“There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”
– George Orwell from 1984
As a Canadian who moved to Israel six years ago, I have had a second-row seat to the recent round of fighting between Hamas and Israel. I don’t live on the front line near Gaza, but in the sleepy suburbs of Tel Aviv where the most dangerous thing before the rockets starting flying were speeding Uber Eats drivers on electric scooters. The older I get, the more I appreciate that most things in life are nuanced. Rarely black or white, rather shades of grey. The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is not one of these things. If ever there was a black and white issue, this would be it. The rhetoric evident in major news outlets supports the assertion that this is, in fact, a black and white issue, yet the media have completely misplaced blame, inverting good and evil. The anti-Israel crusade being amped up on social media is now creating a horrifying Orwellian phenomenon.
The storyline in most media goes more or less like this: Israel is to blame for this conflict because: (i) Israel (and Egypt) enforce a military blockade on Gaza; (ii) The Gazans live in dire circumstances; (iii) In this round of fighting, as in previous rounds, there are many more Palestinians being killed by Israeli airstrikes than there are Israelis being killed by Hamas rockets; (iv) The Palestinians living in Gaza are the much weaker of the two sides; (v) Israel has the Iron Dome which stops a high percentage of the incoming Hamas rockets and the Palestinians do not have such as system – this puts Israel (Hamas) at a huge advantage (disadvantage) in this conflict.
Each of statements (i) through (v) is 100% true! So much so that Hamas has succeeded in turning the tables on the Jewish biblical narrative; Hamas has become the modern-day embodiment of David leading the fight against oppressive Israel, which has ironically morphed into the ancient Goliath.
Let me say it again. Each of statements (i) through (v) is 100% true!
There is just one problem with drawing the conclusion that Israel is the oppressor and is to blame for what is going on in Gaza, easily summed up in one term: The Moral Equation.
The moral equation has four elements: (i) moral vision (ii) moral intention (iii) moral actions and (iv) moral consequences. Assigning blame without considering the moral underpinnings is not just disingenuous, it’s extremely dangerous.
So let’s unpack this:
Moral Vision: The best way to judge moral vision is to look at founding documents that outline an organization’s vision and purpose. A charter is a foundational code – a carefully constructed and worded document meant to extoll the virtues and dreams of a society or organization. A vision intended to bring people together, transcend generations and create a common sense of purpose.Let’s take a look at the two sides founding documents:
Highlights from the Hamas Charter (1988/2017)
- ″Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam invalidates it, just as it invalidated others before it″
- “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him”
- “[Peace] initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement… Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the infidels as arbitrators in the lands of Islam… There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad”
Highlights of Israel’s Declaration of Independence (1948)
- “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations”
- “We appeal – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”
- “We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”
Read this again. Can you spot the differences? Which side communicates a moral vision as it relates to its own purpose and how it relates to its neighbors and minority populations?
Moral Intention: Moral intention refers to the degree to which a mental state indicates a commitment to carry out a future course of action. It is what distinguishes murder from manslaughter. The former carries intention and malice, the latter does not. In the lead up to Hamas initiating rocket fire on Israel on May 10 shortly after 6pm local, Hamas made known its intentions. It issued a clear, violent ultimatum – that it would fire rockets into Israel if police did not leave the Temple Mount (Police, who were responding to days of violent rioting by Israeli Arabs). Hamas then made good on its ultimatum, launching over 150 rockets at Israel.
In the lead up to this round of fighting, Israel made no such threatening statement of intention to attack Gaza or any other Palestinian area in the West Bank because it had no intention to do so. In fact, the political leadership in Israel is now under heavy criticism from its citizenry for failing to prepare properly and anticipate that Hamas would carry through on its violent ultimatum.
Hamas declares its intention to launch a violent attack. Israel did not declare any such intention because it had none.
Moral Action: Israel has one of the most powerful armies in the world. If Israel wanted to conquer Gaza and reduce the entire area to rubble it could do so in a matter of days, maybe hours. But it does not do that. Why is it that after 11 days of heavy fighting that the overwhelming majority of the 250 Gazans killed have been Hamas terrorists or civilians killed by misfired Hamas rockets? Each civilian death is a tragedy, a world lost, but the numbers of civilian deaths in comparison to the massive firepower that Israel unleashed is low. Why is that?
It is because Israel goes to extreme, unprecedented lengths to avoid civilian casualties. It’s not that Israel has higher standards than Hamas (that’s a very low bar), it’s because Israel has higher standards and lower civilian to combatant death ratios than pretty much any other country fighting a prolonged conflict in modern times. According to Colonel Richard Kemp, a senior officer in the British army, Israel is the most moral army in the world because of the exorbitant lengths it goes through to select targets and minimize civilian casualties. The ratio of civilians to combatant deaths when Israel fights are some of the lowest, if not the lowest, in the world. In WW2, Vietnam and Korea it ranged between 2:1 and 3:1. In NATOs action in Yugoslavia it is estimated to be 5:1. When Israel fought Hamas in 2014 it was estimated to be between 1:1 and 1:2, a significant difference considering that some of the civilian toll resulted from Hamas’ own rocket misfiring – in which Israel is implicated in Hamas’ killing of their own people in attempt to murder Israelis. When the dust settles on this round of fighting the ratio will likely be less than 1:2 when accounting for the fact that many Hamas rockets continue to misfire, killing their own people yet again as they have repeatedly. Challenge yourself to find one other army that goes to such lengths to avoid civilian casualties in the heat of battle?
