Saturday, January 17, 2009

Matt 24 Watch, 76: on the complexity of issues in the Middle East that we see on our TV screens

In recent weeks, with the latest developments in and around Gaza, the Middle East situation has again boiled over into open war and has thus been splashed across our headlines, in the wake of the Israeli air-strikes and now a ground attack.

This led immediately to accusations of "disproportionate" use of force by Israel, and latterly to the accusations of deliberate use of White Phosphorus munitions to attack civilians, causing severe injury or agonising death.

Being quite busy elsewhere, I have not hitherto commented here on the situation.

However, a few days back, I was in a local hardware store where a gentleman of my acquaintance was buying some phosphoric acid based drain cleaner. I casually remarked on how corrosive it is [I have a nice Swiss Army knife that I one day forgot to think about what I was doing, and opened the seal on such a bottle with the knife -- it began to eat the blade . . .], and he immediately launched into a passionate declaration on how Israel is torturing and murdering civilians (especially children) in the Middle East using phosphorus.

I was of course astonished, and tried to suggest that on matters in the Middle East, we need to take extra caution to find the balance of credible facts and contexts, not least because of the high incidence of false atrocity stories in the ME. To my further astonishment, this was twisted into the inference that I supported the murder or harming of children using such weapons.

That of course beings to mind the classic warning Aristotle gave us on in The Rhetoric, Bk I Ch 2, the destructive, deceptive potential of manipulative rhetoric [and by extension propaganda], 2300+ years ago:

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question . . . .

However, the ensuing conversation underscored the want of critical thinking and history education in our region, and on gaps in the church's teaching and discipling ministry; including on the key biblical roots of modern liberty and democracy, and on issues on why such an evil as war or other resort to lethal policing power may be a lesser of evils, one that prevents even worse outcomes.

Accordingly, I wish to share a slice of the correspondence that has followed, towards better equipping our churches, educators and people to find a balanced position in these sadly rhetorically over-heated, over-polarised days.


I prioritise the most important of these [concerns]:

1] "Religion" [and implied fanaticism] vs the truth about our situation

. . . as (i) creatures made in God's image, (ii) accountable to him as sinners in rebellion, and with (iii) the possibility of forgiveness through faith in Christ and (iv) onward transformation of life through discipleship and the ethics of the gospel:

When I mentioned . . . that the only deliberate positions I take are those of Christian, Bible-based discipleship, [my interlocutor] immediately made an unwarranted connexion to the idea of religion as fanaticism . . . I must pause to correct [for there is now a growing, media-fed misunderstanding of and unwarranted fear of Bible-believing Christian faith that will if unchecked do our region no good].

So, here we begin:

--> The very nature of the intricately designed world without and our minds, hearts and consciences within jointly scream that we are creatures of a God of love, concern and justice. [Cf here Rom 1 - 2.]

--> But equally, we are plainly creatures in sinful rebellion against a Just God and are properly subject to trial and condemnation as guilty rebels. This is the root of ever so many of the moral outrages of our world, including real cases of destructive religious fanaticism.

--> However, in love, God came in the form of the Eternal Son, and stood our penalty, rising from death with 500+ eyewitnesses of the truth. And, pouring out the blessing of the transforming Spirit, who changes us from rebels and manipulators to those who more and more act from love, truth, purity and godly power.

--> Consequently, we read this summary of gospel ethics (and I deliberately choose this less well known passage, for reasons which will be apparent in a moment):

Rom 13: 8 . . . he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet,"[a] and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself."[b] 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. [NIV]

--> Neighbour-love is harmless, so love fulfills the commandments of just law and principles of morality. Indeed, neighbour-love is the plank of good citizenship.

--> But, not all are good citizens . . .

2] Justice, the sword and the state

This brings us to the context of Rom 13:8 - 10, in vv 1 - 7:

Rom 13:1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

--> The state (especially within the context of the nation, as Paul discussed in Ac 17) and its civil authorities (individually and collectively) are God's establishment for justice, to do the citizenry good and to restrain evildoers through the necessary evil of the power of the sword, backed up by the further necessary evil of reasonable [as opposed to confiscatory -- "thou shalt not steal" also applies to Gov't] taxation and all that goes with that by way of monitoring and control.

