Friday, April 19, 2002

I would like to construct the framework of an argument that the Palestinian suicide bombings are moral acts. This is a tough row to hoe, as it is obvious that the intentional killing of innocent civilians is prima facie indefensible. Consider the following:

  1. The Israeli attacks on the Palestinians, and the general program of gradually building settlements in the Occupied Territories, are obviously part of a long-term plan to eliminate the Palestinians from Israel and the Occupied Territories by using 'state-terrorism'. By gradually brutalizing the people, and gradually squeezing out the occupants of the Occupied Territories by occupying the best land and the best sources of water, the Israelis are attempting to force the Palestinians to leave. After the Occupied Territories are Palestinian-rein, they will move on to making things so difficult for Arabs living in Israel itself that they will eventually also have to leave (if they stay, their numbers will pose great demographic problems for the Jewish Israelis). The upshot of all this is that the Israelis are accomplishing what used to be accomplished by a war, all without causing a lot of obvious crimes against humanity (Jenin notwithstanding). The Palestinians will inevitable be killed or forced into refugee camps in some other country (and if they end up in Jordan, will probably be forced out again as the inexorable creep of Greater Israel continues).

  2. Some deplore the fact that the Palestinians have failed to use the type of non-violent resistance of Gandhi or Martin Luther King. Unfortunately, this type of program requires three things which are all missing here: 1) press coverage of the non-violent program and the violent brutality of the colonial power, which doesn't exist here as the press in the colonial power, the United States, absolutely refuses to cover the suffering of the Palestinians (the American lack of coverage is almost akin to military censorship); 2) liberal ideas in the elites of the colonial power, which were present in Britain in the case of India/Gandhi, and in the United States in the 1960s in the case of MLK versus the remnants of the Confederacy, but are decidedly not present in current-day America; and 3) democracy in the colonial power, which was present in Britain and in 1960s America, but is not present today with an unelected President and a Congress which votes as a block for any Israeli plans. The other obvious problem is that even non-violent resistance will be met by a terrible response, and the response will be hidden by lack of press coverage.

  3. Two possible defences to crimes like suicide bombing would be provocation and self-defence. Provocation is not available, as the suicide bombings are obviously planned well in advance, and are not immediately set off as a response to Israeli actions. That leaves self-defence (in this case, self-defence of a people, rather than an individual). The Palestinians have no weapons except for hand guns, and are facing one of the largest and best equipped (thanks to the colonial power) armies in the world. They are the victims of a slow-motion war which has been planned to wipe them out without drawing the attention that a real war would draw, and unless they fight back, they are doomed. They have accidentally discovered a way to fight back, by using suicide bombers. This is extremely ineffective as a military weapon, but has had remarkably bad effects on the Israeli psyche and ecomomy. If the Israelis can fight their slow-motion covert war against them by brutalizing civilians and forcing them off of their land, are the Palestinians to be deprived of the only self-defence they have available?

  4. If you are almost certainly doomed anyway, as I think the Palestinians are, are you allowed to kill innocent civilians in a final attempt to survive? I think if you are faced with a self-defence situation, where you are unsure of the outcome, and you are the potential victim, you are not responsible for making the calculation of your chances of survival. You can do what you must to survive, and worry about your success later.

I admit that there is a tremendous onus on anyone who suggests that it could be morally acceptable to murder innocent civilians for political ends. It goes against everything I believe in. I thus propose a framework for the possible future creation of such an argument, without knowing whether such a position is tenable. I suggest that the Palestinian use of suicide bombings might be justifiable on moral grounds only in a case where: 1) they are being destroyed in the equivalent of a war where the destruction is not apparent as in a normal war because of the new slow-motion and carefully planned methods of the Israelis; 2) non-violent resistence is completely unavailable as the colonial power, in this case the United States, is intentionally manipulating press coverage of Palestinian suffering in order to hide it from the American people, the colonial power is indifferent to human rights because of its anti-liberal politics, and the colonial power is not democratically run; 3) no other form of armed defence is possible because an almost unarmed group has to fight against one of the greatest armies in the world; and 4) the suicide bombing is done as self-defence and is the only form of self-defence available to the Palestinians.