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Why don't Americans support Palestinians? →

An interesting piece explaining why Americans and Europeans tend to view the Israel/Palestine conflict in very different ways. This part seemed right to me:

…[M]ore moderate critics of Israel (including many Israelis) focus on jus in bello, and in particular they look at the question of proportionality. When the Palestinians flick a handful of fairly crude rockets at random across Israel, these critics say, Israel has a right to a kind of pinprick response: tit for tat. But it isn’t entitled to bring the full power of its industrial grade air force and its mighty ground forces into an operation designed to crush Hamas at the cost of hundreds of civilian casualties. You can’t fight slingshots with tanks.

For many people around the world, this seems patently obvious: Israel has a right to respond to attacks from Hamas but it doesn’t have an unlimited right to respond to limited attacks with unlimited force. Israeli blindness to this obvious moral principle strikes many observers as evidence of hardheartedness and national moral decline, and colors their perceptions of many other Israeli policies.

The whole jus in bello argument sails right over the heads of most Americans.  The proportionality concept never went over that big here. Many Americans are instinctive Clausewitzians; Clausewitz argued that efforts to make war less cruel end up making it worse, and a lot of Americans agree.

From this perspective, the kind of tit-for-tat limited warfare that the doctrine of proportionality would require is a recipe for unending war: for decades of random air strikes, bombs and other raids. An endless war of limited intensity is worse, many Americans instinctively feel, than a time-limited war of unlimited ferocity. A crushing blow that brings an end to the war—like General Sherman’s march of destruction through the Confederacy in 1864-65—is ultimately kinder even to the vanquished than an endless state of desultory war.


Thus when television cameras show the bodies of children killed in an Israeli air raid, Jacksonian Americans are sorry about the loss of life, but it inspires them to hate and loathe Hamas more, rather than to be mad at Israel. They blame the irresponsible dolts who started the war for all the consequences of the war and they admire Israel’s strength and its resolve for dealing with the appalling blood lust of the unhinged loons who start a war they can’t win, and then cower behind the corpses of the children their foolishness has killed. The whole situation strengthens the widespread American belief that Palestinian hate rather than Israeli intransigence is the fundamental reason for the Middle East impasse, and the television pictures that drive much of the world away from Israel often have the effect of strengthening the bonds between Americans and the Jewish state.

The article goes on to talk about how the United States’ lack of a feudal past means it tends to view wars as conflicts between peoples, which somehow makes Americans more inclined to support the use of disproportionate force to end a protracted conflict. It also argues that Europe’s feudal history has made it more inclined to frown on the use of disproportionate force, particularly when it’s used against civilian populations.

I’m not well-versed in international relations theory, but I don’t think you have to go back to feudalism to figure out why Americans and Europeans diverge on the Israel/Palestine conflict. I don’t think it’s feudal history that inclines Europeans to tend to adhere to the jus in bello principle so much as the more recent traumas of WWI and WWII. There are still Europeans alive today who remember the terrors of total war, who remember what it was like to be bombed relentlessly, invaded, and occupied.

The U.S., on the other hand, didn’t experience WWI and WWII in the same way. The civilian population was physically distant from the action. The country was never invaded or occupied. There are a lot of other factors involved (Islamophobia, racism, the political influence of Christian evangelicals, strategic interests in Mideast oil) in American support for Israel. But the American indifference to the plight of the Palestinians can perhaps best be explained by the fact that there’s no living memory in the U.S. of what it’s like to be under siege or occupied.

  1. steampunkjesus reblogged this from elementalhero and added:
    As an American who wholeheartedly supports the Palestinians, it always bothers me a little when someone says something...
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    non-American. non white lives have rarely, if ever, been regarded as ‘grievable’ or important by America
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