Jul 28, 2006

What Should Israel Do?

A couple of posters to the comments have asked, basically, what can Israel do?

With an earnest wish that the people of the Middle East, all of them, Israeli, Lebanese, Palestinian, Jew, Arab, Shiite and indifferent find a way to live their lives in peace and harmony; if I were in a position to be able to talk straight to the Israeli leadership and people, here is what I would suggest;

1. First and foremost, stop lying to the world and possibly to yourselves. The number one cause of all the trouble is the occupation of the territories conquered in '67 and all it's attendent evils; walls, apartheid roads, curfews, home-demolitions and most of all the intrusion of settlers. Israel is principally to blame for the situation and is therefore in a unique position to solve it. Stop portraying yourselves as victims, it ill becomes you. Arab terrorism has come about because of Israel's policies; it is a result, not a cause.

2. Start talking to your Arab neighbours instead of bombing them. The Council of Arab States proposed a sensible settlement in 2002, which Israel has so far ignored. Basically it is the old formula of land for peace. It is at least worth talking about, isn't it?

3. Israel should announce it's own goal of achieving a just peace, and hold up the offer of giving back the Occupied Territories. And this should be a genuine offer, to get out of all the West Bank. None of these carping caveats about keeping "major settlement blocs." The settlements are illegal and have no business being there in the first place. (And before anyway says Oslo was such an offer, they should read up on it a bit more.)

4. Israel should demonstrate good faith by immediately announcing a total freeze on new settlements. Further unilateral gestures could include opening all of the West Bank to free internal movement (no checkpoints except at the border with Israel) and withdrawal of the IDF from all areas not absolutely essential to security. Mostly, find ways to make the lives of ordinary Palestinians a little less hellish.

5. Open an international conference to discuss the eventual disposition of Jerusalem as some kind of international zone with protection for all religions.

6. Recognize the democratically elected government of the Palestinians, Hamas or not, and start talking to them.

7. Eventual peace would mean total withdrawal from all occupied territories. All the settlements must go unless the settlers are willing to become Palestinian citizens, and live under Palestinian rule and protection. Israel would still have something like twenty percent more Palestinian land than allowed for by the partition of 1947, but I think the world is willing to wink at that. If any land must be retained for the purposes of secure frontiers, then the Palestinians must be compensated with transfer of other lands; likely from the Galilee which was supposed to be theirs anyway.

With sixty odd years of bitterness behind them, it may be difficult for the parties to easily agree. But the alternative is an endless cycle of violence. The stark fact is that Israel can never in a thousand years fight it's way to lasting security. Negotiation and a willingness to right past wrongs is the only hope for the Jewish state in the long run.

Jul 26, 2006

Welcome Aboard, eh!

It's nice to be able to congratulate the Parliament of Canada for doing the right thing for once.

HH the Dalai Lama is being invested with the honour of becoming an honorary Canadian citizen.

(PS, no disrespect meant by the graphic, but I couldn't help myself!)

Karma and Right View

I often get asked questions about karma. It is instructive to consider where the questioner is coming from. In particular, a common type of question revolves around the mechanism of karma. Some people assume that there must be some conscious agent that judges and metes out karma. This line of thought belongs to the Eternalist view. Others reject the idea altogether, because they just can't imagine a mechanism; the whole thing seems superstitious. This line of thought belongs to the Annhilationist view.

Dealing with the Eternalist first; part of the problem comes from the sloppy use of language when we refer to "good" and "bad" karma. This is not in accord with the Pali which classifies volitional action as "kusala" and "akusala", skilful or unskilful. That puts a whole different slant on things. There is no one to judge your actions as good or bad; they are just inherently skilful or not. It is a mistake to think of karma as some kind of cosmic or divine law-code. It is a law, of a sort, but more akin to the Law of Gravity than the Criminal Code. It is best to think of karma as an unfolding of natural law.

This then raises the objection from the Annihilationist; where is the mechanism for this law? He cannot accept that an action done today may have effects years hence, evcn in a subsequent life-time. This objection comes from a deep-seated materialist bias. Given the assumptions of materialism, then it is insurmountable. But abandon those assumptions and it melts away like dew.

