Global, Israel, Politics

Israel and Gaza: In Search of a New Moral Calculus

I knew my last post would generate passionate comments – and I confess that I did hesitate before posting something so patently emotional. I went ahead though, because as I read the increasingly tragic news about the Israel-Gaza conflict, I’m consciously resisting the knee-jerk impulse to paper over my emotions with dispassionate analysis. It’s becoming clear to me that our attempts to be “rational” keep us from facing the inherent irrationality of this conflict.
Of course the Qassam attacks against Southern Israel have been intolerable. Of course Hamas bears its share of responsibility for this conflict. But beyond the rhetorical “well, he started it” arguments (which could stretch well back to 1948 and beyond) there remains the central question: what will bring safety, security and ultimately peace to this tortured region? I realize there are no easy answers, but I believe to my marrow that it will not come by sending in the war planes and reducing what’s left of Gaza to rubble.

Does anyone in their right mind truly think this abject destruction will ultimately bring safety and security to Southern Israel?  In the end, Every Gazan killed equals that many more family members and friends who will now be forever enraged and inflamed against the Jewish state. If peace depends largely on cultivating moderates on the other side, what does blowing them to smithereens accomplish? Believe me, if Israel ultimately thinks their attacks will turn Gazans against Hamas, they will be sorely disappointed. If forced to choose between Israel and Hamas, who do we really think they will choose now?
But even more than the strategic considerations, I am infinitely more troubled by the deeper moral implications of Israel’s military actions. Yes, it is true that Hamas chose to end the ceasefire and yes, Israel has few good options. But it was ultimately Israel who made the decision to bombard Gaza with a massive air attack, loosing many several hundreds of bombs into densely populated city center, virtually guaranteeing widespread civilian carnage and death.
As I write these words, I can already predict the standard moral calculus: “Yes, but Hamas purposely launches Qassams into civilian areas while Israel tries to minimize civilian casualties whenever possible.”  I’m coming to realize that pat rhetorical equations like these might serve to help us sleep better at night, but they don’t change some basic unavoidable truths: that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the military power dynamic is heavily weighted in Israel’s favor, that Hamas’ Qassams are but peashooters against Israel’s armed might and ultimately, as traumatic as it undoubtedly is to live in Sderot, Palestinian civilian casualties vastly outnumber Israel’s. And in the end, it matters little to the loved one of a dead civilian whether or not his/her death was caused intentionally or by “collateral damage.”
From what I can tell, Israel’s response to this latest bloody go-round amounts to: “We regret if civilians are killed, but they started it and anyhow that’s what happens in war.”  I certainly understand how Israel, a nation that has been in a constant state of war and conflict since its inception might develop such a moral trope. But whatever comfort it might afford us in the short term, it will not ultimately provide us with a path to peace – only a rationalization for prolonging the bloody status quo.
For me, among the countless commentaries I have read since Saturday, the voice most resembling sanity came (once again) from the great David Grossman, writing in a Ha’aretz editorial:

Are we too imprisoned in the familiar ceremony of war?…The line of self-control and the awareness of the obligation to protect the lives of the innocent in Gaza must be toed even now, precisely because Israel’s strength is almost limitless. Israel must constantly check to see when its force has crossed the line of legitimate and effective response, whose goal is deterrence and a restoration of the cease-fire, and from what point it is once again trapped in the usual spiral of violence.

Amen. That’s all for now. Let’s pray for better news tomorrow.

10 thoughts on “Israel and Gaza: In Search of a New Moral Calculus

  1. Shalom Rav, I agree with the great majority of what you said here. Seeing what is happening is truly gut-wrenching. But play Israeli PM for a minute. I know you mention that there are few good options, but that is not an excuse for evading a responsibility to protect Israeli civilians. You of course know that this wasn’t a few week problem after the ceasefire ended. This had been going on for 8 years. For much of that time, voices in the international community and the Israeli left said the solution was that Israel should pull out of Gaza. And then there would be a cessation of rocket firing. Of course you know the end of that movie. The same settlement that Israel evacuated became launching pads for rockets.
    Though you quote David Grossman, It’s important to note that a large contingent of the Israeli left fully supported this operation – including Amoz Oz (who now says the time has come for a cease-fire) and A.B. Yehoshua.
    Of course we all know that military solutions cannot solve the conflict, but horrible as it sounds, it can manage it – but only until the next round. Diplomacy is the only option long-term.
    But for Israel to not do something, would be a joke. To quote Jefferey Goldberg yesterday –
    “Israel must try to use all of the tools of national power to stop attacks on its citizens. Otherwise it is simply not a serious nation, one that does not deserve sovereignty.”

  2. Legitimate military targets:
    Killing 360 people is the price we have to pay (so far!) so Israel can take itself seriously this year. In 2006 it was 1,000 people.
    Poor wounded ego, Israel! At least its not a joke.
    Killing Palestinian children is the price we have to pay so that Israeli children can sleep safely at night and ignore the siege of Gaza, can sleep safely while in Gaza they eat grass.

  3. >Does anyone in their right mind truly think this abject destruction will ultimately bring safety and security to Southern Israel?
    It worked in Lebanon – for all the claims that Hezbollah won that war, the north has been 100% quiet since the end of it. Why can’t the same be true of Gaza?

  4. It worked with Hizbollah…and it worked in Defensive Shield too. The theory of “force never working” ignores human history.

  5. terrorists are parasites, parasites need a host. remove the host, the bug dies. the host is the occupation. end the occupation, hamas has no point to exist.

  6. By the above logic:
    The Antisemites in Poland were “parasites”. The Jews were the “hosts.” Yet when the host was “removed” the Antisemitism should have ended. Why did it not end. Because much of the problem exits within the parasite itself (sorry – I do not like using these terms for human beings).
    And, it may be that regarding Hamas, the occupation includes the land within the Green line too. So, if that is so, ending the occupation would require making Israel Juderein. I shudder at the thought.

  7. As a United States native, I cannot comprehend a society in which one house will allow the house next door to launch attacks that ultimately endanger everyone’s safety. Two (or more) domestic terrorists blew up a U.S. government building in Oklahoma City, they were found out, prosecuted and executed. Nobody protected them.
    Granted, I’ve never lived in an armed state (U.S. gun popularity notwithstanding, and I have owned one) nor a society that considers itself under siege/rebellion/revolution/jihad etc. In a lawful society, society itself rejects members who endanger the rest of society. This is what I cannot understand about Gaza or Iraq – how one resident allows the resident next door to manufacture or deploy bombs, rockets, whatever. There could be many explanations: the central government is ineffectual to create or enforce a lawful society, is too corrupt to want one, is complicit in wishing for violence, or some combination of the above; residents are sympathetic in wishing for violence; neighbors are intimidated by other neighbors and fear speaking out (a serious possibility, given reports of on the spot executions of “collaborators” with Israel that are reminiscent of World War II and any number of totalitarian efforts).
    My worst fear is this: ask an average West Bank resident, “Would you rather live freely in an autonomous West Bank with a living Israel as your neighbor, or destroy your whole family and die yourself trying to eliminate Israel?” I fear that the answer is manifested in the current state.

  8. After we dropped The Big One (actually two), and only then, the Japs abandoned their violent, supremacist religious views — and became an ally. So much for “force never solved anything.”

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