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Evil, Or Just Insane?
A few weeks ago, I made what might have been one of the greatest mistakes of my life; I joined FaceBook. Still, I promised myself that I would just use it for spreading my blog posts, and would not get into FaceBook arguments. I broke that promise yesterday, when I spent many hours in an argument about the morality of Israel's actions in Gaza. What I found especially galling was that the person publicly criticizing Israel's recent operations as being "disproportionate," "immoral," "brutal" and "bullying" was not a Palestinian or a standard British judeopath, but a popular blogger who is a member of the Orthodox Jewish community, and who often writes excellent material.
Over the last few weeks, I have been mystified at the those criticizing Israel for responding to Hamas. What do they propose that Israel should do instead?
Some actually propose that Israel do nothing. They claim that Israel should simply suffer having rockets fired at it, rather than engage in military action that will likely result in civilian deaths. They are proposing that large portions of Israel should live their lives spending much of their time in bomb shelters, suffer the trauma of constant attack, and risk being killed by rockets that Iron Dome doesn't catch.
Coming from certain non-Jews, such a proposal is little more than a thinly-veiled hope that Israelis will die. But what about when it comes from affiliated Jews who clearly don't want that? It appears to be simply sheer lunacy. Rockets are lethal weapons. As Obama observed, "there is no country on Earth that can be expected to live under a daily barrage of rockets." Religious Jews claiming otherwise are simply lunatics, like flat-earthers.
Faced with that charge, some claim that a military response is appropriate, but not one that results in the loss of civilian life. But there is no such thing as a military response to rockets being launched from civilian areas that does not result in the loss of civilian life. How do you actually destroy the rocket launchers? How do you stop the people who make the rockets and fire them? Go into Gaza and say, "Sir, you are under arrest?!" (Incredibly, one person that I was arguing with proposed exactly that!)
Furthermore, if there was a way to stop the rockets without the loss of civilian life, you can be sure that Israel would do it. Aside from the tragedy of the loss of civilian life, there is nothing more damaging to Israel's interests than the international outcry resulting from the deaths of Palestinian civilians.
Thus, claiming that a military response is appropriate, but not one that results in the loss of civilian life, is effectively saying that no military response is legitimate and that Israel should endure something that no other country on Earth would be expected to endure.
Not only Judaism, but internationally agreed-upon moral norms, state that there is nothing unethical in causing the inevitable death of civilians of an enemy state as part of necessary military action. None other than the BBC has an excellent webpage on the ethics of war, specifically discussing the question of civilian deaths. Aside from mentioning the possibility that even civilians may be considered as combatants, the BBC notes that even definite non-combatants can legitimately be killed when they are not the target of the military operation. Unfortunately, the BBC fails to apply these ethical guidelines to its coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
So, what do we make of it when people adopt a policy to Israel that is completely at odds with normal global norms of morality? When it comes from some people, we can dismiss it as antisemitism, but what about when it comes from people who are not antisemitic, such as comedian Jon Stewart, or religious Jews? I think that it is not evil, just sheer stupidity stemming from misguided morality. But even though it does not come from an evil root, its effects and results - demanding that Israel suffer rockets - are evil. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.