Cutting through the bullshit.

Monday, 28 August 2006

Unparalleled moral standards

The Jerusalem Post reports (courtesy, as usual, of the indefatigable Tom Feeley of ICH),

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has called on Israel to reevaluate its military rules of war in light of Hizbullah's "unconscionable use of civilians, hospitals, ambulances, mosques and the like as human shields, cannon fodder and weapons of asymmetric warfare."

…Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the RCA, … said that …the IDF may have unnecessarily endangered its forces out of moral considerations.

"Like Jews everywhere, we as members of the RCA have always admired the unparalleled moral standards of Israel's armed forces in their military engagements, including sensitivity to the suffering of civilians and other innocents who find themselves caught up in the entanglements of war," said the RCA statement. …

According to Herring, the new combat realities of fighting an enemy that uses its own civilians as human shields dictate a rethinking of IDF military ethics.

…The RCA's delicate criticism of IDF morality was echoed by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed and Rabbi Tzefania Drori of Kiryat Shmona. …

"Our corrupt military morality, which tells us that our soldiers must endanger their lives to protect enemy civilians, is the reason we lost the war," said Eliyahu.

"Anti-Semites demand that we use Christian morality while our enemies act like barbarians," said Drori, accusing the IDF of adopting "Christian morality" as its own.

Three weeks ago, Rabbi Dov Lior announced in the name of the Yesha Council of Rabbis that "when our enemies hold a baby in one hand and shoot at us with the other, or when missiles are purposely aimed at civilian populations in the Land of Israel in blatant disregard for moral criteria, we are obligated to act according to Jewish morality, which dictates that 'he who gets up to kill you, get up yourself and kill him first.'"

"There are no innocent parties in a time of war," he continued. "Rather, one must battle a bellicose city until it is captured. All types of Christian morality weaken the spirit of our army and our nation and cost us the lives of our soldiers and citizens."

My understanding is that there is indeed a Talmudic principle of the rodef ‘pursuer’, which sanctions preemptive actions. The unparalleled moral standards of the Israeli military, however, take this a few steps further - If you can imagine anyone threatening your interests in any way, pre-emptively obliterate them and anyone else who happens to be around at the time and might get in the way.

The principle has doubtless been subject to a millennium of interpretation and commentary. For example, an article by Rabbi Jill Jacobs asserts,

Even as rabbinic law commands the killing of the rodef, this mandate, like the laws of war and punishment, comes with restrictions. Before killing a rodef, one must be certain that this person actually intends to murder, and may even need to verify that the rodef understands the implications of this crime (Talmud, Yoma 85b and Talmud, Sanhedrin 72b). Furthermore, one must do the least harm necessary to stop the rodef from murdering. Thus, one who kills a rodef when breaking a limb would have sufficed is liable for capital punishment (Talmud, Sanhedrin 57a).

And of course, unparalleled moral standards do not prevent the Israeli military from siting its headquarters in a densely populated area of Tel Aviv, or its munitions factories and stores among civilians. And all the other atrocities we have witnessed over the last 58 years and more.

Unparalleled moral standards also apparently sanction violation of the ceasefire whose terms were so favourable to Israel, as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said after the cabinet decision to accept them, but apparently not to comply with them. As Jonathon Cook wrote a few days ago:

In fact, this was no simple “clash” during an intelligence-gathering mission, as early reports in the Israeli media made clear before the official story was established. Israeli special forces launched the covert operation to capture a Hizbullah leader, Sheikh Mohammed Yazbak, way beyond the Litani River, the northern extent of Israel’s supposed “buffer zone”. The hit squad were disguised not only as Arabs -- a regular ploy by units called “mistarvim” -- but as Lebanese soldiers driving in Lebanese army vehicles. When their cover was blown, Hizbullah opened fire, killing one Israeli and wounding two more in a fierce gun battle.

…It is difficult to see how this operation could be characterized as “defensive” except in the language employed by Israel’s army -- which, after all, is misleadingly known as the Israel Defence Forces. UN Resolution 1701, the legal basis of the ceasefire, calls on Israel to halt “all offensive military operations”. How much more offensive could the operation be?

The question keeps arising of whether the ceasefire will hold. This can only mean, ‘will Hizballah abide by the ceasefire’, because Israel has already violated the limp ‘offensive operations’ clause that was supposed to have applied to it. UNSC 1701 was arrived at through such a corrupt and cynical process without consultation with Hizballah, which everyone asserts is one of the chief protagonists, that they would be well within their rights to ignore it. And then there is the little matter of the continuing Israeli occupation, permitted, up to a point, by 1701. Why would Hizballah, or any Lebanese, accept this infringement of their sovereignty, much less tolerate thousands of yobbos armed to the teeth stomping around their communities? As for UNIFIL, under 1701, it becomes a proxy occupation force and is in principle fair game. Under 1701 or any imaginable scenario, UNIFIL could never deploy on the Israeli side of the Blue Line. Their task is to disarm the defenders and it is unthinkable that the aggressor should be disarmed. The answer of course is that any hint of defence or retaliation on Hizballah’s part would reset the clock, becoming the provocation for entirely justified Israeli ‘self defence’ that the ‘international community’ would applaud. Unparallelled moral double standards, but who’s counting?

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