The nations have all surrounded me…they surrounded me on all sides…they surrounded me like bees…but in God’s name, I cut them off. (Psalms 118:10-12)
This nation shall dwell in solitude, not to be counted among the nations. (Numbers 23:9)
These days, it often feels like the whole world is against us, swarming “like bees” and surrounding us on “all sides,” waiting to pounce.
How should we react to the ruling by the Hague body known by the pompous name “International Court of Justice,” which – while refraining from attempting to stop Israeli military action at the moment – determined that there is “prima facia” evidence that Israel may be guilty of committing “genocide”?
I think we need to formulate two separate responses – both of them very forceful. At first glance (prima facia), these two responses may appear discordant, or even contradictory. Yet, I think they are both true and on a deeper level, complementary.
The first response is how we (Israelis, Jews, and supporters of Israel worldwide) must respond to the ruling: righteous, angry, indignant rejection.
The only appropriate response of any reasonable court to South Africa’s absurd accusations would have been to throw the case out of court without as much as an initial hearing, and certainly after such a hearing. By agreeing to hear the case and to consider it seriously – regardless of the ultimate ruling – the court has exposed itself as a farce that deserves nothing but mockery.
The facts shouldn’t need to be repeated but just in case they are, here is the reason in two paragraphs: There has rarely (if ever) been a military campaign that was more justified than Israel’s current war in Gaza. The war is a response to an unprovoked military invasion and massacre with actual, undisputable, genocidal intent. Israel, on the other hand, has no such intent. It is blatantly clear that if Israel had wanted to commit genocide in Gaza, it could have flattened the entire strip, killing almost all of the residents there, in a matter of a few hours. Of course, Israel has done no such thing.
There is much death and devastation in Gaza, but these are not Israel’s fault. According to Hamas numbers (unverified and almost certainly inflated), there are currently about 26,000 people who have been killed in Gaza. These can be broadly divided into four categories – and Hamas and its supporters bear full responsibility for all of them.
- Hamas fighters who have been killed by Israeli forces. By current estimates, that is about 40% of the dead. These people deserved to die, and their blood is on their own hands.
- “Civilians” who may not be official fighters but who provide active support to the Hamas fighters deliberately operating within their communities. This includes women and elderly people who actively and intentionally assist the terrorists by serving as decoys, concealing weapons, relaying messages or information, and similar tasks. The number of such “civilians” is much higher than many of us Westerners would like to believe – just ask any soldier who has recently returned from fighting in Gaza and has seen what’s actually happening. These people also, if killed in combat, were legitimate targets and Israel has no guilt in killing them.
- There are, of course, innocent people who were killed even though they did not assist the terrorists (again, a much smaller percentage than most of us think – but they do exist. At the very least, this includes the children and sick people.) Many of these, though, were killed by Hamas – either by misfired rockets or by intentional actions like blocking evacuations. These people’s blood, of course, is also on Hamas’ hands.
- And then there are also genuine innocents who were killed by Israeli bullets or bombs as the inevitable result of having to fight in areas where Hamas uses their own people as human shields. These people are in fact innocent victims, and they were killed by Israeli weapons, but their blood is also not on Israel’s hands. They are victims of Hamas, and the world – who refused to allow them to be evacuated from Gaza – carries much of the guilt as well. And now, the “International Court of Justice”, who is enabling and endorsing the use of human shields by suggesting that Israel may be committing genocide in defending itself, is also responsible. Israel has no guilt here whatsoever.
No, we are not guilty of attempted genocide, and in fact, we are not guilty at all. This a war of good against evil, and we need to say it loudly and clearly: we are good and the terrorists in Gaza (and their supporters there and around the world) are evil.
There is not a nation on this planet that has the right to preach morality to us. And that farcical (or evil) institution called “the International Court of Justice” has just lost any right it may have had to exist.
We will continue to defend ourselves until the threats to our existence are removed, the hostages are all returned and the residents of all Israeli communities can return safely to their homes. We will continue to fight and – regrettably – kill as many people as we have to in doing so, and we bear absolutely no guilt for their deaths. None.
We are good; our enemies are evil. Those who oppose us, and certainly those who support or aid our enemies, are complicit in that evil – or worse. Those who want to learn true morality should learn from us, not preach at us. And those who support evil will ultimately pay the price.
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That’s one response, what we need to tell the world. There is, however, a different response – and that’s what we need to think about turning inward.
Elsewhere I have discussed the second biblical verse at the top of this column – the one that says the Jewish people will always be a “nation who dwells in solitude” (Am Levadad). Our Torah told us at the beginning of our history that we would always be different, that our experiences and struggles would be unique, and that we are charged with bringing the messages of morality and holiness to the world. We were commanded to rise to this challenge by becoming a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).
What does that mean for us today? It means that if we are to turn to the world and proclaim our moral superiority, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that we really are living up to that claim.
Let’s start with our conduct in Gaza, and in relation to the Palestinians in general. As I wrote above, we owe no apologies or explanations to any international body; no nation in the world has the moral right to judge us about this. But we do owe explanations to ourselves.
As I also wrote above, I personally think we have fulfilled the requirements of morality with our treatment of the Palestinians (if anything, in my opinion, we have been guilty of giving too much weight to our responsibility towards them, and not protecting our own civilians and soldiers enough.) But other Israelis and Jews feel differently; some people think we are not doing enough. This internal debate is crucial, and we must all listen to each other respectfully.
The truth is, we need to do that on other issues as well. Many people have already made the connection between the political divisiveness that prevailed here until Hoshana Rabba (October 6), our enemies pouncing on us at our moment of weakness, the unity that has prevailed since then, and the need to work hard to preserve this unity in the months and years ahead as our political debates resume. I have written previously about how to argue correctly; we need to work hard at this. We should model respectful politics, and set an example for the rest of the democratic world to follow.
We also need to look at how we are doing on other internal matters, including how we deal with socio-economic gaps in our own society, how we treat the local Arab minority and the community of asylum seekers within our borders, and other such matters.
Each of these topics is worthy of at least an entire article, and there are undoubtedly many other issues that warrant similar discussion. For now, I’ll suffice with these two general points: We must not be intimidated by the antisemitic insinuations that somehow Israel is the guilty party here. We must assert – first and foremost to ourselves, and then to the world – the truth that Israel is among the most moral countries in the world, and quite possibly the world leader. And at the same time, we must hold ourselves to even higher standards.
We have to lead the world, and to do that, we need to make sure we are worthy.