Bad Analysis and the Israel/Palestinian Conflict

When the Israeli-Palestinian conflict usually erupts, a lot of ink is spilled by various analysts and commentators trying to explain the circumstances of the current burst of violence. While I might not agree with everything that is published, usually there are enough high quality articles that allow the curious reader to learn about the history and perspective of the different warring sides. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of commentary that have little to no value and do little but blindly support their own side to such an extent that it could be considered comical. If it wasn’t for the fact that these are usually the perspectives and articles that are the most widespread in the mainstream media.

Finally, there are the articles that pretend to be neutral and thought provoking, but end up being (for the lack of a better phrase) pure crap. Luckily, many of these authors and commentators are usually not taken seriously by academics, but they do spread among the general public. This is one such article. Let’s start:

“1. Why is everything so much worse when there are Jews involved?”

This is actually the first major argument that Ali Rizvi decides to advance in his article. The attention given to the plight of the Palestinians by the Muslim world is because the conflict involves Jews. So essentially, the conflict garners a lot of Muslim sympathy because Muslims must be anti-Semitic. Indeed, Rizvi’s opinion that Muslims attention to the Palestinian issue is so great that Muslims do not care about the civil war in Syria and the rise of ISIS in Iraq. He even goes as far as to state:

“If I were Assad or ISIS right now, I’d be thanking God I’m not Jewish.”

Has Rizvi been paying attention the last three years? Before this flare-up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the focus on the Muslim world has been on Syria. This along with the rise of ISIS has been the focus of commentary and debate within the Muslim world. For the last couple of years, the issue many of my Muslim friends on Facebook brought up was the atrocities happening in Syria by the Assad government and ISIS in Iraq. Along with the #supportgaza hashtag, the most popular hashtag among my Muslim friends were posting statuses such as “I am a(n) __________ (insert ethnicity here) Muslim and #ISIS does not represent me nor does it represent Islam”. Just going to Al Monitor and reading the various commentary and articles from the Middle East on Syria and ISIS has been great. Unfortunately, there are some anti-Semitic elements that can be found on the pro-Palestine side, just like there is Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment on the pro-Israeli side. That said; this conflict is more than Muslims vs. Jews. If it was simply Muslims vs Jews, why do leftists and anti-colonialists support Palestine? Also, why did non-Muslim figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela also support Palestine?

Did Rizvi maybe consider that a reason why this conflict has received so much attention is that the conflict has been going on for 60+ years, has undergone various attempts at mediation with little to no success, has influenced Middle Eastern politics to a great extent, and was the first conflict for the first UN peacekeeping mission?

2. Why does everyone keep saying this is not a religious conflict?”

At the heart of it, this is a territorial conflict, not a conflict about religion. The early advocates of Zionism were not religious. Many of the early Palestinian groups fighting against Israel were secular in nature. Indeed, religious oriented groups on the Palestinian side did not erupt until much later in the conflict (roughly around the same time that religion became a much more prominent force in the Middle East, a topic I had written about earlier). No one is denying that religion doesn’t play a role in the conflict. It also played a role in the Sri Lankan conflict, India-Pakistan conflict, as well as many others. Is religion the driving force of these conflicts? Of course not. I wouldn’t categorize any of these conflicts as religious conflicts, but religion does play a role. However the role it plays is a minor one.

Rizvi attempts to support his argument by looking at some verses from the Old Testament and some hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) as proof, ignoring the fact that religion is often looked at afterwards to support one’s political belief. Just like some Jews believe that the creation of Israel is not valid because the Messiah did not lead to the Jews back to the homeland, there are plenty of verses and stories that Muslims use to justify their beliefs, which might or might not align with what other Muslims believe. Again the hadiths and verses that Rizvi quotes about Islam are to help paint a picture that Islam is inherently a violent and racist religion. I’ll deal with that more near the end.

“3. Why would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians?”

I happen to agree with Rizvi here. I don’t think most nations that enter into military conflict try to deliberately kill civilians. Whether they care is another thing. Indeed, collective punishment or pain inflicted on the civilian population has been a part of Israeli counter-terrorism strategy. Nor is Israel alone in this. Sri Lanka and other countries have attempted to use collective punishment as a counter-insurgency/terrorism strategy.

