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Friday, January 30, 2009

Fact vs Opinion

In a comment to my post below Glenn writes:

"My problem with the Israeli attack on Gaza is two-fold. First, as far as I can tell, the Israelis made no serious attempt to identify combatants before they started blowing things up. Second, I fail to see any possible relationship between the Israeli actions and the cessation of rocket attacks. This was an indiscriminate tantrum which killed 1,300 Arabs and 13 Israelis."

I have a problem with both folds of Glenn's problem and of course with his conclusion. To the first point I understand the Israelis indeed took great pains to identify combatants, and to the second point the Israeli action did force Hamas to stop their rocket attacks. My own conclusion is that far from being an "indiscriminate tantrum" it was rather as precise a military operation as it could possibly have been given the density of the population and Hamas cowardly propensity to use as much of their own population as possible as human shields against the Israelis.

Some time ago at the old Cafe it was Glenn that first pointed out to me (I know, it's something I should have realized long before) that new information we consider to be fact is often (even usually) greatly influenced by our pre-existing opinions. This new information - which we now consider factual - then reinforces the original opinion.

This tendency is probably at play here. Glenn is a smart man and I don't consider myself that stupid either. Yet here we are, looking at the same information, and walking away with completely different opinions on the matter because we perceive two completely different versions of what the true facts are.

1 comment:

Glenn said...

True for you, Agim. It is no doubt true that my perception of the "facts" of the Gaza incursion were affected by my pre-existing opinions. It would be more accurate, since I was not in Gaza to observe these events, to say that my opinions of the credibility of statements made by various spokesmen and observers were affected by my pre-existing opinions about their reliability. Since all sides in this conflict make statements which are generally self-serving, and which are designed to affect public and elite opinion, their truthfulness should not be taken for granted.

This comes from a principle of Biblical (or, more generally, literary) criticism. If there is any reason for something to have been said, other than its simple truth, it should be evaluated with care.

That said, I probably overstated the case by saying that the Israeli Defense Forces made no serious attempt to avoid civilian casualties. I suspect that the same amount of ordnance would have caused many more civilian casualties if expended in carpet bombing missions or creeping barrages, such as were used in World Wars II and I, respectively.

Therefore, it is probable that the IDF made some attempt to focus its attacks on areas which its intelligence had reported as the sources of rocket attacks, training facilities, or other military targets.

On the other hand, it is disingenuous on the part of the Israelis to accuse Hamas of using human shields, while it is also disingenuous of Hamas to deny that their operations endangered civilian lives.

Given the population density of Gaza, anywhere that Hamas or Islamic Jihad chose as a site for launching rockets, or for weapons storage, or for training, would inevitably be in a civilian area. Thus, unless Hamas were to cease these operations altogether, they would be endangering civilians in case of retaliation.

It is also the case that these rocket launchers are highly mobile. Hamas was not using fixed bases, but probably had Katyusha (Russian equivalent of Katie) launchers mounted on the backs of trucks. By the time the Israeli forces bombed or shelled a launching site, the perpetrators of the attack would be long gone. So the Israelis were also pointlessly endangering civilian lives.

It might be enough to lead you to decide that this isn't a good guys vs. bad guys scenario at all, no matter which side you would like to cast as the "white hats." There are no good guys in Palestine, at least not among the people with guns.