Jewish Law in Our Times

by Simon M. Jackson, Adv., Legal Advisor to Torah MiTzion

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1 - Why Israels Hesitation?

“A quarter of Israel has been shut down for over a month by relentless missile fire from deep inside a neighboring country. But Israel could prevail in this conflict. It could silence the Katyusha launchers by one of two options - a much greater use of air power or a larger ground offensive involving large numbers of Israeli troops. Either of these avenues, however, would involve death on a far larger scale than we have seen thus far. Pulverizing air power would likely create Lebanese casualties of a number that would dwarf the toll to date, while the wider use of ground forces, on Hizbullah’s home territory, would likely dwarf the IDF toll hitherto sustained in the close-quarters fighting. Yet while some experts favor the ground-forces option, for others the choice is no choice at all: dead Lebanese or dead Israelis.”

(David Horovitz, Editor, The Jerusalem Post, August 8, 2006, on the war in Lebanon)

Short-Term Gain; Long-Term Loss

Israelcertainly did not want to put more of its ground forces into harm’s way during the war in Lebanon. But it also did not want to inflict civilian casualties on a more drastic scale in Lebanon. This was partly because of a sense of short-term gain and long-term loss. A much more forceful use of air power might indeed shatter Hizbullah’s Katyusha’s capability and bring a respite to the suffering in the North. However, argued IDF military spokesman Captain Mitch Pilcer, carpet bombing of Hizbullah strongholds would have been self-defeating for Israel, because “some of these Lebanese are our allies, and if they come back to a flattened town, they might turn around and join Hizbullah.” Israel might even be left friendless internationally and thus utterly vulnerable. In Horovitz’s words:

Could US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice truly stand full-square with the Jewish state as hysterical anti-Israeli and anti-American protests gripped the Arab world and mobilized the masses far beyond this region as well?

Such talk is, of course, not the usual comment one hears on the street. In the words of one astonished internet browser:

Why the generals are sending the troops into the villages when they know that Hizbullah are waiting in the houses and are dug in I don’t understand. You should be bombing these houses from the air so there will be less casualties on our side. The Lebanese had a month to leave if any which I doubt are still there. If they are in a military zone then they are combatants.

Israeland Morality

Israel’s hesitation, argues Horovitz, was also born of its own sense of morality. Israel railed against what it considers offensive allegations of disproportionality in its military response thus far to Hizbullah’s unprovoked escalation. The injustice is keenly felt precisely because Israel is acutely conscious of proportion. That sense of proportion evidently determined that dozens of deaths at home, hundreds of thousands of fleeing northerners, and weeks upon weeks in the bomb-shelters for those who have remained in rocket range justified the degree and scale of air power that it employed during the War, and no more.

Presumably, continued Katyusha fire inflicting continued casualties at the current level might have been deemed to justify greater fire power, but not much greater. A dire, Hizbullah-prompted escalation - such as, say, a missile attack on Tel Aviv - would likely have presaged a weightier Israeli response. But again, a calibration of kinds would have applied, with the use of force calculated against a measure of the damage sustained.

There was no sign - again, ironically, given the international criticism - that Israel was prepared to depart from this kind of calibration and resort to more devastating blows to the residential areas of Lebanon from which the rockets kept flying.

The World’s Negative Perception of Israel

Horovitz details how Israel’s official public relations performance in the course of this conflict has been, as ever, dire:

It has failed to highlight that this is essentially a war against an Iran that publicly demands Israel’s destruction. It has failed to effectively articulate how pernicious an enemy it faces - one that strikes Israel’s citizens and delights in the fatalities inflicted, then cries foul to a responsive international community when Israel’s attempts to stop the fire inevitably cause death and destruction. It has failed even to widely disseminate film that clearly shows where the Katyushas are being fired from; the footage of rockets flying out from Kana was released a full 12 hours after the world had been subjected to graphic coverage of the tragic consequences of Israel’s response. It has failed, at the most basic level, to help a watching world differentiate between a guerrilla-terrorist aggressor subjugating Lebanon to its Iranian patron’s will - and an embattled sovereign nation attempting to protect itself. A major segment of international media, it should be noted, has emphatically chosen itself not to highlight that distinction - out of a sadly familiar combination of factors including ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, misguided self-perceived liberalism, in some cases anti-Semitism, in others fear for its own wellbeing in Arab host nations.

The negative perception and presentation of Israel starkly impacts on the degree ofIsraeli military response that international public opinion, and by direct and vital extension the American political leadership, is prepared to tolerate. The problems, self-made or inflicted, that Israel has encountered on the media battlefield, in short, constitute a significant factor in circumscribing its military room for maneuver.

Our Nation - Right or Wrong

But the main limitation on Israel’s use of heavier force, nonetheless, remained our own nation’s sense of right and wrong, suggests Horovitz. Israel’s leadership and its mainstream public didn’t want to get large numbers of reservists killed in the effort to eviscerate Hizbullah. And they also didn’t want to kill large numbers of Lebanese. Which is why Israel continued to hesitate.

The War tested the degree to which Israel was prepared to reconsider the standards to which it has clung, even as it has fought for its survival through 58 blood-strewn years. In previous rounds of conflict and war, it often managed to use ingenuity and innovation in order to maintain its self-prescribed moral high-ground. Yet Israeli ingenuity and innovation did not prove decisive this time. At immense ongoing cost to its civilians’ welfare, and to its deterrent image both in the region and in the eyes of allies and enemies further afield - Israel did not choose different answers to its ethical dilemmas.

Our own sense of why the Jews must have a nation of their own is born in part of our appreciation of the Jewish values that underpin it. Our Jewish values are what sustained our nation in exile over the centuries. But in this hostile Middle East, in this ruthless and hypocritical era, Israel increasingly faces the question: can it cling to those values and still survive? Facing evermore ingenious, cynical and merciless enemies, the stark choice grows evermore inescapable - kill or be killed. Sooner or later, Horovitz concludes, Israel will have to decide how far it is prepared to use the devastating force it has at its disposal in order to maintain its right to national life in this vicious part of the world.

 

To ask Simon a question regarding this article, or for assistance with any Israeli legal, notary or professional translation services, click here: www.jacksonadvocates.net

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Jewish Law in our Times > Ethical Dilemmas of the Jewish State at War

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