Sunday, January 11, 2009

Owning the Dead Children

In the previous post I described how Gideon Levy's hatred blinds him to reality. His hatred, however, doesn't mean he can't make legitimate points. Had he written a cry for moral action rather than shouted his own hatred, he would better have served his own position (assuming he's seeking to achieve the moral goal of improving reality through his writing. An assumption that may not be true).

So I'll do it for him.

Any military attack on Hamas, given that Hamas is embedded in the civilian neighborhoods of Gaza and it's armed men fight from the midst of non-combatants, will result in civilian deaths. There is no other alternative. No matter how hard you try not to harm the civilians, it will be impossible not to. An attack on Hamas will kill children. A decision to kill children is evil. Israel's war is therefore evil, and its supporters must accept this.

OK. Here I am: a supporter of this war. The proud and fearful father of a soldier fighting this war. A man who hates violence, and shudders with horror at the sight of murdered children. I take upon myself responsibility for the deaths of those Palestinian children to the full extent a voting citizen is responsible for the actions of his government, his army: the ultimate responsibility, since I'm part of the sovereign. It's my country. I'm not a passerby, or a detached observer: I'm an actor in the events.

My justification is that it is a greater injustice to allow the evil to act unchecked, than to check them. Of course, we must take all reasonable measures that we not become equally evil ourselves; but once we've done so, and so long as we continue to do so, it is better to kill would-be murderers than allow them to kill.

This doesn't mean we must spend our days hunting down whoever might potentially be willing to kill us. I'm making a conceptual statement, not a political one. Of course using violence must be an act of last resource, and it must be calibrated to achieve its goals, and it must be done with the greatest of care, and so on. All those conditions must be met, and repeatedly questioned lest what was true earlier is no longer true now. Once those conditions exist, however, it is legitimate to go to war, even with the certainty that some number of innocents will die, because not going to war will create a greater injustice.

There are three reasons why Israel's existence justifies war:
1. Israel offers a safe haven for Jews in a world that would often prefer their disappearance. The Shoah is the most extreme example of this, but even the 20th century offered other examples, such as the murder of at least 70,000 Jews after WW1, and previous centuries offered many examples. Life in Israel is, in our generation, less safe than life in America, but this doesn't negate the fundamental claim that a world in which Jews can defend themselves is better than a world in which they can't. Anyway, whether others agree or not is immaterial: the decision is for the Jews to make, not for others.

2. Jews are justified in expressing their national character and national aspirations as they choose. For the past 3,000 years, the land of Israel has been at the center of what it is to be a Jew. True, at different times this has expressed itself in different ways, and while most of the time either a majority of Jews lived here, or a majority of the people who lived here were Jews, or at the very least the Jewish presence here was central to the Jewish life of their generation; yet even in the centuries where none of this was true, and the Jewish physical presence in this land was minimal, the connection to the land as expressed in myriad ways was crucial. Anyway, whether others agree or not is immaterial: the decision is for the Jews to make, not for others.

3. Israel exists, and any attempt to disband it would result in mass suffering of millions of people, and the disruptions of millions of lives. The first two justifications are unique to the Jews: no-one else has ever been persecuted as long as the Jews, in as many countries as the Jews, and only a few groups have even been persecuted to the danger of extinction. No other group can point to a 3000-year attachment to a specific piece of land as being central to its national existence (Though the Chinese, I'm told, can demonstrate a similar attachment to the land they live in - and indeed, no-one disputes their claim). This third justification, however, is banal. It's the justification of the existence of Mauritania, Uruguay, and Kuwait. They're there, and any attempt to abolish them would be immoral, and worthy of fighting for. The same, you might claim, would be true of the Palestinians: they're there, and you can't do away with them. This is true, and I for one would be very happy if the Palestinians would decide to live alongside us in peace, each of us regretting that part of the joint homeland in the other country, but each at peace with what we have.

At the moment, however, the Palestinians haven't made that decision yet, and the Hamas part of them are strident in their eternal rejection of it. Which means we need to do our best to manage our relationship with them as intelligently as possible, with as little violence as possible. Yet when there is no other choice, we must use force - yes, violence - to ensure our continued existence. Even then, we must do our utmost to kill as few of their innocents as humanly possible. Once that point has been passed, however, it will mean killing innocent Palestinian children. To act otherwise would be immoral.


Michael Wildman said...


david said...

There is much good pro-Israel commentary in the blogosphere these days, but you offer a unique perspective, well-represented, that (because it comes from a somewhat unexpected angle) could reach people who otherwise might tune-out more "conventional" pro-Israel arguments.

I congratulate you and encourage you to continue!

(btw, enjoyed your book)

Mike said...

Thank-you for your thoughts.
It is a shame that those that Hate you are not capable of understanding what you are saying. Until they are, you will regrettably have to "kill their children". I will stand behind you and weep with you until they learn to love their kids more than they hate you. Just sign me an American.