By Michael Gerson Of The Washington Post
Friday, January 2, 2009; A15
There is no question -- none -- that Israel's attack on Hamas in Gaza is justified. No nation can tolerate a portion of its people living in the conditions of the London Blitz -- listening for sirens, sleeping in bomb shelters and separated from death only by the randomness of a Qassam missile's flight. And no group aspiring to nationhood, such as Hamas, can be exempt from the rules of sovereignty, morality and civilization, which, at the very least, forbid routine murder attempts against your neighbors.
Israel's response has been criticized as "disproportionate," which betrays a misunderstanding of proportion's meaning. The goal of military action, when unavoidable, is not to take one life in exchange for each one unjustly taken; this is mere vengeance. The goal is to remove the conditions that lead to conflict and the taking of life. So far, Israel's actions have been proportionate to this objective. And the convoys of fuel, medical supplies and food sent by Israel into Gaza show an appropriate concern for Palestinian suffering, even during a broad assault on Hamas forces.
Israel's immediate goal is simple: to stop missile barrages by Hamas on southern Israel. But it is not a coincidence that this action was taken by the primary sponsors of the peace process in Israeli politics. The Israeli public will not accept any further risks for peace as long as Hamas missiles fly. Those missiles are a daily symbol that Israeli territorial concessions result in the strengthening of committed enemies and the death of Israeli citizens. The removal of this threat is not an obstacle to the peace process. It is the prerequisite for the resumption of the peace process.
It is also not a coincidence that the Israeli attack took place in the last days of a reliably favorable Bush administration -- for which the president-elect, above all, should be grateful. If Israel concludes the main phase of its Gaza operations by Inauguration Day -- as it seems to want to do -- this will allow Obama to renew a peace push with a fresh start and a large obstacle (hopefully) removed.
But the risks are considerable. A repeat of Israel's 2006 experience in Lebanon would be a massive blow to the Jewish state -- a demonstration of impotence in the face of mortal threats. The Lebanon campaign did not fail because of international pressure and criticism. It failed because Hezbollah terrorists could credibly claim the victory of survival -- confirmed by a cease-fire that allowed their rearmament. Syria and Iran were strengthened -- not because of Israel's attack on Hezbollah but because Israel didn't prevail.
The Israelis have an advantage this time around. In Lebanon, Hezbollah received a flood of weapons and support from bordering Syria. In Gaza, arms smuggling has been a problem, but neighboring Egypt is not pro-Hamas. Israeli air raids have been effective in destroying Hamas infrastructure, weapons stockpiles and smuggling tunnels.
Israel recognizes that Hamas will claim victory no matter how badly it is damaged. But the real determination of winners and losers will come six months after a cease-fire. And there are two objective criteria of Israeli success: an end of rocket and mortar attacks on Israel and an end of large-scale arms smuggling to Hamas.
What would be the shape of such a victory? That is not yet clear. Israel could reoccupy Gaza, overthrow Hamas and enforce its terms. But Israeli leaders, by most accounts, don't prefer this massive exertion, which also would imply that Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza was a mistake. It is more likely that a ground invasion, if it comes, would last a matter of days. In this case, Israel would reserve the right to resume attacks in Gaza at any time after the conclusion of a cease-fire -- responding to every tunnel that is dug and every missile that is fired. And Hamas could, of course, finally observe a cease-fire that doesn't involve random attacks on Israeli families.
In this crisis, Israel faces a test of its wisdom and competence: Would its leaders really have undertaken such a high-risk operation without a clear endgame?
America, in turn, faces a test of its moral judgment. This conflict is not a contest between shades of gray in mist and fog. It is a matter of distinguishing between murderers and victims -- and of supporting an ally until a clear victory against terrorism is achieved.
Demonstrators shout slogans and hold on a shoe during a protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza in front of the Israeli embassy in Madrid December 28, 2008. The banner reads "Sanctions Now".[Agencies]
Writer's Note: The Memphis Commercial Appeal just called me to let me know that they will publish my letter to their editor. I have to remember to buy a paper tomorrow, as Saturday is the only day I don't receive the Commercial Appeal. As for my friends, well you guys can just read the letter below. Those of you who have followed my journey know why I am engaged with this issue, and why I take it personally. I believe that this is a fair, balanced and mature argument, based on so much more fact and lived experience than a short letter could convey. Now everyone cross your fingers and hope The Commercial Appeal doesn't misquote me.
When someone suggests to me an argument to justify killing, I tend to be skeptical, especially when mass murder is under discussion. On the second of January 2009 Michael Gerson of the Washington Post very lucidly and rationally argued in favor of mass murder. His piece was published in the Commercial Appeal without counterpoint.
His argument had several points. Hamas used the cease fire to rearm, and as soon as the cease fire was over they attacked Israel. He said we cannot accept the argument that Israel's attacks are disproportionate (over four hundred Palestinians-including 60 civilians and 40 children- have been killed while there are four Israeli deaths total as of January 2). He tells us that the attacks are not disproportionate if they achieve their strategic goal-to stop the attacks on Israel. Then he compares our situation to the attacks on southern Lebanon in 2006, saying: "The Lebanon campaign did not fail because of international pressure and criticism. It failed because Hezbollah terrorists could credibly claim the victory of survival."
That sounds reasonable. But as I said, when someone attempts to justify mass murder, I tend to have my doubts ahead of time. In the end, Gerson's arguments boil down to one point: when a national state apparatus commits violence to protect it's citizens then that violence is justified. The corollary to that would be that when a local grass roots organization uses violence to protest the institutional violence of the state apparatus, then that violence is not justified.
It seems to me that if Israel wanted to stop the killing, they wouldn't do that by killing. They wouldn't act against the survival of Palestinians or any Palestinian group. Instead, they would stop the institutional violence against Gaza. Gaza is more or less a land under siege. The Israeli Navy practically forbids Palestinian fishermen the use of their coastal waters (one wonders what they eat). Gaza is surrounded by Israel on two land borders, meaning that when Israel closes those borders no one from Gaza can visit the rest of the world- including Jerusalem- without going through Egypt. In such a small region, many of these borders separate people from ancestral lands, family farms, and seriously hamper the flow of food and medicine. When Palestinians attack, they are responding to a host of institutional violations against their dignity as human beings. But what, after all, is the value of being a human being?
According to Michael Gerson, a human is only valuable if that human being is a citizen. Human life depends upon the nation for its survival, and a human without a nation-state cannot expect to have his/her life protected, cannot even be allowed to organize for his/her own security. When a non-state organization seeks to defend itself and its members against a nation state, however monstrous that nation state may be, that organization is "terrorist" and it's very survival is a threat to the nation.
So, we have a choice. Either human life is valuable in itself, in which case we must condemn the Israeli strikes and Hamas' attacks in the same breath. Or, human life is only valuable if that human obeys the laws of a nation state, accepting the yoke of a federal polis in return for protection from a world assumed before hand to be hostile. The answer we give will reveal our true "moral judgement" as Michael Gerson so eloquently puts it. Myself, I tend to be skeptical of arguments that preach to me the merits of mass murder.
Also Listen To Bro. Lelyn Masters Talk About His Position On The Gaza Crisis On The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio 2nd Year Anniversary Show: