In a recent New Yorker article on Gaza -- but more on what Israel has done and might do with the people and land it has "secured" -- the author inexplicably stammers over Operation Cast Lead, as if the events that transpired and the variation of methods used were somehow irreconcilable.
Lawrence Wright's essay, "Captives," offers a fragmented portrait of the military project, offering loose juxtaposition rather than connecting transitions to report that: a) the Israeli military worked hard to avoid killing civilians when it telephoned targeted homes ahead of time or sprinkled metal warnings on rooftops before sending down the munitions; b) vandalism of the Palestinian homes that were not rocketed, strafed or bulldozed was not tolerated and IDF soldiers were duly punished for transgressions; c) tactics, like the use of white phosphorous, increased civilian deaths but was possibly done in such a way as to fit within the boundaries of a legally sanctioned act; c) the genocidal act of destroying "cultural institutions" was part of the project; d) soldiers were primed for an assault without limit or regard for the human life they would encounter trapped within the area attacked.
Wright's writing creates the sense that the facts and testimony gathered are somehow at odds and they take on a dream-like uncertainty in his presentation. Perhaps this is a way of saying what the Goldstone Report has said without having to align oneself with that product. Perhaps it is meant to communicate the horrific and irrational plight of the "captives" (of whom the Israeli Gilad Shalit is the most noted and symbolic). But perhaps he and the editors are simply unsure of how to connect a democratic nation defending itself legally and with utmost pride in its purpose, righteousness and humanity to a nation that while claiming "self-defense" made the first principle, as one IDF claims, "no innocents." Every child, if not in the old and tired cliche, a potential terrorist, then in this context, a potential "spotter" or "shield" and therefore available as target. (That only, if one accepts the Amnesty International number, 300 children died, the only conclusion can be that Israel used great restraint in applying its own approach).
That the process of sparing selected lives in selected ways is the the quantifying gesture of just wars, the legalizing rationalizations of democratic institutions are possibly more opaque in their process but no less clear in their function than the Spanish El Requerimiento of the early sixteenth-century.
The words calm the bloodied nerves. Pushed out between the method and madness, as rote responses written down in advance, or as a confused postmortem, they maintain the disconnect.
November 10, 2009