Eytan Uliel

Two weeks later: Part one – The great self-defeating logic loop

For Israel’s critics, the army’s only acceptable course of action in Gaza is more or less to do nothing

The focus of this series of “mini-posts” is to point out things that, whilst reasonably self-evident (at least to me), are typically not even mentioned when the subject of Israel comes up. And to question why so many otherwise intellectually rigorous people seem willing to take at face value whatever the media and anti-Israel camp has to say, without paying attention to readily observable facts that a five-year old could see and understand.

Thus, in my first post last week, I spoke about how observable numbers suggest that the Israeli army can’t logically be said to deliberately be trying to kill Palestinian civilians. Because if that was the case, unless the Israeli army was really, really bad at its job (which no-one says it is) the number of casualties by now would necessarily have to be a lot more than they actually are. [And fully acknowledging that this is an incredibly cold statement, given that all civilian casualties are to be mourned].

In this post, I want to look at what might be described as the “great self-defeating logic loop”: a series of commonly made statements where each, in isolation, sounds perfectly reasonable, but when taken in aggregate always seem to lead back to the same, generally unreasonable “conclusion”. Which is that the only acceptable course of action for Israel in any conflict with Hamas is to do, more or less, nothing.

A variant of the same logic loop has been applied in all prior Israel-Hamas conflicts, and now seems to be fully embedded into the general reporting of the current one. It goes something like this:

  1. I am a sane, rational person, and I accept that what Hamas did in/to Israel was atrocious, and gives Israel the right – even the duty and obligation – to do something about it.
  2. Given it was a military attack by Hamas, I can accept that “doing something about it” means a military response.
  3. But, Hamas is holed-up in Gaza, and unlike in a conventional military scenario Hamas won’t come out onto an open battlefield to confront Israel.
  4. Therefore, one way to “force” Hamas to eventually come out of hiding could be for Israel to apply the military technique of a siege (a classic military technique which has been used for thousands of years by armies all over the world).
  5. But Gaza is an urban, densely populated civilian area.
  6. Thus, any siege of Gaza, by definition, will cause civilians to suffer and put civilian life at risk. This is a war crime.
  7. So, Israel can’t lay siege to Gaza to force Hamas out, and if Hamas won’t come out of Gaza on its own accord, the only military option that remains is for Israel to take the fight to Hamas, in Gaza itself.
  8. This means bombing of Gaza, and eventually fighting on the ground in Gaza.
  9. But Gaza is an urban, densely populated civilian area.
  10. Thus, any bombing of Gaza or fighting in Gaza, by definition, will cause Palestinian civilians to suffer and put civilian life at risk. This is a war crime.
  11. Ergo, the only way to bomb Gaza / fight Hamas in Gaza and not commit a war crime would be to not have civilians present during the fight.
  12. So, the civilian population needs to evacuate from the area of battle.
  13. But that means lots of innocent people will become refugees and have to leave their homes. This is a war crime [collective punishment, ethnic cleansing, or attempted genocide – take your pick, but it doesn’t matter which you choose really, because they are all war crimes].
  14. Ergo, the only way to not commit a war crime is for the civilians of Gaza to stay put.
  15. But, if the civilians of Gaza stay put, fighting on the ground in Gaza cannot take place, bombing of Gaza cannot take place, and a siege of Gaza is not possible.
  16. But Hamas is holed-up in Gaza, and won’t come out to fight “fair and square.”
  17. And I am a sane, rational person who accepts that what Hamas did in/to Israel was atrocious, and Israel has the right – even the duty and obligation – to do something about it.

At which point, the loop starts again. (For completeness, this being a loop that, as far as I can tell, is seldom / never applied to any other conflict, anywhere else in the world).

I guess the obvious question becomes: how do you get out of this loop?

Well, I’d say that the way out of it is to ask simple questions about the basic assumptions underlying each individual statement. If they don’t hold true, then the loop ends.

So, for example, you could begin at the very first statement. If your view is that what Hamas did was not actually atrocious, or was somehow justified, then it all ends there.

That is, if you can bring yourself to conclude that an “occasional” suicide bombing or a rain of missiles that “only” damages property and/or “only” injures / kills a few Israelis is not atrocious but rather comprises “fair retaliation” by an “oppressed people” against “years of illegal occupation”, then there is no need to move on to point two. Anything Israel does in response to Hamas attacks is wrong, end of discussion. Which, for most of the anti-Israel crowd, is where it has always ended in the past.

But, the events of October 7th have posed a big challenge to this kind of thinking. Because it is almost impossible for any decent human – ardently anti-Israel or otherwise – to look at charred human remains, or teens gunned down at a festival, or blood stains showing where a baby was executed in his or her crib, and describe that as “fair retaliation” to anything.

[Although as an aside, I find it somewhat incredible that a fair number of folks seem to be comfortable doing exactly this. I mean, for most of last week we got to see “balanced” media discussion about whether Hamas terrorists had beheaded babies, or burned them alive, or actually done neither but ‘only’ killed said babies, like somehow the mode of infanticide makes the slightest difference? Seriously, you couldn’t make this shit up if you tried.]

Which kind of lays bare what many on the Israeli side have been saying for years: those who are anti-Israel don’t actually want this particular logic loop to be broken.

Because it is a convenient way of saying, without actually having to say it out loud, that in the unique case of Israel the view is actually that Israelis should be willing to tolerate lethal attacks as an occasional fact of life. “Israeli Jews, you, unique amongst the people of the world, should just accept being killed from time to time.

Which, when put in those terms, kind of sounds a bit like anti-Semitism, don’t you think?

Personally, I would say the better way out of this particular logic loop problem is to question the reflexive conclusion that “war crimes” like “ethnic cleaning” and “genocide” are, almost by definition, committed every time Israel does anything. Because if that view isn’t right, then the logic loop breaks down pretty quickly. I will have more to say on this another day.

The point for today though is that beware of the great self-defeating logic loop. It is a fabulous but intellectually lazy way to “fudge” the discussion, and the bigger the loop gets, the more difficult it becomes to see it for what it is. Meanwhile, proposing a logically coherent way out of it is a much bigger challenge.

And that is my key takeaway for this post. If someone accepts that Israel has the right to do something in response to Hamas’ atrocities, but then won’t offer up even a basic explanation of what “doing something” should actually look like (apart from platitudes like “being proportional”, “accepting a ceasefire”, “adhering to international law” or simply slinking away to bury the dead), I don’t think they add anything to the discussion besides obvious bias.

About the Author
Eytan Uliel is an Australian-Israeli writer, wanderer and global traveler. After graduating from the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia, he practiced corporate law for several years, before moving on to a career in investment banking, private equity, and oil and gas finance. An extensive work travel schedule has taken Eytan to every corner of the globe – over 85 countries, and counting. His blog – The Road Warrior – chronicles these journeys through a series of short stories and essays, some of which have been republished in various magazines and newspapers. He is also the author of two award winning books. Eytan was born in Jerusalem, and has lived in South Africa, Australia, Singapore, the UK, The Bahamas, the USA and France.
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