Damn it.

Apparently, a few hours ago, Israeli troops fired live ammunition against protesters at the “security fence” between the West Bank and Israel. One Israeli citizen, a recently (honorably) discharged combat veteran who was at the protest, was seriously wounded; one foreign national, a woman with the international solidarity movement, (ISM) was “lightly injured” (I have no idea what that actually means) by a rubber bullet.

Update: I just heard back from my friend, and she’s ok. Whew.

OK, several things about this:

  1. A good friend of mine, female and with American citizenship, is over there right now, working on ground-level peace efforts. I support her very much in this. I know she has some connection to ISM and was almost certainly at that protest; I do not yet have any reports from her, so I don’t know if she is okay or not.
  2. This is reminding me of something very important: In the past few years, I’ve spent so much time playing devil’s advocate against the Vacuous Left – the people who say “look, peace would be completely simple, if only…” without any real understanding of what’s going on – that I haven’t spent nearly enough time thinking about the actual problems there and what can be done to solve them. This is something of the utmost importance, and actually doing whatever it is is of even more importance; I’m going to be dedicating a great deal more time to this in the future.
  3. On a more proximate note, the fact that troops would fire on demonstrators seems to be a sign that things are deteriorating very, very badly. As far as I can tell morale is falling rapidly, as the army separates into people who believe fervently in the unconstrained use of force and people with increasingly severe moral objections to their orders – often mixed in the same unit, and both routinely placed on the front lines in situations where each decision tends to have extremely severe consequences.
    Unfortunately, I can’t convince myself that this was unexpected. I’ve heard too many reports, from too many sources that I trust, of the use of unconscionable levels of force against civilians at checkpoints and other border areas; once a military starts to accept things like this as being basically routine, not exceptions in need of serious investigation and even courts-martial, things are bad, and only going to get rapidly worse. I hope that all of my friends in the military and related organizations around the world take this situation to heart, and remember to keep a very close eye on how the people in their units and under their command are responding to the stresses of engagement. The balance between self-protection and reasonable force is incredibly hard to find, but it’s extraordinarily important that this always be done, especially in prolonged conflicts; the consequences of failing to do so can include rapid escalations of violence, and worse yet, a split and demoralized military performing random acts of violence on an unsuspecting populace. Yes, I’ve seen this happen with a variety of militaries in a variety of situations – and some of them from very good countries, composed of people with the best backgrounds.
    In this particular case, I can only hope that the extremity of the events, and the fact that Israeli and foreign citizens were involved, will prompt a very thorough investigation, and hopefully severe punishment for the person responsible – either the soldier who fired (if it was in defiance of orders) or the officer on the scene, if it was not.
  4. Beyond this, I know that the situation in the Middle East has deteriorated extremely far in the past few months; to say that good solutions are going to be hard to find is probably the understatement of the century. I don’t yet know what to say to that. Enough people seem determined to make matters worse that I don’t know what can happen next.
    But one particular action in the past few days sticks out – after the earthquake in Iran, I noticed that Israel’s government did not make an immediate offer to Iran’s government of aid. I believe this is a deep mistake; above all, we are neighbors and cousins, and have been such for much longer than we have been enemies. Furthermore, there is no better time to begin a genuine process of peace in the long term than at such a moment; it would have been a win for all concerned, and maybe even slowed the process of violence in the region. I do believe that people even at the street level would have stopped and been forced to pause and reconsider their position had Israel sent full assistance teams – and even more so if there were photographs of Israeli soldiers in full uniform, helping Iranian civilians.
    It would have been important to the Israeli soldiers, as well – a chance to participate in something like this, even on a purely volunteer basis, would make a big difference in the morale problem.

I realize this post is a bit vague on specifics. I’m going to have to spend quite a bit of time thinking about several issues raised by this, and several other issues I’ve been letting lie fallow for far too long. So more later.

Published in: on December 26, 2003 at 22:37  Comments (7)  


  1. My knowledge of the whole situation over there is decidedly weak, but… isn’t this the direction that things have been pointing to for an awful long time? The impression I got was that the division between the hardliners and the more liberal sorts made the US’s Democrat/Republican difference in views look like a lighthearted tiff; another impression was that according to a fair amount of the jewish populace “no force is too much force when dealing with the arab palestinians”.
    The Religious State of Israel has always made me uneasy – but all the religious states of the world make me uneasy. These days, it sometimes includes the US.

  2. dear lord
    Like the poster above me I don’t know nearly enough about the situation. I probably know more then 95% of Americans,which means I know almost nothing. So if anything that follow seems naive or foolish,please forgive me.
    It always amazes me that the whole situation is just so amazingly intractable. That the bubble of violence just continues to grow and is so terrible difficult to stop. No matter how objective or thoughtful or practical or ANYTHING; it just doesn’t matter, there doesn’t seem to be a solution. The pattern seems destined to expand and consume everyone. It reminds me of heart arrhythmias: there is an obvious pattern but stopping the pattern seem neigh unto impossible.
    I wish I had some words of wisdom, something useful to add. All i have to offer is my thanks and best wishes. Thanks for the news.(no matter how bleak it may be) Best wish for your friend,dearly hope that she is well. I greatly admire anyone truly doing the most they can to make things better.

  3. I’m always amazed at your insights into these areas. I have none, and growing up with a US media, have none of the history. I really should get into the habit of going to the BBC for my news, but then, I don’t really pay much attention to the US media these days, so I don’t know when I’d do it.

  4. Live ammo or rubber bullets… or both?
    If they’re using live ammo on citizens then things truly have degenerated.
    I’ve thought long and hard about this, and the geopolitical environment, unfortunately, will not allow a solution to the crisis.
    Which is truly sad, because I worry for Israel and, in particular, all my IDF friends.

  5. Agreed on all points. The situation is bad, damned bad. However, the split between left and right isn’t necessarily any worse than it is in the US – it’s just more pronounced because the situation is more immediate. But that says more about how deep the split is in America than how shallow it is in Israel.

  6. Unfortunately, one of the two wounded was shot with live ammunition. Apparently (from latest reports) this was not a single soldier getting nervous and firing, but the officer on the scene ordered his troops to fire.
    Fortunately this is being taken seriously; a senior general has been appointed to spearhead the investigation, and he is widely respected for having good sense and being able to handle things like this correctly.
    As far as solutions to the crisis… I’m frightened that you may be right, but I’m trying to take a few days now to really rethink from scratch and see if there’s anything that I’ve missed.

  7. BTW, I wouldn’t be surprised if Israel DID offer help, covertly.
    Oft many nations accept Israel’s help secretly due to the tension in the region, but you no doubt already knew this.
    Let me know what you come up with. I’ve been pondering this one for a while, but I haven’t been able to come up with a solution.

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