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Moral Clarity in Gaza

Moral Clarity in Gaza

Hamas has only one grievance: Israel's very existence.


Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons. -- Associated Press, Dec. 27

Some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated. The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating.

Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis -- 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years -- deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.

This has two purposes. First, counting on the moral scrupulousness of Israel, Hamas figures civilian proximity might help protect at least part of its arsenal. Second, knowing that Israelis have new precision weapons that may allow them to attack nonetheless, Hamas hopes that inevitable collateral damage -- or, if it is really fortunate, an errant Israeli bomb -- will kill large numbers of its own people for which, of course, the world will blame Israel.

For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians.

For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians. The religion of Jew-murder and self-martyrdom is ubiquitous. And deeply perverse, such as the Hamas TV children's program in which an adorable live-action Palestinian Mickey Mouse is beaten to death by an Israeli (then replaced by his more militant cousin, Nahoul the Bee, who vows to continue on Mickey's path to martyrdom).

At war today in Gaza, one combatant is committed to causing the most civilian pain and suffering on both sides. The other combatant is committed to saving as many lives as possible -- also on both sides. It's a recurring theme. Israel gave similar warnings to Southern Lebanese villagers before attacking Hezbollah in the Lebanon war of 2006. The Israelis did this knowing it would lose for them the element of surprise and cost the lives of their own soldiers.

That is the asymmetry of means between Hamas and Israel. But there is equal clarity regarding the asymmetry of ends. Israel has but a single objective in Gaza -- peace: the calm, open, normal relations it offered Gaza when it withdrew in 2005. Doing something never done by the Turkish, British, Egyptian and Jordanian rulers of Palestine, the Israelis gave the Palestinians their first sovereign territory ever in Gaza.

What ensued? This is not ancient history. Did the Palestinians begin building the state that is supposedly their great national aim? No. No roads, no industry, no courts, no civil society at all. The flourishing greenhouses that Israel left behind for the Palestinians were destroyed and abandoned. Instead, Gaza's Iranian-sponsored rulers have devoted all their resources to turning it into a terror base -- importing weapons, training terrorists, building tunnels with which to kidnap Israelis on the other side. And of course firing rockets unceasingly.

The grievance? It cannot be occupation, military control or settlers. They were all removed in September 2005. There's only one grievance and Hamas is open about it. Israel's very existence.

Nor does Hamas conceal its strategy. Provoke conflict. Wait for the inevitable civilian casualties. Bring down the world's opprobrium on Israel. Force it into an untenable cease-fire -- exactly as happened in Lebanon. Then, as in Lebanon, rearm, rebuild and mobilize for the next round. Perpetual war. Since its raison d'etre is the eradication of Israel, there are only two possible outcomes: the defeat of Hamas or the extinction of Israel.

Israel's only response is to try to do what it failed to do after the Gaza withdrawal. The unpardonable strategic error of its architect, Ariel Sharon, was not the withdrawal itself but the failure to immediately establish a deterrence regime under which no violence would be tolerated after the removal of any and all Israeli presence -- the ostensible justification for previous Palestinian attacks. Instead, Israel allowed unceasing rocket fire, implicitly acquiescing to a state of active war and indiscriminate terror.

Hamas's rejection of an extension of its often-violated six-month cease-fire (during which the rockets never stopped, just were less frequent) gave Israel a rare opportunity to establish the norm it should have insisted upon three years ago: no rockets, no mortar fire, no kidnapping, no acts of war. As the U.S. government has officially stated: a sustainable and enduring cease-fire. If this fighting ends with anything less than that, Israel will have lost yet another war. The question is whether Israel still retains the nerve -- and the moral self-assurance -- to win.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Post.


