Strange Deal

Now this really puzzles me.

Israel has just agreed to trade one live prisoner, a Lebanese man by the name of Samir Kantar, for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who had been held hostage by Hezbollah starting in 2006 and were finally killed.

This is a case where a mixed and conflicting group of considerations have to somehow be “summed” to get one result, and that’s tricky. But still, I’m surprised the deal has been accepted.

Kantar is responsible for a horrifying crime. He killed a man in front of his 4-year-old daughter, and then killed the girl by smashing her head to bits. His wife and 2-year-old were in hiding, and the wife accidentally suffocated the baby to stop her from crying out. First thought–the murderer deserves to be punished, not to be released into the arms of his supporters back in Lebanon.

And then there’s the fact that once free, the man stands a chance of doing the same sort of thing. So, second thought—for the sake of deterring future crimes, it’s better for Kantar to remain in prison.

The parents of the two soldiers have suffered unimaginably as Israel has sought their release over the last year and a half. It’s understandable that they would find emotional comfort in the return of the bodies. So, third factor—it’s better for the parents’ wishes to be respected, and they do want the bodies returned.

For people to put themselves in harm’s way for their country, they must be assured of their good being taken extra seriously. Thus, the fourth consideration—it’s especially important how the soldiers and their parents are treated.

It’s traditionally Jewish to take the desecration of the dead as a serious offense, especially among the Orthodox. So, fifth consideration—it’s important for the bodies of the two Jewish soldiers to be sent home for a respectable burial.

But if they are returned, that tells hostage takers that a dead body has just as much bargaining potential as a live body. It surely puts future hostages at greater risk. Sixth—it jeopardizes future hostages to release Kantar in exchange for dead bodies.

I wouldn’t discount any of these considerations. They’re all relevant, but the factors having to do with preventing future deaths (#2 and #6) seem especially important. Putting it all together, I would have thought it was clear as can be that no trade should be made.

Which makes me wonder—what gives? What am I missing? Does this decision make any sense to you?

Leave a comment ?

64 Comments.

  1. In a word Jean, you are missing the wider context which surely is driving this deal. Starting to detach Hezbollah from Iran.

    To get the N.I. peace process this had to be done by all parties: watching the psychos from other side walk (and they are on all sides).

  2. The context might have something to do with politics too. It may be that this deal will help Olmert, who faces several scandals, to rise in the opinion polls.
    I suspect that politicians like Olmert are more interested in their short-term popularity than in the long-term ethical calculus. However, I am far from an expert on Israeli politics.

  3. If, in some future post, you are at a loss for any rationale for the death penalty, you can use this situation. Of course, in this case, torture would have been more appropriate punishment, but a quick death would have made the weird exchange impossible. If they refused to return the two soldiers’ bodies, the dismemberment of the murderer’s body could be threatened. In that part of the world, among a variety of its factions, respect for the dead often exceeds respect for the living.

  4. Eric MacDonald

    Jean, on this matter, you and I see eye to eye. The contextual politics, as you point out, look at it how you will, still says that the exchange should not be made, because the implication still is, that dead people are worth as much as the living. That’s not a message any politician should send to his opponents.

    Perhaps it does have something to do with Olmert’s compromised position, but surely he is not the only one making decisions here.

    In the Northern Ireland peace process, pace Chris, the pschos on all sides may have walked, but I know of no occasion on which the dead were exchanged equally for the living. The decision makes no sense to me, and to suppose that this deal will detach Hezbollah from Iran is wishful thinking. It may happen, but not because of such an unequal exchange.

    As for desecrating the bodies of the deceased. Has this not already happened? To be abduicted, murdered in cold blood, and held for ransom: Does this not amount to desecration?

    As for rtk’s comment that, ‘in that part of the world … respect for the dead often exceeds respect for the living,’ I should have thought that that is often true, not only in that part of the world. Those who have stood and died for a principle are often honoured, and perhaps rightly honoured, above those who have not lifted a finger to defend it.

  5. While the act described above is a particularly horrid example of killing, is it so different than the targeted assassinations done by the Israelis, missiles fired from helicopters at supposed terrorists, which usually kill a few innocent Palestinians civilians, inculding children? Maybe the Israeli government, on some level, senses that it is war of ruthlesss killers against ruthless killers, as are most wars, and that it’s more important to bury the dead. After all, the Israeli helicopter pilots who fire the missiles will return to kill the next day just as will a Palestinian terrorist. Finally, let’s not forget that Israel illegally occupies the West Bank.

  6. Eric MacDonald

    But, Amos, Jean’s point was about this particular deal; that is, whether exchanging soldiers’ bodies for a known psychopathic killer sends the right message, or achieves any of the reasonable goals that Israel might have in making the deal.