“If Israel wanted to kill civilians, it is terrible at it. ISIS killed more civilians in two days (700 plus) than Israel has in two weeks.”

This is a popular way to try and deflect criticism by talking about another conflict. Just like I can compare the fight with ISIS to the fight in South Sudan, where more people died at a faster rate than ISIS has killed. Does that change the circumstances of what is happening in Iraq? No. Because ISIS is killing at a faster rate than Israel or Hamas make it worse than those two? By itself, no. I can also point that Israel has killed about 1,065 Palestinians; the vast majority are thought to be civilians. 50 Israelis have been killed, the vast majority of them soldiers. So by this logic, Hamas must be an extremely moral participant in the conflict, ignoring the fact that they’ve been shooting off rockets into civilian areas with little or no regards for who the rockets hit.

Rizvi’s 4th point on Hamas for the most part is true, although he ignores the many civilian targets that Israel has bombed, the fact that Israel has also targeted civilian shelters despite being told 17 times that the school was a shelter for civilians, or the little regard for Palestinian lives.

And listen, I’m not saying Hamas are the good guys. They have little to no regard for civilian lives, Israeli or Palestinian, and many of the statements that they issue are downright awful and horrendous. Just don’t pretend that Hamas is the automatically the worst of the group, and don’t pretend Fatah are good guys either. Just talk to a Palestinian about them, I’m sure they would love to tell you about how ‘moral’ Fatah really is.

“5. Why are people asking for Israel to end the “occupation” in Gaza?”

According to Rizvi, Gaza is no longer under Israeli occupation.  Gaza has been under siege with little or no way to conduct economic activity or live normally. Many of the tunnels that Hamas has created are also used to smuggle food and medicine for the population.

But more importantly, Gaza is still under occupation. Rizvi should probably learn a bit about international law. Iraq, despite having elections and their own government during the U.S. war was considered occupied. The Israeli military still controls Gaza. The UN has come out and said that Gaza is still occupied. Many international lawyers still consider Gaza to be occupied (here’s a good overview of why it is still considered occupied).

Rizvi’s 6th point focuses the blame of Palestinian casualties only on Hamas. Hamas does deserve blame for not protecting civilians, and so does Israel for targeting civilian areas and not lifting up the siege for Palestinians to seek shelter outside of Gaza. 

Rizvi’s 7th point is where he attempts to show he is neutral by putting Israel under the stoplight. This is the first time he tries to say bad things happen on both sides, whereas before he puts the blame more on Hamas or the Palestinians (and Islam). But first, not everybody is pro-Israel. In most parts of the world, the public sympathy is on the Palestinian side. Second, it is worth noting that the Israeli public sphere does do a good job of portraying the different sides to each story. Indeed one thing that can be observed about Israeli media is that it will put in a more diverse and critical take of Israeli actions than even the American media.

The title of the article is the “7 things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East”. Yet this article is not neutral, nor does it actually talk about the conflict in general. Instead, the ‘questions’ are put in way to negatively question one side.  Better questions would be: What are the claims of the two sides to the land? What are the situations for both sides (e.g. living in terror)? This article does not do that.

Instead, this does little to be neutral. It actually makes claims that give little to no consideration to what is happening on the ground nor does it pay homage to the complexity of the problem. There are plenty of bad arguments on both sides (an example of this is when a Palestinian says “we can’t be anti-Semitic, we are Semites), advancing these type of arguments does little to help us understand what is happening there. 

To borrow from Daniel Drezner, this article is unadulterated horses**t.

*Rizvi has a tendency to cast Islam as an inherently racist or bigoted religion that affects his whole analysis. Nor is he the only commentator that does this. But this is a topic for a future post.

Weekly Linkages

Sorry for the late post I’ve been busy with moving. But without delay, here are the weekly linkages.

Aaron David Miller on how Hamas’s survival of Israel’s onslaught makes it a victor in this current round of fighting.

Sri Lanka is cracking down on NGOs.

Does ISIS represent a threat to Pakistan?

Who will be Iran’s next Supreme Leader.

Israel’s strategy of isolating Gaza.

Richard Haass compares the Middle East to Europe in the 17th century.

The response of the Arab States to the current Gaza crisis.

Finally Steven Simon on the U.S.’s options in Iraq.

