There are times, not many, but a sufficient number to make my existence significantly grayer than I wish it to be, when I feel as if my professional endeavors have been in vain, and indeed, a waste of time. One such instance was the widespread defense of torture during the Bush administration. Another has been the reaction of some readers here to my post about Israel razing the homes of the families of presumed terrorists. I do not see how anyone who grasps the basic principles of ethics as they are explored and explicated on Ethics Alarms daily can pronounce such a policy as justified, justifiable, or anything other than unethical. If regular readers hear can come to a different conclusion, I am either not doing my job well, or the job itself is not worth doing.
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch called on Israel to stop razing the homes of Palestinians accused of attacking Israelis. The group called it a war crime, and I don’t like the concept of war crimes generally. The New York based organization’s argument, however, is irrefutable:
“Israel should impose an immediate moratorium on its policy of demolishing the family homes of Palestinians suspected of carrying out attacks on Israelis. The policy, which Israeli officials claim is a deterrent, deliberately and unlawfully punishes people not accused of any wrongdoing. When carried out in occupied territory, including east Jerusalem, it amounts to collective punishment, a war crime.”
Putting the war crime label aside, it is wrong enough that the act punishes those who have done nothing wrong other than be associated with a wrongdoer. There is no ethical system under which such an act is ethically defensible. It is an abuse of power. It fails any standard of Kantian ethics, using human beings as a means to an end, and proposing a standard that would, if universally adopted, send civilization into barbarism. It even fails extreme utilitarian ethics, for this means doesn’t even achieve a desirable end. The Israeli army believes that the razings do nothing to stem terrorist attacks, and there is no way that contention can be disproved. It is simply Old Testament justice of the most irrational and brutal kind. Continue reading