August 25, 2006
DW’s Philipp: “Israel deserved ‘war crime’ label”
(ed. note: this post was later updated to fix spelling and grammatical errors)
Deutsche Welle’s Peter Philipp enjoys living in the same fantasy world as Amnesty International, the world where bombing supply routes of a determined belligerent (who started the conflict) is not allowed because the artifacts along those routes — bridges, fueling stations, etc. — are primarily used by civilians. It’s the same world where the figure of 1,000 dead after one month of fighting and (by Amnesty’s own numbers) 7,000 air attacks and 2,500 naval bombardments — not to mention a full scale ground invasion in the latter days of the conflict — is an outrage. And in that world you are not to be outraged at the terrorist organization whose terrorist act — an attempt at terrorist blackmail — caused the conflict, nor should you be outraged at the country which has allowed this terrorist organization to grow, operate, arm itself and virtually take over a large chunk of territory.
To be a bit more fair to Mr. Philipp, I suppose he might jump in at this point and remind me that he is also critical of Hezbollah and of AI for not yet writing about Hezbollah. Sure I will give him some credit for that. He mentions it, but then gives Hezbollah their way out:
But it is going to be hard for Amnesty to criticize Hezbollah for this behavior. In contrast to Israel, Hezbollah is not an organized state, but a hard-to-define militia. It is a further example for the imbalance of an “asymmetrical conflict”: States always get a worse deal than non-states. Has there ever, in the history of the world, been a militia that has obeyed international laws? It is not meant as an excuse for Hezbollah, but the fact is, a state like Israel — which sees itself bound by international law — will be judged differently than a militia in such situations.
Unfair? Perhaps. But it represents the increased responsibility that comes with being a recognized state. Especially one that repeatedly uses international law in its own interest. Israel needs to learn that it will be measured against the same standard that it uses to its own ends. (my emphases)
In Mr. Phillip’s world, Hezbollah is a “hard-to-define militia.” That’s the best he can come up with? I have two objections to that. The first is the obvious objection that all of you dear readers also thought of immediately: to call Hezbollah a “hard-to-define militia” as opposed to a well-known, well-armed and well-organized international terrorist organization is, to say the least, ignoring the obvious. Really, it’s scandalous. Mr. Phillip will reply that he meant it in the legal sense, in order to point out AI’s difficulty in dealing with it. That brings me to my second objection: trying to let AI off the hook with the “hard-to-define militia” statement is nonsense. Hezbollah does not exist in a vaccuum. It is a terrorist organization that has state sponsors. Mr. Phillip can call it a “militia” all he wants, but there is no escaping the fact that this “militia” is acting in accordance with two states — nay, three states — which, I’m sure, Mr. Phillips would regard as being bound by international law. AI has no excuse when it comes to Hezbollah. In fact, why don’t they, for once, stop hitting the easy targets with their self-righteous reports and finally do some down and dirty investigations and write the mother of all dossiers detailing for us all the steps that Iran and Syria have taken over the years to establish a “militia” inside a sovereign third state? They could, for example, investigate arms shipments, training methods, the presence of Syrian and/or Iranian military and intelligence officials inside the sovereign third state of Lebanon. They could educate us about the motives that Syria and Iran have for supporting Hezbollah. They could use their superb in-depth analysis to discuss how Iran’s support for Hezbollah should be seen in light of public statements by the president of Iran concerning the destruction of Israel.
I also emphasized in the quotation above the last few sentences concerning Israel and international law. I wish Philipp would have elaborated. What international laws is Israel so often using? I feel like I cannot quarrel with this statement of his too much, because I’m not really sure which laws he means. But I can say that my first reaction was to laugh and think, “Oh yes, Israel, always the beneficiary whenever an international body gets together to decide things about it.” The “illegal” defense wall comes to mind. Well, perhaps I’m missing the obvious.
But I think the final paragraph of the article is probably fairly revealing about Mr. Philipp’s overall view:
Finally, as imbalanced as Amnesty International’s statements are, they are nonetheless a beginning. The latest war against Lebanon was not the first time Israel broke international conventions, especially international law. In the Palestinian territories, such transgressions are an almost daily occurrence. But the protests mostly go unheard.
If I am reading that correctly, by emphasizing that the AI report is a “beginning”, and then following up by mentioning that Israel is in constant violation of international laws, Philipp is hoping for a continued legal and verbal assault on Israel until … Until what exactly? Complete unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank? The tearing down of the defense wall because some international body has declared it illegal?
I reviewed some other of Mr. Philipp’s articles at DW. You can go there and search for “Peter Philipp” using the search box at the top of the screen. I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Mr. Philipp is probably on the left side of the political spectrum. I could be wrong, and I’m open to being corrected. But I hold this opinion because his writing seems to me to be plagued by a kind of confused logic that I think is prevalent on the left. It’s the logic of admitting — because it’s obvious — that certain people or groups or states are doing or hoping to do really, really bad things, yet having nothing to offer in the face of that threat other than the standard and rather tiresome gutmenschliche responses. (I don’t know if Mr. Philipp is German — but the label fits his writing enough to use it anyway.)
Take his essay on “What Drives Hezbollah” as an example. This article, dated 15 July, so about two weeks into the fighting, goes into useful detail concerning Hezbollah’s history and also Iran’s and Syria’s motivations for having Hezbollah inside Lebanon. The following statement shows that Mr. Phillip is pretty clear about the meaning of Hezbollah’s existence:
It has already trained Hamas militants, with whom it shares a single goal: The liberation of Jerusalem, or in other words, the destruction of Israel. (my emphasis)
After reading such a dossier on Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, you would not be blamed for thinking you were reading a hawkish article that would conclude with a well-reasoned justification for Israel’s aggression in Lebanon. But the article ends precisely like this:
Syria and Iran have used Hezbollah to set a trap for Israel — and without great foresight, Israel has fallen into it. Those who demand violent solutions cannot truly have an interest in peace.
In other words, Israel has blown it again: they fought people who want to fight them. By falling into Iran’s and Syria’s trap, they have helped Iran and Syria achieve their goals, which are to avoid, as he says in the paragraph preceding the one above, “gradual calm and normalization”. This is why I consider Mr. Philipp on the “left”, at least in terms of this issue. This is the standard leftist fantasy whereby any aggressive response to aggression is a priori the wrong response.
(Forgive me, but during the last several years I missed the signs of “gradual calm and normalization” that Israel, had it been wise enough to recognize it, could have latched on to for its own security and for the sake of peace in the region.)
The logic employed by Mr. Philipp means quite simply this: any time Israel acts to defend itself, it immediately becomes blameworthy. That is precisely the view of the political left.