--> We find this easiest to understand in the context of the police: defenders from evildoers who are largely based in our own familiar community. Few if any will object to the need for such protectors of the civil peace to be sword-bearers [or in our day even here in M'rat, MP5 bearers when bank money has to move]

--> Few will object to the observation that sometimes police make errors, even horrible ones, and that some can become corrupt. So much so that there are means of redress and recourse to correction and even removal of a cop gone bad.

--> Similarly . . . there is recourse [through Courts of Appeal] against the courts, for they too can go bad by mistake or intent.

--> Such is also regrettably possible on the part of Civil Servants or even Ministers of Gov't . . . all the way up to the Queen (and much moreso in days when the Monarch held far more power).

--> Now, a shocker: In Rom 13, the sword-bearer in chief was NERO CAESAR, never mind that he was then still under tutelage of Burrus and Seneca, and had not yet gone utterly mad. In short, even an evil man is sometimes in the role of God's servant to do us good, and is accountable before God for that doing good and defending the civil peace and justice.

--> The wider teachings of the Bible will show that here is in fact a provision for dealing with such a case as a ruler gone bad, through which lower magistrates may act with the people to remove such, e.g. the tax rebellion blessed by God when Rehoboam foolishly sought to multiply already onerous taxes from his father. (In modern times, this pattern of teachings is what underlies much of the rise of modern democracy and liberty -- though it is as a rule neither taught in our schools or our churches; yet another failure of the education system and the teaching ministry of the church in the Caribbean. I have discussed this at length here . . . )

--> In short, there is a [biblical] justification for some forms of resistance, even [after all other reasonable resort has failed] armed resistance, to oppressive civil authority, under the aegis of orderly remonstrance and representative lower magistrates.

--> And in the end, as Daniel and his friends, and as the Apostles showed: "we must obey God rather than man." [In light of Rom 13:8 - 10, this is not at all a call to fanaticism, but to refuse to do wrong because the state abuses its power under false colour of law, and orders us into wrong. (BTW, I note that it is a core principle of Israeli Military law, that an improper and criminal order is not to be obeyed. [This reflects what happened under the Nazis, where otherwise good men blindly obeyed unjust orders and carried out the very worst atrocities.])]

--> Indeed, such is the historical and logical foundation of our electoral system with the associated freedoms of expression, association and publication: the general election is an audit on the government, with potential for peaceful revolution.

--> But, that was bought at bitter and bloody price, which we must not forget. Nor, should we fail to realise that the privilege of selecting our rulers peacefully can be exploited by unscrupulous manipulators.

This extends to the international arena . . .

3] Justice and war among states and nations

Just as there can be domestic evildoers who threaten the civil peace, there can be foreign ones: pirates and the like (non-state actors), and oppressive or aggressive states (official actors), with associated movements and ideologies.

The civil authority bears the sword in no small part, to defend the civil peace against such aggressors -- aggressors in our day who even at small scale can now access the most destructive weapons, including improvised weapons such as hijacked airliners crammed with innocent hostages . . .

--> This last brings up the dilemma of Sept 11, 2001: civil airliners operating on peaceful missions and with ordinary people going about the ordinary affairs of life were hijacked by men who threatened the lives of stewardesses to gain access to cockpits, then proceeded to slit the throats of the aircrews.

--> The remaining hostages were then used as human shields to delay effective action against these improvised missiles that were then flown into the WTC towers, full of innocent people going about the innocent affairs of life. (Had the missions been as "successful" as intended, upwards of 50,000 could easily have died as the towers collapsed, and the over US$ 100 billions in economic damage could have gone much, much further; triggering a massive international economic collapse.)

--> Similarly, a plane was crashed into the Pentagon, with something like 50 civilians onboard. (Consider on why the unquestionably present missile defenses were not activated . . .)

--> A fourth aircraft was crashed into a field in PA, largely because the passengers -- having heard of the fate of the other planes through cell phone calls -- rose up as an impromptu militia and fought the hijackers with their bare hands and whatever they could find in the plane, such as the food trolley.

