Chuck Stephens: Irreconcilable differences lead to divorce, not marriage

“Without interpreters, the two parties in this war do not even understand one another’s language.”

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Irreconcilable Differences Lead to Divorce not Marriage

By Chuck Stephens

The voices coming out of the war in Israel and Gaza are strident and confusing.  Here are a few examples.  President Macron of France proposes another coalition to eradicate terrorism.  Last time it was ISIS, this time it is Hamas.  But while Macron is still in the Middle East today, President Ergodan of Turkey says that Hamas is not terrorist, it is a legitimate resistance movement.

Until there is agreement on this point, there is little point in more talk shops.  Israel clearly regards Hamas as terrorists, and had pledged to de-fang and de-claw it.  Meanwhile, popular protests far and wide are decrying Israel’s response as being disproportionate and too severe.

That raises another irreconcilable difference of opinion.  Queen Rania of Jordan says there is a double-standard between the way the world has reacted to Israel and Gaza.  This allegation is about proportionality – that only 1400 Jews were slaughtered by Hamas, compared to over 5000 so far in Gaza.

The opposite side to this argument is that the Arab world has tried to grab the high moral ground by downplaying the hostage crisis, and upstaging it with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  You hear relatively little about freeing the hostages any more.  The media is a deluge of not enough water, medicine, fuel and food. 

But wait!  According to Israel’s president, Israel only ever provided seven percent of Gaza’s water.  So when Israel cut that off, it was left with 93 percent.  That was lost on the media.

The UN says there is not enough fuel in Gaza, but then Israel releases photos of Hamas handling barrels of fuel in a courtyard.  Apparently Hamas is not sharing its fuel with the hospitals that need it so badly?

Another irreconcilable difference seems to be between international humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions.  I have heard no one dispute that Israel has the right to defend itself.  But I did head the UN Secretary general explain in a speech that the massacre of 7 October did not happen “in a vacuum”.  That sounded like rationalization to me, on the edge of justification.

There is a “right to protect” civilians whose government no longer protects them.  This emerged after the Rwanda genocide and all the noise made by Canadian general Romeo Dallaire.  He could not muster the back-up required to protect the Tutsis.  So 800,000 of them were massacred by the Hutus.  Speaking of proportions, try stacking up that genocide to the loss of life so far in Gaza.  Remembering that Israel has declared war.  Israel has shown restraint, reconnecting water and warning civilians to get out of harm’s way.  It has allowed humanitarian aid to enter southern Gaza, from Egypt.  I do not hear so much that Israel has transgressed the conventions of warfare, as I hear that it is inflicting “collective punishment” on civilians.

Well, what about Hamas?  Is using civilians as human shields allowed by the Geneva conventions?

Is it not an act of aggression to kill unarmed civilians in cold blood including women and children?  What convention of warfare allows fighter to kill, rape and kidnap non-combatants?

George Bush was only the second to conquer the city of Bagdad.  The first one to conquer it was the son of Genghis Khan, after his father died.  Bagdad was not conquered that first time by assaulting it.  Instead, that was accomplished by re-routing the Euphrates river into a canal dug by the Mongol army, to flood the city.  It worked.

Genghis Khan was a merciless warmonger.  Until his time, the aristocrats on both sides escaped the heat of battle – they stood behind their armies and issued instructions.  But when all the fighters lay dead on the battlefield, the aristocrats on both sides departed, victor and vanquished.  Whereas Genghis Khan rounded up all aristocrats in a city and summarily executed them.  He saved only the architects and engineers, because he understood that conquering city after city required bridges, catapaults, etc.  Sieges and blockades were normal.  This could explain his phenomenal success, in establishing the largest empire in human history.  I am not condoning or admiring his methods, they are now archaic.  But I am saying that at the end of the day, victory belongs to the bold.

The impression that I have is that Israel is observing the conventions of warfare, while the UN howls about international humanitarian law.  They are speaking past one another.

That is why talk of cease-fire is falling on deaf ears in Israel.  And allegations of “collective punishment” are ambiguous at best – how can Israel separate civilians from Hamas, when Hamas has clearly violated the conventions of warfare by using civilians as human shields?

As for talk of a “two-state solution”, that always sounded to me a lot like Partition in 1947.  Send Muslims to Pakistan and Hindus can stay in India.  That was imposed by the colonial power.  Before the UN was founded.  The Quit India Movement was opposed to it.  It was on the edge of what is now called ethnic cleansing.  It was a kind of end-game apartheid.

On the other hand, it may be inevitable, if the differences are irreconcilable.  That is the pathway to divorce.  Perhaps a kind of regional autonomy with the state of Israel is more realistic?  In recent years, many Arab and Muslim states have become less hostile to Israel, and more open to finding a sustainable peace.  But Arab leaders tend to be despots or monarchs, so their views do not necessarily reflect the solidarity of their people with the Palestinians.  At this moment in history, those leaders may distance themselves from the Abraham Accords, but it is also unlikely that Iran can muster any serious support for a regional war.  Iran is a pariah even in the Middle East.

President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority must be relieved that he is being visited by foreign leaders like Emmanuel Macron.  Finally some recognition for who is really the leader of Palestine.  Even though Hamas grabbed the Gaza strip by force and sidelined him.  He is now the one to negotiate for the Palestinians, while Hamas is being pounded in Gaza.

Without interpreters, the two parties in this war do not even understand one another’s language.

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