  7. michael reidy

    (1) Samir will not die in his bed. Mossad will see to that.
    (2) It is a message of contempt, dead Israelis are worth more than a live terrorist.
    (3) In previous swops many more Palestinians were swopped for a few Israelis.
    http://www.counterpunch.org/assad07142006.html

    (4) The body count of the Israelis in all categories is much higher. Since the 2nd. Intefada of the 971 children killed 88% have been Palestinian.
    http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/0a2a053971ccb56885256cef0073c6d4/be07c80cda4579468525734800500272!OpenDocument

    This conflict is only beginning. Peace with justice demands that there be a single shared unitary state. It happened in South Africa and it will happen there. Illegal settlements are an unconscious recognition of this.

  8. Yes, I think this deal was odd, whether or not Israel commits moral crimes on a par with Palestinian terrorists. I don’t see the relevance of that. Israel by all means takes the crimes of Samir Kantar very seriously, but is prepared to trade him (alive) for two dead bodies.

    I have a feeling the weight most Israelis give to my 6 “considerations” is just very different than it is for me, and I’d like to at least understand that. (Apparently this deal had wide support.) There must be a need to rescue these two soldiers, even after the point when they could be rescued. What I wonder is why was that is so central, and future hostages less so, and why the survivor of the horrific crime has less salience? (She said she was “devastated” by the decision.) It makes no sense to me, but I have a feeling that knowing what it’s like to be an Israeli is something like knowing what it’s like to be a bat (if you know the famous Thomas Nagel article!)

    rtk–It really is pretty amazing that Israel doesn’t have the death penalty.

  9. Eric: I simply don’t accept the way the question is framed. It’s framed from the Israeli point of view.
    While Israel’s security is a legitimate issue, so is that of the Palestinians. For all I know the man who you call a psychopathic killer may be an important member of Hizbollah. He must mean something to Hizbollah or they would not make the deal. Is he more psychopathic than someone who from his computer screen sends a missile which destroys a house in Gaza where a supposed terrorist and totally innocent civilians are present? Why is low tech killing seen as psychopathic terrorism and high tech killing seen as a legitimate surgical strike, with unfortunate collateral damage (the dead children)?
    I’m not interested in Israel’s messages: my interest is a just peace in the Middle East. If you want to talk about that, fine. There are wrongs on both sides, to be sure. Actually, perhaps releasing this prisoner is a gesture of good will on the part of the Israelis, which could be a first step towards a first step towards peace.

  10. quote JK: –It really is pretty amazing that Israel doesn’t have the death penalty.

    If only their civilized attitude toward killers were expanded to plain ordinary anonymous citizens of different persuasions! Perhaps those in charge of the courts should be given government responsibilities.

  11. Jean: Israel has the death penalty: it’s called “targeted assassination”. I’m genuinely sorry about the wife’s grief, but I don’t see why her grief is any more relevant than the grief of any Palestinian woman or any Lebanese woman (the quantity of civilian deaths during Israel’s attack on Lebanon last year). If being an Israeli like being a bat, what is being a Palestinian like?

  12. I didn’t take my post to show any special sympathy for Israel vs. Palestinians. The deal simply puzzled me. I suppose I could have pondered why Hezbollah is willing to trade two dead bodies for a live member serving several life sentences in Israel…but there’s no puzzle there. It’s obviously in their best interests.

    Re: bats. Sorry, obscure reference to a philosophy of mind article that says you can’t know what it’s like to be a bat…or any other animal. I often think it’s just as hard to know what it’s like to be a human being in a very foreign situation. Israelis are certainly in a foreign situation, but so are lots of people.

  13. Baby Killer: Hero to the Arabs
    Israel has just handed a huge victory to Hizbullah and to the world-wide jihadist movement. Israel has agreed to swap a notorious baby killer, and other terrorists, for the corpses of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

    Baby killer Samir Quantar, not surprisingly, is a hero to the Arab world. Because he crushed a Jewish child’s skull with a rock, because he made the Jewish father watch this bloody deed and then murdered the father, he has become a symbol to the Arab world of their jihad against Israel, against Jews.

    Do not fool yourselves that this a “moral victory” for Israel.

    This is self-righteous nonsense and deeply delusional.

    Moral victories like this result in jubilation in every Arab capital and the guarantee that more Jewish babies will be murdered in cold blood; more Jews will be kidnapped, tortured and murdered by jihadists.

    Moral victories like this swap are part of the incremental steps that lead a society to collapse from within.

    Moral victories like this reward the IslamoNazis for every atrocity—past and future. It’s called positive reinforcement.

    When Israel—a land under siege by genocidal enemies—makes national security decisions based on tragic individual cases, that society is doomed because her enemies will move forward, emboldened, to exploit this weakness again and again and again.

    We know that Hamas, and Hizbullah, Persia’s proxie, are celebrating this infamous deal. But take notice that Fatah, the “moderate” terrorist gang, are also publicly celebrating this human monster’s deed and release.

