Sunday, January 04, 2009

Israel and Palestine: I Give Up

I've recently come to the conclusion that no lay person can possibly have an informed opinion regarding the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. After this latest flare-up I went looking for commentary on the issue, feeling that I should try to be an informed individual and all that. There's lots of commentary to be had, but in trying to evaluate the various sides of the argument I find that I'm completely out of my depth.

On one hand you have people like Salon's Glenn Greenwald and Fauzia of Feministe arguing that Israel's actions are disproportionate and represent collective punishment of the Palestinian people. On the other you've Eugene Volokh asking in rejoinder what, exactly, Israel should be doing. Normally I'd just go find a neutral source to help me sort things out, but in the case of Israel and Palestine there really doesn't seem to be much in the way of neutral sources.

So far the best exegesis I've seen is a paper by Justus Reid Weiner and Avi Bell (via David Bernstein) which analyzes the conflict from the perspective of international law. Messrs. Weiner and Bell look to have a strong case that Israel is behaving appropriate, but really, who am I kidding? I'm in no way qualified to evaluate their arguments; international law is stupidly complicated and IANAL.

In light of that realization here are some questions to ponder:

  • Is it necessary for lay people to have an opinion on the Israel/Palestine issue? Presumably the world governments which are in a position to actually effect change in the Middle East respond best to pressure from their citizenry, in which case we'd like their citizens to have and voice an opinion on the issue. But the corollary to that statement is that the opinion must be at least reasonably well-informed.
  • What do you do when global issues grow so complicated that its impossible for the average citizen to engage them in an informed manner? The Israel/Palestine situation isn't the issue which fits into the category. I think that global economics fits into this category, and perhaps some aspects of human rights as well. In some sense it seems to indicate that deomocracy may very well collapse under the weight of its own complexity.
Not particularly cheery thoughts, but there doesn't seem to be much in the way of solutions to either of those problems.


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