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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

January 03, 2003

The Use of Force

Restraint causes more loss of life than it is worth

I have been having a discussion with a number of pro Israel friends who were concerned that Israel be beyond reproach in their handling of the Palestinians. They wanted Israel to do the “right” thing and that presumably meant limiting collateral damage and telling the truth. I do not know if it went so far as to be against targeted killings. But you get the idea. They wanted this both in order to gain World respect and their own self-respect. And they certainly didn’t want Israel to descend to the level of the Palestinians.

Yes it would be nice, but… Taken to its ultimate conclusion, this is the position of the Left who in general rail against all the methods used to fight terror both in Israel and the US. You know the stuff where there is an inordinate concern, in my opinion, for the rights of the individual at the cost of the collective i.e. defence. They want terror to be treated a matter of law enforcement rather than a matter of war.

I am sure my friends would reject my analysis and argue that they wouldn’t go that far but still wanted Israel to take the high ground. One cannot look at this problem as a case of black and white or moral or immoral. There is a sliding scale here and everyone takes a position on where on the scale they feel comfortable. I for one would argue that there is justification in moving more to the Right and not being overly concerned with being right.

Society has developed laws for crimes against the state and special laws for enemy combatants in times of war. The State can lawfully kill people in times of war. But where there is a paucity of laws is for times like now where it’s neither war nor peace. It is in between. The Israel Supreme Court has recognized the need to define what amount of force is permitted under these circumstances and setting these new norms is a work in progress. Nevertheless Israel must act in advance of the Courts determination. Many would argue that our present situation is really a war so all the rules of war apply. So the question of whether an action is moral or not depends on one’s classification of the conflict. Also the courts don’t operate in a vacuum. It is one thing for them to be critical of targeted killings when Israel alone is resorting to it and it is another thing entirely if the whole world is doing it or even just the US. Once the US and Australia started using wartime norms for fighting terror it became more acceptable for Israel do so. I ask you, is this a question of morality or not? Morality is not absolute. Even the most basic of the commandments, “Thou shalt not kill.” is only a principle that society deviates from when they think it appropriate.

Intrinsic to maintaining law and order in civil society is the respect that the majority of citizens have for that law and order. When that respect is lost you have chaos and anarchy. Let’s take a simple example of the stone throwers. The more Israel tolerates it the more the Palestinians will do it and the more the Palestinians will move from stones to rocks to bombs. In order for Israel to maintain respect for law and order the more they have to instil fear in the Palestinians. The more stone throwers that are killed the less the people will throw stones. If you allow the Palestinians to become encouraged or emboldened the more force will be needed to quell the violence. You can reach a point of almost no return where the Palestinians don’t care if they get killed as long as they take a few Israelis down with them.

You will recall that shortly after the intifadah was started everyone condemned Israel for using “excessive force” but no one defined just what that was. It usually means more force than necessary. The proper interpretation includes necessary to put an end to the violence and to protect the lives of those being attacked. There is no duty to retreat or to tolerate the lawlessness or the violence but there is a duty to maintain law and order and to protect the lives of those being attacked. It is obvious that far from using excessive force, Israel is using insufficient force.

Thus the “right” thing becomes the wrong thing. More force, lethal or otherwise, at the beginning, would mean less force later on. Had Israel reacted with much more force at the beginning of the intifadah, it would have ended with much less loss of lives. When Israel suppressed the riots of its own Arab citizens two years ago killing many, it ended the rioting. Every country knows that ruthlessness is necessary to end uprisings and insurrections.

I am not recommending that Israel kill 20,000 as the Syrians did in Hama or 10,000 as the Jordanians did on Black September or 2000 as the Chinese did at Tianneman Square or 250,000 as the Americans did in Nagasaki to impose their authority. But I am saying that we cannot shrink from the use of force in maintaining law and order. The people who argue for the high ground in order to feel morally superior, should recognize the damage it can cause.

We must install fear in the hearts and minds of the Palestinians. The more we show a willingness to cause collateral damage, the less collateral damage there will be in the long run. The more we restrain ourselves, the more we embolden them. The more we show a willingness to compromise, the more we will be expected to compromise. We are our undoing. We should stop fucking with our minds and our will. As Nike says, ”just do it.”.