Israel’s Home Razing Policy: You Disappoint and Depress Me


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.

The defenders of the policy here gravitate immediately to the bankrupt argument that terrorism is terrible and a nation has to do something, anything, to protect itself.  Of course, retaliating against the families of terrorists after the fact makes as much sense as kicking a dog when you get a parking ticket and it happens to be there to kick. If the family of a terrorist did nothing to cause a terrorist act, punishing it by destroying its home is not an act of law enforcement, or deterrence, or justice, but hate.

I yield to no one in my admiration, sympathy and support for Israel, a small island of civilization in the midst of chaos. If it abandons the values that make it civilized and that have shown the nation to have the moral high ground in its apparently endless conflict with the Palestinians and the Muslim world, then I don’t know what it is fighting for besides animal survival. Israel represents a culture, a tradition, a faith and a nation. Without the culture and the tradition, it becomes just another scorpion fighting in the jar that is the Middle East.

I don’t understand why is is not intuitively obvious that when a nation resorts to the worst tactics of its enemies, it has surrendered too much, indeed its soul. Punishing guilt by association was a standard tool the Nazis wielded against the Jews in the process of exterminating them. Intimidating opposition by threatening loved ones is the tactic of thugs, criminal organizations, bullies and totalitarian despots. Simply saying “it’s war” is a lazy and unconvincing justification for a policy that doesn’t even take place in the ostensible enemy’s borders. Nor does the argument that Israel isn’t the United States and shouldn’t be held to its legal and ethical standards carry any logical persuasiveness. Had the response of the US to Pearl Harbor been to destroy the homes of loyal Japanese American citizens as “deterrence,” it would have been a national shame (though what we did was only slightly less deplorable). A similar tactic is no less acceptable because it is taking place in Israel.

The real U.S. analogy would be to put in place a policy where the homes of rampaging mass shooters are razed. Of course, it would be unconstitutional, because the Constitution’s embrace of due process of law forbids such a terrible practice. The logic for it would be the same, however. We can’t predict or stop these shooters, and they don’t seem to care if they die. We have no one to punish, and we have run out of ideas. Well, let’s punish their families then. They must have some culpability. There’s no point in having a trial, since they are being punished based on blood relation, not anything they actually have done. Hey, why not? It’s worth a try.

Doesn’t that sound irresponsible, cruel, unfair and wrong to you? It certainly should….because it is.

The arguments for such an unethical policy, every one of them, have been based on rationalizations. The best use of the rationalizations list is to realize when one of them is rattling around in your head to try justify something unjustifiable, and to let that trigger an ethics alarm. And when, say, rationalizations are all you can muster to support conduct you find viscerally satisfying? That’s supposed to let you know that you are wrong, and wandering in the unethical wilderness. There are fourteen rationalizations readers have used to make excuses for Israel’s conduct here—fourteen, when just one is enough to signal an abandonment of ethical principles. Here, I’ll refresh your memory, with short versions of each…

2. The “They’re Just as Bad” Excuse, or “They had it coming”

 As a rationalization, it posits the absurd argument that because there is other wrongdoing by others that is similar, as bad or worse than the unethical conduct under examination, the wrongdoer’s conduct shouldn’t be criticized or noticed.

3. Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best”

The ethical nature of an act must be evaluated when it is done, and not based on its results. 

7. The “Tit for Tat” Excuse

This is the principle that bad or unethical behavior justifies, and somehow makes ethical, unethical behavior in response to it. The logical extension of this fallacy is the abandonment of all ethical standards. Through the ages, we have been perplexed at the fact that people who don’t play by the rules have an apparent advantage over those who do, and “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!” has been the rallying cry of those who see the abandonment of values as the only way to prosper.

12. The Dissonance Drag

Cognitive dissonance is an innately human process that can muddle the ethical values of an individual without him or her even realizing that it is happening. The most basic of cognitive dissonance scenarios occurs when a person whom an individual regards highly adopts a behavior that the same individual deplores. The gulf between the individual’s admiration of the person (a positive attitude) and the individual’s objection to the behavior (a negative attitude) must be reconciled. The individual can lower his or her estimation of the person, or develop a rationalization for the conflict (the person was acting uncharacteristically due to illness, stress, or confusion), or reduce the disapproval of the behavior.

