Thursday, July 01, 2010

Kristof's myopia (Zach)

Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed in the NYT slamming "occupation":

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is widely acknowledged to be unsustainable and costly to the country’s image. But one more blunt truth must be acknowledged: the occupation is morally repugnant....Our ally, Israel, is using American military support to maintain an occupation that is both oppressive and unjust. Israel has eased checkpoints this year — a real improvement in quality of life — but the system is intrinsically malignant.

EoZ reader Zach has written a response:

Nicholas Kristof, in his article, Two-Sides of a Barbed Wire Fence (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/01/opinion/01kristof.html?_r=1&hp), offers one of the most simplistic and wrongheaded op-eds the New York Times has seen since Roger Cohen's columns on Iran before the recent, stolen elections. So simplistic and wrongheaded, that I want to dissect it piece by piece. I think this article grew out of Kristof's anger to the flotilla incident, because he generally stays away from discussing Israel, but this article is symptomatic of a greater malady plaguing journalism generally - writing emotional articles, devoid of facts, in order to be headline grabbing and ensure popular appeal.

Kristof begins by calling Israel's military occupation, "morally repugnant." This is not a legal statement, but a moral one. Unfortunately, the morality of occupation, that is, as a philosophical study, is largely unstudied. However, one prominent moral philosopher (one of the greatest living experts on Just War Theory, second only to Michael Walzer, but also a serious critic of Just War Theory), Jeff McMahan, wrote an essay on the subject in 2009 for the Loyola International and Comparative Law Review, called, "The Morality of Military Occupation" (which can be found here in full: http://tinyurl.com/24m3npt). The whole essay is worth reading, but here are three relevant and notable excerpts:

(1) "As in the case of a just war, the most important condition of a just occupation is that there should be a just cause—not, of course, a just cause for war, but a just cause for occupation. As I understand it, this is not merely a requirement that there be some significant good to be achieved by the occupation. It is, rather, the requirement that there be a wrong, or set of wrongs, that the occupation would prevent or correct, and for which the occupied people are sufficiently responsible to make them morally liable to suffer the effects of occupation. To say that the people occupied are liable to occupation is to say that because of their responsibility for the problem that the occupation addresses, they are not wronged by being subject to occupation, or have no valid complaint about being occupied."

(2) "Consider, for example, the occupation of a country whose unjust war of aggression has just been defeated. If the unjust war was a natural and predictable consequence of the culture that the citizens themselves had contributed to creating and sustaining, and if the war enjoyed significant popular support, as was true of the unjust wars fought by Germany and Japan in the middle of the twentieth century, then the principal justification for a post bellum occupation is that most of the people occupied have made themselves liable to occupation until the relevant features of their culture and political institutions can be sufficiently altered to ensure that their society will not again erupt into aggressive war."

(3) "In a just occupation following a just war, what the occupiers owe to the occupied people may be different depending on what the just cause for the war was. For example, what the occupiers owe may be different in the aftermath of a war fought to defeat unjust aggression from what they owe after a war of humanitarian intervention."

Elsewhere, Kristof chooses to speak in legal terms and calls Israel's occupation, "both oppressive and unjust," as if to suggest that not all occupations are 'oppressive.' Yet, as we saw above, some occupations are legal, others are illegal, and whether Israel's is just or unjust, legal or illegal, I leave unspecified because I think a good case can be made that it is both legal and just. But Kristof would rather summarize Israel's occupation in two emotionally-heavy words, rather than examine the nuance that should be required when discussing complicated conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian one. When simple answers are presented to complicated problems, you can be sure that the author knows not what he speaks of.

Kristof proceeds to examine the living conditions around Hebron, arguably one of the most divisive and politically sensitive cities in all of Israel/Palestine (this is similar to when the New York Times went looking for American Jews' opinions of Israel and found them in Alabama). He also adds that Israeli soldiers rip down Palestinian structures, but of course fails to mention that Israeli soldiers rip down any illegal building structures, including (and it happens often), Jewish ones. But again, let's ignore the nuance because nuance makes for bad op-eds.

Let's continue our journey, says Kristof. On the other side of the barbed-wire fence, there is a "lovely green oasis that looks like an American suburb," "lush gardens," "kids riding bikes and air-conditioned homes," and so we are introduced to the Jewish community of Carmel. This would be like going to the projects in New York City and then comparing them to Michael Bloomberg's townhouse, or better yet, it would be like saying that Israeli settlers in the West Bank swim in pools while Palestinians do not even have water to drink. As a matter of fact, this is exactly what Amnesty International said, but fortunately, this is not true. Palestinians in the West Bank also have their pools (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=890972) and have plenty of water to drink, well above the unsourced claims of Amnesty International (http://tinyurl.com/2e5lpt4). As if echoing the Amensty report verbatim, Kristof quotes Elad Orian, "an Israeli human rights activist," who "nods toward the poultry barn and [says]: 'Those chickens get more electricity and water than all the Palestinians around here.'" Yes, indeed.

