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Thursday, March 25, 2004
 
I Say Yaseen, You Say Yassin...

I have an unusual last name, at least in the US. In print, it's usually spelled as above or as 'Yasin.' I almost never hear the sound of it, except when it's directed specifically to me. I expect the Smiths of the world are much less sensitive to the sound of their surnames than I am.* But hearing it on the radio something like 1,000 times in the past few days has been really jarring. My surname is pronounced exactly the same as that of the dead Hamas leader, only mine's Jewish.

The somewhat addled mental state that's followed prompted me to give the subject of Yassin and Hamas a good deal more thought than I might have.

The Palestinians are, in every meaningful sense, a stateless people. They are neither served nor represented by the government of Israel. They feel very badly treated by Israel. Having no government of their own (Yasser Arafat surrounded by the Israeli army in a bombed-out compound doesn't count), they have put together what is possible under the conditions they find themselves in. With the help of funding from abroad, Hamas and Hezbollah were possible.

What are the functions of a sovereign government? Arguably, the first one is to defend the State, to have an army, the members of which must least threaten to kill people. Just about every government in history has killed people. The fact that Palestinians have slapped together organized militias is to be expected. It always happens. If they're not Israeli, they're something else, and feel the need of an army.

I'm not saying Yassin was a good man, any more than I would say Sharon is. But his society felt it needed a son of a bitch, and he got the job. When he's gone, there will be another one, and he will have as many followers or more.

It's natural for people to join together and form governments and armies as nation-states. It's often seen as legitimate (in some sense) for nation-states to kill people in defense of its citizens and their property. Why are the Palestinians' actions termed terrorism? If they were not prevented from doing so, they would form a state and exercise that power legitimately, and with the responsibilities that come with membership in the international community. They wouldn't last long if they made unprovoked attacks beyond their borders. If Israel wants to end Palestinian terrorism, a Palestinian state is the only reasonable first step.

* There's a bit in Bob Marley's I Don't Want to Wait in Vain that goes "Ya see" that never fails to make me jump a little.

Edit: incomplete post fixed.