    So, sure, go ahead, keep negotiating with the Holocaust denier Mahmoud Abbas, and then hand over East Jerusalem to Fatah.

    According to Smadar Haran, her last memories of Danny and Einat, that day, were when they were being led away at gun point by Kuntar. She could hear from her closet space Danny telling Einat, “Don’t be scared, my baby, it will be alright” and Einat replied to him in her little voice, “Dad, where is Mommy? I want Mommy.” Smadar’s last memory of her 2-year-old daughter, Yael, was when her little daughter was taken to the apartment hiding space. Right before Yael had her mouth covered by her mother, she asked her mother “Where is my little pacifier.” There was no time to search for the pacifier. Minutes later Smadar covered Yael’s mouth to keep her from revealing the hiding space. Smadar soon felt her daughter’s tiny tongue licks and lip sucking on the palm of her hand. She didn’t know what to make of it at first but hours later was told by doctors and paramedics that the reason Yael was licking her palm while she covered her mouth was because she was gasping for air.

    After drowning Danny in the sea in front of little Einat, Kuntar, the brave Lebanese freedom fighter, then turned his attention towards the frightened little 4-year old. He took his rifle and then swung it across the little toddler’s head, knocking her to the ground. As little Einat was knocked to the ground, she was screaming and crying hysterically “mommy daddy help me,” while thrashing her little legs around in the sand. But unfortunately Einat was alone, and no one was there to save her. Kuntar then dragged the little toddler a couple of feet to the closest rock he could find, this was while she was begging him not to hurt her. Kuntar, then laid her head down on a rock, with the intention of crushing it with the butt of his rifle. Einat, instinctively covered her head with her little arms, Kuntar struggled with the little toddler until he finally managed to clear her arms out of the way so that he could aim for her head. Once her arms were out of the way, Kuntar proceeded on beating her on the head over and over with the butt of his rifle, and repeatedly stomping on her little body as hard as he could as well, until blood rushed out of her ears and mouth, and her little cries faded away as she was knocked into unconsciousness. Then, to ensure she was dead, Kuntar continued on beating her over the head, as hard as he could, several more times until her skull was crushed and she was dead.

    http://SamirKuntar.net

    .

  14. Mr.Author: I followed your link and read the whole page. No one would disagree that the horror is unimaginable even when presented in detail. I expected to find advice or suggestions or recommendations at the end of the narrative. Clearly you agree with the blogger that this is a strange deal, but with so much knowledge of it, isn’t there more you can say? What do you think should be done that will lead to a halt of such atrocities, no matter who is the instigator and who the responder and, for that matter, who is killing as a response to the response which was in itself a response and so on without end?

  15. I imagine that the survivors of the massacre of Sabra and Shatila have similar stories to tell. Sorry, but I find it very positive that Israel and Hizbollah are conversing. If Nixon and Kissinger could sit down and chat with Mao Tse Tung, I don’t see why Israel and Hizbollah can’t deal with one another.

  16. the third and fifth factors seem to enable the 6th factor…. Underlying the 3rd and 6th factor…. a duty to dead people? heh… I think, Jean, you know why I would back you up on the silliness of this deal.

  17. Amos, I find it strange that you interpret the recounting of this murder as part of an atrocity competition, so you’ve got to restore fairness by calling attention to atrocities on the other side. The murder is part of the background you have to understand to think about this trade. The trade strikes me as interesting, because of the way so many different factors come into play, and the way they conflict. And because Israel’s decision strikes me as so odd.

    Certainly it would be interesting to think about the tactics on both sides and whether terrorism is especially evil, compared to the various things Israel does, and all the “collateral damage” that results. But it wasn’t my intention, and you’d be wrong if you thought I had some rosy outlook on Israel.

    Mr Author, Don’t know that you’re really aiming for dialogue here, but you’re perspective is interesting. Especially the part about how we are meant to see Israel’s position as a “moral victory.” (!!)

    Wayne, I think it’s the attitude toward dead bodies that I find so striking here (well, one of the things). I’m not ready to disregard dead bodies altogether, but I’m amazed that anyone would give them so much importance. That (consideration 5) seems to be playing a huge role here.

  18. Jean: Sorry, if I misinterpreted your intention. The trade probably has something to do with internal Israeli politics and more to do with probing the possibility of a dialogue/negotiation with Hizbollah.
    The terms of the trade are bizarre, but the fact that they are trading is much more significant than what they are trading. Consideration 5 is important for internal political reason in Israel, but I suspect that it is a pretext for opening a channel of communication with Hizbollah. The Israelis, in my opinion, are realistics, pragmatic, have lived as “bats” far too long to believe the “axis of evil” bullshit, “we” don’t talk to terrorists bullshit, that Bush, from his safe distance, pushes. Remember that both Israel and Hizbollah “lost” last year’s war. Israel “lost” because they could not destroy Hizbollah, and Hizbollah “lost” because they got the shit bombed out of them. So probably both sides, Israel and Hizbollah, would like to talk. There are certainly other factors involved.
    As Chris says above, the Israelis may be trying to detach Hizbollah from Iran, that is, isolate Iran, who they see as their number one enemy in the region.