--> It emerged that evening through a reply to a question by the Vice President [Mr Dick Cheney] on a TV news show [I saw it myself, live], that the US president had issued the order that any further planes, if they were on a threatening track, were to be shot down, lest even worse damage be done. (It seems Mr Bin Laden was attempting a so-called decapitation strike against the US, hoping to trigger collapse of the state that is the bulwark against Islamist global ambitions, as per the first attached.)

--> Yes, though it is not usually reported in the major media or in our schools or most churches, IslamISM -- not the general religion, but a key movement associated with it and acting in its name and on the authority of the Medinan parts of the Quran such as key passages in Surah 9, e.g. verses [ayas] 5 and 29 (which [in Islamist eyes] jointly mandate world conquest and in the vv following 29 a particular, slander-based hostility to Jews and Christians) -- is a religiously motivated, global conquest ideology:


sword: Q 009.005
YUSUFALI: But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

Tribute: Q 009.029
YUSUFALI: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

Slander Q 009.030
YUSUFALI: The Jews call 'Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!

YUSUFALI: They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah, and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One Allah: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him).

YUSUFALI: Fain would they extinguish Allah's light with their mouths, but Allah will not allow but that His light should be perfected, even though the Unbelievers may detest (it).

(It should be noted that by “Son of Allah” M. evidently has in mind the idea of the old pagan gods and their notorious proclivities for pretty girls that in the myths led to the births of heroes such as Hercules. Judaism teaches no such thing about Ezra, and the Eternal Son of God – so demonstrated with power by the resurrection from the dead [with 500+ eyewitnesses], even in the face of the accusation of blasphemy on the point [Cf here Dan 7:13 - 14] -- is not the biological child of the Father! And that should have been obvious from the fact of the doctrine of the VIRGIN birth.)

[End of amplification]

--> One that has played no small part in the history of the past 1,400 years.

--> E.g. there is an "anniversary reason" why Sept 11 was the logical target date: Sept 11 1683 was the previous high water mark of Islamist world conquest actions: the day before the siege of Vienna was decisively broken by a desperate late afternoon cavalry charge led in person by the King of Poland Jan III Sobieski, riding at the head of his 3,000 Winged Hussars and leading altogether 20,000 cavalry to break the stranglehold of the besieging Ottoman-Islamist armies; just outside the gates of Vienna.

--> And, the same context has had much to do with the recent history of Israel and the wider ME; thus, our current global dilemmas. (On the aspect of the history of Modern Israel, kindly cf here.)

--> And so, the Gaza situation and the atrocity stories:

4] The current Gaza war -- is it just and pursued in light of reasonable tactics?

First some background.

Generally, wars may be initiated by those who are acting unjustly, or [sometimes they] may be based on pre-emptive action by just rulers acting in the defense of civil peace in the face of a clear, rising danger.

This last, may happen in situations where the price of delay may be too terrible to bear -- e.g. the delay from 1938 to 1939 through the now notorious "peace in our time" Munich pact [the worst "land for peace" deal in recent history] -- in fighting Hitler allowed him to seize the Czechoslovakian resource base that enabled the blitzkrieg to work, ultimately costing 40+ million lives and a devastated continent.

Had France and Britain acted resolutely in 1938, in defense of the Versailles Treaty and related international agreements through the League of Nations, we would not have had a WWII. but, in the face of the memories of the horrors of war -- e.g France's losses of 1.4 millions in WW I and the related devastation of Northern France -- a fatal deal was struck with a man who viewed such pieces of paper as tools to gull his next victims while he made mincemeat of the present one.

Through his subsequent conquest of Czechoslovakia, Hitler acquired not only the former Austrian Empire's famed Skoda arms and general industry factories, but the trucks to mobilise his panzer divisions, and the [37 mm cannon-armed] T35 and T38 tanks that for the vital years 1939 - 41, substituted for the Pzkw III and IV tanks he did not yet have in sufficient numbers to make a difference. [The Pzkw I had only machine guns, and the Pzkw II was armed with a 20 mm gun. A high-velocity gun of 37 - 40 mm or sometimes 50 mm was in 1938 - 40, the typical armament for tanks used to shoot at other tanks. Hitler, apart from the ex-Czech tanks, had astonishingly few tanks suitable for tank vs tank battles.]

Absent those inputs, he simply could not have done what he did in France in 1940.

