The morality isn’t QUITE as clear as Krauthammer says

From Charles Krauthammer’s latest column:

Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel-Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent “cycle of violence.” This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows the proudly self-declared raison d’etre of Hamas: the eradication of Israel and its Jews….

He’s right that there is not moral equivalence here, and that Hamas is the party that is in the wrong. They are the ones who started this by firing the rockets, and absolutely refusing to stop firing the rockets, which is all they had to do, at any time, to stop the violence.

But the fact is that innocents are being killed, and up to the time he wrote his column, they were Palestinian innocents, for the most part (the Israeli casualties have started climbing now that the IDF is engaged in ground operations, which is always the way).

And that raises the huge moral contradiction in this conflict:

  • Hamas is trying to kill innocent noncombatants in Israel, but failing.
  • Israel is trying NOT to kill innocents, but is doing so regularly.

That’s Hamas’ fault, no doubt about it. As Krauthammer says, those Palestinian innocents are being sacrificed by Hamas deliberately to score international PR points.

As Netanyahu says,

“Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”…

And what else is Israel to do, since Hamas won’t stop firing the rockets?

Krauthammer’s conclusion is inescapable. But it’s wishful thinking to say this is a moment of unusual clarity. The situation presents a moral mess, which is exactly what Hamas, of course, wants. The matter is clear to Krauthammer, and clear to me. But it isn’t to everyone, and to the extent that is the case, Hamas is succeeding.

14 thoughts on “The morality isn’t QUITE as clear as Krauthammer says

  1. Bryan Caskey

    I don’t understand anyone who is against Israel striking against the missile sites. What do they expect Israel to do? Just sit back and accept rockets being fired at them? Hamas doesn’t get any credit for not being “good” at killing people.

    By the way, “inescapable” is a good word to use in a persuasive tone. I need to use that more in my appellate advocacy.

  2. bud

    Slow down guys. Krauthamer just threw out the Israeli propaganda line verbatum. Sort of like accepting everything Fox News says about Obama as gospel truth. Nowhere was there any rebutal from the Palestinians.

    A different take on this situation is that Israel is bottling the Palestinians up in this tiny ghetto called Gaza so they can keep an eye on them. These people have no opportunity to farm or create a normal way of life with so many border restrictions. I saw one of the Palestinians in an interview the other day who used to be a fisherman but the Israelis strictly enforce boating activities. In effect he’s denied his livelihood. This man had nothing to good to say about Hamas by the way. When the Israelis closed the settlements they destroyed everything. The story about the greenhouses Krauthamer cited just does not smell right. But even if it’s true the Palestinians aren’t farmers they’re fisherman. Heck there isn’t enough land to do any meaningful farming.

    Granted the Israelis are probably ready to move on and work towards a peaceful and acceptable resolution to the issues at hand. That has not always been the case and their cruel behavior in the past has festered and sowed the hatred we see today. Until they remove ALL settlements on the West Bank that will probably remain a pipe dream. In any event the U.S. has to remain neutral in deed and in spirit.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      “Nowhere was there any rebuttal from the Palestinians.”

      I’d be interested to hear the rebuttal that ends with the conclusion of: “So we started firing rockets at civilians.”

  3. Harry Harris

    “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This quote from Exodus is usually seen as a harsh legal principle. It was actually most likely a command for moderation and equivalence in response to a transgression. Disproportional response has been the standard policy of Israel as long as I can remember, from the 1967 war to the present. Throw a rock, we shoot a teenager. Shoot rockets, we launch air raids with and artillery barrages. Provocation by Palestinian militants has been a longstanding problem. Many want trouble. The levels of response by the government of Israel has almost without fail produced escalation in response by each side. None of this has accomplished anything good – no benefit for either side. My Lord, Jesus, had the wisdom and courage to point out another way (turn the other cheek). While I don’t expect a largely Jewish state to follow the principles commanded by Jesus, I would welcome consideration of a wise command from their own religious tradition. Restraint, however, doesn’t seem to be highly regarded anywhere today. We all still suffer from the foolish over-reaction agenda faced by Moses, Jesus, and our court system today, spurred by the mentality of “they offended you – beat them up; they harmed your property – ruin them financially.” Retribution, rather than restitution. There is a better way, but it flies in the face of the zeitgeist. Conventional wisdom is very often not wise at all, but it’s popular.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      If a foreign country was firing missiles into the United States, what would be your advised course of action?