Israel only targets Hamas’ operatives, its military equipment, and terror infrastructure. Hamas knows this and so it strategically embeds itself among the most sensitive population centers in Gaza — hospitals, schools, mosques. This is the first of Hamas’ double war crime: embedding terror assets in civilian centers, launching rockets from these areas knowing it will provoke a response by Israel – a response which will inevitably cause civilian casualties that will paint Israel as the aggressor. Hamas does this because it knows that the IDF, will in many cases, avoid hitting these assets – and when Israel has no choice but to do so, it provides Hamas with the upper hand in the blame game. A brilliant strategy, especially in the face of the media’s amorality. Civilians serve Hamas’ dual purpose of protecting their rockets that rain physical destruction on Israel while making ‘great’ content for media highlights that rain down international condemnation on Israel.
Unlike Israel which uses precision-guided munitions with an elaborate strategy of warnings, Hamas uses crude rockets launched indiscriminately at Israeli civilian centers. This is the second of Hamas’ double war crime: Intentionally and indiscriminately firing salvos of rockets at Israeli civilian centers to terrorize and kill Israelis. The only reason there is not mass Israeli casualties is not because Hamas is taking care to avoid hurting civilians, it is because the Iron Dome intercepts 90% of rockets projected to hit civilian areas. Because Israel has developed the capability to protect itself from indiscriminate rocket fire this somehow shifts the morality equation? It’s like arguing that a perpetrator is not guilty of attempted murder because his victim wore a bulletproof vest which created a very low likelihood for the perp to succeed in the attempt to murder.
Moral Consequences: Israel will come out of this round of fighting asking how the IDF can perform better. It will work to develop more accurate means of intercepting Hamas rockets, and investigate how to gather more intelligence to better target Hamas’ weaponry and avoid civilian casualties. There will be a record of military accomplishments in degrading the terror infrastructure, but there will be no celebrations over the fighting or destruction in Gaza. Israel celebrates life. In Gaza, Hamas is already celebrating their accomplishments with chants of “God is Great” – launching thousands of rockets and catching Israel off guard. Hamas sunbathes in the heat of violence that they have stoked between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews in Israel. The violent struggle between Muslim and Jew is their raison detre. No doubt, in the aftermath of this battle, they will continue to use the hundreds of millions of dollars given to them by the international community to replenish their rocket stockpiles, re-dig tunnels instead of using the funds to build schools, agricultural capabilities, and peaceful infrastructure.
The moral consequence is clear: If Hamas agrees to lays down their arms, there would be no more conflict, no more blockade, no more destruction. If Israel were to lay down its arms it would be attacked mercilessly and over-run. The words that Elie Wiesel spoke back in 2014 in the midst of Operation Protective Edge rang true then and continue to ring true today: “What we are suffering through today is not a battle of Jew versus Arab or Israeli versus Palestinian. Rather, it is a battle between those who celebrate life and those who champion death. It is a battle of civilization versus barbarism”.
When you put the elements of the moral equation together it is clear that Hamas is a terrorist group not because Israel says so, but because it uses terror to advance its religious and political agenda. The USA, EU, Japan, and Canada recognize Hamas as a terror organization. There is no social liberalism in Gaza. Section 152 of the Gaza penal code rules homosexuality to be illegal. Levels of women rights are some of the lowest in the world. There is no free press. Gazans live in a poverty because they are ruled by a theocratic organization bent on Israel’s destruction — a life mission which requires Israel to enforce a blockade to reduce the import of materials used to export rockets into Israeli airspace. If only Hamas would listen to the words of Golda Meir that “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us”.
Israel, like all Western countries, is an imperfect democracy. It is a relatively young country with flaws that need attention. But it is among the countries with the highest human development indices in the world and the highest in the Middle East. An independent and highly active judiciary, a vibrant free press, freedom of religion, and a never-ending series of protest movements that embody the country’s diverse political landscape with full freedom of expression. Israel is a world leader in R&D per capita, Tel Aviv is one of the most LGBTQ friendly cities in the world and women serve in the highest capacities in society. While more work needs to be done to reduce civil inequities within Israel, Israeli Arabs are equal citizens under the law, serve throughout the judiciary (including the supreme court) and have risen through the ranks to become senior officers in the military and police. Arab Israelis also serve as ambassadors and represent a respectable proportion of doctors, pharmacists and professors in the health system and universities across Israel.
Now ask yourself: After considering the moral equation, which side carries the light and which the dark? Elie Wiesel knew the answer and George Orwell feared those who did not.