Like decent people everywhere, I am horrified by the images coming from Gaza and am deeply saddened by the human suffering there.
However, the way to stop the ongoing human rights tragedy would be to get Hamas to stop shooting rockets at Israel.
Any country has an obligation to protect its citizens from attack by belligerent outside forces. Hamas has fired thousands of missiles at Israel in the last few years, and in the days leading up to the current offensive there were dozens of rocket attacks a day. No country can sit by and absorb that.
I have seen others in the blogosphere claim that the latest outburst by Israel only used the rockets from Hamas as an excuse, they were preparing for some time. Yes, Israel has been preparing for some time, because even during the so-called cease fire the rockets didn’t completely stop and Hamas made no secret of planning to step up the violence when the cease fire was over. Of course Israel was preparing. The government is not stupid.
I listened to Bianca Jagger on BBC railing about the "lack of proportionality" of what is happening in Gaza. That "proportionality" argument is largely rubbish. I say "largely" because there is of course a reductio ad absurdum argument one could make — as a friend pointed out, killing a billion people to stop someone from harming one person, for example, would not be justifiable. Reasonable men, I suppose, might differ on whether they believe 100 civilian deaths to stop thousands of rockets is within the range of reasonable. But then again, if Hamas were at all reasonable, they would have called it a day after the first round of air strikes, as obviously any further military activity will only result in continued disproportionate suffering on the Palestinian side. But those guys are not rational.
The Talmud brings a few teachings that are relevant to this discussion. Firstly, as is well known, there is a verse in the Torah which says if you catch someone breaking into your house at night you are allowed to kill him; the Talmud expands this to "if someone comes to kill you, rise up to kill him first." But there is another teaching, somewhat less well known, which states you can only use as much force as it takes to stop the intruder. If you can stop the intruder by wounding him in the leg, and you kill him, you are guilty of using excessive force.
The relevance here is that Israel’s legitimate defense objective is to stop the rocket fire. Whatever level of force it takes to stop the rocket fire is legitimate. It’s not about comparing body counts or property damage — it’s about stopping attacks on your citizens.
If the rockets stopped, and Israel continued the aggression, that would be an unacceptable level of force and would be worthy of condemnation. So far, however, the rockets have not been stopped. If Israel were blindly shooting rockets into civilian areas — like Hamas is doing to Israel — that also would be an inappropriate use of force and a human rights violation.
The loss of life and miserable conditions in Gaza appall me; I am also appalled by the way half a million people (not just Jews) living in the south of Israel have to run to bomb shelters several times a day. May God help bring both sides to not just a temporary cease fire agreement but to a long term peace agreement, "bimhara v’yameinu," speedily and in our days…