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Israel and Academic Distinctions

Ari Kohen responded to my request to address the substantial difference in our opinion with a very thorough and convincing argument that what Israel is doing does not fulfill the technical definition of ‘genocide’. This is somewhat disappointing, because that distinction is at best tertiarily related to our disagreement. Let’s return to our original dispute, found here, about false equivalencies. In essence, Kohen argues,

When you write that the number of casualties is uneven, you’re either saying, “The Israeli military has better weapons technology than Hamas,” which is so obvious as to be perfectly uninteresting … or else you’re saying, “I wish Hamas was better able to kill Israelis so this conflict would be more ‘fair,’” which is to actively wish for more civilian deaths.

To which I responded (along with an accusation of Israeli genocide), that the discrepancy is not some background issue but rather indicative of the source of the conflict: military imposed segregation on an ethnic basis, coupled with continually expanding displacement by the IDF and other Israeli forces of Palestinian civilians. The pretense that pointing out the effects of this cause, that is to say the high volume of Palestinian civilian deaths vs. the low number of Israeli casualties from Palestinians who are fighting back, is somehow a plea for more bloodshed is extremely myopic. With this assumption, Kohen reduces culpability for the conflict into abstract, academic moral evaluations. The process he poses as the ‘correct’ line of thinking is, “There must be a way for these groups of people to stop murdering each other”, while either refusing to acknowledge (or not realizing) that the disparity in deaths is itself a perpetuating force in the conflict. Ari’s later statement that, “it’s possible for the Israeli government to be acting immorally and it’s possible for Hamas to also be acting immorally” is entirely irrelevent to the question of how to end the conflict, the answer to which is chiefly concerned with the cause of the conflict. The idea that ‘immoral’ actions, rather than aggressive Israeli imperialism, is somehow the driving force behind the violence is completely unsupported by any factual information that I have been made aware of.

Kohen has called the idea that we should focus on the driving forces of the conflict rather than a sort of moral tit-for-tat, the “Logic of Perpetual Conflict”:

Because the Israeli state oppresses Palestinians, dispossesses many of them of their land, and abuses their human rights, Palestinians have ample cause to murder Israeli Jews — and sometimes non-Israeli Jews — wherever they happen to find them…The practitioner of this sort of logic responds to harm with more harm, arguing that there’s always a good reason behind the harm that one does.”

The problem with this analysis is it’s presumption that arriving at an explanation for the heinous acts some Arabs commit while fighting Israeli imperialism is the same as apologizing for it or excusing it. This is the same notion used by the right to brand anyone daring to bring up US intervention when discussing the events of 9/11, and is entirely invalid (not to mention somewhat surprising given his previous posts on the origin of terrorism). It’s not excusing or advocating for the morality of rocket attacks to acknowledge that resistance against Israeli annexation and occupation of land previously inhabited by Palestinians is an inevitable result of the annexation and occupation itself!

Kohen’s views his (accurate) distinction of Genocide as relevant because his world is primarily one of letters: in Academics, a semantic distinction between Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing is germane because Academicians are concerned with nuance and objective, abstract analysis. It is decidedly less important for those whose goal is not scholastic achievement, but rather communicating both the extremity and the source of the inhumane treatment of Palestinians. Academic distinctions with regard to Palestine are something of a pattern for Running Chicken. I refer you to his discussion of a map published on the Rights and Humanity blog. There, Kohen focuses on the demographics of the ruling elite of Palestine, believing that because the map does not include information of Britain, Jordan, and Egypts various occupations (less relevant but more disappointing is his insistence that not mentioning the ‘67 war, which Israel began and used as an excuse for aggressive and imperial acquisition of land, somehow invalidates the third map). Again, this distinction is entirely academic: though it may be relevant to abstract analysis of borders and politics in the past, it’s irrelevant to the conditions of the Arabs expelled in the Nakba, the families forcibly removed to make room for Israeli settlements, or the 1.8 million refugees that aren’t allowed access to the non-rubble parts of what was once Palestine.

Filed under Israel Israeli Occupation Israeli crimes israeli-palestinian conflict Palestine Ari Kohen Running Chicken

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