As reported in The Tech, last Tuesday Noam Chomsky, MIT’s well-known linguistics professor, gave a talk on the Gaza Strip conflict. While he didn’t hesitate in heaping scorn on Israel, he condemned the actions of the United States and its leaders even more.
Chomsky, however, did not see fit to place any blame on Hamas, or any of the other groups opposed to the very existence of Israel. In my view, this represents a serious misunderstanding of the desires, ambitions, and most of all, the realities that define Israel and Hamas.
In the interpretation of Chomsky, Israeli aggression caused the failure of the six-month 2008 ceasefire that was the proximate cause of the current Gaza fighting. More than that, Chomsky blamed Zionist greed for territorial expansion as the root cause of the decades of fighting between the Israeli’s and the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank.
As the professor clearly stated last Tuesday, he believes that Hamas and its predecessors have frequently proposed a peaceful settlement of the conflict, and that Israel rejects or thwarts these proposals because it favors property over peace.
I must say now that challenging the opinion of a senior member of the Institute faculty is not something I do lightly. I respect Chomsky for taking a clear stance for what he believes, but I feel he confuses who the antagonist in this conflict is. Most egregiously, I cannot stand by while he claims that Israel, and by association, the United States, practices inhumane terrorist polices.
Chomsky’s scathing criticism of Israeli actions as “aggressive” and “sadistic” vilifies the wrong party. I only wish that he would apply the same harsh eye to Iran’s relations with Hamas as he does to our besieged ally.
While Gaza has seen its fair share of terrorism and terrorists in this war, they are all concentrated firmly on the side of Hamas. Chomsky resolutely condemns the targeting of citizens for political persuasion, as he well should, but he mistakenly claims that it is Israel, not Hamas, who targets civilians.
It is Hamas that frequently barrages southern Israel with Qassam rockets, unguided, poorly constructed hunks of steel filled with explosives, while fervently hoping that they get lucky and strike a densely populated part of Israel. It is Hamas that headquarters itself in hospitals, launches rockets from schoolyards, and dresses its militants in civilian clothes to maximize casualties among actual civilians. Hamas expends the life of its own people to forge an image of Israel as a barbarian who purposefully attacks civilians.
Israel, meanwhile, despite having the obvious upper hand in the fight, holds three-hour ceasefires to allow foreign aid into Gaza. Their targets are military in nature, and any civilian casualties result entirely from Hamas’ own barbaric actions.
This difference in tactics in part explains the difference in casualties between the two groups, but it does not represent the wishes or motives of either. The idea here, of course, is of ‘proportionality,’ which has been screamed ad nauseam by many of Israel’s staunchest foes. Chomsky thankfully and wisely avoids condemning Israel in this regard. For those who don’t, proportionality is a great way of looking at legal justice (the punishment fits the crime), and it’s fine for settling personal scores, but it’s the coward’s way of hamstringing a country when applied to war.
It’s especially worthless in this case because of the difference in capabilities between Hamas and the IDF. Hamas’ claim to ‘proportionality’ holds only because Hamas is brilliantly ineffective, and because Israeli citizens have so much practice evacuating against incoming rockets.
Hamas militants shoot thousands of rockets at Israel, but, much to their chagrin, manage to kill far fewer Israelis. Meanwhile, modern weapons and trained personnel characterize the IDF. Were the roles reversed, or if Hamas, as it has in the past, comes into possession of more advanced weapons, one could only guess how many Israeli civilians would be killed.
Proportionality measures this difference in effective capabilities: it says nothing about future effectiveness or more importantly, motivation.
Consider the not so far-fetched analogy of Hamas as a crazed gunman with an assault rifle. He can shoot many shots at a time, but he’s not very accurate. Say only one round of every hundred he fires actually hits its target. The gunman isn’t very effective at hitting his target, but certainly not for lack of effort. Still, how many of us would be willing to stand as this gunman’s target for decades on end, as Israeli citizens have done against militant rockets? Can we really doubt the gunman’s intent? In this case, how can we ignore the passage of his founding charter pledging complete destruction of the target?
It seems logical that Israel has acted to defend itself from Hamas. However, Chomsky stated in his talk that Israel attacked Gaza for territorial gains and to punish the Palestinians for voting the wrong way, thus disobeying the, “master,” as he calls Israel.
The first claim has proven to be false less than a week after it was made, as the current ceasefires on the parts of Hamas and Israel have Israeli troops leaving Gaza as I write. Meanwhile, Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, actively supports the two-state solution for solving the conflict, whereas Hamas works to destroy and take over Israel. If Israel has any territorial goals with respect to Gaza, it’s more likely that they’d enjoy being able to use the southern half of their country without fear of rocket strikes.
Chomsky’s other claim is that the recent conflict is intended to punish the inhabitants of Gaza for electing Hamas in a ‘free’ election. Not true. Israel, and anyone who values human life for that matter, would of course love to see Hamas (and their militant friends) fall from power. After years of fighting and sirens warning of attacking rockets, being left alone is more important to Israel than the internal politics on their southern fringe.
Hamas, however, does not leave Israel alone, as I’ve already stated. To take Chomsky’s lead in referencing World War Two, the U.S. and Great Britain arguably could have cared less about what Hitler or Hirohito were doing within their respective countries, but war broke out when the dictators broke out of their borders.
Residents of Gaza can vote any way they want, but when their rulers start lobbing rockets outside of their borders, they must anticipate a deserved reaction from the infringed-upon party. National sovereignty and the limits placed on a nation’s actions, much like the principle of personal liberty, extends only to the point of encroaching on others.
As President Obama said during the campaign last year, “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”
However, the conflict is over now, and a temporary peace has once again settled on Gaza. Both sides will probably claim victory in the future — Israel claiming that it has thwarted Hamas’ ability to bomb Israeli cities, and Hamas claiming that they drove off the infidel aggressors.
To summarize, the fundamental difference in reasons behind the actions of Israel and Hamas can perhaps best be illustrated by looking at Chomsky’s talk.
Throughout the discussion, Chomsky often patronized Israel by claiming that they treated their terrorist foes and the population that supports them not as humans, but as, “two-legged beasts.” In the broader sense, however, it is the supporters of Hamas, the jihadists, and the true terrorists who consider their enemies to be sub-humans, and view their lives as worthless.
The two players in this game abide by a separate set of rules: to Israel belongs scrutiny and ire of the international eye. To Hamas, merely the desire to destroy the rules of western society.