Moral equivalence and the Palestinian question

I’ve found myself – yet again – nonplussed at the outpouring of emotion over the situation in Gaza.  All over the world Israel is being condemned for defending itself against terrorist attacks, which aren’t even mentioned by most of its critics.  At the same time, many of those defending Israel are ignoring the fact that Palestinians have a legitimate grievance against being dispossessed of lands that were theirs and being treated like dirt by the ‘occupiers’.

The situation is not dissimilar to that faced by many people in South Africa under the iniquitous policies of apartheid.  Those opposed to apartheid (including myself) regarded it as one of the most evil systems of government since Nazi Germany;  but while some argued that violence was acceptable to overthrow it, others (again including myself) believed that “two wrongs don’t make one right”, and that violence inevitably would backfire against those it sought to help.  That was why I had no moral objection to serving in the South African armed forces against terrorism, because the terrorists were worse than the system of government they sought to overthrow.  I’ve spoken of their tactics elsewhere.

One can condemn Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian lands, and its mistreatment of the Palestinian people.  Those are undeniable realities that no objective observer can ignore.  However, that same objective observer must acknowledge that the terrorism employed against Israel by Hamas and its fellow travelers is an evil far greater than occupation or mistreatment.  The terrorists seek to destroy innocent civilians, to terrorize – literally – an entire people.  They know only the politics and the rhetoric of hatred and religious-extremist nihilism.  They have got to be stopped, because they’re worse than the problem they allegedly want to resolve.  Consider:

  • Hamas deliberately conceals its weapons in and launches them from civilian sites, including hospitals, schools and residential buildings, knowing that Israeli retaliation will cause civilian casualties that they can exploit for propaganda purposes.
  • Hamas deliberately brainwashes its children to become murderers, suicide bombers and ‘martyrs’, as evidenced by their own TV programs.

It’s a moral quandary that in the end has only one practical, feasible answer.  The worst evil must be confronted and defeated before the lesser evil can be addressed.  That means that the cancer of terrorism must be rooted out and eradicated before issues of occupation and subjugation can be given the attention they require.  To do it the other way around is to place human life at a lower level than political correctness . . . and Israel has every right to reject that position with all the contempt it deserves.  This is the ultimate failure of the argument that “the end justifies the means”.  When those means are terror and indiscriminate murder, which Hamas has employed against Israel, they cannot possibly serve any good ‘end’ or objective;  and when one side is consistently guilty of employing such tactics first, then decrying the enemy’s use of retaliatory tactics, there’s not much room left to doubt who’s the most guilty party.

I don’t believe for a moment that Israel is blameless in this fight;  but I believe it has more right on its side in the present impasse than does Hamas.  The latter is using terrorism as a normal modus operandi;  the former is trying to oppose it.  The facts speak for themselves.



  1. "…many of those defending Israel are ignoring the fact that Palestinians have a legitimate grievance against being dispossessed of lands that were theirs and being treated like dirt by the 'occupiers'."

    That "dispossession," which occurred under UN Mandate and was accompanied by the establishment of Transjordan (later simply Jordan) as the new homeland for the Muslim residents of the region mandated to the Jews, occurred in 1947 and 1948. How long must we wait for that "grievance" to expire? Are Amerinds still entitled to claim a grievance against the European colonists of North America?

    As for "being treated like dirt" by Israel, I'd put a wee bit more emphasis on the policies of the surrounding Muslim nations, all of which have absolutely refused to allow the Palestinian irredentists to settle in their countries. Give them weapons? Use them as a stick with which to beat Israel? Certainly — but nothing more than that. Israel, meanwhile, has provided the Palestinian zones with water, natural gas, electric power, medical services, and a great deal of other aid. And as is often mentioned on the Right, Muslims in Israel proper have more political and economic rights than Muslims anywhere else in the Middle East.