(For instance, the famous PzDiv 7, "the ghost division" that was one of the hardest charging of all the 7 divs that broke through at Sedan and drove for the English Channel -- led by a soon to be world famed Rommel -- was largely equipped with those former allied tanks.)

This is living-memory context (I first learned of these things from my parents, who lived through those horrible days, and are yet with us) for the circumstances of Gaza today.

5] More specific background:

a --> The Jews, Kurds, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Berbers, Dinkas and more are peoples rooted in the ME and neighbouring parts of the world, have just as much a rightful claims to their homelands as do the Arabs who surged out on conquest through Islamist ideology starting in the C7. Indeed, in Palestine/Judaea and Samaria, Arabs are descendants of these INVADERS.

b --> The subsequent claims that Palestinian Arabs are descended from the Philistines etc are without historical merit -- modern archaeology etc inform us that the Philistines for instance were exiled under Babylon and because they had no distinctive ideology dissipated into the general population of that empire; unlike the Jews. And such dissipation and assimilation was in fact the intent of the policy of exile. (That is why Daniel and his three friends are so important in the history of Israel.)

c --> The 1919 post WW I Versailles settlements, for all the sins and errors made there that helped lay the foundations for WW II, sought to remake Europe and linked lands in the aftermath of the collapse of the Austrian, Russian and Ottoman Empires, on the principle that each people so far as possible should have its own recognised homeland and where reasonable, their own state.

d --> This is the premise of the wave of nationalism that has led to the League of Nations [LON], the United Nations and the wave of post-colonial independent states all across the world. A wave that we benefit from here in the Caribbean-- under no other circumstances would independent microstates like ours across the region be viable.

e --> As a part of that process, Chaim Weizmann (representing the Jewish Agency) and Feisal Hussein (representing the Sherif of Mecca and the leadership of the then envisioned emerging Arab nation; later, king of Iraq, and his brother Abdullah became King of trans-Jordanian Palestine [Now Jordan]) entered into a 1919 Versailles process side agreement in London, for the joint, mutually supportive development of the Arab and Jewish nations in the Middle East. As my note on this history documents, had this been followed, the ME would today be a leading, prosperous, and peaceful region.

f --> Sadly, largely through Islamist fanaticism and murder [not discounting the perfidy of British and French Diplomatists], this was not to be. Riots in the 1920's and an Arab revolt in the 1930's led to the situation where post WW II, the British wished to surrender the LON mandate to the successor of the League, the UN.

g --> The UN voted partition, the Arab League threatened war of genocide, the Jews accepted partition and declared Israel's Independence; leading to invasion by five Arab armies within 24 hours, May 14/15 1948. Against all odds, Israel survived, and in addition to refugees from Europe etc, absorbed a further 600,000+ refugee Jews expelled or forced out from the Arab-dominated ME states. These constitute an irreconcilable refugee population, and are the capstone legitimising rationale for Israel as a land of refuge, and they and their descendants are the present majority of Jews in Israel.

h --> A similar number of Arab refugees -- mostly [but not wholly] owing to the invitation to Arabs to move out so the genocide could proceed unhindered, multiplied by Arab atrocity stories against the Jews [cf here] -- were forced to remain in camps by their brother Arabs [in the case of Egypt and Gaza, at machine-gun point], with the declared intent to exploit their suffering to foment perpetual war until Israel was destroyed.

i --> Then in the early 1960's opportunity seemingly arrived, as the USSR, in pursuit of its global ambitions, turned several key Arab states into clients, and armed them. The Russians, apparently to foment a situation where they could then intervene and in the process destroy Israel's nuclear centre at Dimona in the Negev [about 50 mi from Gaza -- bear this in mind], spread rumours of Israel's mobilising for war against Syria, then in a union with Nasser's Egypt.

j --> By May 1967, Israel was surrounded by a ring of steel: 800 aircraft, 2,800 tanks, 500,000 troops, with the Egyptians poised to thrust straight across the Negev in an armoured attack, cutting Israel's oil lifeline through Eilat. Nasser then declared that the Straights of Tiran were blockaded to Israel (in violation of international agreements and guarantees after the 1956 Suez war that was in key part triggered by the same act of war by blockade) -- cutting Israel's oil lifeline.

