When victims retaliate: A response to Bradley Burston

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Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

My answer to Bradley Burston, “To the leftist who has no problem with rocket fire on Israel.”

Hi Bradley, yes… I heard you. I’d like to begin my response with your finale:

“when a leftist terms attacks on civilian populations a matter of human nature”

I did not term “attacks” a matter of human nature, I termed the instinct to respond to violent provocations violently as human nature.

Individuals responding to violence is human nature. It is different when governments do it as a matter of policy, because governments (and corporations) do not have ‘human nature.’ Governments are not human, though they are made up of humans. Government is the means by which state policy is enforced, as well as the mechanism for determining the policy. My reference was to individuals acting out in response to horrific conditions– the natural response, the instinct. I believe this is the same point Larry Derfner was making when people went crazy over his blogpost and he was fired. Here’s Derfner:

“But if, on the other hand, we were to say very forthrightly what many of us believe and the rest of us suspect – that the Palestinians, like every nation living under hostile rule, have the right to fight back, that their terrorism, especially in the face of a rejectionist Israeli government, is justified – what effect would that have? A powerful one, I think, because the truth is powerful. If those who oppose the occupation acknowledged publicly that it justifies Palestinian terrorism, then those who support the occupation would have to explain why it doesn’t. And that’s not easy for a nation that sanctifies the right to self-defense; a nation that elected Irgun leader Menachem Begin and Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir as prime minister.

But while I think the Palestinians have the right to use terrorism against us, I don’t want them to use it, I don’t want to see Israelis killed, and as an Israeli, I would do whatever was necessary to stop a Palestinian, oppressed or not, from killing one of my countrymen. (I also think Palestinian terrorism backfires, it turns people away from them and generates sympathy for Israel and the occupation, so I’m against terrorism on a practical level, too, but that’s besides the point.) The possibility that Israel’s enemies could use my or anybody else’s justification of terror for their campaign is a daunting one; I wouldn’t like to see this column quoted on a pro-Hamas website, and I realize it could happen.

Still, I don’t think Hamas and their allies need any more encouragement, so whatever encouragement they might take from me or any other liberal Zionist is coals to Newcastle. What’s needed very badly, however, is for Israelis to realize that the occupation is hurting the Palestinians terribly, that it’s driving them to try to kill us, that we are compelling them to engage in terrorism, that the blood of Israeli victims is ultimately on our hands, and that it’s up to us to stop provoking our own people’s murder by ending the occupation. And so long as we who oppose the occupation keep pretending that the Palestinians don’t have the right to resist it, we tacitly encourage Israelis to go on blindly killing and dying in defense of an unholy cause.”

Derfner later apologized for this, and I can understand why. His intention was mistaken as approving of the terrorism against his own people.

But I will not be apologizing today because I meant what I wrote. My response very clearly addresses an instinct (human nature) to respond to violent provocations. It is neither an approval nor an encouragement, it is simply an observation of reality, and the government of Israel knows this all too well. In fact they depend on it. It is inconceivable that a trapped population of 1.5 million people (Gaza) would not produce even a fraction of people who would respond instinctively and violently to the provocations of Israeli government policies. This common sense requires no approval from me, you or anyone, it is simply an obvious matter of acknowledgement.

We are talking about millions of people here, millions– millions under a brutal, decades-long occupation. The chance not a one of them will act out, out of instinct, not one? Impossible. And I ask you: why shouldn’t they? If it was Jews under these conditions wouldn’t they act out and respond? Then you barricade the degree and temperature and appropriateness of that response and damn me for it? A boy of 16 who’s witnessed his father slaughtered– why shouldn’t he act out? Explain that to me. Better yet explain it to him. And he should be comprehending international law, when that law is not applicable to his much more powerful predator (who is protected by my government at the UN)? Targeted assassinations of people not engaged in combat are forbidden under international law. That law applies to the assassinations your government carried out recently:

Extrajudicial executions are gross violations of universally agreed human rights that enshrine the right to life in accordance with Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further cemented in Article 6 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

Extrajudicial executions are acts outside the realm of rule of law and hence deprive the targeted individual(s) of their right to life, as well as the right to defend themselves against charges against them.

According to provisions of IHL, people who live under foreign occupation enjoy special protection under Common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions. The Article stipulates that:
“[t]he passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples” are prohibited at all times and in all circumstances. Civilians are moreover protected against acts that constitute collective punishment. Collective punishment, intentional attacks against civilians and extrajudicial executions constitute war crimes in IHL.

As I am sure you are aware, these assassinations and the ensuing deaths of 26 and injuries to nearly 89 other Palestinians were not responses to the actions of Hamas. I mention that because certain minions on this blog have been questioning me repeatedly about whether I do or do not support civilian deaths. This was one of my earlier  responses:

do you support the US funding hamas so they have the capability to reach legitimate targets within israel? how about we give them 3 billion a year and hamas militants become as accurate as the iof? would you support them taking out iof leaders in their sleep and all their family along with them, as legitimate collateral damage? what about israeli politicians. do you support hamas abducting israeli politicians and holding them indefinitely for years in hamas prisons and torturing them to acquire information for leads on specific names of iof soldiers who have carried out offensives against palestine for the purpose of targeting those individuals and their affiliates?

please give an example of legitimate israeli civilian collateral damage. do you recognize any right of resistance for gazans or palestinians and if so please explain how you recognize a right of both israelis and palestinians to use violent means to defend their security and list examples of israeli civilian death that meets that qualification.

Bradley, I went to go hear you speak in Marin county before the last election. I sat up in the front row next to your good friends, a beautiful engaging couple and we chatted. I went to hear you speak because you have written many worthy columns advancing the discourse.

During the question and answer period I asked you about the violent settlers and how much of a problem you thought they were for Israel and Palestine. Specifically I asked you how many of the settlers there were the violent ones.

You evaded answering both of my questions but you did reference them as “pot smoking hilltop youth” and something about them being the children of the original settlers. Frankly, the ‘hilltop youth’ term has always sounded benign to me. I was disappointed you were unwilling to engage in a topic we both know is crucial to any resolution. I came away thinking your courage was somewhere between your brain and your keyboard and not something you could expose in front of an audience inside a synagogue. Needless to say, I was disappointed but nonetheless as you approached your friends at the end of your presentation and I was standing there we shook hands and I told you how encouraging your columns were for me.

Human nature is fighting back when someone is trying to kill you. That said, I support non violent resistance. I do not support killing civilians. But I am not dumb deaf and blind and I can see the trajectory of what is going on.

We all choose our own battles. I’ve got bigger fish to fry, and I would assume you do too. Unless you think people like me are really Israel’s biggest problem. And since you’re on the ‘inside’, could you please hammer home the message we’d like a change of policy instead of merely a change in framing?

Thanks, cheerio and see ya round the bend on the other side of this madness someday (hopefully).

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