    The argument against "reparations for slavery" here in the U.S. has always been that the injustices occurred so long ago that there can be no accuracy in identifying either the persons to be compensated or the persons to be mulcted for that compensation. Must we wait 149 years for Israel to be able to say the same?

  2. Francis, you're ignoring subsequent history. In 1967 far more land was occupied. There are many Palestinians alive today whose homes were occupied by Israel and who have been denied the right to return to them and the right to sell them for their own profit. Instead they saw their property, duly and legally owned, expropriated in the aftermath of the Six-Day War for the benefit of the new occupiers of the territory concerned. You can't simply dismiss their claims as the fault of the UN.

    There's also the way in which Israel treats Palestinians, where to pass through a checkpoint can take as long as five to six hours (or only an hour on "good" days). This is often accompanied by insults, the trashing of everything on board a vehicle (including the use of bayonets to spear fruits, vegetables and sealed parcels), and strip-searches of occupants. This has been reported, even filmed, by multiple witnesses for many years. It's beyond question.

    As I said, I think Israel isn't as responsible as Hamas for the present situation, and I support Israel's actions in defense of its people. Nevertheless, I don't hold Israel blameless. I don't think anyone who looks at the totality of circumstances on the ground there could possibly do that.

    It's somewhat like South Africa. There are many who claim that those of us who worked to overthrow the system of apartheid are responsible for the corruption, nepotism and incompetence that blight that country today. In one sense, yes, overthrowing apartheid has led to those evils: but it's also true that apartheid was blatantly evil in and of itself, in a way that was far more abhorrent than the current situation. When a system of government casually green-lights the torture and murder of its own citizens purely on the grounds of their race, that's an evil that cannot be tolerated.

    I don't say Israel is as bad as the apartheid government; clearly, it's not. Nevertheless, many of its actions towards the Palestinians are, to say the least, oppressive and sometimes brutal. There is no doubt whatsoever about that – the evidence is graphic and immediately available to anyone who cares to go and see for himself, much less examine reports from past decades. Therefore, those who regard Israel as being "white as the driven snow" are misguided at best. That's simply not true.

  3. Israel's actions against Hamas has the moral equivalency of the WW II Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Hamas boasts of annihilating Jews as their ultimate goal.

    The Gaza residents need their own uprising against the thugs that control them.

  4. In 1967, Israel didn't want the "West Bank." It captured the West Bank in a counterattack, not an invasion when Jordan, despite Israeli pleading, joined the war against Israel. (Jordan's occupation of the "West Bank" after 1948 was completely illegal, by the way.) Speaking of annexation, occupation and historical irony: in 1947, both Israel and her arch-enemy, Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, objected to Jordan's annexation of the East bank of the Jordan as illegal.

    But back to the aftermath of the Six Day war. the BBC summarizes the legal argument of the "new occupiers" position of that land as follows:

    "Israel is a party to the Geneva Conventions, and bound by its obligations.
    But its government argues that the international conventions relating to occupied land do not apply to the Palestinian territories because they were not under the legitimate sovereignty of any state in the first place.
    Israel has over the years often chosen to use the term administered territories to refer to Gaza and the West Bank. It has annexed the Golan and East Jerusalem.
    Israel therefore denies the formal, de jure, applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention in the occupied territories.
    Israel does formally accept the applicability of the Hague Regulations on occupation, and says it is acting under authority granted to an occupying power in international law (including in provisions of the 4th Geneva Convention). The 4th Geneva Convention and the Hague Regulations contain detailed rules on the administration of occupied territory.
    The Israeli Supreme Court (sitting as High Court of Justice in Beit Sourik Village Council v The Government of Israel 2004) has noted: 'The general point of departure of all parties – which is also our point of departure – is that Israel holds the area in belligerent occupation (occupatio bellica).'"

    [continued below]

  5. Given that Israel's "waist" before then was less than 30 km wide, Israel's need for strategic depth can be understood; it was driven home in 1973.