k --> After diplomatic initiatives proved obviously futile, instead of waiting until it had run out of oil etc, Israel launched a desperate air strike that knocked out the Egyptian Air Force, and then that of Syria. Simultaneously, they launched a tank attack with three improvised armoured divisions -- largely based on reconditioned and upgunned Sherman Tanks from WW II going up against far more modern Russian equipment. (Because of command of the air, this succeeded, and Israel found itself controlling the Suez and Gaza, both captured from the Egyptians.)

l --> Despite Israeli pleas to keep out, and then even to settle for a "barrage of honour" after it began to shell Israeli territory, Jordan insisted on further attacks and was counter-attacked, so that the West Bank was captured. (Jordan had captured this area in the 1948 war, and had illegally "annexed" it. Thus, W. Bank Palestinian Arabs held Jordanian Citizenship,and indeed in 1969 - 70 when internal unrest heightened, King Hussein offered Arafat the premiership; which he refused. A civil war ensued and the PLO was expelled from Jordan. That is what led to the establishment of the PLO in Lebanon, a material factor triggering in the Lebanese civil war of the 1970's - 80's; and the trigger to the sad situation of that former Paris of the Middle East, Beirut.)

m --> Syria, finally, was counter attacked, and the Golan was captured. The same heights that for 20 years had been used to shell Israeli farmers in Galilee.

n --> Subsequently, after the refusal to engage in a land for real peace deal post 1967, the 1973 war led to the settlement with Egypt and the exchange of all of the Sinai for real peace. (A subsequent settlement with Jordan also issued in exchange of a much smaller slice of land for real peace.)

o --> PLO terrorist activity from S Lebanon led to the Israeli intervention in 1982 [with a side-war with the occupying Syrians].

p --> Subsequent to the 1990-91 Gulf war triggered by Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait, a new wave of peace initiatives has been entered into, during which Israel has left Lebanon, tried to hand over the W Bank to the Palestinians, and has finally unilaterally walked away from Gaza in 2005.

q --> On one excuse or another, civilian-targetting terrorism has continued against Israel, now backed up by Iranian geopolitical and Islamist global supremacist ambitions that have led to the arming of Hezbollah [effectively the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Foreign Legion] and Hamas [a wing of the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood] with increasingly long ranged rockets.

r --> In the case of Hamas, over the past decade or so, up to 10,000 rockets and mortar bombs have been lobbed into Israel, in what is in effect long term harassing fire, mostly targetting civilian settlements. And, the rockets used are gradually being escalated in range, now evidently approaching the 50 miles to Dimona.

s --> Then, Dec 19, after a six-month truce, Hamas began bombardments again [actually, it never really stopped, just diminished in ferocity].

6] Israel's response:

Having seen this gathering threat, Israel has acquired 1,000 GBU 39 60-mile range, GPS-guided mini bunker busters and other precision munitions. These, it began to use in a counter attack that targetted Hamas's munitions, launch sites and command structure [except for the main HQ, which is in bunkers directly under a major hospital].

The major challenge has been that Hamas not only bombards civilians, but hides behind innocent Arab civilians, using them as human shields. So Israel has responded by using precision attacks, guided based on intelligence -- much of that from unmanned aerial vehicles that have slowly compiled a database of attack-points.

In the case of the GBU 39, it is noted by Wikipedia:

The GBU-39 has a circular error probable (CEP) of only 5-8 meters,[2] which means it has a 50% probability of hitting within 5-8 meters its intended target, which should minimize collateral damage . . . . The small size of the bomb allows a single strike aircraft to carry more of the munitions than is possible utilizing currently available bomb units . . . . The SDB carries approximately 38 lb (17 kg) of AFX-757 high explosive, yet because of its design it has the same penetration capabilities as the 2000 lb BLU-109. During demonstrations, the SDB has successfully penetrated more than 8 ft (2.4 m) thick reinforced concrete. It also has integrated "DiamondBack" type wings which deploy after release, increasing the glide time and therefore the maximum range . . . . Although unit costs were somewhat uncertain as of 2006, the estimated value for the INS/GPS version was around $70,000. The cost of the second variant was more uncertain, but tentative estimates were $90,000 per unit or more . . . . Under a contract awarded in September 2006, Boeing is developing a version of the SDB I which replaces the steel casing with a lightweight compositeDense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME). This will significantly reduce the possibility of collateral damage when using the weapon for pin-point strikes in urban areas.[7] . . . .