January 3, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 57

(56) Wassim, January 14, 2009 6:15 PM

Hate the sin, Love the sinner

Let us please keep in mind that people can be victims of their education. Yes, ultimately they are responsible for their actions, but they are only acting and reacting according to the way they've been programmed by their society, education system, culture, traditions... etc. To question Islam is a healthy approach, however to dismiss muslims as troublemakers in any country where they exceed 3% of the population is incorrect, misleading, very dangerous, and reveals a hidden anti-semitic stigma that is still prevalent in our world. I ask you this, why did the British and the French leave the education system in Arab countries in the state that it is in when they left. The answer is "because they don't care for the liberalisation and modernisation of the Arab mind. Blind sheep is what you want them to remain."... Well now the blind faithful are causing some trouble, let's show them that they are wrong! They have already lost their vision. We can either try to empower them (and restore their vision), or we can try to keep them in the dark and continue to hypocritically blame them for being blind! FYI - China had more trouble with Buddhists-separatists in Tibet and American Christian Evangelists during 2008. Muslims are sheep without a shepherd, clinging to a way that served them well hundreds of years ago when the world was different.

Dvorah, July 18, 2014 9:05 AM

The importance of Islamists' education validated in Israel

Actually the Israeli government also saw that point and in the Oslo accords the Palestinians committed themselves to changing the textbooks which presented the Israelis as the evil ones to be eradicated from the very 1st grade. They actually had simple math problems such as "five Israelis, kill two, how many left". Despite the agreement, nothing changed for the better.

(55) Anonymous, January 11, 2009 2:06 AM

Thanks for the subject article. It was very clearly and reasonably argued.

I believe that whether **or** not Israel "wins" the current round of this conflict as you have suggested depends on more than nerve **or** self assurance.
Israel is currently in my view, hamstrung by three consideration.
The first is the upcoming elections. Politicians tend to be pragmatists and particularly so when vying for political office. It is hard for them to reach consensus at the best of times, but it is extremely difficult for them to do so when personal political fortunes also come into consideration.
The second is world opinion. Israel seems to always lose the propaganda war as well as the popularity contest when dealing with Palestinian issues. While the other side is rallying Arab and Moslem communities to its cause Israel seem unable to mount its own credible defense internationally especially in the corridors of power where it matters most.
Third is Israel''''s moral position. You have made it very clear that because of Israel''''s dedication to a "clean" war it finds itself fighting, ostensibly, with one hand tied behind its back, while the enemy has both its hands free. This means Israel has to be either twice as good, **or** it must find a way of leveling the battlefield. You cannot win a war, and permanently subdue the enemy, if you have to tread on eggs while they can run on stepping stones.
These three consideration, elections, world opinion, and Israel''''s moral position will make defeating Hamas almost impossible without some major miscalculation on the part of Hamas **or** divine intervention.

(54) Norma Fares, January 9, 2009 5:30 AM

Circle of whom the capacity to understand is not abnormal.

I wish this article would bring more clarity to a fact i.e. Gaza's terror that is clear enough only for people who want and are able to understand facts. [Double Standart]Arab-regimes and their respective one-sided Media are not within that circle. Afraid that western world (UN on the top) and respective media are not within either. Thank you Charles Krauthammer for your [another] staright-to-the-point-article that excellently portrays the sad situation of today's conflict: Hamas-based-Gaza v/s Israel. Thanks Aish for giving me the opportunity to read such an important article. God's blessings! Norma

(53) Saul Pillai, January 9, 2009 4:31 AM

Islam - the rreligion of peace ?

All wars cause tragedies. Sadly enough the innocent bystanders are the victim and not the true masterminds (HAMAS). I’m a Christian living for 5 generations in a Muslim country. I was born here and live and work among Muslims - men and women who profess to live moral and just lives under ISLAM the religion they claim is a RELIGION OF PEACE. Yet I wonder… WHERE IS THE PEACE ? I don’t see nor feel it. To me the PEACE (false peace) is only achieved when Muslims have their way. THAT IS NOT PEACE ! Fellow readers of, in the Jewish and Christian faiths we are allowed and encouraged to pray for people of other faiths. In fact the ancient Temple in Jerusalem offered sacrifices for the nations of the world. Yet a Muslim individual is forbidden by his/her religion (Islam) from praying for others. WHERE IS THE LOVE ? WHERE IS THE PEACE ? The religion of peace (ISLAM) is not extending an olive branch but wielding weapons. Muslims around the world, I respect you only as human beings but ask you to please start questioning your religion not just follow it blindly. Islam is leading too many people astray and causing more hatred among mankind. Friends we all know that hatred breeds more hatred… SHALOM to Israel and SHALOM to the whole world…

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