    I'm by no means denying the insolence of office that is exhibited at the checkpoints. I'm pointing out that Israel would rather not have the checkpoints, would rather not have the security fence. Those measures were instituted after Palestinian violence.

    Also, speaking of displaced populations, over a million Jews, mostly refugees fleeing violence and oppression, fled the Muslim world in the 20th century. Most of this population movement happened after 1948, when many if not most fled leaving everything behind. Between this group and the survivors of the Holocaust, between 1948 and 1958 Israel took in about a million Jewish immigrants, a population increase of about 50%.

    See this from

    "Were Jewish refugees from Arab states treated differently than the Arab refugees from Palestine?

    Yes. Nearly 50 percent of Israel’s Jewish population today has their roots in Arab countries, while the Arabs who left Israel constitute less than 2 percent of the total Arab population in Arab states.

    Even so, the Jewish refugees were – in spite of tremendous difficulties, especially in the early years of Israel’s independence – economically and socially absorbed and given a secure haven in the State of Israel, whereas the Palestinian Arab refugees were deliberately herded into refugee camps by their host Arab states, devoid of the minimal conditions for decent life, so that they might become a political and propaganda tool in the hands of the Arab governments in their relentless fight against the State of Israel.

    Furthermore, Jewish refugees from Arab states received no financial support whatsoever from the international community: their absorption was financed, to the last cent, by the Israeli government and by their Jewish brethren in Israel and abroad. Jewish refugees from Arab states have not been granted any international political recognition of their plight.

    There are no UN resolutions calling for this population to receive just compensation and restitution. Palestinian Arab refugees, on the other hand, have received massive political and material support from the United Nations, whose agencies – primarily the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – have spent billions of dollars, from May 1950 to date, on their maintenance…."

    Bottom line? What Eric Hoffer wrote in 1968 is still true:

    “The Jews are a peculiar people: Things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews.

    Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people, and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it. Poland and Czechoslovakia did it. Turkey threw out a million Greeks and Algeria a million Frenchmen. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese–and no one says a word about refugees.

    But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab. Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis. Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace.

    Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.”

  6. Peter,

    Given the ongoing embargo against Gaza, where food, medical supplies, movement, etc. are severely restricted and controlled, is it any surprise that those imprisoned by those policies might use less-civilized means to retaliate?

    I absolutely agree that the indiscriminate firing of rockets against non-combatants is worthy of condemnation, but the bigger picture is that Hamas has no other recourse, given the Israeli government's refusal to lift said embargo. It's a vicious cycle.

    Israel's embargo is not only inhumane, it is almost certainly illegal, and has reduced a population of 1.8 million into what is essentially an inmate population.

    Perhaps I am empathizing with the folks in Gaza too much (note, I am not including Hamas in that statement), but if someone has their boot on my throat am I not expected to fight with whatever means are at my disposal?

  7. One other thing. Peter, you wrote: "They have got to be stopped, because they're worse than the problem they allegedly want to resolve."

    The "problem" Hamas seeks to resolve is the fact that Israel exists. That's in Hamas' charter.

  8. "Given the ongoing embargo against Gaza, where food, medical supplies, movement, etc. are severely restricted and controlled, is it any surprise that those imprisoned by those policies might use less-civilized means to retaliate?"

    Shawn, I don't know which Peter you were responding to, but I'll take a crack at it.

    There were Jews in Gaza since Biblical times, until the Arab pogroms of 1929. The Jewish settlements in the area after 1947 were overrun and destroyed by the Egyptians in 1948, at which point Egypt occupied Gaza.

    When Egypt ran Gaza it sent fedayeen across the border to murder Israelis. (I used to know a woman whose husband was killed before Israel captured Gaza in 1967 by a bomb planted by an Israeli road near the Gaza fence.)

    In 1967, Israel planted over 20 communities in Gaza; When Egypt and Israel made peace in 1979, Egypt abandoned Gaza.

