Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Terrorism: only for consenting adults - II

Blogger Dov Bear has taken me to task * for my critique of Human Rights Watch's press release on child suicide bombers.

I've taken my time in responding partly because I've been busy, partly because I want to get it right, and partly because I suspect he's trolling for attention.

First, I did not say that HRW "approves of suicide attacks on Israel". I even quoted their perfunctory remark that "any attack on civilians is prohibited by international law".

I admit I was remiss in not noting that the organization has consistently condemned Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians. This is true, and should be commended.

But my claim was not that HRW approves of terrorism against Israelis, just that it "doesn't seem terribly concerned" about it. In other words, that their concerns are misprioritized. The press release on child bombers is an excellent example of this.

First, the language of the press release does not indicate substantial concern. Noting that attacks on civilians are "prohibited by international law" is a statement of fact, not an expression of concern or disapproval. It includes neither condemnation nor calls to action to prevent such attacks. By contrast, the statement does call on "Palestinian armed groups" to "immediately end all use of children in military attacks".

Attacks against Israelis are not even specifically criticized, but merely subsumed among "any attack on civilians". The press release lists many child suicide bombers by name, but not a single Israeli victim.

Second, I reject HRW's assertion that a suicide bombing by a minor is somehow more "egregious" than one committed by an adult. What is egregious about a suicide bombing is the deliberate targeting of civilians. It is no less egregious when committed by an adult, nor is the bomber the victim. Focusing on the age of the bomber rather than the identity of the victims seems grossly distorted.

Third, the press release manages to address various issues tangential to its main point - just not this one. Along with criticizing Palestinian terror groups for endangering Palestinian children, it criticizes Israel for endangering Palestinian children (as I noted previously, without pointing out that they may be combatants). It calls on Israel to ratify an international treaty on childrens' rights and describes Ariel as "an illegal West Bank settlement". Somehow, though, there is no room in the text for a condemnation of suicide bombings against Israel, sympathy for Israeli victims of terrorism, or a call to the Palestinian Authority or terrorist groups to end all attacks on civilians unconditionally. All of these are more directly relevant to the topic at hand than some of the issues which were included in the statement.

In short, I stand by my assessment that HRW "doesn't seem terribly concerned with the continuing terror attacks against Israeli civilians".

Coincidentally, last Friday the Jerusalem Post ran an interview with HRW head Kenneth Roth, in which he defends his organization's record on Israel.

On the other side, critiques of HRW's record on Israel can be found in this Jerusalem Post editorial, these commentaries by Anne Bayefsky, and this one by Gerald Steinberg. Readers can, of course, draw their own conclusions by browsing HRW's repository of press releases on Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

I think it's pretty clear where their priorities lie.

* Actually, that's putting it mildly. He's accused me of an "amateurish hack job", says I've "been demolished", and "can't see straight." On the last point, I confess he's correct - I've worn glasses since fifth grade. I guess I should add "glasses-wearing" to the chain of hyphenated descriptors in "About Me".

Still, it's odd to be charged with a hack job by someone who describes Bush supporters as "bible-thumping hillbillies" and "the great unwashed out in the American Gobi who dearly love the baby Jesus". Such subtle wit! Such intellectual precision!

Maybe he should adjust his own glasses while he's at it?

1 comment:

DovBear said...

Well done!

I still think you were unfair to HRW, which is typical of the Israeli right. If anyone says anything that isn't hypercritical of the Palestenians, the right calls foul.

I hope your readers take your advice and use the HRW archive to judge for themselves, and I hope we can match wits again.