This is why misbehavior by leaders and other admired role models is potentially very harmful on a large scale: by creating dissonance, it creates a downward drag on societal norms by validating unethical behavior. Tortured or inexplicable defenses of otherwise clearly wrong behavior in public dialogue are often the product of cognitive dissonance.

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

The words “it’s for a good cause” have been used to justify all sorts of lies, scams and mayhem. It is the downfall of the zealot, the true believer, and the passionate advocate that almost any action that supports “the Cause,’ whether it be liberty, religion, charity, or curing a plague, is seen as being justified by the inherent rightness of the ultimate goal.

14. Self-validating Virtue

A  corollary of the Saint’s Excuse  is “Self-validating Virtue,” in which the act is judged by the perceived goodness the person doing it, rather than the other way around. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical.” Effective, seductive, and dangerous, this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature.

22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”I

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

25. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!”

When people say they had to behave unethically because they had no choice, it is almost always a lie. What they mean is that they didn’t like the choices they had, and taking the unethical option involved less sacrifice, less controversy, less criticism, less effort…in short, less courage, than doing the right thing.

27. The Victim’s Distortion

When someone belongs to a group that is commonly treated with bias, or has a history of being so, or when an individual feels, perhaps legitimately, that he or she is personally discriminated against or disliked because of external factors such as  appearance, social background, past indiscretions, or personality problems, the victim mindset creates the conditions of a potentially crippling rationalization.

28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”

This rationalization suggests that standards of right and wrong can and should be suspended under “special” circumstances, always defined, naturally, by those who defy laws, rules, and societal values. Their circular logic results in their adversaries feeling justified in being equally unethical, since times in which the other side engages in dishonesty, cheating, cruelty, and more is, by definition, extraordinary. The inevitable result is a downward spiral of conduct, until unethical behavior is the norm.

31. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now”

Ethics is never “a luxury.” …When you hear yourself saying, “I’ll do anything to fix this! Anything!” it is a warning, and the ethics alarm needs to start ringing hard. Grab those ethical values, and hold on to them. They are the last thing you can afford to be without at such times.

36. Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.”

Asserting the rationalization of Victim Blindness attempts to shift responsibility for wrongdoing to the victims of it, who, the theory goes, should have known that their actions would inspire the conduct that caused them harm, and thus they should have either avoided doing what sparked the unethical response, or by not doing so waived their right to object to it. Clever, but nonsense.

40. The Desperation Dodge or “I’ll do anything!”

Desperation and crisis do not suspend ethical imperatives. Indeed, that’s when values and integrity becomes most important.  Feeling like the walls are closing in and that all may be lost is when sound ethics stand as a bulwark against the temptation to prevail no matter what the cost to others. Hearing the voice in one’s head say, “I’ll do anything!” should set off the most jarring ethics alarms of them all, because the boundary between principle and expediency, good and evil, and courage and cowardice, lies dead ahead. If one is truly ethical, there are things you will never do and must never do, no matter what the crisis. Desperation doesn’t suspend ethics. It validates ethics.

41. The Evasive Tautology, or “It is what it is.”

It is the increasingly popular rationalization of the eternal shrug, the genesis of “Well, what are you going to do?”…”Who can blame him?”…”That’s life!”…”It’s the way of the world” and dozens of other facile clichés in many languages that essentially boil down to the excuse of ethical surrender.

So why, oh why, is none of this sticking? Why are so many readers here, who have shown impeccable ethical instincts and reasoning ability in the past, succumbing to the appeal of pure hate, desperation and vengeance?

I am obviously doing something wrong.


72 thoughts on “Israel’s Home Razing Policy: You Disappoint and Depress Me

      • I did some checking, and east Jerusalem is occupied territory. HRW was right concerning the status of east Jerusalem.

        This bulldozing is therefore no more ethically different than firebombing Tokyo nor shelling Aschaffenburg.

          • And all of this just amounts to “it’s been done before,” although your analogy is also flawed: targeting a town where attacks have come from is ethically distinct from targeting the family of single offender. But even if I accept your comparison: it is unethical, whenever the tactic was used and for whatever reason and whoever approved it.