  19. I also like the fact that there’s none of this pristine “we don’t talk to terrorists” business. But still…you could talk about all sorts of things. This deal seems like a non-starter, but I have the feeling there are deep cultural and religious feelings involved that I just can’t tap into. Surely there’s a better way than this to get on better terms with Hezbollah.

  20. Samir Kantar will not be alive today if he had smashed the head of a 4 y/o girl(Israeli). He was simply a freedom fighter and a hero (a terrorist in the the eyes of the west). Samir can never be a match for the crimes of those who escaped the chambers.

    Long Live Israel

  21. michael reidy

    The idea that Israel is a rightous judge assesing the weight of various ethical factors has no basis. They are suiting themselves. This will not be an incentive for Palestinian fighters to kill their captives as previous deals involving prisoner exchange show. Burial of the dead gives some closure at least.

  22. Much of this discussion so far has been a violation of the philosopher’s discipline to keep to topic. Jean’s puzzlement was based on a particularly heinous crime, the release of its perpetrator for corpses, and the kinds of cultural-political stances that could make such an exchange seem rational and acceptable.

    Instead she has been answered by (often off-topic) political bias, partisan rhetoric, and a lack of understanding of the opposed interpretations of historical events emphasized by both sides to the conflict. In other words, facile cant productive of the circularity that has polarized debate on this issue for decades.

  23. Brian: an ethical question such as the one proposed by Jean is not a thought experiment in a graduate philosophy seminar and cannot be isolated from its political context. Since you consider that what has been said so far is “facile cant”, perhaps you can enlighten us as to what the solution is to the
    problem of the Middle East. We await your words of wisdom with eager curiosity as do statesmen the world over. I’m sure that your affirmations will be breaking news on the CNN.

  24. Brian, Well, I guess I was playing with matches, or something…but thanks! There’s something intriguing about the tirades, even though you’re right they’re off topic.

  25. But Amos, the post wasn’t the least bit about “the solution to the problem of the Middle East.” That’s exactly Brian’s point.

    You’re right it’s not just a thought experiment, and I was asking “what am I missing”…so it’s good to get into other relevant issues. The key word there is “relevant.”

  26. I’d like to simplify the situation. Man shoots child. Mother says Give me her body and I’ll give you another bullet. Man shoots other child. Mother says Give me his body and I’ll give you another bullet.

    Isn’t that what’s happening? Is that not a Strange Deal? It’s natural, I think, for the comments to continue to the subject of what would not be a strange deal. The answer, of course, is talking without such exchanges. Talking is good. Yes, Amos, even Nixon did it. It is well documented that people kill each other less frequently while they are sitting at a table talking than when they’re not talking.

    I have some other ideas about what to do, but I will wait until that’s the topic. (said demurely with hands in lap)

  27. I have some other ideas about what to do, but I will wait until that’s the topic. (said demurely with hands in lap)

    It’s a free country…as we say here in the US.

  28. Jean: I’m aware that the blog isn’t about the solution to the problem in the Middle East, but as I said, it isn’t a thought experiment that can be considered in isolation: the situation has to be put in its political context, which is the problem of the Middle East. Perhaps next time if you want to consider abstract ethical or metaethical issues, you can talk about a country X or situate the problem on another planet. As to talking about strange things, I recall that in the first few months of the peace talks between the U.S. and North Viet Nam, they discussed the shape of the table. That enfuriated me at the time, since I wanted them to end the war as soon as possible, but I suppose that it was a way of feeling the other party out, of seeing if he or she could be trusted in small details, of learning who was who, etc., before beginning the work of negotiating a peace agreement. I hope that this is a beginning for Hizbollah and Israel.

  29. michael reidy

    Brian:
    Who are you talking about? Be more specific. Come to the point. Grasp the deictic moment.

  30. Eric MacDonald

    Oh, dear, I’ve missed so much of the discussion. Just a brief comment in response to Amos. I didn’t think it was ‘from the Israeli point of view’. If anyone exchanges dead bodies for freeing a raving lunatic to go on with his lunacy, no matter who, that’s a strange deal.

    Of course, there’s all sorts of questions about the relation between Israel and the Arab states. There’s a nice bit in a recent Der Spiegel article about anti-Jewish propaganda imported from Egypt, and about the increase in Muslim anti-Jewish violence and propaganda (it sounds like Nazi propaganda) in Germany; but it’s just as prevalent amongst Palestinians. This is pretty long-standing stuff. It’s in the Qur’an even. So, we could have a disucssion about Israel and the Palestinians, if someone writes an essay about it that we can comment on.

