[ by Charles Cameron — what does it mean to give a balanced view of an asymmetric conflict — when the asymmetry may be as much moral as material, pragmatic as idealistic, as viewed from either side of the fray? ]
The phrase “a fair and balanced view” rolls off the tongue easily enough, but what if truth and balance are, shall we say, asymmetric?
Israel's Operation Protective Edge = 100 dead in Gaza. 0 dead in Israel. Israel bombs 1,100 targets. 350 rockets fired at Israel.
— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) July 11, 2014
Is that balanced?
How about this one?
If you try to make a point by saying that 150 Palestinians have died & no Israelis have, just come out & say you want to see 150 dead Jews.
— Zach Novetsky (@ZNovetsky) July 12, 2014
I can’t speak for Wajahat Ali. I’d prefer 0 : 0 myself, but do those two tweets balance — or cancel — each other out?
There are arguably other asymmetries that balance the hugely asymmetric ratio of Palestinian and Israeli death tolls, whether or not you think Zach Novetsky‘s comment is a valid one — how about this one (with a hat tip to Lex)?
Is that a rebuttal of Wajahat Ali’s asymmetry, essentially erasing it — or a voice in counterpoint to it, providing balance?
What about John Robb‘s assessment this morning?
Isreal just shot down a drone using a Patriot missile. ROI on that “attack” was ~100 to one. At $100 a drone, a solid strategy would be to launch them 24×7 to grief the air defense system.
Here’s a Washington Post blogger’s attempt to preface what the headline terms “The lopsided death tolls in Israel-Palestinian conflicts” with a balanced and balancing first paragraph:
In the current conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip, both sides have attempted to harm the other. Hundreds of rockets have been fired from Palestinian territory with the aim of harming Israeli civilians, while Israeli military strikes have hit hundreds of targets in the Gaza Strip.
It’s pretty clear by now that I consider juxtaposition a singularly powerful device for raising questions — but part of the purpose of such questioning is to discover the ever deeper nuances of a situation. Consider, for example, this somewhat more nuanced analysis of the same events:
Israel’s astonishingly effective Iron Dome air defense has prevented Hamas from killing Israeli Jews and spreading terror in the civilian population. Ironically, though, the better Iron Dome works, the less sympathy the rest of the world has for a nation that remains under rocket attack.
There’s something close to the “simple twist of fate” Jung called enantiodromia going on there — although the reversal of polarities involves a switch from the “hard power” to the “soft power” realm in this case, there’s still a blowback effect.
Far preferable from my own point of view to the various asymmetries and imbalances we see in the real-time playing out of hostilities is this example of a symmetry of grief, recognized in a symmetry of compassion:
Isis killings of Shias are horrific BUT so too are mass killings of Sunni prisoners by the Maliki government – HRW: http://t.co/8e8Q9HfYZa
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) July 11, 2014
That’s a different — though related — conflict, of course.
Here’s a similar one, which I like because it ends “I defend ppl” — and one hopes in a 160 character parallel universe, Taslima would ineed have added “And vice versa” before that final remark, as her tweet surely implies:
I defend Jews when persecuted by Christians.I defend Muslims when persecuted by Jews.I defend Hindus when persecuted by Muslims.I defend ppl
— taslima nasreen (@taslimanasreen) July 11, 2014
And I’m always happy to see Christians and Muslims united in search of peace, but when two parties in a three-way tug-o-war make common cause — as in the case of Palestinian Christians and Muslims making common cause against Israel —
Muslims and Christians stand together in Palestine in protest to end airstrikes from Israel ? #GazaUnderAttack pic.twitter.com/Un1l4p0s51
— #FreePalestine (@saywallahiyooo) July 12, 2014
— should that be celebrated as a gesture of unity in the face of “crusade vs jihad” rhetoric across a wide swathe of the world, or viewed as an example of polarization, “Palestinians vs Israelis” — or both?
Those are some of the symmetries and asymmteries I have run across in commentaries on the situation — but how do participants view the situation? To anchor us in some of the political realities and ambiguities, here are some comments posted this week by two Israelis with close experience of the situation.
Yuval Diskin, Shin Beth chief 2005-2011, offered considerable nuance on his FB page:
I see the severe and rapid deterioration of the security situation in the territories, Jerusalem and the Triangle and I’m not surprised. Don’t be confused for a moment. This is the result of the policy conducted by the current government, whose essence is: Let’s frighten the public over everything that’s happening around us in the Middle East, let’s prove that there’s no Palestinian partner, let’s build more and more settlements and create a reality that can’t be changed, let’s continue not dealing with the severe problems of the Arab sector in Israel, let’s continue not solving the severe social gaps in Israeli society. This illusion worked wonderfully as long as the security establishment was able to provide impressive calm on the security front over the last few years as a result of the high-quality, dedicated work of the people of the Shin Bet, the IDF and the Israel Police as well as the Palestinians whose significant contribution to the relative calm in the West Bank should not be taken lightly.
PM Netanyahu speaking two days ago offered this blunt assessment, as reported in The Times of Israel under the header, Netanyahu finally speaks his mind:
He made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank. He indicated that he sees Israel standing almost alone on the frontlines against vicious Islamic radicalism, while the rest of the as-yet free world does its best not to notice the march of extremism. [ .. ]
Netanyahu has stressed often in the past that he doesn’t want Israel to become a binational state — implying that he favors some kind of accommodation with and separation from the Palestinians. But on Friday he made explicit that this could not extend to full Palestinian sovereignty. Why? Because, given the march of Islamic extremism across the Middle East, he said, Israel simply cannot afford to give up control over the territory immediately to its east, including the eastern border — that is, the border between Israel and Jordan, and the West Bank and Jordan.
Netanyahu didn’t say he was ruling out all territorial compromise, but he did go to some lengths to highlight the danger of relinquishing what he called “adjacent territory.” He scoffed at those many experts who have argued that holding onto territory for security purposes is less critical in the modern technological era, and argued by contrast that the closer your enemies are, physically, to your borders, the more they’ll try to tunnel under those borders and fire rockets over them. It had been a mistake for Israel to withdraw from Gaza, he added — reminding us that he’d opposed the 2005 disengagement — because Hamas had since established a terrorist bunker in the Strip. And what Hamas had been doing in Gaza — tunneling into and rocketing at the enemy — would be replicated in the West Bank were Israel so foolish as to give the Islamists the opportunity.
“If we were to pull out of Judea and Samaria, like they tell us to,” he said bitterly — leaving it to us to fill in who the many and various foolish “theys” are — “there’d be a possibility of thousands of tunnels” being dug by terrorists to attack Israel, he said. There were 1,200 tunnels dug in the 14- kilometer border strip between Egypt and Gaza alone, he almost wailed, which Egypt had sealed. “At present we have a problem with the territory called Gaza,” the prime minister said. But the West Bank is 20 times the size of Gaza. Israel, he said flatly, was not prepared “to create another 20 Gazas” in the West Bank.
Beyond Israel’s direct current confrontation with Hamas, and the eternal Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu also addressed the rise of Islamic extremism across the Middle East — covering the incapacity of affected states to resist it, and Israel’s unique determination and capacity to stand firm. He said Israel finds itself in a region “that is being seized by Islamic extremism. It is bringing down countries, many countries. It is knocking on our door, in the north and south.”
But while other states were collapsing, said Netanyahu, Israel was not — because of the strength of its leadership, its army and its people. “We will defend ourselves on every front, defensively and offensively,” he vowed.
And in a passage that was primarily directed at Israel’s Islamist enemies, but might equally be internalized by those he plainly regards as Israel’s muddle-headed self-styled friends, he added: “Nobody should mess with us