Materialism has been the dominant paradigm of science for at least two centuries. It assumes that matter is the only ontological Real. Mind is considered nothing more than a process of physical interactions.

This is a strange hypothesis, one held by many with dogmatic fervour. It is strange because if you consider the case, it is obvious that the only thing we ever really know or experience directly is our own minds. The material world we access only through our sense doors and the light of consciousness. Materialism denies what is immediately known, and gives exclusive reality only to that which is inferred.

The Buddha was certainly not a materialist, a view which he specifically denounced. He also said that Mind is the forerunner; i.e. Mind is the primary Real.

Given that assumption it is not hard to see how karma works. In the abhidhamma, karma is explained in terms of balancing voltional and resultant mind-moments. For every skilful moment of volition there will be a profitable resultant experienced as sense-impression at some later time.

Given that Mind is primary, if the material universe needs to adjust itself to accomodate these mind-moments, then it does so. We make the world with our minds.

This is not an issue peripheral to the Buddhist Path either. The most common formulation of Right View is as follows;

There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are priests & contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.
Right View, remember, is the first of the Path Factors. I think the Buddha gave this doctrine such central importance precisely because the proper understanding of karma (and rebirth) is essential to find the Middle Ground of the Dependent Origination and to gain freedom from the shackles of the Wrong Views. If one is stuck in either Eternalism or Materialism (Annihilationism) one simply cannot correctly apprehend the void nature of the dhammas and escape from suffering.

Israel hits UN post

Anyone concerned about human values and peace should speak up clearly against what Israel is doing to Lebanon and Gaza. As if things weren't bad enough already, Israel has crossed yet another moral and legal boundary by bombing a UN observer post, killing four unarmed observers, including one Canadian.

Kofi Annan has stated that the attack was deliberate, and it sure looks that way. This was not one stray bomb. Israeli artillery shelled the post for six hours, despite ten telephone calls from the UN team to the Israeli military telling them to cease and desist. The observers were holed up in a hardened bunker, and in the end the Israelis took them out with a precision guided bunker-buster missile. This would require deliberate targetting. Nor is it credible that Israeli intelligence would not know, from the outset, where all the UN posts were located.

The response of our stirling leader, PM Harper, was to defend the Israeli military;

We’re going to want to get all the information before making a judgment,I can tell you that I certainly doubt that [Kofi Annan's allegation] to be the case given that the government of Israel has been co-operating with us in our evacuation efforts and our attempts to move Canadian citizens out of Lebanon and also trying to keep our own troops that are on the ground involved in the evacuation out of harm’s way.

He also pledged to work with the Israeli authorities to get to the bottom of it. Yes, Steve, I'm sure they'll be very helpful. And he had the temerity to put some blame on the UN for leaving the soldiers in "harm's way." In their hardened bunker, with a direct line to the Israeli command, doing the job they were sent there to do.

An Israeli army spokesman was interviewed on CBC radio and when asked specifically about the phone calls, he didn't answer at all but launched into a lengthy rant about the "war on global terror" including the fantastic allegation that Hizbollah, unless stopped now, would soon be lobbing missiles into Europe.

He also stated that this war was forced on Israel. What's that about the first casualty of war? The fact is that the two Israelis captured by Hizbollah were on the Lebanese side of the border.
Entering another country, in uniform and under arms, is an act of war. The incident merely provided a convenient pretext for a campaign which had been in the planning stage for at least a year.

By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board."

More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail. Under the ground rules of the briefings, the officer could not be identified.

It is just common sense that a campaign of this magnitude couldn't be launched at a moment's notice.

Getting back to the UN post; if the attack was indeed deliberate (and it is very hard to escape that conclusion) then that raises the obvious question; why would Israel want to get the observers out of South Lebanon?

Could it be that they have something to hide?