    Meanwhile, isn’t it a strange deal? Whatever you think of the Arab-Israeli issue? It’s not a question of talking. It’s a question of talking about what? About releasing a know sociopath in exchange for dead soldiers? Will not someone else turn up dead, just because this exchange was made? If we want to talk about something else, well, as Jean says, ‘it’s a free country’ (well, it depends!), but isn’t it strange?

  31. michael reidy

    Eric MacDonald wrote:

    Meanwhile, isn’t it a strange deal? Whatever you think of the Arab-Israeli issue? It’s not a question of talking. It’s a question of talking about what? About releasing a know sociopath in exchange for dead soldiers? Will not someone else turn up dead, just because this exchange was made? If we want to talk about something else, well, as Jean says, ‘it’s a free country’ (well, it depends!), but isn’t it strange?

    It’s not in the least a strange deal for the sufficent reason that it’s been done before. It also contains within it the curious mathematics of the Israeli mindset viz. that any number of Palestinian prisoners is worth some dead Israelis and if the Israelis happen to be alive as is Shalid then the swap is enhanced and even more Palestinians will be offered including the 29 years in captivity Samir. After that length of time I imagine that he is not much of a threat and one more enemy adds no great load. For Olmert it is a distraction from his penchant for expensive fountain pens and watches and gives the Israelis a chance to appear more humane than their enemies despite the cluster bombs that lie in the ground to kill and disable.

    Really the whole thing is quite intelligible if you begin with the concept that Israeli lives or even dead Israelis are vastly more important than the lives of their enemies. No law of talion there.

  32. Eric: As I asked above, why is a low tech killer called a sociopath (your word) and a high tech killer, someone who pushes a button on a computer and destroys a house which contains a supposed terrorists and inevitably, the rest of his extended family, not to mention a few people passing by, seen as a normal civilized human being?

    I don’t doubt that there is anti-semitic propaganda in the Muslim world. Even in Chile, Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are sold, along with lots of esoteric literature, on all street bookstalls. Every Jew (and I’m Jewish) gets used to the fact that lots of people don’t like Jews, and some people like us too. Jews don’t seem to leave anyone indifferent: people generally have a stereotyped opinion, either favorable or negative, about Jews.

  33. The mindset of the Israelis? Their curious mathematics? A little stereotyping, wouldn’t you say?

    Just the word Jew or Israeli is enough for torrents of prejudice to come pouring out of even in the most esoteric closets.

    It is being stated here that no behavior, however shocking, should be considered strange if it comes from those people with their singular mindset. I’m appalled.

  34. Yes, Amos, it is odd that we call the killer of one or two a sociopath but the person who pushes the button to kill a thousand is not. Clearly, sociopath is not a description of the destruction he has caused, but of his psyche. There’s no angry energy in button pushing, but the viciousness required to smash in a child’s head is beyond imagination, sociopathic indeed. The button pusher is lacking something important in his brain; the sociopath has too much of what shouldn’t be there in the first place. That’s my guess, anyhow.

  35. michael reidy

    rtk:
    It’s also a matter of stamp collecting. We have all these Hamas mayors in detention without trial and we’ll throw in all this other stuff. It’s a good deal, we can’t help it if we’re completists. We need Shalid for our ‘No one left behind collection’. It would be bad-minded of me to suggest that detention without trial is a form of hostage taking but the sums, the sums.

    The fog of strangeness is only present in the utilitarian drawing room.

    amnesty report

  36. mr: That’s the disadvantage of no death penalty. No one would accuse the Palestinians of stamp collecting. Besides, the Israelis are rank amateurs at detention without trial. They have a lot to learn from the U.S.

  37. No dismissive accusation of reducing Jeans’s question to an an academic “thought experiment” alters my charge against those who hijacked her topic for use as a forum to air their political views.

    I never claimed to have answers to the Middle East crisis , but neither did I consider it the point of Jean’s post. That I found most of the responses categorizable as the same arguments that have proved nonproductive of a fair peace in the region, is itself irrelevant, of course, and open to refutation — in a different context.

  38. michael reidy

    Brian:

    If you say that again it will be true. That’s the Tweedeldum rule.

    Suppose Jean was excercised by the problem of the utility of dead bodies and was taking Israel as an example where the folly of regarding them as having utility was demonstrated. Perhaps in her view it is axiomatic that bodies have no preferences and therefore do not enter into the ethical sum. Others may consider that as a controlled explosion of the preference theory and urge that as a matter of fact in many places around the world the retrieval of the disappeared is a central element in the peace process. eg. Ireland, Argentina etc, etc. We may also urge that they go to the occasional funeral and wake and acquaint themselves with the follies of the human heart.

    However the OP was about strangeness in Israel so that colours responses.

  39. “However the OP was about strangeness in Israel so that colours responses.”