December 2008 - Used against Hamas facilities in the Gaza Strip, including underground rocket launchers.[13]

In short, it is clear that Israel is going to considerable expense and effort precisely to AVOID civilian casualties as much as is possible in war.

Indeed, the reports that they are phoning individual households near strike zones and advising occupants to seek shelter, is along the same lines. Sadly, the further reports -- and video of children being dragged off as such shields -- that reveal that Hamas militiamen are using this to put civilians into the zones as human shields are utterly telling.

And that contrast fits in all too well with the decades long propaganda tactic of accusing the Israelis [often falsely] of atrocities and war crimes, used to incite further regional and global hostility against them. Remember, Hamas by Charter is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and that in a context where a relevant hadith [authoritative tradition] from their prophet says:

. . . it was narrated that Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: ‘The Dajjaal [Devil] will come down to this pond at Marriqanaat (a valley near Madeenah [Medina]), and most of those who go out to follow him will be women, such that a man will go back to his wife, mother, daughter, sister or (paternal) aunt and will tie them up lest they go out to join him. Then Allaah will grant the Muslims victory over him, and they will kill him and his party, until a Jew will hide beneath a tree or a rock, and the tree or rock will say, ‘Here a Jew beneath me, (come and) kill him.’” (Narrated by Ahmad in his Musnad). This was also narrated by Ibn Maajah from Abu Umaamah al-Baahili from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) concerning the Dajjaal.

Notice just who are the evident "Party of the Devil" in this tradition: women, and Jews.

7] White Phosphorus

Now, this formerly was used as a weapon, but it is relatively ineffective as such and is mostly used as a smoke producing (or illuminating) agent today.

Smoke screens, of course, are a key tactic of concealment that among other things minimises casualties among attacking troops (as a part of the response to the horrible trench warfare slaughters of WW I; e.g. Britain lost 60,000 casualties, some 20,000 of them dead, in the first day of the attack on the Somme in July 1916); so it would naturally have been used in that role in the phase where a ground attack has now been undertaken.

Accordingly, in the context of accusations of misuse of such munitions, we should observe that the International Committee of the Red Cross remarks [cf the 5th attached, CSM report] that:

The International Committee of the Red Cross says white phosphorus is being used in Gaza. No question.

But they have no evidence that Israel is using it illegally.

“In some of the strikes in Gaza it’s pretty clear that phosphorus was used,” Peter Herby, head of the Red Cross mines-arms unit, told the Associated Press Tuesday. “But it’s not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target. We have no evidence to suggest it’s being used in any other way.”

Monitor staff writer Robert Marquand reported yesterday that human rights groups have witnessed white phosphorus munitions exploding over populated area of Gaza. While using the agent is not banned by international laws when it’s used as a smoke screen. But it is outlawed for use on people – civilians or soldiers . . . .

The Red Cross urged Israel to use “extreme caution” when firing white phosphorus munitions, according to AP.

It is of course entirely possible for such munitions (or other munitions) to misfire or for civilians to be otherwise harmed as a result of such firing, even where they are not intentional targets. The tenor of the ICRC report, clearly, is that they have no evidence of intentional targetting of civilians or even soldiers by WP rounds.

Such harm has to be weighed against the cost otherwise of making the assaults in built up areas [i.e. saturation bombardments to suppress counter-fire, leading to very large numbers of civilians dead], and/or the longer-term issues that led to the assault. namely:

(i) bombardment of Israeli civilians in city after city, now potentially affecting ~ 1 million citizens of Israel, and

(ii) the rising threat to the nuclear centre at Dimona in pursuit of Iranian ambitions.

Indeed, the latter is the context of the relative silence of Arab states on the matter, as Iran is also their traditional enemy.


So, perhaps, the above will prove helpful in helping us to address key gaps in the Church's teaching and discipling ministry, and perhaps even to help us come to a more balanced position on the perennial controversy in the Middle East. (I confess that I am a lot less confident that anything will ever settle the war, short of the Second Coming.) END


UPDATES: Slight editing, a link or two, Jan 19.

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