    Israel occupied Gaza for about 25 years, until the PA took over Gaza with the Oslo Accords in 1993, leaving only a few settlements.

    Rocket attacks from Gaza began in 2000 with the intifada, and Israel was spending an increasing amount of resources on securing the Gaza communities. To serve them, and the Arab population as well, Israel built a modern hospital (which, like the towns, infrastructure and industry, was left behind intact when Israel unilaterally withdrew in 2005; and turned Gaza over to the PA, which was and is massively corrupt.) The hospital's basement bomb-proof operating room – and why should Israel have thought it would need to build such a thing in a hospital – is now a Hamas command bunker. Using a hospital that way is a war crime, by the way.

    The next year, Hamas got a plurality in Gaza's elections, took over, and began a violent purge of PA officials. Thousands of Palestinians fled the fighting. Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, is intent on destroying Israel first, and Western civilization afterwards.

    The embargo was an attempt to prevent Hamas from diverting aid for use in its jihad against Israel.

    BTW, the anonymous comment above was me. Sorry about that.

  9. While the Stratfor piece leads with a smart idea, that the conflict is insoluble, and that Israel basically needs to manage it, Friedman also sloppily misreads the current situation: "The Israelis want to destroy Hamas' rockets." It's not that they don't want to destroy the rockets, and that may have been the overt casus belli.

    Also, the tunnels are certainly why Israel is continuing its operations. Given the operational capabilities created by the cross-border tunnels, the likelihood of a massive coordinated terror attack from Gaza (and Hebron, where numerous bomb workshops and a tunnel leading to a playground used by Jewish children were found in the search for the three murdered young men) Israel is suddenly seeing the tunnels as an existential threat.

    David Goldman, another very smart guy, has <a href=">another take on why Hamas kicked this thing off: </a>

    "Humiliated in the territories, and unable to pay its 44,000 Gaza employees, Hamas acted from weakness, gambling that missile attacks would elicit a new Intifada on the West Bank. Although Fatah militias joined in the rocket attacks from Gaza, for now the Palestinian organizations are in their worst disarray in 20 years."

    He goes on:

    "In the background of the region’s disrupted demographics, a great demographic change overshadows the actions of all the contenders. That is decline of Muslim fertility, and the unexpected rise in Jewish fertility. The fall in Muslim birth rate is most extreme in Iran and Turkey, with different but related consequences. When Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979, the average Iranian woman had seven children; today the total fertility rate has fallen to just 1.6 children, the sharpest drop in demographic history. Iran still has a young population, but it has no children to succeed them. By mid-century Iran will have a higher proportion of elderly dependents than Europe, an impossible and unprecedented burden for a poor country. Iran’s sudden aging will be followed by Turkey, Algeria, and Tunisia."

    By Goldman's analysis, Israel's biggest problem is going to be educating the "Ultra-Orthodox" communities and integrating them into the economy.

  10. Moral equivalence?

    That would be arguing that an unpleasant attitude at a border crossing is the equivalent of firing thousands of rockets at a civilian population.

    That would be arguing that a secular democracy with a free press is the equivalent of a thuggish regime that intimidates visiting journalists, forces civilians to remain in identified target areas and denies its own people resources that were not subject to the blockade.

    It is worth pointing out that there are Arabs fighting in Gaza in the uniform of the IDF. Israeli-Arabs who are citizens of that nation who are well aware that they stand to lose an enormous amount if Israel was to be taken over by their fellow-Arabs.

  11. The thought occurs that comparing Muslims in Israel and Gaza to Muslims elsewhere is the wrong approach. Perhaps they should be compared to Jews and Christians in Muslim countries?

    Good for the goose is good for the gander, as the saying goes.
    If a Christian or Jew in a Muslim country has to pay tax and obesiance to their rightful lords, it's only fair that Muslims in Christian or Jewish countries should do the same.

    Especially since the only reason their territory is occupied in the first place is because they lost a war of aggression. Several, IIRC.

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