    Which was my point, Michael Reidy, that conversation should have confined itself to Israeli culture at war and how that internal cultural conflict coloured and could possibly make meaningful the decision to trade a pathological murderer for dead soldiers. Until that issue was addressed, the move to political grandstanding was just that.

    The political/cultural backdrop of the murders was obvious, increasing both the chances of a repeat offense by one so bent and the questions surrounding his release. But the facts suggest these were not inherently political murders on a par with the bombing of innocent populations by Israeli planes or explosive-laden Palestinians.

    On another note: the level of snarkiness that has entered into discourse here of late is fast becoming tiresome. As Ophelia responded recentty to another individual’s rudeness: “Keep a civil tongue in your head(s)” to which I add: “and to topic”.

  40. there are missing bodies from the past few decades in Northern ireland that people have been trying to recover. I think they’ve tried to make deals like this, but i’m not sure it ever worked.

  41. Brian: You were the first one to change the otherwise courteous tone of this conversation with your phrase “facile cant”. If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out, my friend. I suppose it’s the moderator, Jean, who decides which posts are acceptable and which are not.

  42. Whew! And I thought I was the one who was supposed to sit in the corner or say a few Hail Whoevers.

  43. Amos, surely you cannot be serious that my characterizing the off-topic, political “tirades” following Jean’s post as “facile cant”* was discourteous? By what stretch of the imagination does “facile cant” even approximate, much less call for: “…We await your words of wisdom with eager curiosity as do statesmen the world over. I’m sure that your affirmations will be breaking news on the CNN.”?

    If the actual vocabulary of criticism cannot be used on this forum without offense being taken and eliciting wounded sarcasm, what is the point? I am hardly thinned-skinned for insisting on the right to argue – even strenuously – and expecting the same in return, free of childish retort (…”if you can’t take it don’t,dish it out” – good grief).

    Taking my remarks personally, though they named no one and clearly applied to a particular stream of off-topic argument, is ridiculous and nearly as distracting as the arguments which prompted them.
    ______________________________

    *Merriam-Webster: Facile
    1 a (1): easily accomplished or attained (2): shallow, simplistic b: used or comprehended with ease c: readily manifested and often lacking sincerity or depth

    *Answers.com: Cant
    1.Monotonous talk filled with platitudes.
    2.Hypocritically pious language.
    3.The special vocabulary peculiar to the members of an underworld group; argot. Cant See Shelta.
    4.Whining speech, such as that used by beggars.
    5.The special terminology understood among the members of a profession, discipline, or class but obscure to the general population; jargon. See synonyms at dialect.

  44. OT:
    Which brings to mind that wonderful famous scene from Taxi Driver when De Niro looks in the mirror and says…..well, you know the rest, of course.

  45. michael reidy

    Brian wrote:

    Taking my remarks personally, though they named no one and clearly applied to a particular stream of off-topic argument, is ridiculous and nearly as distracting as the arguments which prompted them.

    Brian, you need to stop being mysteriously allusive, name the guilty parties. I did my best for you by uncovering the utilitarian theme. Would you consider the swap a reductio ad absurdum of preference utilitarianism? We still don’t know what you think on the matter. Poor Amos is half afraid he may get lines.

    Chris:
    Some bodies were found, others not. At night a patch of beach is much like any other.

  46. Brian: Well, now you know that Jean’s blogs attract thin-skinned wimpy types like myself. The “take no prisoners” set post in Butterflies and Wheels. However, to avoid an escalating spiral of ill will, such as plagues the Middle East and even some blogs, let’s shake virtual hands and raise a virtual glass of wine to courteous conversation, friendship, and good will, even when we disagree about ideas, in this blog. Peace. Amos

  47. Eric MacDonald

    This topic must be played out, right?

    There’s no question, Israel-Palestinian relations are an insoluble problem. At least, we’re not going to solve them here. In fact, just reading over the exchanges shows why. There seems to be no common way of looking at the situation.

    I think to myself — and you have to forget a lot of history, I suppose, to think like this — if I had been a citizen of a small country with a shaky start, that all my neighbours wanted to wipe of the map — notice all my neighbours, not just one or two — then perhaps I’d feel the same way as the Israelis do about their situation, and I’d fight as fiercely as possible. I’d probably hang on to the West Bank too, because the problem with the other wars with Israel is that the country could be cut in two pieces so easily, by an armoured column striking a few miles from the West Bank to the sea. And so it makes sense to me that Israel has defended itself so fiercely, and has retained some control over the West Bank. The religious nut cases there are a fortunate accident of history from the Israeli point of view. But what else would you have them do? Just give up and walk away? How could they do that?

    But, as so many have pointed out, this is not the point of this thread. This was a simple case where an exchange of a prisoner for some dead soldiers didn’t make sense. Still doesn’t to me. And unless the Israelis know something we don’t, I suspect they got the worst part of the deal. But so far as I know, this is all that Jean said. And to talk about pushing buttons, or the imagined psychology of the Israelis, where one Israeli is worth hundreds of Palestinians, is simply irrelevant so far as I can tell. Unless we know a lot more about the motivation of the Israeli government, there’s not a lot more to be said than that this is a bit strange. How strange? Ask the Israelis!