India and English

Multilingual sign in India. From Wikipedia

 

In a recent article for The Diplomat, Akhilesh Pillalamarri makes the case that India’s promotion of English has negatively affected the quality of education in the country as well as impeded its development. Pillalamarri makes what is a nearly convincing argument that English should be done away with, but ultimately many of his points do not stand up to scrutiny. More importantly, his analysis completely ignores the reason why English was chosen as a lingua franca in the first place. But first, let us deal with the arguments that Pillalamarri has presented.

1) English is not as prevalent as local languages with Hindi serving as the lingua franca in most areas of the country. It is worth nothing that English is the second most spoken language in India with about 125 million speakers in the country (a number expected to quadruple in the next decade). The only language with more speakers is Hindi, with an estimate of 400 million speakers. The regions that Pillalamarri identify as Hindi speaking are the regions with languages already similar to Hindi. Although there are some important differences between the languages of Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, and Gujarati, they also are mutually intelligible to a certain degree. Some of my aunts who are Punjabi and Gujarati (but born outside of India) are able to understand Bollywood movies with some effort despite never formally learning Hindi due to the similarities in the language. Similarly, my siblings and several of my uncles who have never studied Tamil (we can barely speak Malayalam (I’m working on changing that though, keep you fingers crossed)) are able to understand some Tamil movies with some effort as there is some similarity between the languages. The region that Pillalamarri identify as speaking Hindi already have the advantage of having a native language in the same language family. The regions that Pillalamarri identifies as non-speaking areas together contain about half a billion people. Promoting the use of Hindi would effectively put nearly half the country at a disadvantage for national jobs and higher education.

2) The promotion of English decreases the quality of education in India. There are many problems with the Indian education system, the promotion of English is not generally considered one of them. Multiple authors and other experts have discussed the problems with the Indian education system. Between absentee teachers, the lack of encouragement for innovation (so well known that movies have been made about it), and a general lack of accountability (here is a report discussing the problems as well as possible reforms that can be enacted in the education system), there are plenty of problems that plague the Indian education system instead of the English language. Along with the the supposed problems of the teaching of English, one point he makes is that teaching English at such a young age is bad for children. Except most countries teach their students at a very young age. In fact many studies have shown that there is an advantage at a younger age.

3) The use of English has led to the under utilization and under development of Indian intellectual discourse in other languages. This is also questionable of whether English is responsible for this. If an intellectual published some research in Malayalam, how would this be able to spread to the rest of India? Only 38 million people speak Malayalam, preventing it from spreading throughout the country. The reason why intellectual discourse started to be published and carried out in English was because of the spread it had with the elites in India.

As I pointed out above, Pillalmarri does not address the reason why English was adopted in as an official language in the first place. Language politics is an emotional subject in India (indeed in many parts of the world). When it was first proposed to make Hindi the official language, there was strong resistance in multiple parts of India, especially in the south led by the Tamils. By promoting one native Indian language over others, it puts those who do not speak that language at a disadvantage. The promotion of Hindi would also escalate tensions between the North and South (here is a good article on southern perceptions of north Indians) as an attempt by the North to force their culture and lifestyle on others, or even an attempt by the North to marginalize the south. This is not unusual in South Asia.  A major grievance by the Tamils (helped lead to civil war) in Sri Lanka was that the promotion and use of Sinhalese would marginalize the minority Tamils. A similar issue was present in the tensions between West and East (now Bangladesh) Pakistan. English turned out to be a language that served the purpose of a compromise on the issue of official language in India.

That said, there are many valid points in Pillalamarri’s article that should be taken seriously. One is the promotion of native Indian languages on the internet to help encourage access to those who don’t speak English (though it is worth asking whether the lack of internet usage among a large amount of Indians is because of the use of English or other reasons). Another point he makes is whether English will be required for the jobs used by the majority of Indians. Either way, while I do disagree with much of the arguments that he makes, his proposal is one worth considering.

For further details on the use of English in India and why it is helpful for its development, read Imagining India by Nandan Nilekani (also one of the best books on India’s development there is).

 

Update

Akhilesh Pillalamarri has given a followup to his original article. While I do agree that access to services could be better improved by using the local languages, ultimately he rehashes similar talking points to that I have already discussed above.

Weekly Linkages

Talmiz Ahmad, the former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE, discusses the Jihadi reactions to ISIS.

