Has Israel Fought a Moral War?

Rabbi Daniel Gordis has an interesting essay on how Israel has fought it’s own war on terror. It is a well written piece. I’d like to show some of the more important points.

“Israel’s Morality and the World’s Myopia

Any discussion of the manner in which Israel has conducted its armed conflict with the Palestinians over the past four years demands, first and foremost, clarity about the nature of the conflict and what is at stake. Israel is at war—not against “militants,” or against those who would seek to “liberate” the Palestinian people. Israel is engaged in a war for her survival, against well-armed and increasingly well-trained, highly disciplined groups of terrorists, who are wholly up front about their agenda. Their agenda is not the liberation of the “territories” that were captured in June 1967 in a war that Israel did not want. Their agenda, as Hamas and Hizballah (among others) freely admit, is the eradication of the “Zionist entity” from what should be, in their minds, an exclusively Muslim Middle East.

This is not the Chechens against Russia. All the Chechens seek is independence. Were they granted that, there is every reason to expect that Chechen terrorism against Vladimir Putin’s Russia would cease. The same is true with the Basques in Spain. But not with Israel. The only way that Israel could bring an end to the terrorists’ attempt to destroy any semblance of normalcy for Israeli life would be to cease to exist. Israelis understand that, and they know full well that any other country fighting for its very existence would be enraged at being judged as Israel has been judged, particularly by Europe, in the last four years.”

Unfortunately I don’t think that large portions of the world care what the threat is to Israel some details do not “translate” well because people do not want to see them. They look for simple explanations.

“How this War Began

Israelis also remember when this war began—immediately after Ehud Barak called Yasir Arafat’s bluff. Barak offered the Palestinian people the state and the independence they had always said their decades-long terrorist campaign had been designed to bring them. But in Barak’s agreement, Israel would have continued to exist. And that, in the end, Arafat could not abide. So he, and a multiplicity of loosely aligned terrorist organizations that include, but is not limited to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizballah, Fatah, Force 17, and the El-Aksa Martyrs’ Brigade sought to bring Israel to its knees by terrifying an entire population into submission.

It is still said, ludicrously, that Arafat couldn’t sign the Camp David package because Barak’s deal was not good enough. The West Bank, according to some accounts, would have been divided into three cantons, with Israelis retaining control over passage from one to the other. Perhaps. The picture is unclear. But let us suppose that that claim is true, and that Arafat had genuinely wanted a deal. The most effective thing he could have done would have been to tell the tens of thousands of Palestinians who then had the right to enter Israel to sit on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway and on the highway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. He could have invited CNN, whose presence would have made it impossible for the IDF to use force to disperse the crowds. And Arafat could have put the map of Barak’s proposal on the back page of the front section of the New York Times and showed the world why he could not sign. Israel would have been forced to concede, and the maps would have been altered.”

Is there any doubt that this could have been handled differently? No, that is not the issue. Certainly Arafat could have used Gandhi or Dr. King as role model and probably achieved more with less bloodshed, but that would have required altering his agenda.

“In Israel, the Kahanist notion of transferring Palestinian populations out of the disputed territories is still considered racist and out of the question. Shutting off the water or electricity or phones of these populations for months on end, to force them to begin to exert pressure on the terrorists, has never been seriously suggested. Has Israel ever considered eradicating a town after it has knowingly harbored a suicide bomber who then killed dozens of innocent civilians? Nor has Israel chosen to fight the war exclusively from the skies, thus reducing the danger to its own troops. Would any other country, fighting for its life and knowing that the fight will never end, exhibit such moderation?”

Israel has a problem with poor hasbarah. Israel has always done a lousy job of promoting itself with solid P.R.

“In April 2002, when Israel pursued terrorists into the casbah in Jenin, we did so on the ground, in door-to-door fighting, to avoid causing unnecessary collateral casualties. Fourteen of our soldiers were killed in one day. But the world—instead of pointing to the difference between Israel’s handling of the battle and what would have happened anywhere else—accused Israel of a massacre. European papers reported the massacre as fact, not as allegation. Kofi Annan, when asked about Israel’s denials, responded, “Can Israel be right and the whole world wrong?” But when a UN investigation proved that there had been no massacre, and that Israel had been right, did Annan apologize? Not a word. Did European papers print retractions? By and large, they did not.”

