14 August 2014

There are no winners

I've been spending a lot of time over the last month or so thinking about the Israel-Gaza conflict. Specifically, I've been wondering how to respond to irregular warfare. When Hamas militants launch rockets from beside a school or hospital, how should Israel respond? Do you expect them to just ignore the threat of rockets? War is a nasty business. No matter how hard they try, Israel's response is unlikely to be considered reasonable or proportionate. If Israel counter-attacks the rocket launch site, they may (and probably will) kill innocent civilians at the hospital or school. Hamas is violating all sorts of international norms here by subjecting their own innocent civilians to the horrible violence of war. Israel, too, seems to have been indiscriminate in some of their attacks. Whether the overreach comes from Hamas or Israel, it is innocent civilians who suffer.

Much can be said about the ongoing violence between protesters and police in and around Ferguson, Missouri. Let's say you have a group of 100 protesters. 95 of these protesters have no violent intent. They're content to wave signs, chant slogans, and yell at the police. But five of those protesters have sinister motives. They're not at the front of the crowd but interspersed among the peaceful protesters. From the perspective of the police, they see rocks, bricks or Molotov cocktails thrown from the crowd. How should the police respond? You can imagine that they're going to try to disperse the demonstration. They may try to break it up and/or respond with teargas. 95 peaceful protesters are going to bear the brunt of the force for the actions of a few bad apples. Whether the overreach comes from the few violent protesters or the police, it is innocent civilians who suffer.

A few obvious points here:

I'm not suggesting that a violent protester in Ferguson is the same as a Hamas terrorist. As far as we know, the violence done by protesters in Ferguson has not killed anyone. The violence in Gaza is on another scale. The analogy here is not a moral equivalence between terrorists and violent protesters but that the irregular tactics are essentially the same.

Neither am I defending the police's tactics. I'm not sure there is a "right way" to do things. I'm no expert, so someone else with actual law enforcement experience can surely weigh in on why I am completely wrong about this. But if I were in a position of authority, I'd regroup and refocus on doing a better job of identifying the few individuals who are instigating violence. If they're already doing this, it's not coming across in any of the news articles I've been reading. Then again, maybe that's the point: finding the few bad apples in Ferguson may be as difficult as finding the few Hamas terrorists among the larger groups of innocent Gaza civilians. 

People who use innocent civilians to shield violent behavior are cowards, whether they are Gaza terrorists or rabble-rousing rock throwers on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. They use the very presence of innocent civilians to blanket their lawlessness. When Israel responds, or when the police respond, the response is likely to be indiscriminate enough to catch innocent people in the fray. When that happens, we all lose.
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