  48. Eric: Isn’t that what makes the problem of the Middle East so genuinely tragic: that it’s so easy to see the logic and sense behind both the Israeli and the Palestinian position?

  49. Amos – I raise my glass to you in friendship. I am also in agreement with with you regarding the intractable tragedy of this conflict where both parties have legitimate claims and grievances.

    Eric, I think you may be right. No amound of outsider conjecture on our part is probably going to get very far in making sense of the Israeli decision. It strikes me that perhaps this is the reason the discussion so quickly moved in the direction it did. In fairness, where else could it have gone – except, perhaps, silent – given its strangeness so clearly articulated by Jean?

  50. Eric MacDonald

    Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.

  51. Looks like I’ve missed some excitement while traveling home for July 4. (By way of Gettysburg and Amish country….interesting use of horse-drawn plows…maybe it’s time for another chat here about the simple life?)

    Re: moderating. Hey, it’s a blog, and supposed to be spontaneous and fun. If a topic drifts, so be it. But then, if I’m being criticized and the points being made strike me as irrelevant, well, it makes sense to point that out.

    Michael, I don’t think I’ve committed the sin (?) of Utilitarianism to arrive at the conclusion this is a strange deal. I listed 6 considerations, and said they all had some weight in my own mind. Several of them wouldn’t “count” at all from a Utilitarian perspective. For example–#1. Retribution for the murders. “Desert” is not a kosher Utilitarian concept. Also #5–the thought that the bodies shouldn’t be desecrated. I’m not discounting any of the six considerations. It’s the weighting that surprises me–the deal gives a lot of weight to #5 and very little to #1. And less to questions of deterrence than I’d expect.

  52. Eric MacDonald

    Amos — of course this is off topic — but… I still can’t see the Palestinian point of view as equal. Let me put it quite bluntly. If, at the time that Israel was founded, the Arab world had welcomed Palestinians (who were then, really, Jordanians) into their midst, and had allowed them to resettle, perhaps this whole sad history would have been different. But the Arab world at the time was determined to drive Israel into the sea, and used the Palestinians as pawns in a power game, until their mythology was so strongly rooted that probably nothing, now, can root it out.

    At the same time, though, Jews in the Arab world found themselves unwelcome, and were forced by fair or foul means to move to Israel. The numbers were about equal — numbers of Palestinians evicted from their homes in Palestine, numbers of Jews evicted from Arab lands. It is, indeed, a very sad, difficult situation, but the moral equations still don’t come out equal on each side, having followed this for the last fifty years or so.

    Of course, we could blame it all on the British and the French, if we like, and say that it is simply unfinished colonialist business. That’s the way the Arab world tends to see it. Israel is a European or Crusader state. Combine that with the historic deep anti-Jewishness of Islam, and Jewish determination to keep their homeland — as I say, where would you like them to go? — there’s no clear solution in sight.

    I think the religious dispute is at the heart of the exhange that Jean speaks about. Leaving their dead soldiers behind in Muslim hands is, that is, in the hand of those who despise Israel and Judaism so much, I suspect, a far greater concern than, anything an older psychopath might do. But I still insist that the Israeli position, though indeed morally compromised by some of the terrible things that they have felt forced to do in order to defend their small homeland, cannot be compared to the actions of a psychopath or sociopath (I’m not quite sure what the difference is).

  53. michael reidy

    Jean:
    I thought that Utilitarianism was a catch all scheme. Samir is prevented from excercising his preference for killing Israelis, while they prefer to be alive and bury their dead with due honour. That they value more a few Israelis alive or dead over any number of Palestinians is consistent with the general lack of proportionality which they are famous for.
    One reads that rich Israelis live out their retirement in Europe while the latest generation that can hold dual citizenship do so. It’s winding down for them at this stage in world history: a Protestant state for a Protestant people, a White country for a White people and a Jewish State for a Jewish People is no longer tenable. They will make a good deal while they still can. Like the demise of Communism it will happen quite quickly in the end.

    What Utilitarianism could compute the actions of Antigone?

  54. Well sure, you could look at the whole thing through the prism of preference Utilitarianism, but I didn’t. It’s not a “catch all scheme”–it’s a particular moral theory.

    “They will make a good deal..” I hope so. It’s going to be a two-state deal, by the way. There is no chance whatever of anything else. Obviously, there has to be a Jewish state not because every group gets to have their own state. It’s (duh!) because of the Holocaust.