Did Modi miss an opportunity with his first budget?

Tansen Sen argues against the narrative of Indo-China friendship.

Noura Erkat argues that Israel’s war with Gaza is not consistent with international law.

With the new conflict between Israel and Gaza, here are a slew of articles that discusses the new war and its implications.

Sumit Ganguly asks whether Modi will be able to truly separate himself from other Indian Prime Minsters by fixing what ails India.

With the Afghan election presenting massive corruption and fraud, what can be done?

With the deadline for the Iranian nuclear deal approaching, James Traub presents the case for Obama to continue standing up against the hawkish members of congress.

At The Diplomat, Michael Vurens van Es talks about the implications of the Hambantota port being developed.

Why Pakistan should integrate Gilgit-Baltistan.

Over at the Monkey Cage Peter Krause and Ehud Eiran talk about the ‘Price-Tag’ attacks.

Joost Hiltermann discusses the possibility of Kurdish independence.

What can the Modi government do about the Kashmiri Pandits?

Finally, a piece about the use of anti-terrorism laws in the Gulf to crackdown on dissidents.

What is Israel Hoping to Accomplish?

 

Air strikes on Gaza. From JPOST

Unfortunately, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has flared up again, leading to yet another bombing run by Israel on the Gaza Strip, rockets from Gaza into Israel, and revenge attacks against Palestinian civilians in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. This all started due to the kidnapping and murder of 3 Israeli students, culminating in the arrests of hundred of Palestinians, a revenge killing by extremist Israeli soccer fans, and the current bombing happening in Gaza. Of course, this have also been complemented by attacks on Palestinians by police and settlers leading to the deaths of several Palestinians by Israeli security forces during the arrests and search for the murderers. Hamas has praised the kidnapping, though it claims that it had nothing to do with it.

While the people responsible for the kidnapping were in the West Bank and the supposed planner of this kidnapper living in Turkey, Israel has chosen to bomb Gaza in what looks like a case of collective punishment. There has been evidence that the kidnapping was carried out by members of a prominent clan in Hebron. While this clan is nominally aligned with Hamas, they are also known for going against what the Hamas leadership wants. If this is true, why is Israel targeting Hamas? There are two explanations that have been suggested: to dismantle Hamas’s network, and/or to destroy the unity deal. The former explanation is what has been given publicly by Israeli officials. If this is truly their aim, it most likely isn’t going to work. This was Israel’s rationale in their 2008 and 2012 operations, but they failed each time. Of course, Hamas is facing some dire times right now. With the Egyptian and Israeli militaries cooperating more closely to squeeze Hamas and Gaza, Hamas has lost its sources of revenue and military aid. Of course, Iran does still send the group missiles every now and then. But with the borders being sealed and the area carefully watched over, Hamas has been having a difficult time obtaining these weapons.

With the recent unity deal, Hamas has been able to shift the burden of civil expenses onto the Palestinian Authority (PA) and start operating more freely in the West Bank. While critics have argued that the unity deal doesn’t do enough to curb Hamas’s ability to attack Israel, it is also important to remember that Hamas does not hold any key positions within the cabinet of the government. The unity government has also promised to continue the peace negotiations with Israel. If anything, Hamas ordering this kidnapping of Israel is questionable as this would go against their vital interests.

Which brings us to the latter of the two possible explanations: that Netanyahu is trying to put pressure on the new unity government. Israel had originally failed to convince the world powers against recognizing the new government (with India, China, Turkey, and even the US agreeing to cooperate with the unity government). During the search for the missing Israeli students, the PA was perceived as having aided Israel’s arrest of Hamas members in the West Bank, putting a great amount of strain on the new unity deal. Indeed, several analysts have argued that this is what Netanyahu is attempting to accomplish.

But this is short term thinking that will only escalate tensions and possibly lead to a third intifada (uprising). It is no secret that there is a lot of tension between Hamas and the PA. When Hamas and Fatah (the largest faction in the PA) signed an unity agreement in 2011, this was met with skepticism throughout the region. The recent unity government is a surprise, but it does little to address the inherent distrust between the two Palestinian parties. A greater way to insure the breakup of the Palestinian government would have been to let it run their course and see if it broke up. Instead, Netanyahu has elected to choose a path that leads to more suffering for the Palestinian people escalates tensions, and internationally isolates Israel, without any real indication that this will break the unity deal or lead to the dismantling of Hamas.

