Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Posted Jan 21 2009
The world’s reaction to Israel’s defensive assault on Gaza was predictable and quite telling – predictable in its hostility and revealing in its utter contempt for the lives and redemptive process of the Jewish people. None of the critics can be remotely described as either friendly or objective observers, and yet the moment should not pass without lessons being drawn from this experience and the substance of their protests.
The vicious and ugly reactions across the globe are not surprising, nor should they be disheartening or even alarming to Jews. It is crucial to realize that the demonstrations across Arabia, Europe and pockets of America were not the result of the conflict but in fact a tactic in the conflict. The asymmetrical warfare being waged against Israel relies on claims of “brutality, atrocities, and humanitarian crises” in order to demoralize Israeli society and undermine its will to fight.
The major conflicts of the early 2000’s involve not wars of states versus states and armies versus armies, but attacks on sovereign nations by non-state terrorist entities. These terrorists pose as civilians, hide behind civilians whom they use as human shields, and utilize the broadcast images of the harm caused to their civilian shields by the military response of a provoked state as propaganda tools that weaken that state’s ability to defend itself and its interests.
In such a duplicitous environment, the Geneva Conventions, the resort to “international law” and the ubiquitous threat of “war crimes investigations” – only against the sovereign state, and never against the terrorist gangs – serve mainly to restrain the civilized world from responding in a decisive and appropriate way. Instead, they enable the aggressors in these asymmetric struggles to exercise a distinct advantage and perpetrate atrocities with impunity.
Let us not fall into that trap again. The protesters here are just soldiers on another battlefield, and paying them undue attention, therefore, plays into their hands and detracts from the war effort. Israel was most clever – having painfully learned from the Lebanese debacle of 2006 – in keeping the Western media, most of which is avowedly hostile to it under the guise of impartiality, out of the conflict zone. No pictures, no lasting story; no lasting story, no consequences. And no consequences means the enemy is deprived of one of its primary weapons in the battle for public opinion – in Israel itself.
Make no mistake: the real target of the claims of “massacres” is not the United Nations, the United States, or the West; the real target is the average Israeli who has been made to feel in the past 15 years that Jewish statehood is illegitimate, a historical aberration and even, to some extent, a rejection of the humanistic message of the Bible.
That sentiment has engendered in the Israeli public a loss of will that has emboldened a number of governments to offer imprudent concessions that have only strengthened the enemy and prompted a loss of common sense resulting in a risible pattern of alternately voting for “security” and then “peace” again and again and again.
Worse, it opened Israel to the charge that by responding now to the incessant rocket attacks on its citizenry – after tolerating thousands of such attacks for years without meaningful response – Israel suddenly changed the rules of the game.
If international public opinion denies to the Jewish people the elementary right of self-defense, it is to at least some degree because Israel has been loathe to exercise that right with any consistency, partly because the world has been conditioned to accept bombs on and in Israeli cities as “normal” and partly because too many Israelis – the current prime minister included – have accepted the Arab narrative that Israel is responsible for the Arab refugee problem of 1948 rather than the Arab invasion of Israel on its very first day of independence.
Hence, the twin clubs of “proportionality of response” and the “sanctity of civilian life” are wielded against Israel. Both, if not irrelevant to current events, are at least inapt as well as tedious.
The plain fact is that the winner in any conflict usually uses disproportionate force; that is why he wins. By the end of World War II, the Allies’ weaponry and manpower were frighteningly disproportionate. That is why they won.
When a coalition of Arab armies attacked the fledgling State of Israel in 1948, no one seemed too concerned about the “disproportionate” nature of the offensive. When Israel in its wars against Arab states was outnumbered seven-to-one and out-armed five-to-one, no one protested the “disproportionate” nature of the conflict.
“Proportionality” in this context is therefore a contrivance, used only against Israel (and, recently, against the United States), and has no place in a conflict in which a sovereign state is compelled to resist the persistent aggression of a terrorist gang.
