Tuesday, June 01, 2010

On the Israeli military engaging a convoy in international waters

[Following on from readers' comments on the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/haveyoursay/2010/05/was_israel_right_to_board_the.html)]

Firstly, I think people should stop calling any other people "barbaric". It is a little petty and very much ridiculous. If it has not been accepted as a maxim throughout human history, then surely the ancient Sanskrit ("What sin is it that a hungry one will not commit?") and Latin ("A man is a wolf to his fellow man") adages can be looked to. This labelling as a barbarian leads to a dehumanization of human beings which makes it very easy to start building the walls, not of Jerusalem, but of Auschwitz.

It is easy to blame the Israeli actors in this case, for they belong to a universally understood definition of an armed force. A litte intellectual effort, and surely the dead and the living are owed this, however, and things become slightly less dichotomous, slightly more colourful.

The fact that the ships in the convoy were boarded in "international waters" is not without importance. However, it can be too much stressed. Firstly, international borders are not set by God (or any human-external agency). They are set, and changed, through armed human forces, in the name of King, Gods, some sort of holy-looking book, or a variation of "those dodgy dark-skinned people over there will be thankful to us for bringing them civilization, you wait and see, and, anyway, this is really our duty", or, even, lucre.

Thus, borders are more bureaucratic than sacred. This is not to reject the value of the creative arts which have so long celebrated love of fatherland, but surely the Age of Patriotism is over? But perhaps we need another Nietzsche to proclaim its demise, and the shadow of the Buddha will be shown in caves for a century more.

If a ship in international waters attempts to fire a short-range tactical weapon at a country, or bring equipment that can be used to assemble a weapon or better target it, or bring information that can be similarly used, or resources that can free up other resources which may be used for a military purpose, surely the targeted country has a right to defend itself by attacking this ship, after attempts to dissaude its approach through non-aggressive means have failed? Or must we wait till the ship actually enters the waters of the targeted country? Or is it all right if it is, say, thirty metres away? Must the threat be clearly proven before action may be taken?

Who were the owners of the ships in this convoy? Did they, or their agents, clearly inform the people on board (including the artists, journalists and intellectuals; incidentally, I always find the latter term rather amusing) that there is a bit of a situation going on in that part of the world where the lives of humans on both sides of the religious or racial divide are constatly threatened, where soldiers (people trained and willing to use deadly weapons) actively expecting to be used to further state or party policy are not the rarest of sights? That Israel had clearly warned the convoy not to proceed? I believe the agents and owners of these ships and the passengers themselves (inasmuch as they were aware of the warnings and their presence was a matter of choice) are not entirely free of blame.

With what means may we defend the lands of our fathers and cousins? All? Then both the Israeli soldiers and the convoy participants were in the right (perhaps even those who were seeking some sort of desperate glory?). Who was in the wrong, then? Religious, political and professional opinion makers, some of whom are no longer alive? Those who gambled that one of the parties must be bluffing and endangered multiple lives? Or must there be a right and a wrong? Would it have been all right if no one had been killed immediately? Not from a stab wound or a bullet, but from insufficient heating later this winter, or through a home-made rocket outside a mall? What if the convoy were to be repeated in a week?

Our intertwined modern economies, political systems and supply chains do not allow any group of, say, hundred people to take the guilt upon their heads, even if they so choose to.

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