  55. Eric: The original Zionist project was to establish a Jewish state, not one in which Arabs and Jews would live as equals. In fact, Israel is a Jewish state, in which Arabs are second-class citizens, none of which justifies Palestinian terrorism of course. I’m not the first person to observe that the Palestinians would have had much more success in their struggle if they had used non-violent methods, as Gandhi did.
    For a Palestinian who lost his lands, the fact that the Jews who drove him out of his village were themselves victims of the Holocaust or even refugees from other Arab countries means little. The Palestinians have a right to a homeland; the Israelis have a right to one too. I agree with what Jean says above, that it’s a two state deal, simply because there’s too much accumulated hatred and distrust for Jews and Arabs to construct a state together.

  56. Eric MacDonald

    Amos, I should just let this go, but it’s hard you know. I mean, get real. Have you read the history of this whole thing? Sure, the Zionists wanted to found a state, where Jews couldn’t be kicked around, as they were everywhere else, including amongst Muslims throughout the Middle East and North Africa. So, you have to get real about this. Some Palestinians lost their homes. Yes they did, and so did thousands of Jews. But throughout the whole story the Palestinians didn’t say they wanted a twin state. They said they wanted to push the Jews into the sea. It’s a very sad story, but it’s not as simple as you make it seem. Of course, there must be a two state solution, but not only the Palestinians, but the Saudis and the Syrians and the Egyptians and everyone else has to agree too. And so far, the only agreement has been from the Egyptians. This thing could have been settled a long time ago, but for years, simply years, the Arab states have been using Palestinian arabs as pawns in this whole affair. It’s simply not as simple as you make it sound. But, of course, a two state solution will have to be found, which is very difficult, given the fact that all these years of standoff have given fundamentalist Jews more than a foothold on the West Bank. So, your guess is as good as mine. I don’t expect to see this thing settled in my lifetime.

  57. Eric: Pressure from the U.S. can get a peace settlement in the Middle East. Clinton came close, but then Sharon came to power, then Bush, and Israel signed up in the endless war on terror. Perhaps Obama will retake the role that Clinton did, of mediating between Israelis and Palestinians. Still 8 years of intifada and Israeli repression haven’t helped the road towards peace. The psychological climate is worse than in 2000. By the way, one error in your statement: Israel has a peace agreement with Jordan as well as with Egypt.

  58. Eric MacDonald

    Amos, thanks for the correction. Yes, Jordan as an agreement too with Israel. And, yes, the parties have come close. I’m not too sure that we can blame the failure of that on Sharon. However, since we’re not going to solve this, and since it’s really way off topic, perhaps we can let it go now. Thanks for the discussion.

  59. The fact has not changed in the past 60 years: The death of an Israeli is a murder while the death of a thousand palestinians is unfortunate(at the very most).

  60. michael reidy

    kai kelani:
    What you are saying is not correct. Very many people including some very brave Israelis realise what is being done to the Palestinians is profoundly wrong. Soldiers are refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. The European media is critical of Israel and in general sees America’s continued support as a function of some fundamentalist Christian theory of the End Days. That support is preventing the resolution of the conflict.

  61. Kal Kelani: “Murder” refers to the non-ethical killing of another human being. The criteria for what constitutes murder are exactly the same for an Israeli as for a Palestinian. For example, the killing of civilians, be they Palestinians or Israelis, is murder or homicide. There is intentional and non-intentional homicide. Intentional homicide is considered to be a more serious ethical violation than non-intentional homicide. The killing of an armed enemy soldier, be he or she in uniform or not, during an armed conflict is not considered to be homicide, but an act of war.
    Actually, during the last 60 years the Palestinian cause has received increasing attention in the media and among human rights organizations.

  62. amos, michael:

    have you watched a missle coming down to target one individual on a busy street in one of the most populated place in the world and disintegrating eight by-standers and leaving twice as many crippled? This (non- intentional homicide) along with other daily practices were condemned by the UN over 65 times since 1990 but vetoed by the US in favor of israel. It is my perception that the life of an israeli is far more valuable than that of a non-israeli per the standard of the west. one can realize why when walking by the national museum of the holocaust in the capital of the us.

    long live israel

  63. Kal Kelani: I’m not at all sure that the civilian deaths caused by Israeli missiles can be classifed as non-intentional. I suspect that the Israelis know that they are going to kill and cripple Palestinian civilians and that part of their strategy is what is called state terrorism. Now, the Holocaust Museum (which I’ve never visited, since I live in Chile) has nothing to do with Israel. First of all, the Holocaust involved not only Jews, but also homosexuals, gypsies, communists, the mentally ill, people with certain diseases. Second, the Holocaust should make all Jews (I am Jewish) and people in general more aware of the horror that mass violations of human rights involve and therefore, of the suffering of the Palestinians whose human rights are being violated by Israel. For the point of view of an Israeli pacifist and lifelong friend of the Palestinians, check out Uri Avnery’s excellent website. Shalom, Amos

  64. amos:

    thanks for the web site. shalom.

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