April 22, 2008

Weregeld for James Miller

Early Germanic and Anglo-Saxxon societies did not have a criminal justice system. They had vengeance and settlement instead. Weregeld is a a Germanic word denoting a payment usually made by a person guilty of homicide to the family of the deceased as settlement. The amount paid depended on the social rank of the victim, with noblemen receiving an order of magnitude more than commoners and slaves practically nothing.

This is sort of the justice system the West now "exports" to the South.

Five years after British filmmaker James Miller was fatally shot by Israel Defense Forces troops in the Gaza Strip, Israel is poised to pay the family some NIS 12 million [$3 million] in compensation.

In return, the British government will close the case and rescind its intention to ask that the soldiers involved in the incident be extradited (Haaretz, April 22, 2008).

Of course, Israel pays nothing for Palestinians it kills. The U.S. is a tad more generous. It pays up to $2,500 per killed noncombatant in Iraq. There is no central tariff set in law as there used to exist in the Middle Ages. but various incidents reveal the implicit tariff.

On May 7, 1999, a U.S. B-52 bomber dropped three JDAM bombs upon the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Three young Chinese journalists were killed and 27 other persons in the embassy were wounded. Four months later, the United States agreed to pay $4.5 million in damages to the families of the deceased and to the injured. This amounts to about $150,000 per victim. When a U.S. marine jet hit aerial tramway cables in Italy not too long ago, the U.S. gave close to $2 million to each Italian victim.

On July 1, 2002, a U.S. AC-130 gunship attacked and strafed four villages in the Deh Rawud district of Uruzagan, killing more than 60 innocent Afghans and wounding about 120 others.1 ....the U.S.-installed and backed Karzai regime offered the Afghan wedding victims...$200 on behalf of each individual killed.... (Marc Herold)

Westerners a worth millions. Southerners, between nothing and the low thousands. But there is a special category of Westerners whose life is particularly valuable--victims of Southern resistance. The life of am imperialist pig (sorry, a pilot) killed in Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion is worth $97 Millions according to a Miami court. A federal jury in the U.S. awarded Moshe Saperstein, U.S. citizen and Jewish Supremacist in Gaza, $16 Million for a gunshot wound to his hand. (Haaretz, February 8, 2008) Saperstein lost two fingers, each one of them valued by the U.S. jury at more than twice the value of Miller's life.

Miller's life appears to be valued "correctly"--he was a Westerner, although not a victim of resistance. But it took five years and a great deal of British governmental pressure to get Israel to agree to pay even a "normal" compensation.

The reason is probably that Miller was sympathetic to Palestinians. He was in Rafah when he died filming Palestinians under occupation. The life of Western sympathizers is potentially "cheapened" by association with the South. It is thus made subject to two competing tariffs. Rachel Corrie's family failed to get any compensation at all. In essence, Corrie's life was valued according to the going rate in Rafah---zero. Miller's was eventually valued at the going rate in Europe. Because of the tariff dispute, it matters a lot what position the government of the victim's country takes. The success in Miller's case owes a lot to the British Foreign Office's threat to request an extradition unless Israel settled the case.

The struggle over receiving Weregeld from Israel is legitimate. The families deserve it, and the process serves to educate and expose the brutality of the occupation. Miller's widow Sophy won this battle, which honors James' life and commitment.

But using the courts for anything beyond recognition that a Westerner should be paid a Westerner's worth is almost impossible. The system of global Apartheid that underpins the West/South relation is quite safe within its own legal system.

Collaborater Captain Hib al-Heib, who murdered James Miller in cold blood, walks freely. Soon after the incident he even received a promotion. If Israel gets what it wants in return for the money--immunity--he will be able to board a plane and feed pigeons on Trafalgar Square without risking arrest.

(Yes, I know feeding pigeons on Trafalgar Square is illegal now. But I don't think someone who got away with murder will be impressed with the threat of a fine....and I'm stuck with this outdated image.)

The people who taught al-Heib and gave him orders, who promoted him, covered for him, destroyed evidence for him. They are safe. $3 milion for killing the occasional Westerner is 9 hours worth of U.S. aid to Israel. It is a quite affordable. And killing Palestinians is the price of bullets.

Nevertheless, a victory is a victory, and a apt time to remember James Miller's life and death.

: The film Miller made when he was shot

John Sweeney on James Miller:
Getting away with murder


Google "Hib al Heib." Only 17 hits! And none from an israeli news source. Ynet only knows "Captain H." Haaretz only speaks obliquely of "the commander." Obviously, the Israeli journalists are collaborating with the military in the effort to shield al-Heib from any personal repercussions. After all, the man has done the state some service, and they know it.


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