19 July 2006

Excuses, Excuses

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

A common problem with children and adolescents is the tendency to confuse an excuse with a valid justification or rationale: “the dog ate my homework” is an excuse; “I didn’t understand the assignment” is a lot closer to an honest explanation.

This is the position Israel now finds itself in. Its excuse is that it was attacked, several times in several places, by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, who kidnapped a soldier and who have fired mortars at Israeli towns and people, and by Hizbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon, who have also fired rockets at Israel and have kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.

A proportional response to these attacks from Israel would have been justified self-defense; no explanation required. Instead, Israel is using these attacks by terrorist-guerrillas as an excuse for a broader set of punishing actions that is completely out of proportion to the harm it faced and, more importantly, to the moral code to which the nation professes to adhere as part of its broad, international public relations campaign.

Declaring (as it did yesterday) that the attacks on Lebanon will last several weeks – Israel has indicated, clearly and unambiguously, that it is taking a political opportunity to destroy infrastructure in Lebanon at a moment when (as Israel trumpets loudly) even other Arab regimes think Hizbollah acted wrongly. This represents a form of collective punishment against a broad population of Lebanese civilians who have already been faced with their own political and military struggles – to free their nation of Syrian influence, to remove Syrian soldiers, to sustain a democratic government, and to maintain a state of peace after more than a decade of civil war. (The invasion and subsequent actions in Gaza are more complicated – because of the size of the terrain and the proximity that permits further shelling of Israeli civilians. But Hizbollah is not attacking Israel from Beirut, yet it is Beirut that Israel has attacked.)

And, more to the point, this kind of collective punishment – against Lebanese and Palestinian civilians – is immoral. Whatever one wants to say about Israel’s origins, the state itself traces its history back to the Biblical connections of the Jewish people to the land, and to the religious framework that has defined Jewish life for several millennia. But to stake one’s claim to the Bible means tying one’s self to Biblical precepts, to the tremendous moral code handed to the Jewish people and carried from generation to generation.

The book Christians call the “Old Testament” contains a lot of gruesome death, much war, and often depicts a vengeful, wrathful god. However, it is also quite clear on the need to create and sustain a higher moral order, on the importance of connecting human behavior and instinct – such as a reactive desire for revenge – to an established code of laws, even if this means halting what might be an instinctive reaction in favor of a more thoughtful, measured, ultimately moral response. It is a call from god to reflect on the spirit within us, and to act not as we might desire emotionally for ourselves, but as we should for the benefit of humanity.

In that context, Israeli attacks on civilians simply are not justified or justifiable. Let’s be clear: neither are the attacks on Israel by these terrorists; but the Islamic terrorists of the region make no real claim to the same moral code that Israel seeks to embrace. Israel cannot claim to be an open democracy while it oppresses its non-Jewish minorities, and it cannot claim to be a beacon of moral action in a sea of Islamic terror when it acts as badly, as indiscriminately, as oppressively as the terrorists themselves. With several hundred Lebanese civilians killed, and nearly a half-million displaced from their homes, the Israeli response in unquestionably out of proportion to the harm Israelis themselves have suffered.

I firmly believe that Jewish morality and Jewish law does not subscribe to placing a higher value on Jewish life than on a non-Jewish life. That, however, is exactly what Israel is doing: cloaking itself in the mantle of respectable self-defense while expanding its attacks well beyond what can be justified as such.

As for the response of the United States, and the Jewish community here, I find it sad and mystifying in equal measure. Jews around the world have faced discrimination, oppression, and worse for as many millennia as one can count, and yet the Jewish moral code is one that strives to overcome such oppression, to place a belief in the goodness of humanity at the very core of life. Jews have also played an important role in fighting battles against oppressive elements of society, in rejecting calls from others to prize kin-folk and co-religionists above others. From Christian Crusaders to the Ku Klux Klan to Islamo-fascists, many people have sought to devalue the lives of those whose beliefs, traditions, or skin color they do not share. The American Jewish community has an opportunity to lead: to lead towards peace, to use the political and religious connections to Israel it so ardently articulates in order to encourage a more moral response to this conflict. How sad, then, to find that American Jews have turned their backs on this history, to proclaim – as one rabbi from New Jersey did – that “we stand firmly behind Israel,” even when Israel’s actions are disproportionate to the conflict, and are predicated on the excuse that an Israeli Jewish life is worth more than anything else in the world.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen brother!

As a proud American, I'd like to begin by saying that I recognize the state of Israel, understand, and fully support its right to protect itself against her enemies, and do not believe myself anti-semetic.

I can understand how so small a nation unwelcome by all its neighbors, can loose touch with, or develop a warped sense of reality over time. I believe that this is why Israel does not see its reaction in this matter as extreme.

As an American citizen, I feel it is our government's duty (as Israel's ally) to act as Israel's conscience in these matters, and not be swayed by special interests. Of course our own National interests should always be considered first, but Washington today seems only concerned in keeping their financial supporters (lobbies) satisfied. I watched in total disbelief as most of Congress and both NY Senators fell over one another to publicly state their support of Israel. The Israeli army attacked Southern Lebanon as though they're at war with that entire country and our politicians were not only ok with it - but made every effort to ensure we all knew it.


1:47 PM  

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