How many must die to quench Israel’s thirst for revenge?
The harsh reality of war between the Israelis and the Palestinians is now in full force in the Middle East.
Anyone who has followed these developments will have no doubt that this time around there is going to be an unprecedented and horrific loss of lives and destruction of property. Already, many buildings have been destroyed in Gaza, and at the point of writing, close to 2,000 Palestinians, including many women and children, have been killed. Furthermore, there is an emerging humanitarian disaster of tragic proportions as Palestinian citizens have been uprooted from their homes and are being herded into a concentration camp no bigger than St James.
And Israel has not yet invaded the territory, as per the vaunted promise of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to utterly crush and destroy Hamas. He has stated that what the world has seen so far is just the beginning. If this is so, one can expect that the loss of civilian lives in Gaza will be colossal. In pursuit of his stated objective, Israel ordered over a million Palestinians to leave the northern end of Gaza and to head to the southern border with Egypt. The timeline of 24 hours was given, but considering the impossibility of the people making this deadline, and with international criticism mounting, Israel was forced to gratuitously extend the time. By the time this piece is published, Gaza would have been invaded with the over 300,000 troops that Israel has massed on its border with Gaza.
No one can gainsay Israel’s outrage, anger, and determination to answer with force the horrific Hamas attack on its people. Over 1,200 Israelis were killed in what is being regarded as a massacre. The ISIS-like and brutal slaying of babies and women should fill us all with revulsion. So the country is understandably in a mood for vengeance. No one can question its need to defend itself in the midst of a hostile environment in which many of its Arab neighbours do not recognise its rights to exist as a nation.
Ever since it became a nation state in 1948 Israel has had to think, eat, breathe security. Every waking moment has to be dedicated to thinking about the existential threat that it faces; that at any given moment the country could be attacked and driven into the Mediterranean Sea. Hence the horrible imprint of the Hamas massacre on the nation’s collective psyche.
But the principle of the proportionality of the response has to persist in the minds of those who still believe that there cannot be any indiscriminate loss of lives and property consequent on a desire to correct a wrong, whether through vengeance or any other emotion. In other words, the fact that a massacre occurred in your territory resulting in the horrible loss of lives does not give you the right to exact a terrible toll causing even more loss of lives in what is perceived to be one’s pursuit of justice. In this case, you may win a battle but lose a war; you may satisfy your thirst for revenge but reap the outrage of the world, thus losing the public relations battle against Hamas, while at the same time impugning the integrity of your own cause.
The principle of proportionality cannot be sustained in a situation in which a greater power having the military might of Israel and the backing of the developed countries of the Western world can go into a territory with overwhelming force and literally destroy it in search of an elusive group within that country.
The president of Israel Isaac Herzog, apparently recognising the lack of proportionality in what Israel is undertaking, tried to justify his nation’s actions by blaming the Palestinian people for the rise of Hamas. In a speech he blamed the Gazans for their silence, which he believes gave encouragement to Hamas that they could do what they did in Israel. The speech is disingenuous for it ignores the truth of what is on the ground in Gaza. To begin with, half the population of the over two million people are children below the age of 18. What are they to do? Take up arms and demonstrate against Hamas when their sole preoccupation should be about school and getting an education? What difference could they make in a population that is under the iron grip of a group that really does not have any regard for who gets killed, if it is in furtherance of their own ideology.
Ever since Hamas gained military and political control over the Gaza strip, the group has demonstrated that it has no respect for the lives of ordinary Gazans. They are driven by an ideology of hate and have recklessly shown a penchant to put Gazan lives in danger in furtherance of this ideology. With the military power that Hamas possesses, they are no match for the puny opposition that could come from those who disagree with them and their methods. I understand that some of the top brass of Hamas do not even live in Palestine but in other Arab countries, especially Qatar. In so far as this is so, hurrah to its vaunted cause of Palestinian autonomy.
And the principle of proportionality cannot be sustained when people are forced from their homes to a place from which they may never return. Those in hospitals undergoing critical care are in limbo. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that forcing hospitals to close is a death sentence for these people and certainly for the thousands who are being injured in the bombing raids that Israel is now conducting and will intensify in the coming days. The lights have been turned off and food blocked from entering the territory. Is this an attempt to starve Hamas into submission? How many people will have to die in this disproportionate response? Will 5,000 lives be sufficient to assuage the thirst for vengeance for the 1,200 Israeli lives lost in the Hamas massacre? Will 10,000 or 15,000?
Israel faces an acid test. It is more than a test of a proportional response, it is whether it can be relied upon to demonstrate the moral integrity of being the light to the nations envisaged in its religious texts. Is the country setting up itself for the prophetic fulfilment of these words from Isaiah, one of its greatest prophets of old. “Let me tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge and it shall be burned, and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug, but there shall come up briers and thorns. I will command the clouds that they rain no rain on it (Isaiah 5: 5-6-NKJV).
While we empathise with Israel for its loss, the nation should be warned to think carefully of how it goes about remedying this wrong.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life’s Storms; The Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life; and Beyond Petulance: Republican Politics and the Future of America. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.