It is easy to look at the turmoil in the Middle-East and cast the blame upon the Muslim extremists. On the face of it, they are the instigators and vilians of the story. They kidnap Israeli soldiers, kill others, hurl unprovoked rockets at Israeli cities, and deny Israel’s very right to exist.
Yet on honest consideration, things are not so simple. Israel is not so innocent as most in America, and specifically in Christian Conservative culture (including most Mormons) reflexively believe.
As of Monday, July 24, well over three-hundred Lebanese civilians have been killed. Hundreds more have been injured, many permanently crippled. A few hundred-thousand have been displaced, sent fleeing their homes, leaving virtually all worldly possessions behind. Many will come back to find their homes and lives in shambles.
The Israeli death toll to Hezbollah attacks? Thirty-seven. About half of those are soldiers.
Such imbalances among “collateral damage” are common in Israel’s security measures. According to reports by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, more than 3,500 Palestinians have been killed, and almost 29,000 injured, since September 2000, while over 1,000 Israelis have been killed, and more than 7,200 injured, in the same period. Despite the fact that Israel asserts that they strictly targets terrorists, Jim Rice of Sojourners has crunched the numbers and determined that while the Muslim terrorists indiscriminately attack civilians, Palestinian children were being killed at a rate 15 times that of Israeli children.
Consider this hypothetical situation. A parent has taken their child to a crowded public area, perhaps a mall or a park. While there, the child is accosted by a criminal, who attempts to kidnap the child. We would accept the right of the parent to use force to prevent the kidnapping of their child. We would even accept the judicious use of lethal force (a pistol) to protect their child. But public and authorities would take a rather more dim view were the parent to open fire on the crowd in hopes of stopping the criminal fleeing with the child.
Is that really any different than what Israel is doing? Can this really be considered a judicious or proportional response?
Gideon Levy, journalist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, noted of Israel’s actions in Gaza shortly after the kidnapping by Hamas:
The “summer rains” we are showering on Gaza are not only pointless, but are first and foremost blatantly illegitimate. It is not legitimate to cut off 750,000 people from electricity. It is not legitimate to call on 20,000 people to run from their homes and turn their towns into ghost towns. It is not legitimate to penetrate Syria’s airspace. It is not legitimate to kidnap half a government and a quarter of a parliament.
A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organization (“A Black Flag,”).
Rabbi Michael Lerner of the Network of Spiritual Progressives asserted:
this week it’s impossible as a Jew and as an American to not notice that a new human rights violation by Israel has taken place which manages to surpass many of its previous violations in cruelty and in the outrage it has generated (“Israel has Crossed a Moral Boundary,”).
That said, let us put aside the question of proportional response. Let us assume for the sake of argument that Israel’s actions are proportional and strategically justifiable.
No one questions Israel’s right to defend itself. But the mere fact that they have that right does not make the act right.
Israel has followed a more-or-less consistent security policy since its creation. For decades now, it has responded to violence in kind, using quick and overwhelming force to retaliate against attack. And all that violence has done nothing to improve their security. Terrorists continue to arise. Outraged Muslims continue to offer themselves up as sacrificial lambs in the hopes that they might inflict some harm on a few Israelis as they go. Yes, the terrorists are the ones deliberately provoking Israel. It is the Muslim extremists who barbarically target innocent civilians. But two wrongs do not make a right.
Why is it that Israel stubbornly clings to old methods of violence when those methods have consistently proven impotent? Albert Einstein insisted that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Is there something inherent in Zionism that contains the seeds of insanity? Every time Israel clamps down on Palestinian civilian populations, they create more discontent among the Muslims for extremists to exploit. Every time they cavalierly obliterate Lebanese cities, with the inevitable “collateral damage” of human life, in the name of rooting out Hezbollah, they fertilize the recruiting grounds for terrorist leaders to harvest. By their very actions, they sow the very hatred for their own nation they must later fight. Violence rarely spawns anything more than violence.
Israel can successfully kill every single combatant, destroy or seize every single weapon, and completely disband Hezbollah, Hamas, and every other terrorist organization in the region. It will accomplish nothing. The discontent and frustration will simmer among the population, ultimately arising in some new armed faction ready to renew the violence with the Israelis.
Why is there this underlying unrest among the Muslim Middle East? Why are they so ready to turn to violence against Israel and the Western World? Those who would dismiss Islam as a barbaric, violent religion or the terrorists and the populations from which they arise as merely cardboard cutout “bad guys” perhaps have yet to examine the facts. For Israelis and their defenders to hyperbolically write the situation off as anti-Judaism or an evil quest for world domination is inaccurate, and unproductive. Things might not be as simple and one-sided as they might want to believe.
I myself have not been to Israel or Palestine, so I cannot speak from personal experience. But who have with whom I’ve spoken have been very dismayed at the manner in which Palestinians are treated in Israel. Those visitors claim that the Palestinians (or, more technically correct, “Muslim Arab-Israelis”) are often treated as second-class citizens, and seem to fall primarily in the lower socio-economic classes of Israel.
Rabbi Lerner notes:
Israel is the military power occupying the West Bank and surrounding Gaza. By all international standards it has no right to do either, but if it does so it has an absolute obligation to treat the civilian population with certain respect and basic human rights. Israel continually fails to do this and has become one (not the worst, but one) of the world’s major human rights (“When Will They Ever Learn?”).
Given the fact that Israel has maintained a chokehold on the borders of Gaza, carefully controlling the transportation of goods into and out of Gaza, their supposed support for Palestinian autonomy seems disingenuous.
The Association of Forty is an Israeli political organization advocating the rights of 40 unrecognized Muslim-Israeli villages in Israel.
