THE JUSTIFICATION FOR ISRAEL TO ATTACK THE CIVILIAN POPULATIONS OF ITS ENEMIES
Although Israel’s State enemies (e.g., Syria, Lebanon and Iran) and non-State enemies (e.g., Hezbollah, Hamas and Fatah) have, by direct or indirect means, intentionally attacked Israel’s civilian population (i.e., its Jewish civilian population) numerous times over the past several decades, traditionally such attacks have hardly been acknowledged, let alone condemned, by the United Nations, by (self-described) human rights organizations, by international media outlets, or by other elements of the international community – despite the fact that such attacks are perpetrated in furtherance of a grand plan to destroy the Jewish State. Conversely, false accusations that Israel, in responding to such onslaughts, has intentionally attacked the hostile civilian populations of its genocidal enemies have traditionally elicited, not only worldwide condemnation, but also worldwide demonization, of the Jewish State. Moreover, Israel’s more recent attempts to defend itself from its enemies has led the U.N.-affiliated International Criminal Court to consider indicting the military and political leaderships of Israel (but not the military or political leaderships of its enemies) for illusory war crimes. This has created a legal and moral Absurdity, whereby the international community has (implicitly) endorsed attacks against Israel’s civilian population as inherently legitimate, while it has (implicitly) barred Israel’s exercise of self-defense as inherently illegitimate.
Two intertwined rationales have been offered to justify this Absurdity: (a) Israel’s enemies cannot be expected to adhere to international norms of conduct, including the international rules of war, because they are not part of Western culture (i.e., they are not liberal democracies), and (b) Israel has no right to defend itself from attack, because it “occupies” Judea, Samaria, the eastern portion of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and (despite its complete withdrawal therefrom in August 2005) Gaza. The first rationale reeks of a species of racism sometimes labeled as the “soft bigotry of low expectations”, while the second rationale constitutes a blunt instrument to force Israel to return to its indefensible 1949 armistice demarcation lines. Both rationales pervert, and thereby make a mockery of, international law.
In light of the foregoing, can there be any justification for Israel to actually do the very thing of which it is constantly being falsely accused, namely, to attack the hostile civilian populations of its enemies? And, if so, under what circumstances?
At the outset, it is noted that international law did not descend from Heaven. Nor does it exist in a vacuum. Rather, international law exists as an instrumentality of multi-party contract formation, whereby one signatory nation agrees to limit its sovereign freedom of action by adhering to the norms set forth in a particular treaty, provided that all other signatory nations do the same. With respect to the several treaties that comprise the international rules of war, the norms set forth therein limit the brutalities that belligerents are permitted to inflict upon each other’s military forces and prohibit attacks upon each other’s civilian population and infrastructure. The web of protections ostensibly guaranteed to each belligerent by the international rules of war is precisely what has motivated numerous nations to promise adherence thereto, as those rules theoretically afford each belligerent a way to limit the harm to itself during its conduct of (and especially in the event that it begins to lose) a war. However, the irony of the international rules of war is that those nations that are most likely to obey those rules (i.e., liberal democracies) rarely conduct war against each other, while those nations that are least likely to obey those rules (i.e., totalitarian societies) frequently conduct war against each other, which, in practice, renders the international rules of war completely ineffective. Since the genocidal war against Israel is being waged by totalitarian nations and terrorist groups that do not adhere to the international rules of war, Israel has been placed in the unenviable position of continuing to obey rules that its adversaries routinely violate, thereby incentivizing the latter to mercilessly attack Israel’s civilian population centers, as they know that they will not be internationally penalized for doing so and that Israel will not respond in kind (but can, nonetheless, be successfully accused of having done so).
One example of this asymmetry is the war being waged by Hamas-ruled Gaza against Israel’s civilian population centers. By embedding virtually all of its missiles and mortars within its own civilian population centers, Hamas has been able to fire missiles and mortars at Israel’s civilian population centers under the correct assumption that Israel would be inhibited (by the nearby presence of Gazan civilians) from decisively retaliating (i.e., by completely destroying Hamas, its weaponry, and all related infrastructure – wherever found).
The international rules of war are not meant to be a suicide pact. On the contrary, these rules exist for the mutual benefit of their signatory nations (as well as for those non-signatory nations which nonetheless choose to adhere thereto). As the principle of mutuality of restrictive conduct constitutes the raison d'ętre for any nation’s adherence to the international rules of war, Israel is neither legally, nor logically, nor morally obligated to continue its unilateral adherence thereto. Instead, Israel is entitled to proclaim that it will obey only those rules of war that are also obeyed by its enemies, thereby restoring the principle of mutuality to the international rules of war. This means that if one of Israel’s enemies (directly or indirectly) attacks Israel’s civilian population and/or infrastructure, then Israel will be privileged to decimate that enemy’s civilian population and/or infrastructure. Such a policy, if effectuated, would constitute a powerful deterrent against violation of the international rules of war by Israel’s (State and non-State) enemies and would likely be successful in terminating the attacks that Israel’s enemies have relentlessly perpetrated against its civilian population centers since the nation’s rebirth in 1948. This prescription is hardly theoretical, as employment of this very policy terminated World War II (i.e., via the decimation of portions of the civilian populations and infrastructures of Nazi Germany and Japan).
