The Israeli Palestinian conflict often brings up difficult moral questions.
Israelis must (and do) ask themselves exactly how much action they should take in the name of security. But for those on the far right it sometimes seems like any action can be justified, so long as someone uses the all-important phrase ‘this is for our security.‘
“The West can’t imagine what its like for Israel to defend herself from groups sworn to the Jewish nation’s destruction. Terrorists are on Israel’s doorstep. It’s a constant threat. Other nations can’t empathise with Israel’s unique situation. Therefore other nations should shut up and let Israel do whatever it takes to achieve total security. Israel must resolve unique problems (incitement and terrorism among Palestinians) with unique solutions (demolishing Palestinian terrorist’s homes).” This is the argument.
You don’t need a degree in ethics to realise the ‘Whatever It Takes’ argument doesn’t hold much water. Whatever it takes means you can justify anything you want. All you have to do is use the buzzword of ‘security’, and you can get away with anything.
Last month, Netanyahu tried to get away with demolishing a Palestinian home. The reason? A Palestinian had committed a deadly terrorist attack against Israel. So apparently that means his house should be demolished. This policy punishes the family of the dead terrorist, although Israel would never use the word ‘punish’. They only use the word ‘deterrant’.
Do I believe that all nations (Israel included) should do whatever it takes to achieve total security? No, because 1) total security is an illusion and 2) a nation’s right to security must be balanced against other criteria. If the US wanted to guarantee a terrorist attack like 9/11 could never happen again, and was willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal, they would ban all Muslims from flying to the US.
Asher Schechter, writing in Haa’retz asks of house demolitions: “Is it legal? Can it be morally justified? And, perhaps most importantly, does it work?” Three good questions, but the final question is not the most important.
If the US said ‘OK, we appreciate you have moral questions about us banning Muslims from flying to the US, but it works. Therefore its OK’ then the rest of the world (not to mention groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) would have a collective fit. Just because something works, it does not make it right.
But let’s look at the question of ‘does it work?’ anyway. The answer to the question of ‘do house demolitions prevent terrorism?’, is a clear and resounding ‘no’. Israel said in 2005 that house demolitions did not act as a deterrent to Palestinian terrorism.
This is hardly a surprise. Imagine you’re a Palestinian who, for whatever reason, hates Israelis. Now imagine your son becomes a suicide bomber. If the Israelis turn up a few weeks later and demolish your home, will you hate Israel more, or hate Israel less?
Here are some common arguments in favour of resuming demolitions in italics, with my rebuttals following.
- It’s all well and good complaining about demolitions, but what would you do to stop Palestinian incitement? Just because I can’t solve the incitement issue, doesn’t mean I’m exempt from pointing out moral failings as I see them. No one knows what to do to stop incitement, but there is widespread agreement that some options are immoral, some don’t work and others, such as house demolitions, are both of those things.
- But what about the Hamas charter?! This is a surprisingly common response. Person #1 points out something Israel did wrong and Person #2 is unable to defend the indefensible. Rather than admit Israel isn’t perfect, Person #2 brings up an unrelated issue, turning the blame away from Israel and back onto the Palestinians.
- Now is not the time to be criticising Israel. You should be blogging about terrorist attacks on Israel. That is a more serious situation. (Note how this objection is very similar to the previous one!) I have a lot of sympathy with this position. But almost everything I’ve written about Israel in the past has been hugely supportive of the nation in general. I stand by these words and I am a friend of Israel. But there’s never a ‘good time’ to talk about difficult subjects like this. It’s not good enough to merely say ‘Israel aren’t perfect, they make mistakes’. You must also at some point identify these mistakes and be honest about them. There’s also the question of ‘which Israel do you want me to defend?’ The Israel of 2005 who said that house demolitions were wrong, or the Israel of 2014 which demolishes homes?
- All the Palestinians are scumbags, they deserve it. It goes without saying this is a disturbing attitude. You’re far more likely to hear Israel activists in the West make these pronouncements. Most Israelis wouldn’t dare to use racism to try and defend themselves. Palestinians are human beings, and it pains me to have to point this simple fact out. But apparently such things need to be said.
- There is a legal process. Palestinians can appeal the decision. Israel has a fair and just legal system etc. I agree with all of this and I am a staunch defender of Israel’s legal system. But being able to appeal against an immoral action, does not make the immoral action moral.
Those of us who love Israel are fed up of having to defend the Jewish state against unfair and anti semitic criticisms. The 3Ds of Deligitimization, Double Standards and Demonization are far too prevalent. For those of us who value freedom and liberal ideals, these 3Ds must be strongly counteracted at all costs.
But to say Israel shouldn’t demolish houses does not demonize the Jewish nation as a whole, it does not deligitimize their rightful claims to a homeland, and most importantly it does not hold Israel to a double standard. If any other nation demolished the homes of dead terrorists to act as a deterrent (which as I’ve already stated, doesn’t work) I’d be writing this blog about them. I hold Israel to the same standards as any other democratic nation. And that’s why I’m unashamed in urging Israel to stop this immoral and offensive policy, once and for all.
This Wednesday, the High Court will rule on whether Israel can move forward with their planned demolition of more Palestinian homes. Let’s hope and pray they make the right decision.