Kofi Annan will do whatever he can to avoid admitting wrongdoing or incompetence. The UN is in the middle of an investigation of corruption. The Oil-for-Food program was a complete sham and did nothing except feed Saddam’s coffers.

And in regard to Europe if you look at their treatment of Africa, their involvement in Yugoslavia prior to US involvement and a general history of non-involvement it should be no surprise that nothing was said.

“This democratic ethos of Israeli society points to yet another unique dimension of the conflict. In what could not be a more radical difference between Israel and the Palestinian Authority waging war on it, Israel is a country in which a vigorous and open debate about how to balance the needs for security with Jewish humanitarian values continues. Despite my own belief that, in all, our conduct of the war has been restrained, not every Israeli agrees. Some Israeli young men have refused to serve over the Green Line, and recently, several had their military service cut short, with no serious repercussions. A much publicized group of pilots announced that they would no longer fly certain missions that they considered morally problematic. Driving Israel’s highways, one can often see protesters holding signs that say “hayalim amitzim lo maftzitzim,” or “Brave Pilots Don’t Bomb.” Whether or not one agrees, we have a right to take pride in a democracy in which such issues are openly debated, where freedom of the press reigns, where the Talmudic tradition of virtually unlimited debate on issues of morality continues.

Where are the Palestinians arguing in their streets for a cessation to the bombings, to the Kassam rockets, to the shootings, so that their lives can be restored to normal? On the security fence, one sees hundreds of instances of graffiti accusing Israel of apartheid-like policies, demanding that the fence be removed. But where are the graffiti calling for an end to the terror that brought the fence in the first place? Or the graffiti that note that, if only Arafat had continued to negotiate, none of this would have happened? That voice, sadly, is not heard.

At this writing, Ariel Sharon is leading an attempt to have Israel withdraw from the Gaza Strip and a handful of settlements on the West Bank. And what has been the reaction from Gaza? A barrage of Kassam rocket fire that has killed Israeli children and consumed entire Israeli towns with fear, all designed to make the pullout impossible. Because pulling out of Gaza would show the world that Israel is not interested in holding on to these territories forever, something the Palestinians are desperate for the world not to see. Because pulling out of Gaza would give Israel a more manageable line of defense, which the Palestinians do not want. And because pulling out of Gaza would force the Gazans to recognize that their poverty and their suffering are not the products of Israeli policy, but predated Israel’s conquest of the land in 1967 and will follow it as well. “

The lines in bold were added by me. When you condition the populace to accept hate speech as truth you run into a problem. I define hate speech in this case as being the language that consistently accuses Israel of being illegitimate and populated by thieves and robbers. After so many years of this talk the population has come to believe it without question.

“Despite the many complexities of the Israeli-Arab conflict in general, and of the current conflict with the Palestinians in particular, certain basic facts are clear: Israel tried to create a Palestinian state. When that offer was met with a war of terror, Israel tried to build a fence that would keep the terrorists on one side and its soldiers on the other. When the fence was treated as an “apartheid fence,” Israel tried to pull out of Gaza, which the Palestinians are now seeking to make impossible. The world calls Israel racist, but the only population that Sharon is considering moving is the Jewish population in Gaza, not the villages that openly harbor the terrorists who seek to kill our children. And all this unfolds within the context of a democratic society that—in keeping with thousands of years of Jewish tradition—passionately argues whether our responses have been too draconian, or insufficiently considerate of the Palestinians (some complicit and some not), who have sadly been caught in the crossfire of a tragedy unleashed by their own leaders.”

It is a very sad situation and one cannot hope and pray that there is a peaceful resolution in our time. Now that Arafat has finally left us there may yet be a voice that is really interested in making peace. But it has to be a just peace and a just peace is the Gordian Knot.

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1 Comment

  1. Stacey December 5, 2004 at 2:43 pm

    This was a good article. I was hopeful at Oslo, but in the decade following it, it became abundantly clear to me that peace was not the issue — Israel’s existence was.

    I am waiting impatiently for what will happen January 9th.

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