Moreover, during British administrative rule in Mandatory Palestine, this very policy was employed against Arab terrorists who habitually detonated bombs at Jewish marketplaces, thereby killing and maiming scores of Jews – innocent civilians. In retaliation, Jewish insurgents, led by David Raziel, detonated bombs at Arab marketplaces, thereby killing and maiming scores of Arabs – also innocent civilians. Consequently, the Arabs abandoned that particular bombing campaign. In recognition of the many lives saved by Raziel’s conduct, every major city in Israel has a street named after him; and there is even a village (Ramat Raziel) that bears his name.
Yet, isn’t it immoral to punish an enemy’s civilian population (even if largely hostile to Israel) for the conduct of its government? No. What is actually immoral (as well as illogical) is for Israel to continue to place the safety of that enemy’s civilian population and infrastructure above its own. David Raziel well understood this principle.
Yet, won’t the international community punish Israel if it refuses to unilaterally adhere to the international rules of war? Yes. However, as Israel is already being universally condemned, and is already on the verge of being internationally punished, for this illusory offense, it is possible that the actual commission thereof will not substantially worsen Israel’s international ostracism.
One last issue presents itself in the context of attacking an enemy’s hostile civilian population in order to protect Jewish lives. Who has the moral right to initiate such attacks? For example, is there any moral distinction between (a) Israel bombarding a marketplace in Gaza in order to dissuade Hamas from continuing to bombard Ashkelon and (b) a Jew attacking an Arab in Hebron in order to dissuade Arab terrorists from continuing to attack Jews in Jerusalem? Put another way, if David Raziel was a hero for leading a vigilante campaign against Arab terrorism during the Mandatory period, aren’t Jewish vigilantes who, in present times, kill Arabs in retaliation for Arab terrorist attacks against Jews also heroes?
The answer is found in the Hebrew Bible:
“Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the Heavens: A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot the planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to wreck and a time to build. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to wail and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to shun embraces. A time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to discard. A time to rend and a time to mend; a time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace. What gain, then, has the worker by his toil? I have observed the task with which God has given the sons of Humankind to be concerned: He made everything beautiful in its time; He has also put an enigma into their minds so that Humankind cannot comprehend what God has done from Beginning to End.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11)
During the British Occupation, the British authorities in Mandatory Palestine did very little either to prevent Arab terrorist attacks against Jews or to punish the perpetrators thereof, thereby leaving Jews with little choice but to engage in vigilantism, even if that meant killing Arabs who had not participated in the killing of Jews. That time period resembled the chaotic period of the biblical Judges, of which it was observed: “In those days there was no king in Israel; [consequently,] a man would do whatever seemed appropriate in his eyes.” (Judges 17:6). However, in present times, the State of Israel – a State governed by, and for the benefit of, Jews – exists. The State both prevents and punishes Arab terrorism; and it does so aggressively. Consequently, in present times, Jewish vigilantism is not an appropriate response to Arab terrorism.
Yes, during war, an enemy’s civilian population must be decimated in order to dissuade its leaders from continuing to bombard Israel’s civilian population; but, in present times, the unleashing of such brutality is the exclusive right, as well as the exclusive responsibility, of the State.
© Mark Rosenblit
[Note: At least one Member of Israel’s Parliament has opined that attacks by Israel upon the enemy’s civilian population will dissuade Jews from perpetrating their own vigilante assaults against that hostile population. Read on! -- Mark Rosenblit]
Israel should carry out revenge attacks on Palestinians, rightist MK says
By JTA [Jewish Telegraphic Agency] \ 05/06/2016
A right-wing Israeli lawmaker who last month drew condemnation for saying new Jewish mothers shouldn’t have to share hospital rooms with Arab ones, said Israel should conduct revenge attacks against Palestinians.
Bezalel Smotrich, a Knesset member with the Jewish Home party, said Friday in a Holocaust Remembrance Day Facebook post that if Israel had taken appropriate acts of revenge it could have prevented subsequent Jewish civilians’ attacks on Palestinian individuals.
The post remains publicly visible on Smotrich’s Facebook page.
In particular, state-sanctioned revenge could have prevented the July 2015 firebombing that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents, as well as the murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir, Smotrich wrote in the post.
Revenge is an “important and moral value,” but must be conducted by the government, not by individuals, he added.
He criticized the Israeli government for not carrying out reprisals “in legitimate ways.” He did not specify what sort of reprisals would be legitimate or exactly whom they would target.
“It is possible to assume that if the State of Israel had not erased, under the influence of twisted Christian morality, the word revenge from its lexicon and had done things in legitimate ways and deterred the enemy, we would not have been faced with these harsh incidents of private individuals taking the law and revenge into their own hands,” he wrote.
“The murder of the youth Mohammed Abu Khdeir and the murder in Duma (if it was carried out by Jews) are serious and forbidden, but they do not stem from racism – whose meaning is the hatred of the other only because they are different – or from the desire of someone in Israeli society to destroy the Arab people,” Smotrich wrote. “They reflect anger and a desire for revenge, justified in their own right, on the basis of the hostility and war of annihilation the Arabs are conducting against us.”
Smotrich also argued that Jewish attacks on Arabs are not racist, but are, instead, the fault of the Arabs themselves.
“If the Arabs had not fought against us, not a single Arab would have been killed here,” he wrote. “If the Arabs had not murdered us night and day, not a single Jew here would have wanted to harm them. War is a bad thing, and during it we are required sometimes to take unpleasant defensive measures. It happens sometimes that mistakes are made as part of it, and even difficult mistakes that are almost criminal. But it is light years away from racism and apartheid.”
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