The following guest blog is by Nathaniel Berman who is a professor of International Law in New York City.
American Jews have recently been consuming two sets of images about the use of Israeli military, the artistic and the real. On the one hand, we are flocking to see “Waltz with Bashir,” and leave confirmed in our horror at past atrocities, compassion for the soldiers whose leaders placed them in an unbearable situation, and admiration for the Israeli artists who have produced such a deep moral reflection. We stand vicariously with the 400,000 who in 1982 demonstrated to protest the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. On the other hand, we have watched on our screens the all-too-real invasion of Gaza. We have wrought our hands at the civilian deaths, including the hundreds of children, and yet, with very few exceptions, we have raised no voice in protest. It is “more complicated than before,” we think; the “missiles were unacceptable,” we reassure ourselves; “something had to be done,” we conclude – as though “something” always means a maximal military operation against a densely populated region, as though we were not given the exact same justifications in 1982, as though the massive civilian deaths were not fully predictable in each such operation. And we flock to “Waltz with Bashir,” warming ourselves with moral sentiments, exiting with solemn faces and pious hearts.
We cannot wait another quarter century for “Waltz with Hamas.” The time has come for all supporters of Israel to firmly and publicly express their views about the morality of military operations like Lebanon 1982, Lebanon 2006, and Gaza 2009. We cannot continue to hide behind the need to “rally behind the nation at war” and wait for calmer times for sentimental moral piety. We need to take responsibility for the content of the “something” that “needs to be done,” and not plead that we “had no idea” that so many children would be killed. We need to examine the full range of options available to Israel to deal with a threat like Hamas rockets, including diplomacy, negotiation, economic and political cooperation, and more limited military operations. Those of us still hold to moral and legal norms governing warfare must make our views known now, before another round in which the “nation at war” makes many reluctant to speak out, and renders inaudible those who do. Those of us who maintain the unacceptability of any operation that produces dead, wounded, and traumatized children in their hundreds must act now – long before any new such operation is planned, let alone executed. It will by then be too late. This kind of action must never again take place. Not in our name.