DOCUMENTARY RECORD VS. RECORDING DOCUMENTARIES

Sam Harris riffs off Alan Dershowitz:

The reality is that the Israelis, for all their faults, have been more restrained in their use of force than the U.S. has—if for no other reason than that they are more vulnerable to world opinion. Every Palestinian child the IDF kills inches Israel ever closer to the brink of exile from the community of nations. Thus, when four children are blown up on a beach in Gaza by an Israeli missile, one thing should be absolutely clear: The missile went astray. Children were not the target because, even by the most self-interested and cynical calculus, killing Palestinian children is disastrous for Israel.

This is a very weak argument in its own terms. Occupying powers have often resorted to force against civilians to maintain their rule. Terror can have significant pedagogical value, as Israeli officials have long recognised, and while fear of international censure sets limits on the havoc Israel can profitably wreak, international opposition is not so massive and mobilised as to foreclose Israel’s abuse of force altogether. Indeed, Operation Protective Edge (2014) was more destructive than Operation Pillar of Defence (2012) in large part because international opposition was comparatively muted.

More importantly, Harris simply ignores the most authoritative source of information on Israel’s human rights conduct in the occupied territories: the hundreds of investigations into various aspects of Israeli policy conducted by U.N. inquiries and leading international and local human rights organisations, and dozens of independently collected testimonies by Israeli combatants themselves. This voluminous and internally consistent empirical record reveals a long-standing pattern of deliberate and indiscriminate attacks by Israeli forces on civilians and civilian infrastructure. Yet Harris thinks he can bypass it with a thought experiment.

Perhaps he’s been watching some bad documentaries.

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