Even though these Arab Villages existed tens and hundreds of years ago, The Israeli consecutive governments ignored the existence of these villages and the inhabitants were denied their rights as citizens of the country. Since this time, these villages have not appeared on any map and there is still no plan for their development.
As a result of this unrecognizing, the villages are still lack the basic infrastructure: Today, there are approximately 100,000 people who are dispossessed or denied any basic services such as running water, electricity, proper education and health services and access roads – constituting a gross violation of human rights and opposing the values of a modern and democratic state.
Pax Christi International, a Catholic non-profit peace advocacy organization, explains a number of ways in which the Palestinians, both within and without Israel, are subject to unjust treatment by Israel.
Rabbi Lerner has observed the irony of Israel’s outrage over the kidnapping of a few soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah.
…virtually every human rights group including the various Israeli human rights organizations has chronicled tens of thousands of acts of “kidnap” of this sort by the IDF against Palestinian civilians, who are then kept in detention for as long as six months without a trial, often facing brutal torture, and then released without ever having been charged with any crime (“Israel Has Crossed a Moral Boundary,”).
We might even go back further and examine the means by which Israel was founded. When Hamas won a sweeping victory in the last Palestinian election, Israel was hardly pleased. It made very clear that cooperation with Hamas would hinge upon a few important issues. One of those were a public and thoroughly acknowledgement of Israel’s “right to exist.” I gave quite a bit of reflection to that right. In modern, mainstream political thought, the right of any given nation to exist is derived from the consent of the governed. In other words, all people who are to be subject to the government are allowed a hand in creating the government and given a voice in the adoption of that government. As best I can determine, the Palestinians within the borders of Israel, who may have comprised a majority of the people in the eventual state of Israel, were given no such participation. How then can it be said that the government is based upon their consent? If it does not, does that not raise serious objections to Israel’s moral right to exist?
Considering the type of government Israel’s Muslim opponents endorse, they cannot lay claim to those objections. But that does not mean that we should not acknowledge those questions ourselves.
We should not fall into the mistake of labeling any such questions as anti-Judaic. There are Jewish organizations which themselves question or even oppose the State of Israel. Neturei Karta is “a group of Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem who refused (and still refuse) to recognize the existence or authority of the so-called ‘State of Israel,’ and made (and still make) a point of publicly demonstrating their position, the position of the Torah and authentic unadulterated Judaism (Neteurei Karta: About Us).” Primarily composed of Jewish Palestinians who had lived in harmony with Muslim Palestinians for generations prior to creation of Israel, members claim that the sovereign nation of Israel is contrary to Jewish law, and that the establishment of the nation did great wrong to the Muslim Palestinians living there. One does not have to be anti-Jewish to raise questions about Israel any more than one must be anti-Islamic to challenge the morality of various regimes in Muslim nations.
Of course, all of that is philosophical. Philosophy must often give way to the conditions in reality. Whether or not Israel has a moral right to exist, the fact remains that it does exist. The Israeli population has burgeoned. Several generations have grown up and established roots in the modern state of Israel. There can be no question that Israel has a de facto right to exist. To eliminate the political entity that is Israel and impose upon the current population a new government (likely necessitating the evacuation of many current inhabitants) would be just as gross a crime as it was for Israel to be imposed upon the original denizens. Two wrongs do not make a right. Yet that still does not eliminate the fact that the founding of Israel was problematic at best.
None of the alleged mistreatment and abuse by Israel justifies a single act of violence upon an innocent citizen of Israel, any more than the Hezbollah kidnapping justifies the violence born by the innocent citizens of Lebanon. This is not an effort to establish some moral equivalence. But if there is substance to these accusations, can we not understand the indignation felt by the Palestinians and their Muslim brethren? Should we not at least examine these claims rather than giving such unreserved support for Israel and their actions?
How would we react were the U.N. to declare that Utah should become the sovereign nation of the Native American tribes? What if they imposed upon us a new, specifically Native American government without our consent?
How would we feel were a foreign government to maintain firm control over the commerce of our state, blocking it as they saw fit?
What would we do if, as a result of criminal actions by some militia organization tenuously connected with the LDS Church, some foreign government were to cut off water or power to large portions of Utah, seizing and imprisoning a large number of LDS legislators on the grounds that they could be collaborators?
Would we not be outraged? Is there not the possibility that members of our state would resort to violence?
Regarding we Christians, Christian activist Jim Wallis of the Sojourners is right:
It’s time to challenge the theology of Christian Zionism advanced by many of the American Religious Right who are completely uncritical of Israel’s behavior and totally oblivious to the sufferings (or even the existence) of Arab Christians in the Middle East (“The Body of Christ in Lebanon,” ).
If Israel wants to finally obtain the peace it so dearly desires, it must be willing to give up the old failed scripts by which its acted for so long. It must give up the arrogance and paranoia through which it has interacted in the past. I truly believe that if they in humility and sincerity open a dialogue with their enemies, things will begin to change. They must show that they truly want what is best for all inhabitants of the Middle-East. They must show that they are willing to go down a new path alongside their Muslim brothers and sisters. They must show that they are willing to use their considerable wealth (much of it granted them by the U.S.) to help lift their Muslim neighbors out of the poverty and squalor so many of them live in. As they do, the anger and discontent within the Muslim Middle-East will begin to dissipate. Those Muslims will then no longer be so easily swayed by demagogues and other manipulators who want the bloodshed to continue for their own purposes.
This is admittedly a great deal to ask of Israel. It will take courage for Israel to open up. They will feel vulnerable. It will not be easy. Progress will be slow. There will be some stumbling along the way. Yet it is crucial that they find the courage to take this path. Until they do so, Israel will continue to find its hopes dashed.
Two peoples, locked in an insane perpetual cycle of bloodshed and tragedy. Will either party ever tire of their violent dance?
Until they do, I say a pox on both their houses.