Friday, May 08, 2009

THE INADEQUACY OF INTERNATIONAL LAW

Daniel Taub is a “senior legal adviser in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs”. This must put him just a rank or two beneath Alan Dershowitz who styles himself as “of counsel” to the entire government over there.

He has been given an Op-Ed.

He starts off tantalizingly enough. He had just recently “met with a group of eminent jurists who were on a fact-finding mission, examining Israel’s military operation in Gaza”. (You know, the one where a commander advised his troops to take a page from “the Warsaw Ghetto”.)

He asked the eminenti: Just what does international law permit a nation to do, when it is threatened by rockets from stateless insurgents across a border. “What would have constituted a lawful response?”

He is pleased to report: “The answer was total silence”.

He interprets this immediately (just so We don’t go off and start thinking): International law has no advice to offer a state facing such terrorism except “to grin and bear it” (I have no doubt this is intended as a witticism).

He goes further to criticize UN reports that say flatly that in international law “Israel has no right whatsoever to defend itself”. After all, he quickly moves on to insert, “international law is not a suicide pact” (thanks and a tip of the hat to Justice Scalia for that profound thought).

No, it’s not a suicide pact.

But I got to thinking: yes, the silence of the eminences may have been because they had no answer to give. But maybe it was because they had a very clear answer that they didn’t consider politic or useful to give: Israel is not legally a state and so, at the very best, isn’t actually covered by the international law applying to states.

After all, the whole game here is to move everybody quickly past the Big Problem and get them immersed in the details, which can result in a sempiternity of back-and-forthing, while the Israeli realm goes on to do what it always knew it was going to do anyway.

In 1948 the not-yet-Israelis, a non-state bunch, launch an amphibious invasion of Palestine, having already softened up its British protectors with the bloody terrorist blowings-up by the Irgun. They drive the inhabitants out of their homes and villages by armed force, with not a few casualties among those hapless men, women, and children. They then declare themselves a ‘state’ in mid-1949. Harry Truman (like LBJ twenty years later) facing a tough election, cracks that he has no Arab voters to worry about and – against some very high-level advice from around the world – recognizes Israel as a state immediately.

The advice was hardly irrational. The gist of it was: if these people, regardless of their past suffering and good intentions, have gone and bloodily taken a chunk of land that is in itself militarily difficult to defend, smack dab in the middle of a part of the world where things like that are the stuff of feuds and grudges that last for centuries, then there will never ever be ‘closure’ on this thing. Worse, whoever tries to take this new statelet under its wing is going to wind up having to infuse cash and stuff – especially military stuff – until the cows of History come home. That was hardly irrational advice. Although it was so presciently accurate that an earlier age might have suspected the advice-givers of witchcraft.

But the witchcraft charge won’t stick. The advice-givers missed a few things. Like the Israelis eventually taking the money that was given to them, funneling a bunch of it back to the American elites in the Beltway, and pretty much setting up one of the world’s longest-running kickback rackets at the very heart of the American century’s American government. That in itself is an achievement that deserves a tremendous respect. And shrewdly surfing Democratic election anxieties, especially at two critical junctures – 1948 and 1968 – they provided at least a respectably numerous and reliable voting bloc to the Democrats. Although they then also added the Republicans when that Party in the 1980s became more amenable to assertive imperial adventures, while the Democrats floundered in ‘sensitivity’ and ‘culture wars’ kicked up by their other domestic vote-gathering strategies.

I can’t help but notice that it was about that time that the American ethos came under attack from both its own Left and its own Right, the reputed ‘liberals’ and the reputed ‘conservatives’. The Left –‘liberal’-Democratic side became indentured to a bunch of social revolutionaries, spear-headed by the gender-feminists, who were committed to a radical utopian (gynotopian?) revolution, deploying the combined strategies of Lenin, Goebbels, and Mao, relying on the efforts of enlightened cadres who did ‘get it’. The Right became the servant of neocons who were themselves ex-Leninists, Stalinists, and Trotskyists; they had suddenly undergone a conversion to ‘democracy’ – or at least to ‘Americanism’ or maybe ‘America’ – but they still had the old revolutionary ardor and arrogance: that they were the elites whose responsibility was to lead the lumpish masses to some new bright sunny uplands, a future of pristine virtue and successful imperium, with total security and credit-cards for all.

The common denominator in all that – how did We miss it before? – is ‘revolution’, with all the bloody paraphernalia appertaining thereto: revolutionary zeal, revolutionary purity, revolutionary impatience with dissent or doubt, revolutionary justice, revolutionary ‘truth’, and – as best can be managed in a modern, postwar democratic Republic – ‘the wall’ for those who are classified as ‘enemies’ of the revolution.

Is it any wonder, really, that We have been watching Our once vaunted Constitutional machinery suddenly starting to fail? The officially-hired mechanics have all been dedicated to dismantling it. And while they are ‘in a larger sense’ genuine revolutionary whackjobs in thrall to a glorious vision that they just ‘know’ is good and will happen with the imposition of enough ‘creative destruction’, yet in the shorter term they are shrewd, dedicated, and – unlike the children of light – untiring in their efforts.

So, back to the original point. Is Israel a legitimate state? Depends. They launched a successful campaign of terrorism and invasion, got themselves a chunk of real estate and – ummmm – cleared it off, and got themselves a powerful protector. In the bloody wrack of History that’s not so different from how a lot of states started; although most states had the good fortune to do their blood-birthing long ago, and you can ‘Hallmark’ all that with a nice, gauzy, golden-hued film if you know what you’re doing.

The Israeli state had to do its blood-shedding and theft after the world had already been far more tightly bound together by two World Wars that were filmed; there are still plenty of Boomers older than the Israeli state. Worse, as those witchy advice-givers foresaw, Israel’s blood-birth settled very little, and the dirty deed has had to be repeated frequently, each time in the midst of a world equipped with even better cameras.

So in a sense, 1948 has never passed into History. Although this is precisely what the Israeli PR folks (and their ‘aldermen’ on the payroll in the Beltway) would like Us to presume: that the State of Israel is a state just like any other of long (though never pristine) lineage. But the launch has never really broken free of the gravitational pull of its originating ‘sin’ and made it into the spacious realm of glorious and solemn stature. Every time they try to essay a pious bray to the effect that they are just another powerful and fine nation, some tattered remnant of those they bloodily squashed make it back into the present, revenants with a grudge – and perhaps a righteous plaint. Sort of like the inmates of that Warsaw Ghetto rose up to remind the Wehrmacht, the Gestapo, and the SS that here, whatever may come, stand true human beings.

Oy.

What to do now is anybody’s guess. I certainly can think of no solution.

But I know one thing. Nobody – unless they’re on the payroll – has any business just sitting there and applauding politely when this sort of stuff is put in front of Us.

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