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Similarly, the obsession with “civilians” and their humanitarian needs is both tendentious and farcical. Bear in mind that most Gazans are not innocent bystanders; the overwhelming majority are rabid Jew-haters, with permanent and insoluble grievances, who in 2006 voted into power by landslide proportions (two-thirds of Gazans voted for Hamas) a terrorist group whose platform was murder, mayhem and, judging from media accounts, the generous provision of social services.
Hamas did not run on a platform of “hope and change” but promised unlimited warfare and the destruction of the nation of Israel – in other words, a chicken in every pot and a missile factory in every garage. Whatever spin the elitist media put on it, the bottom line is that the Gazans voted Jew-killers into power, and there is a price that must be paid for that.
Hamas’s practice of hiding behind civilians (and concealing its weapons in and launching its attacks from schools, hospitals and mosques) is cowardly, a war crime, despicable and another tactic in its war against Israel. But let us not leap to the conclusion that Gaza’s civilians – i.e., Hamas’s voting public – are therefore innocent.
Pictures of suffering children are heartrending for every normal functioning human being with a shred of decency. Our hearts tell us to grieve, and that is an indication of our basic humanity. But our minds, which must dominate, reinforce the historic necessity and fundamental justice of this mission.
We do not view the world as do our enemies – who, in the infamous words of one Hamas legislator, “desire death like you desire life.” It is not at all shocking that children are used as human shields by Hamas in a society in which children are also used as suicide bombers.
The world – Israel, the United States and the Western nations that have an interest in fighting Arab terror – in the last three decades has not yet fully accommodated its strategic doctrines or military tactics to the new reality of a war thrust upon it by radical fundamentalist Islam in which civilians, civilian infrastructure and the routines of daily life are the primary targets of the enemy.
The enemy apologists in the liberal media blithely overlook attacks on truly innocent civilians of the besieged country and overemphasize to the point of a charade any response of the victims that might endanger some of the enemy’s civilians.
The Torah’s rules of engagement in warfare contain no such admonitions against collateral harm to enemy civilians during wartime, and certainly not at the expense of the lives of our own soldiers and citizens. Neither, for that matter, do the Geneva Conventions, as long as civilians are not targeted directly and there is a legitimate military objective to be gained by the course of action.
We have traveled a long distance from sanity as well as morality. One fails to recall the Allies’ heartfelt concern with providing food and fuel to the citizens of Dresden or Hiroshima; it is surely an unfortunate consequence of war that innocents suffer, but it is the obvious intent of war that the infrastructure – both personnel and material – that bolsters the aggressor is demolished.
Israel should have – but did not – resist the global pressure to provide its enemies with fuel, electricity, water and food, and to the very places from which emanates the daily barrage of rockets on Israeli towns. There is a terrible price that must be paid – in suffering – for supporting evil and indulging the fantasy that Israel can be destroyed.
And the hypocrisy in the crocodile tears shed for the plight of the Arab “civilians” is staggering – even by Middle East standards. As the analyst David Lerer noted, Egypt’s border controls seem to work only in one direction; they are incapable of stopping the smuggling of weapons and contraband into Gaza but quite successful in keeping out of Egypt Arab refugees who are sensibly fleeing the war zone and reject the notion of being used as human shields. Egypt is given a pass in order to preserve the convenient fiction that it is a moderate pro-Western nation that plays a constructive role as a peacemaker.
In fact, Hosni Mubarak is pro-Mubarak, not pro-American, and he subtly plays the West against the Arabs in order to further his only real interest: the survival of his autocratic regime. So the Egyptians turn a deaf ear to the entreaties of their brethren, but do not hesitate to condemn Israel for failing to supply its enemy. And other Arab states, playing the game of criticizing Israel publicly and Hamas privately, neither demonstrate integrity nor promote the cause of peace. Such double-dealing, winked at by Israel, detracts from the moral clarity necessary to prevail in such a conflict.
