrel and cannot be used with an intent to kill anyway", were nailed to the wall of shame.

Most of the work for this post was already done by Norm, it his two posts. First of them, Not enough Israelis killed, shows a BBC correspondent, Mishal Husain (hm...), who tries, in a manner of Grand Inquisitor, to provoke Israeli Gil Hoffman, the chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post, asking about the number of Israelis killed by the Gazan rocket fire. Her intention is clear: to put through to her viewers, in the form of a noisily repeated question to the interviewee, a suggestion that "disproportional force" is being used by Israel against population of Gaza.

A partial answer, from another Norm's post, Red for danger, shows what Israeli children in the southern Israel (general population of 1.5 million, similar to the Gazan population) go through for the last 7 years. No need to expand on this:

Behavior of Ms Husain in that first clip is not unique, unfortunately. Her insistence that Gazan rockets are, for most part, harmless homemade contraptions, unable to kill enough people to be of consideration, may sound absurd, taken out of relation to Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But as long as it is the I/P conflict that is being mulled upon by many a Western "thinker", the argument suddenly springs to life and sounds as valid as death and taxes.

And the next logical step of such a talking head, of course, is to consider the "proportionality" of Israeli military responses to the Gazan attacks. While most of the talking heads cannot for the life of them define the principle of proportionality, all of them rely on their so called "common sense". Which common sense could be distilled to a formula: "I killed your cat - you can kill my cat, I killed your horse, do the same to mine etc." While no one of them says it straightaway, their "understanding" of proportionality principle comes to Israelis being allowed to produce at home the same kind and quantity of rockets that Hamas produces, and for each rocket launched at Israel, lob another one back.

Idiots will be idiots, and useful idiots are a tough nut to deal with, but there indeed is a legal definition of proportionality principle, formulated by ICRC. Witness the so called Rule 14 of ICRC, which boils down to one sentence:

Launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited.
I am not a lawyer and I understand that this relatively short rule could be a source for volumes of learned tracts on a myriad related points of law. However, a few layman conclusions seem to be clear:
  • There is no absolute prohibition of loss of civilian life, when a military object is attacked.
  • There is no mention of proportionality where the enemy's military is concerned.
  • The pursuit of "concrete and direct military advantage anticipated" is not prohibited, restricted or defined unlawful a priori.
There are some quite interesting details in the "Practice Relating to Rule 14" page of ICRC documentation. I wouldn't burden the reader with excerpts, but can assure you that it may be worth reading, at least the beginning.

So, going backwards through the points above: when Israeli goal (or "concrete and direct military advantage anticipated", using ICRC term) is to stop* rocket fire, having this goal in mind and minding the loss of civilian life in order to minimize it, makes a lot of sense.

On the other hand, shouting "disproportional use of force" without understanding what it really means, doesn't. Make any sense, I mean.

Another interesting point is application of the proportionality principle to various international conflicts. A search for "proportionality principle" on Google will show you that, almost without exception** the references talk about... you guessed it right, Israel. Apparently with tens of armed conflicts going on simultaneously all over the world, Israel is the only nation that uses force disproportionately. Yeah, pull the other leg now, please...

(*) Stopping rocket fire from Gaza doesn't mean "sharply reducing" or "reducing to an acceptable minimum". No country in the world will consider for a moment agreeing to a single rocket being launched at its territory for any reason whatsoever. I hope that talking heads, in their infinite wisdom, are able to agree to that, at least.
(**) The only exception I was able to find is related to Russians complaining about NATO's disproportionate use of force in Libya. Yes, the same Russians that killed somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 people, most of them civilians, in the first Chechen war only. But I browsed only 20 pages of the search results...

And on a lighter note: the clip below, simplistic as it is, admirably conveys the spirit of the ongoing strife - and the media's response to it. Enjoy.


Dick Stanley said...

Not bad. Especially like the animation. Unfortunately, elementary school has become like the world and will remain so until defending the innocent (instead of turning them into political pawns) becomes fashionable again.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Probably the world is having enough innocents and wish to have more pawns.

David All said...

Great post, Snoopy. All three parts summed up the Israeli-Gaza situation perfectly. The video of the children and their teachers were poignant. The animation was a perfect example of the misrepresentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that the bulk of the world's media portrays.

Historical note: During the 1930s, anti-Semitic Father Charles Coughlin, the Radio Priest, had the paperboys who were selling his hate rag, "Social Justice", to burst out crying on a public street and when asked why they were to say, "A big Jew hit me"! I do not know how much the paper boys were believed, but it is obvious that its equivalent has been a big success for the Palestinians.

PS: It is nice to have a wealthy Uncle Samuel to help you out.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Thanks David.