SCRUPLES AND SECURITY
Rabbi Dow Marmur
The Government of Israel has obviously decided that the way of dealing with Hamas is to try to eliminate its leaders. Some 300 Hamas men have already been killed; according to estimates, there’s another 1000 on the hit list. Bush may very well have endorsed the plan, perhaps on condition that the “collateral damage” of civilian deaths be kept to a minimum. Mahmoud Abbas may have chosen to be willfully blind to the situation, even when occasionally he issues condemnations of Israeli “massacres.”
One of the prices that Israel may have to pay for its action is the failure to get home Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas. Though it would be a huge feather in Prime Minister Olmert’s cap to be photographed with the freed Shalit – and, in view of his current standing, he needs every feather he can get – but it’s possible that it’s really Ehud Barak, the Defense Minster, who’s calling the shots, and he’s not likely to care for Olmert’s cap. Barak is a former Chief of Staff and generals often say that there are times when sacrificing one or two of your own for a greater cause may be justified.
It’s difficult to defend the Israeli actions, but it’s even harder to condemn them. The Jewish state cannot afford to have “Hamastan,” the Iranian stooge, at its doorstep, when it repeatedly proclaims its commitment to the imminent destruction of “the Zionist entity.” Pragmatic politicians are prepared to compromise (Olmert, Abbas and many others). The leaders of Hamas are religious ideologues/fanatics who don’t accept any half-measures. As far as they’re concerned, Israel must be eliminated, irrespective of how much time and how many lives it takes.
The death of innocent civilians troubles the Israeli public. Though so far no Israeli civilians have lost their lives as a result of the constant barrage of Qassam rockets fired by Hamas from across the border with Gaza onto the town of Sderot in the Negev and surrounding areas, many have been injured and much property has been damaged. Hamas deliberately targets civilians whereas the IDF does not, even though occasionally and unintentionally Palestinian civilians are killed by Israeli fire.
The enemies of Israel are understandably keen to exploit every Palestinian civilian death. Thus, with the help of hostile television reporters from different countries, they managed to blame Israel for the death seven years ago of a 12-year old boy, even though it has been demonstrated that the incident was staged for the benefit of the media. Israelis are, therefore, often cynical about “world opinion” and prefer to live by Ben Gurion’s famous maxim, “It’s not what Gentiles say that counts but what Jews do.” In this situation, the Jews may be doing as well as gruesome circumstances permit. The results aren’t pretty but the alternatives – so the argument goes - may be worse.
On the assumption that the media abroad depict Israel’s actions against Hamas, coupled with the restrictions it imposes on Gaza, as scandalous, it’s understandable that even friends of Israel are embarrassed. I’m not suggesting that looking at the situation from the perspective of Israel, the moral issues are different, but I am suggesting that when you believe that your very survival is at stake, actions to stop the enemy seems less outrageous, even when they’re morally problematic.
It may be easier to live with moral scruples than with the prospect of destruction, even if from some lofty heights such fears seem exaggerated.
Jerusalem 16.1.08 Dow Marmur