      Let’s say, hypothetically, that a Mexican militant group was firing missiles into downtown San Diego, CA, and that it’s stated goal was to drive every Californian into the Pacific Ocean. Would you call for restraint, and ask that the people of San Diego simply turn the other cheek?

      1. Harry Harris

        A foreign country is shipping tons of illegal drugs into the US and the government of that country isn’t stopping it. I wouldn’t support invading Mexico, but would try to strengthen the hand of their government’s efforts to stop the activity. Yours and mine are clever, but bad, analogies. Our country’s and Israel’s (under Likud) policies have unfortunately marginalized the moderates and strengthened the radicals.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Harry, do you have to be a radical to see yourself, as an Israeli leader, as having a responsibility to stop Hamas from firing rockets at your population?

          What IS the option you are suggesting for Israel?

          1. Harry Harris

            Abandon the disproportionate response policy. Negotiate behind the scenes with Palestinians willing to help stop the rocket attacks. Lessen the collective punishment as much as possible.
            My objection is not as much to the effort do defend against attacks as it is to the reliance upon aggressive military actions to solve a problem I believe will not be solved by such. Who killed the Israeli leader most successful in making peace? Radical Israelis. Who ties the hands and threatens Palestinians most willing to achieve peace? Radical Palestinians. We decry their objectives, but fall into their tactics.

            1. Juan Caruso

              Mr. Harris, “Palestinians willing to help stop the rocket attacks” are the ones who have been feeding intelligence info to Israeli on the rocket sites. When Palestinian leadership, cowered by Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, PLO, etc allows Hamas militants to reject the ceasefire, how does one believe ‘behind the scenes negotiations’ can justify the personal risks for the Palestinians? Whomever they are, Israel certainly does not wish them assassinated by Islamic Hihad.

              A better suggestion might just be having our meddling, mispeaking, naive top negotiator (Secretary Kerry) stay home and hush until Israeli finishes its de santé.

              True, many

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, Harry, Jesus WAS “from their own religious tradition”…

      And we Christians have a long, shameful history of castigating Jews who don’t follow Him.

      As I understand it, what Israel is trying to do is stop the people who are firing rockets at them. But they are hiding among civilians.

      So what is Israel’s alternative? To do nothing, and let Hamas just keep firing the rockets at them?

      It seems to me that what Israel is doing NOW — the ground operation — is the most morally acceptable option. You can be a lot more careful about your targets on the ground. Of course, it leads to more Israeli deaths, so if you are an elected leader of Israel, it’s not your most attractive option.

      The trouble is, there are NO attractive options…

  4. scout

    I don’t object to Israel defending itself by firing rockets at all. When you have been fired upon you have to defend yourself. I agree there are no easy answers. My quibble is a minor one with Netanyahu’s phrasing in his defense of firing rockets that have civilian collateral damage. I can’t find the direct quote but I heard him on several Sunday talk shows saying something to the effect that it wasn’t Israels fault that civilians were killed because of where Hamas chose to place their targets. Ok I found where he said, for example, in an NBC interview “They are responsible for all the civilian deaths, which we seek to minimize.” I agree that they are justified in firing the missiles to defend themselves and I understand that civilian deaths may be unavoidable especially given Hamas tactics, but even so, I don’t think you get to say, ‘we are not responsible for the people killed by our rocket’ when you have chosen to fire the rocket, no matter what the extenuating circumstances are. You get to say, we had to do this and we are sorry for the collateral damage, which was not our intention – but you acknowledge that you did it.

    Minor quibble, but it bothered me.

  5. bud

    According to NBC news Israel is deliberately targeting ambulances. Their reasoning. Because sometimes Hamas uses them to transport weapons. That is very different from the story that buildings are targeted because they are KNOWN to be housing weapons and Hamas militants. Just because SOME ambulances have been used to transport weapons does not rise to the level of justification needed to target ALL ambulances since the proportion of false positives would be extremely high thus ensuring the vast majority of such attacks only kill civilians. Therefore there is no false equivalency counter argument in play.

    1. Juan Caruso

      “Just because SOME ambulances have been used to transport weapons does not rise to the level of justification needed to target ALL ambulances since the proportion of false positives would be extremely high thus ensuring the vast majority of such attacks only kill civilians. Therefore there is no false equivalency counter argument in play” – Bud, of course.

      Bud, armed conflict is really a very bad thing. Let’s not forget which side attacked first and then rejected the cease fire, shall we? Did you protest this much when Pat Tillman was killed by U.S. troops?

      The chaos is not over yet, and Israel does what is militarily necessary, not what naive U.S. moralists believe is politically correct.

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