Weekly Linkages

At Political Violence @ a Glance, a blog post about the rise of Buddhist extremism in Sri Lanka.

How India is responding to China’s recent map changes including Arunachal Pradesh as its own territory.

The effect of the fatwa in Iraq.

Mahmoud Jaraba and Lihi Shitrit on whether the new Palestinian unity deal will survive.

A profile of Gideon Levy, a famous (or infamous depending on your view) Israeli journalist.

An interview with Ayesha Jalal on the Pakistan’s foreign relations.

Will ISIS reaching Jordan be the catalyst for U.S. intervention in the Middle East?

The controversy about foreign investment in India’s arm industry.

Marc Lynch on whether there can be ethical Middle Eastern Political Science.

Are the democrats starting to turn away from Israel?

Finally, is the ISIS crisis in Iraq actually good for Iran?

The Haqqani Network and the Pakistani Offensive

Zarb-e-Azb

 

According to Michael Kugelman at The Diplomat, the Pakistani military has given journalists some indications that it will go after the infamous Haqqani network. Yet Kugelman and Bill Roggio remain skeptical of the willingness of the Pakistani military in going after the Haqqani network. Indeed, if the Pakistani military decided to take action against their proxy, that would signal a major shift in the country’s security strategy towards Afghanistan, if not the region as a whole. If this is true, this would be a significant step to achieving regional stability. However, I happen to agree with Kugelman and Roggio that military action that would significantly affect the capabilities of the group is unlikely to be undertaken by the Pak military. Both authors give their reasons of why they remain skeptical of this new announcement (I will also list some of the reasons why I agree with them).

First, it is noteworthy to look at a similar time when the Pakistani government was forced to crackdown on its proxies. Shortly after the 9/11 and Indian parliament attacks, foreign governments put a great deal of pressure on having the Pakistani government (under Musharraf) to rein in the militants aligned with the military. While Musharraf did go after some of the militants, it was done very selectively. In what is best described as the good jihadi/bad jihadi policy, Musharraf tried to protect groups that he felt could still be utilized against India while cracking down on groups that refused to follow orders. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was the perfect example of this. Despite the fact that the group had participated in the parliament attacks, had aided Al Qaeda, and remained a dangerous and formidable terrorist organization, the group was given warning ahead of time to move their assets and change their name. So while it appeared that the Pakistani government was cracking down on multiple organizations, many of these groups were given a heads up about the crackdown, giving them time to transfer their assets to avoid a loss of capability. (On this case, see Stephen Tankel’s: Storming the World Stage (also one of the best books on LeT there is)).

Similarly, there have been complaints from US officials that the Haqqani Network had already been tipped off by the Pak military before the operation had began, similar to the case above. Roggio even noted in his article of the presence of a good Taliban/bad Taliban issue as even some of the military spokesmen tried to avoid saying that they were attacking like the Haqqani network.

The Haqqani Network today remains one of the best power projection tools that the Pakistani government has in Afghanistan today. Indeed, the group has never overtly attacked the state or has it ever attempted to turn on the state. While the Pak government statements of an inclusive military offensive against all organizations in North Waziristan might have been an attempt to quell Afghani perceptions of a selective crackdown, as well as evidence that the Haqqani Network has been helping both the Pakistani and Afghani Taliban, at the moment the pros outweigh the cons. Indeed, the Haqqani Network garnered a reputation as one of the most dangerous and sophisticated insurgent group operating in Afghanistan today. With the incoming U.S. withdrawal (something that has been making all countries in the region nervous), it would be wise and sensible for the Pakistani government to maintain a link to all their assets that could help them navigate the mess that might arise in the post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Lastly, the Pakistani state is currently under attack from many formerly aligned militant organizations as well as the Pakistani Taliban, creating a formidable and difficult domestic security situation that the country has to deal with. By going after the Haqqani Network, the Pak government will just have created yet another enemy that it will have to deal with in the short term. In that context, the refusal of the Pakistani military not to attack the Haqqani network in the short term future remains a rational decision, all contributing to the fact that any offensive in North Waziristan is unlikely to drastically affect the Haqqani Network.