According to Human Rights Watch, Israel is now dropping cluster bombs on Lebanese villages, and have already killed and wounded men, women and children. Meanwhile, the Lebanese Minister of Health says wounded children are suffering from the impact of white phosphorus. The Lebanese president repeated the claim yesterday. As Israel pushes further into Lebanon, it continues to target civilians, in one incident blowing up a house and killing the family inside. A Times reporter has told ABC news that he has witnessed the deliberate targeting of civilians
This is beginning to look a lot like ethnic cleansing.

Jul 23, 2006

But an F-15 is so much shinier than a car-bomb

A related thought I've had about this conflict and the tepid response from the international community and western media to Israel's aggression and the destruction of Lebanon. In a recent post I suggested imagining any other state had done this to it's neighbour. Let's take this one step further; imagine a very well organized and funded terrorist organization had carried out a campaign of bombings delivered by trucks or suicide operatives which, over a period of two weeks, had destroyed power-plants, roads, bridges, petrol stations, factories, private homes and apartments, airports and docks right across some state or country.

Imagine further that the announced reason for this campaign of atrocity was to secure the release of some of their members jailed by the state in question.

The US State Department defines terrorism as follows;

The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant/*/ targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.

(The asterik after "non-combatant" is explained in a foot-note of some length to stretch the term to include soldiers not currently involved in combat operations. )

Invasion of another country, and bombing of it's facilities is surely "politically motivated violence." Why isn't the IDF branded a terrorist organization by the US State Department? (Other then sheer hypocrisy of course)

The key is in the phrase "by sub-national groups." The horror and outrage over terrorism is generally so much greater than the horror over war, not because it is any worse. On the contrary, states tend to have much greater resources for inflicting carnage and suffering than any terrorist cell.

No, the reason goes back to what I've blogged about the nature of the state before. The horror of terrorism comes not from the violence alone, but from the fact that some group has dared to breach the state's sacred monopoly of the use of force.

I used the word "sacred" advisedly. The state is, according to the social contract theory of Hobbes and of the Agganna Sutta, nothing more than a big bully which the people have appointed to keep the other bullies in line. This way of thinking is not congenial to kings and presidents though, and there has been a steady effort over the centuries to sacralize the institution. This is done in various ways; many ancient and even medieval monarchies claimed descent from a god or a god-like human. (cf. the Holy Blood and Holy Grail and it's pop-culture clone, the Da Vinci Code - other examples would be Romulus and Remus and the mythologized George Washington)

At the real human level, there is no ethical difference between a suicide-bomb and a rocket launched from an F-15. Attempts by war apologists to obfuscate the difference fail miserably, and come across as obscene. The families who have lost members to an Israeli air-strike and those who have lost them to a Hizbollah Katyusha feel the same pain.

It's high time we held all parties to the same standards.


Afterthoughts (and links)

It's important to realize that not all Israelis support this aggression. See the web-site of Gush Shalom, an Israeli Peace Movement.

A good article on the Semantics of War; death delivered by euphemism.

The news may be depressing, but some people find a silver-lining.

Statement of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship on the crisis.

What is More Priceless?

When the Sakyans and the Koliyans were on the brink of war over water rights to the Rohini River, the Buddha stepped between the rival armies and asked them, "What is more priceless, water or blood?" and averted the conflict.

This wise admonition suddenly takes on a new relevance. Some bloggers have made a very good case that the real reason for the Israeli aggression against Lebanon is water. (thanks to Cannonfire and Rigorous Intuition for pointing this out)

Israel is in desperate need of fresh water, a commodity in short supply in the region, and has a history of disputes with Lebanon, relatively well supplied, over water rights.

Now the whole thing makes sense. Governments, as a general rule, never state the real casus belli out loud. The ostensible provocations from Hizbollah never accounted for Israel's systematic destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure. The goal of crippling the Lebanese state so that Israel can make a de facto annexation of the south, including the Litani does.

Watch Lebanon collapse back into a chaotic failed state, a fate from which it appeared to be emerging, and Israel announcing the need to retain the south, at least to the Litani, and possibly including a buffer zone on the north, for "security reasons." (the 21st century port-manteau excuse for any atrocity.)