Friday, January 16, 2009

Gaza Day 21

In 416 B.C.E., Athens was one of the strongest city-states in Greece. They frequently sought to usurp other small, independent city-states. One of these that caught their eye was the island of Melos which had, at one time, been a colony of Sparta, traditional enemies of the Athenians. However, at this time, Melos considered itself a neutral and did not lend aid to any other military power. This did not stop the Athenians from sending a convoy to the island to demand its surrender.

The Melians, on the other hand, were not amenable to this course of action as will be seen. When the Athenians arrived, the Melians requested and were granted a conference with them. The dialog of that conference is from Thucydides. (emphasis added)

First, the Athenians take the Melians to task for having a conference and not having the Athenians speak to all the people:
"Since we are not allowed to speak to the people, lest, forsooth, they should be deceived by seductive and unanswerable arguments which they would hear set forth in a single uninterrupted oration (for we are perfectly aware that this is what you mean in bringing us before a select few)....."
The Melians then observe: :
"The quiet interchange of explanations is a reasonable thing, and we do not object to that. But your warlike movements, which are present not only to our fears but to our eyes, seem to belie your words. We see that, although you may reason with us, you mean to be our judges; and that at the end of the discussion, if the Justice of our cause prevail and we therefore refuse to yield, we may expect war; if we are convinced by you, slavery."
Thus the Melians are confronted with either a war against overwhelming force, or slavery. The Athenians go on to make their argument:
"Well, then, we Athenians will use no flue words; we will not go out of our way to prove at length that we have a right to rule, because we overthrew the Persians; or that we attack you now because we are suffering any injury at your hands. We should not convince you if we did; nor must you expect to convince us by arguing that, although a colony of the Lacedaemonians (Sparta, ed), you have taken no part in their expeditions, or that you have never done us any wrong. But you and we should say what we really think, and aim only at what is possible, for we both alike know that into the discussion of human affairs the question of justice only enters where the pressure of necessity is equal, and that the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must."
This is one of Thucydides most famous quotes, and it is important to see it in context. The Melians go on to say:
"But must we be your enemies? Will you not receive us as friends if we are neutral and remain at peace with you?"
The Athenians make another devastating point:
"...but they think that states like yours are left free because they are able to defend themselves, and that we do not attack them because we dare not. So that your subjection will give us an increase of security, as well as an extension of empire. For we are masters of the sea and you who are islanders, and insignificant islanders too, must not be allowed to escape us."
After much back and forth, the Melians state:
"But we know that the fortune of war is sometimes impartial, and not always on the side of numbers, If we yield now, all is over; but if we fight, there is yet a hope that we may stand upright."
There is much more with respect to the gods, the fates and hope. The Athenians wind up with this toothy observation:
As for the gods, we expect to have quite as much of their favour as you: for we are not doing or claiming anything which goes beyond common opinion about divine or men's desires about human things. Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a law of their nature wherever they can rule they will, This law was not made by us, and we are not the first who have acted upon it; we did but inherit it, and shall bequeath it to all time, and we know that you and all mankind, if you were as strong as we are, would do as we do.
The Melians then told the Athenians to eff off and that, although they recognized the Athenians strength, they would fight. The Athenians built a wall about the town and essentially laid siege to it. The Melians did break out once to obtain supplies but then:
...the Melians took another part of the Athenian wall; for the fortifications were insufficiently guarded. Whereupon the Athenians sent fresh troops, under the command of Philocrates the son of Demeas. The place was now closely invested, and there was treachery among the citizens themselves. So the Melians were induced to surrender at discretion. The Athenians thereupon put to death all who were of military age, and made slaves of the women and children. They then colonised the island, sending thither 500 settlers of their own.
I, of course, do not mean to draw an exact analogy between Melos and Gaza. But it striking that almost 2500 years ago the same sort of human issues are in play. At least the Athenians recognize that they are operating out of raw power and that Justice really doesn't have anything to do with it.

There can be no justification for the slaughter of innocents in Gaza. None. The attempts by prominent pro Israel pundits (as documented by Glen Greenwald) to justify the Israeli Army are specious to be sure.
An Israeli riot police officer grabs a Palestinian man as he tries to stand up after he was knocked down during a demonstration against Israel's military operation in Gaza,

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