That is why Israel’s relentless effort – for its own political and diplomatic reasons – to distinguish between Hamas and Gazans is ill conceived, and, if not reversed, will cost it dearly in the future. It is a patent attempt to keep alive the moribund Oslo process, pretend that fruitful negotiations with reasonable interlocutors are imminent, and divert attention from the disaster wrought by the expulsion of Jews from Gaza in 2005 by the very individuals who remain in power and somehow unaccountable for their past errors.
How bitterly ironic that the IDF first had to recapture the destroyed town of Netzarim in order to gain a foothold – again – in Gaza.
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Israel’s greatest weakness is its lack of a plan for victory, which suggests to the world that the outcome of this war – the eighth war in Gaza since 1948 – should be yet another round of Israeli concessions and the resuscitation of the futile land-for-peace formula. Nothing that has occurred has stripped most Israeli politicians of the illusions that one can negotiate evil away; that all that is required for peace to erupt is a little more talk, a little more time, and another signed agreement; that rockets from Gaza can be stopped without Israeli boots on the ground; and that victory is not possible – the first war in history in which victory has been pronounced an impossibility.
Nonetheless, the party with the end game usually prevails over the party that dithers, fantasizes and projects its good intentions and nobility on a cruel and heartless foe – and it is this that bears reflection in the days and months ahead.
The real question is this: Is Israel ready to win? The world assumes that the only solution to the ongoing strife in the Middle East – and the panacea for all its woes – is the creation of a Palestinian state. When the idea was first broached by international figures in the 1970s, sane Israelis and most Westerners roundly rejected it as an existential threat to the State of Israel. But thirty years later, such a state would be an even greater threat, and the mere thought of replicating in the heartland of Israel the current instability in the north and south of Israel is frightening.
Wars are fought to win, not to draw. A cease-fire that restores the status quo ante – and allows the rebuilding of the enemy infrastructure with even more porous borders – will, once again, demoralize Israeli society and further estrange its citizenry from its government. Prime Minster Olmert, whose rule is by now as illegitimate as it is incompetent, is looking to score political points and not to change the strategic equation.
His cease-fire notwithstanding, all his accomplishments in this brief war will evaporate if an Israeli withdrawal means that rockets will continue to rain down on Israel’s southern cities and towns, as they invariably will – next week or next month.
How can Israel change the strategic equation? Israel would do well to exploit this opportunity, renounce the unworkable concept of land-for-peace, advocate to the American diplomatic retreads soon to disembark in Israel a set of new ideas that do not foster the creation of a 23rd Arab state in the Middle East but security and dignity for the one Jewish state. Arabs, too, deserve a decent, peaceful life; if their religious doctrines do not permit that in the land of Israel, they should seek it elsewhere.
The final renunciation of land-for-peace would be one welcome outcome to the present conflict, and augur a more rational Israeli statecraft. As the celebrated economist and thinker Thomas Sowell recently wrote: “The Israelis traded land for peace, but they have never gotten the peace – so they should take back the land.” That would be worthy and sustainable deterrence, and go far in reversing the misguided policies of the last 15 years.
The enemy deserves a heavy and sustained blow for each rocket it launches – or will launch – against our brethren. Compassion for the cruel is one of the most harmful emotions in man, and guilt over the preservation of Jewish life in the face of a brutal and sadistic enemy – one that uses its own children as cannon fodder – is un-Jewish, foolhardy, dangerous and counterproductive.
Victory in the long term is certainly possible, and can be attained through embracing policies designed to achieve strategic superiority and deterrence, by maintaining Israel’s spirit and moral standing, by supporting Israel’s courageous fighting forces, by countering the enemy propaganda that permeates our minds and distorts our perspectives, by settling the entire biblical land of Israel and by a renewed faith and commitment to Torah that challenges us to be better Jews, to look at these times with a clear eye and a pure soul.
Only then will there be an end to our wars and the enmity of a world that does not know us, and the era of universal peace will begin, speedily and in our days.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Geffen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2009).