Peace and Justice

After the massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar, someone told me that these murders, which included the killing of a baby and other children, were justified because the parents ‘stole land.’ There is no doubt in my mind that this person was a passionate anti-Semite, and possibly dangerous to himself and those around him. For the past two years I have been trying to understand how even such an anti-Semite can find ‘justice’ in the stabbing death of a three month old.

My previous blog dealt with the folly of confusing the goal of peace with the means of creating a state. It seems perverse to have to make a similar case about confusing the goals of justice and peace, as justice is a worthy goal all free societies try to achieve. But it is a goal that can and has been perverted in the most frightening of ways, to the point where the worst injustices are excused or even advocated by the pursuers of ‘justice.’

To begin to understand why this is so, beyond simple anti-Semitism, we have to first look at the differences between a pursuer of peace and a pursuer of justice. A pursuer of peace has the specific goal of ending the conflict. He or she will often also pursue justice, but it will be to ensure that the grievances of both sides are addressed. In being an objective arbitrator the pursuer of peace does not take sides in the overall scheme of the negotiations and values compromise over forcing one side to capitulate to the other.

To the pursuer of justice, however, addressing the grievances takes precedence over ending the conflict. Ending the conflict may be merely a means to the end of addressing the grievances, and in extreme cases may even be undesirable to the pursuer of justice. Justice cannot be compromised on in their eyes, even for the sake of peace. Justice, in his/her mind, is absolute. A pursuer of justice will also make a judgment about which side ‘justice’ is on, and from that point on will not attempt to act like an objective arbitrator but will act like an advocate for his/her chosen side.

It is then that pursuers of justice begin to excuse or even accept and encourage the injustices their chosen side commits. That is why some see nothing wrong with price tag attacks and why the New York Times sees nothing wrong, in fact sees something noble, in the rock throwing of Palestinian youth at Israelis. If ‘justice’ is on the side of the perpetrators, as these advocates have decided it is, then these actions are merely responses to injustices, not injustices in and of themselves.

Thus pursuers of justice can find themselves advocating injustices without realizing it. Saying that the settlements are unjust may sound reasonable at first, but it is a small step from there to advocating that the Jews ‘get the hell out of Palestine’ as one anti-Israel reporter put it. Advocating that the Jews in what will be a Palestinian state get out is already advocating ethnic cleansing, something generally considered to be a gross injustice in today’s society.

We often forget that justice means different things to different people, that there are two sides to every story, and that actions taken with the best of intentions can have disastrous consequences. This makes it easy for hate-filled individuals, like the person who saw nothing wrong with the Itamar massacre, to deliberately demand that the worst injustices be committed in the name of ‘justice.’

So we can have groups like the BDS movement, which claims that it is seeking justice for the Palestinians, advocate for policies that would also hurt many Palestinians, because all they are truly interested in is hurting Israel and Israelis. We can have ‘peace activists’ who are against peace negotiations and who are more interested in seeing Israel destroyed than a Palestinian state come into being. We can have pro-Palestinian groups that could not care less about the repression of Palestinians in Lebanon and Iraq or the deaths of Palestinians in Syria, because it isn’t Palestinians they care about but rather hurting Israel.

Even if the hateful extremists are not doing something as obvious as using the terms ‘Zionist’ and ‘Jew’ interchangeably it is still possible to tell the difference between them and a pursuer of justice who has become misguided by choosing one side over the other. The latter has a limit on just what injustices his/her chosen side inflicts on the other he/she can justify. They will not go as far as to see nothing wrong in the cold blooded stabbing of children to death.

But in a conflict as long-lasting as complicated as the Israeli-Palestinian one, even the moderate pursuers of justice should remember the dangers of absolute justice.


About the Author
Gary Willig is a researcher at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a student of communications at Bar Ilan University