But here comes the revelation, that should have been prefaced in a disclaimer: "B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that I’ve long admired, took me to the southern Hebron hills to see the particularly serious inequities Palestinians face here." B'Tselem is a politically motivated human rights group, as are all human rights groups. But B'Tselem is notorious for their 'Hebron tours' and casting a particularly damning picture of Israel generally, from this specific little area. On this subject, Yaacov Lozowick has documented his trip with B'Tselem quite extensively. Here is his conclusion, though his story is worth reading in full:

"The small group of Israelis who populate the dozens of so-called "Israeli Human Rights Groups" insist their positions are not politics. True, they all congregate on the political Left, mostly at its far edge, but this is coincidence. Their agenda is human rights, and they call on Israel to preserve the human rights of the Palestinians no matter what form the conflict may be taking.

I know many of these people personally, and have never accepted their conceit. Oren of B'tselem was one of the least strident I've encountered, to his great credit. Yet his gentle and moderate demeanor couldn't hide the fundamental flaw in his argument. At one point he told that: "there are bits of these Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights all over the West Bank; the reason we bring you to Hebron is because here they're all concentrated in one spot".

To which a reasonable response would be: If this is the worst you can show, the Israeli occupation must be quite reasonable in its respect of Palestinian human rights. The one place in the entire West Bank which is worse than all others, according to you, can be walked from end to end in ten minutes. It's surrounded by a thriving Palestinian city, in which there are no Israeli human rights at all, because there are no Israelis. Your insistence on casting this as you do is pure politics."

Before finishing his diatribe (because that's what this is) Kristof documents the ongoing settler violence, which is surely reprehensible and should be condemned as terrorist, but these are generally not unprovoked events and they are isolated (not to detract from the severity of each of these condemnable attacks: the perpetrators should be punished swiftly and harshly if proven to be guilty). Hebron, Kristof's flawed case study, is historically the site of vicious and ongoing Arab-Jewish violence, ranging from the 1929 Hebron Massacre, which left 67-100 Jews killed and maimed, to Baruch Goldstein's terrorist shooting spree killing 29 Muslims praying at the Cave of Patriarchs. But Kristof downplays the violent back-and-forth: "For their part, settlers complain about violence by Palestinians, and it’s true that there were several incidents in this area between 1998 and 2002 in which settlers were killed." Violence need not be murderous to be criminal, and Kristof's use of the word 'several' bears testament to his myopia: settler violence need not be murderous to be criminal, whereas Palestinian violence needs to be (such is the implication).

Finally, Kristof makes this bald assertion: "Meanwhile, the settlements continue to grow, seemingly inexorably — and that may be the most odious aspect of the occupation." No statistics are offered for this statement, no citations, nothing. This is because it's patently false. Israel, by this I mean the government, has not authorized the building of new settlements since at least the Oslo Accords: "After the signing of the agreements, Israel refrained from building new settlements although the Oslo agreements stipulated no such ban" (http://www.fmep.org/settlement_info/settlement-info-and-tables/stats-data/housing-starts-in-israel-the-west-bank-and-gaza-strip-settlements-1990-2003).

Ignoring the incessant efforts of Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank since the concluding moments of the 1967 War in UN deliberations spanning to the most recent offer by Ehud Olmert (which Abbas has yet to respond to), the only thing that's 'wrong,' as Kristof concludes about Israel's ongoing occupation, are Kristof's facts.

To which I would add that for Kristof to condemn the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria based solely on an arranged tour with an anti-settlement organization is more than unfair.

Did he speak to a single Jew in Carmel? Did he ask what they thought of the barbed-wire fence, or how they lived their lives before it was built? For than matter, did he speak to any Jews in communities in the area who are forced to live within their own fenced-in areas because of Arab terror attacks? Did he speak to anyone who could recall how those awful "settlers "and Arabs lived together in neighboring communities, going to each others' weddings and shopping in each others' villages, before the first intifada? Did he speak to any Arabs who work in the settlements and manage to maintain an excellent standard of living as a result? Did he interview any Arabs who live in the many mansions easily visible from the highways and ask them how oppressed they are?

No, he spoke to an advocacy group and happily parroted what they told him to say. This is not even close to anything approaching journalism.