Gaza is Out of Joint: the Wages of War in Israel/Palestine
There is no moral high ground during a war. The wages of war, to adapt John Milton, is death. But the reason for fighting and the ultimate result can be judged morally.
Arguments, like the one about who deserves to occupy Israel/Palestine, are irrelevant. Both sides register claims to the land. The United Nations vote in 1947 is one source of support. The Balfour Declaration is another. There were purchases of land during Ottoman times and thereafter. Those are almost contemporary citations. Arab claims stretch back almost a millennium and a half to the Muslim conquest. Jews reach back further to a time before Rome and Alexander the Great, before the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions to David, Saul, the Judges and Joshua. All those claims have substance, but what is substantial is this. A flourishing nation, Israel, exists. And an Arab people who, using the Greek and Roman name of the place, call themselves Palestinians, also exist. Neither is going away. They have to live together.
Some fervently ideological groups refuse to recognize that. Israel’s existence is abhorrent to Hamas. An ideological spin-off of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas wants to destroy Israel. Its terrorist agents seek to murder Jews and return Muslims to a way of life that ended for most civilized people very long ago. Like the deadly theocracy that controls Iran, Hamas wants infidels and political opponents killed, adulterers stoned and the limbs of thieves hacked off. It tortures rivals and reduces women to veiled child-bearers.
Some non-Muslim Westerners, full of guilt about past European colonialism, regard that ideology as acceptably “cultural.” They fail to see that a crucial Middle Eastern nation disapproved over a millennium and a half before Mohammed was born of the sources of the fundamentalist terrorist agenda. About 3,000 years ago, that ancient people, the Hebrews, including a tribe of Judah, advocated “eye for eye” justice, mostly invoked to protect pregnant women and encourage honesty in legal proceedings, and far more lenient than 21st Century fundamentalist Muslim law. The ignorant in our day decry eye for eye, but it is also more humane in some ways than Western justice, which, for example, imprisons thieves whereas “eye for eye” only requires them to return what they stole plus whatever would have been earned with it had the owner retained possession.
In short, “cultural” justifications of the fundamentalist ideology are uninformed about the cultural history of the region. By the ancient standard of the Hebrews as well as the modern standard of adaptable Muslims, Hamas’ values are reprehensible. Moreover, it pursues its end with lies and violence both among its fellow Arabs and the world.
This brings us bump up against the price of containing such a force, a cost that unavoidably stains those burdened by the task. Hamlet, in a world out of joint, delayed avenging his father partly because he realized that doing so would defile him. For “avenging his father” substitute “protecting the citizens of Israel,” and for “Hamlet” read “Israel Defense Forces.” Israel’s soldiers cannot protect its citizens against Hamas without killing people. From Hamlet’s perspective, that stains the IDF with murder even if those people were all terrorists, and they are not all terrorists.
Israel cannot contain Hamas without losing some Israelis, and since Hamas willingly sacrifices civilian Muslims in the pursuit of its aims, Israel cannot defeat it without the deaths of many of the civilian Palestinians Hamas hides behind. Collateral damage is too cold a term for such losses, but sympathy and war are at odds. Struggling to minimize civilian deaths Israel issued warnings of impending attack in terrorist areas, with scant success. After convincing or forcing civilians to stay in areas set for attack, Hamas agents slunk off. What’s more, in the rage of battle both intended and unintended sites were hit. Israelis died from “friendly fire,” and Palestinian civilians died of errant attacks.
The difference between that and terrorist practice is that terrorists attack innocents intentionally. Were Israel destroyed and all Jews who refused to embrace Islam killed, Hamas would assault civilian Muslims as it did the Palestinian Authority that disagreed with it, and of course the remaining non-Muslim world would be attacked as well. Unapproachable rationally, the terrorists believe that for the sake of establishing a caliphate lying, cheating, torturing and murder are virtuous.
Israel, on the other hand, is a nation of Jews that has opened its arms to people of all faiths. Its existence and that generosity challenge Hamas, and the weapons it has used against Israel are of four kinds.
1) Initially, Hamas arranged suicide bombings. Individuals ignorant or constrained enough to sacrifice their lives were an effective way of killing many Jews at first. But Israel’s effective non-violent response, a fence—in especially challenged places a wall—kept them out. Check-points, though they troubled many innocents with delays, also kept suicide bombers out.
2) With the suicide approach rendered difficult, Hamas took to firing missiles from Gaza, intent on killing Israeli civilians from afar. In response, Israel was forced to invade. At great cost in lives, the IDF destroyed the missiles, hoping the terrorists would be kept disarmed. But Iran, which shares Hamas’ belief that all non-Muslims are infidels who must be eliminated, supplied the technology for better missiles.
Israel’s non-violent response to the augmented rocket attacks was Iron Dome, which successfully destroyed most warheads headed for populated areas. But that did not deter Hamas. Using a computer program developed by Qatar that allows rocket launchers to fire automatically, Hamas went on hurling rockets at Israel on the chance that some would get through. Again Israel was forced to invade, again at great cost in IDF, Hamas and civilian life. Having entered Gaza, the IDF attacked conventional launchers, computer generated launchers and weapons storage areas as well as the terrorists who serviced them. Hamas’ second effort at mass slayings was thus being defeated.
3) Held out of Israel by fences and walls and with its missile program frustrated, Hamas has stepped up its tunneling program. Its terrorists have slithered into Israel, hoping to kill some and kidnap other Jews. Israel does not yet have a fully developed technology to address that ill non-violently. The IDF has been finding and destroying terrorist tunnels one by one, difficult dangerous work, and costly in human lives. Some IDF, and more terrorists have died in the process. But Palestinian civilians, intentionally put in harm’s way by Hamas, have also died.
4) That last horror exposes Hamas’ fourth approach to attacking Israel. It seeks to have a sufficient number of innocents killed to gain worldwide sympathy, a tunnel visioned response that we discussed in an earlier essay. Indeed, Hamas’ cynical sacrifice of its own was succeeding when, overwhelmed by its desire to kill and kidnap Jews, the terrorists attacked IDF soldiers at the start of a humanitarian cease-fire. That deceit occurred during what all had agreed would be a time of peace. Formerly ignorant sympathizers and even some willfully shortsighted individuals, including American and U.N. officials, were shocked by the immorality. Much of world opinion turned against Hamas. Its lies and half truths are now encountering informed disapproval.
Horrific destruction is in the nature of war, but Hamas’ viciousness and duplicity, it is now realized, made war necessary. Its terrorists are losing now on all four fronts of its prescription for violence. What follows its latest defeat remains to be seen. But this much is clear: Israel’s entry into this devastating set of battles was moral.