Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud

Winning the Battle, Winning the War

The Hamas raid last week against an army post in Israel, with the murder of two soldiers, the wounding of a third, and the kidnapping of 19-year-old Gilad Shalit, is a classic example of the tactical jujitsu that terrorists have employed dating back to the FLN’s attacks on French troops in Algeria in the 1950’s. The twisted logic goes something like this: You’re fighting against an enemy whose military might is vastly superior to your own. So you engage in acts of provocation designed to invite a disproportionate response. When the provoked response comes, it is met with international condemnation. So powerful is this approach that a young Yasser Arafat is said to have been motivated by this example in planning PLO strategy following the Six Day War.

Palestinian militants have been cynically playing this game for decades with a blatant and utter disregard for human life–both that of Israelis who are killed or maimed in their attacks and that of fellow Palestinians who suffer in the Israeli response. In the months leading up to this latest atrocity, militants had been firing ever-increasing numbers of Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israeli towns and villages. The IDF has now moved into Gaza, but the fact is that it is extremely difficult to prevail against an enemy so canny and nihilistic that it will send teenagers to blow themselves up to further the cause.

What to do?

One could argue that the Israelis need to turn a blind eye to international opinion. It is they who are under attack, they who are dying, and they who need to respond as appropriate. The world has never been particularly well-disposed toward Israel in the first place; why should Israel allow its citizens to live in fear of bombers and shells when the world may condemn it no matter what it does?

The danger with this approach is that it tends to lead down a slippery slope toward ever-stronger responses designed not just to stop attacks, not just to deter, but to punish indiscriminately. Unless a country is very careful to minimize unnecessary casualties, the situation becomes increasingly entrenched and radicalized. Making the leap from constructive and preventive measures to oppression and collective punishment isn’t just bad policy; the country runs the risk of losing its moral compass and even its very soul.

In responding to attacks, it is imperative–for its own sake–that Israel act with the greatest restraint possible while still taking steps to defend its own citizens. So far, Israel has acted with care to avoid casualties, but it bears pointing out that Hamas has ‘won’ this round by provoking Israel to respond, making Israel reactive rather than proactive.

As it moves ahead, Israel must avoid the temptation to reach for “easy” military solutions and instead must do the hard work of pursuing militants while engaging in the search for lasting political solutions. Both tactically and ethically, it is the right thing to do, for Palestinian terrorism is an enemy that must be defeated not only militarily, but morally, with an approach whose concern for innocent human life can counteract a martyr-happy culture of death.

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yvonne baehr-robertson

posted June 29, 2006 at 5:15 pm

Rabbi, How is it that you have begun to chide Israel for taking steps seen as “easy” militarily???? You ask Israel to restrain itwelf and work proactively and morally to defeat terrorism. Do you have any specific suggestions as it appears they have been doing so forever already????

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posted June 29, 2006 at 5:37 pm

B”H The best answer here is Jewish Pride. The Israeli Ambassador to the UN should wear a kippah and only eat Kosher food, and if he’s male he should put on Tefillin and ask G-d for His help when negotiating with the world for our survival. This will ultimately lead to the world respecting both Israel and the Jewish faith, and will imbue the ambassador with the courage to make decisions and statements based on what’s good for the people he represents, not those who want them destroyed.

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David Dorf

posted June 30, 2006 at 6:42 pm

Israel is enjoying the moral high ground in the latest skirmish, and international response has been muted. Why? Because Israel has pulled out of Gaza. When Israel maintained settlements inside Gaza, Hamas could sell their violence as a freedom fighting campaign, and much of the world bought it. Now, Israel has given in to their demands and removed the settlements, yet Hamas has continued its aggression. Thus, these terrorists can be plainly seen for who they are, and have no moral cloak to hide under. Israel can and must continue the military campaign to neutralize the threat posed by the Hamas terrorist leadership, and the free world understands. For its part, Hamas seems to have underestimated Israel’s resolve to respond, and has won nothing.

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Joan Singer

posted July 16, 2006 at 7:15 pm

Rabbi, I hate to be a pessamist but this situation makes me think of Massada, where we fought the enemy up to the end; and, where the end was us, dead. I don’t see any permanent solution. You are so right that no country particularly likes Israel, or, for that matter, the Jews; and there are more of them than us. I think we (and perhaps the world) are doomed.

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Richard B. Cook

posted July 24, 2006 at 2:52 am

It was with great shock and disappointment that I read that some of the muslem extreamist groups were elected into the governments of some of Isreals’ neighbors. The language being used to discuss the current tention is getting confusing. Are all muslem extreamists terrorists? Is there no way a Muslem state can exist next to Isreal. Are the intractable idealogical differences between the two sides set on a certain collision course. I don’t know enought about the idealogical issues involved to have any idea of possible out comes. My jewish background leds me to a anything is negoiatible point of view. I do not understand a better dead than impure outlhow can this be ended with minimal loss oflife and property.

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Bryan Wittman

posted July 27, 2006 at 12:07 am

It’s sad that many Jews like Rabbis’ Grossman, Stern, and Waxman continue to harbor suspicions concerning evangelical support for Israel, given their stated appreciation for such support. If one insists on viewing Pre-millennial dispensationalism as some sort of evil plot conjured in secrecy by a cabal of nefarious evangelicals, then one is denied of a true appreciation of Evangelical support. A “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” suggests more sinister motives. But is not everything aboveboard? Doevangelicals not proclaim their intentions as provided via the scriptures of the Bible? And correct me if i am wromg. Wasn’t it Hezballah terrorists continuing bombardment of misslies into Israel which contributed to the escalation of violence? Bryan Wittman

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