              • I don’t really understand the commenters who are making distinctions between occupied and enemy territory. Actually, I guess I DO understand it but find it to be a distinction without a difference vis a vis this issue. Or maybe I just mean that it would be unethical in either case, IMNSHO.

                • Patrice, you are dead right. Arguing location, comparing this to Tokyo and Dresden (might as well throw in Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is obfuscation. What is happening here is that an innocent mother is being punished for her sons actions, along with 7 other uninvolved people. Presumably out of frustration because the son is dead and cannot be punished himself. Even the shelling of Aschaffenburg is a silly comparison, as that was not ethical either. Shelling a city because you found a concentration camp outside it is vengeance, not ethics.

                • The difference I was making was between occupied territory and the civil territory of Israel.

                  SHAEF instructions allowed using captive Germans in forced labor; seizure of German civilians as hostages; collective punishment; shooting of hostages; and massive bombings of civilian areas containing terrorists.

                  there was no doubt that the U.S. doing such bolded things to its residents at home would have been unconstitutional. But these acts, taking place in hostile territory occupied by the U.S., were perfectly constitutional, and also consistent with the laws and customs of war.

                    • The inhabitants of the razed house are co-combatants with the one who did the act of war. Razing of the house is legitimate warfare by the Israelis.

                      This comment is 100% sarcasm-free.

                    • I haven’t seen that. What I have seen is that 8 people live in the house and his mother, father and sister are among the people displaced. If it is the case, the son can be shown to have had the cooperation and/or assistance of the parents and some or all of the people in the house are arrested, then and only then will I change my view.

  1. We,,, Jack, you’re obviously right. Maybe it would have been more correct, and more expedient, to say that I empathize on a very personal level with people who have felt a desperate need to act contrary to their conscience in order to save their life. I might have also admitted that I’m getting very weary of radical Islam.

    • People are going to disappoint you from time to time,. No matter what, they’re going to reveal their personal biases here. Remember, this is your area of expertise; you’re a teacher. One day, hopefully sooner rather than later, you may be a leader on a large scale. That’s my hope, anyway.You certainly have the chops for it. You’ll need a great deal of patience, though.

    • The difficulty lies precisely in Israel’s position. Surrounded by a sea of people whose entire lives are based on the piratical fraud of Islam is an nearly unsolveable problem…yet Israel has succeeded dramatically in this effort. Their solution, quite frankly the only logical solution, has and does work – and is the right solution. Israel, from day 1, has faced a perpetual existential crisis. And the 1st rule of of Geopolitical strategy: When you face an existential crisis, your only option is to OVERREACT. This is timeless and this is true and this is the only answer to ALL existential crises. If you are facing a murderer who is set on killing you, you pull out all the stops to stay alive and stop him. If the group facing such a crisis puts out anything less than an overreaction, they may not be doing enough.

      This has been Israel’s go to strategy since 1948 simply because it has been Israel’s only available strategy since 1948. It has walloped Arab army after Arab army and taken swaths of land necessary to stem the tide against it. Good for them.

      But, civilization has more tools in its box than a knee jerk sledgehammer, just Israel has gotten extremely used to grabbing that sledgehammer first, and only recently just barely set the sledgehammer down, so it’s still the closest tool to its hands. Now, Israel faced a problem that didn’t need a sledgehammer but sure looked like the start of the last problem that did need a sledgehammer. And well, we got this.

      This most recent crime is heinous and strikes not just at the people of Israel, but at symbols of it’s very culture. I can understand the high level of anger and it’s quickness to manifest. But we (and they) are civilization and not just that, but Western Style Civilization (quite frankly the best style of civilization), and because of that, they have assumed certain inhibitions. One of those is Due Process and viewing individuals as individuals.

      The enemy they face may still be savages trapped in tribal times where families and blood trump everything and an insult to one’s 73rd cousin thrice removed warrants murdering the insulter, but they, on the other hand, have decided to be a nation of laws***. That means, until the family members of the savage can be found definitively to have knowingly supported their efforts, then hands off any direct action against them.

      The savage muslims (and no, I’m not apologizing to anyone that that bothers…muslims are savages from a savage culture…any “non-savage muslim” is just not a devout one…tough cookies if that ruffles feathers) are not going to get out of the 8th century and join the rest of the grown up world if the grown up world validates their world view by treating them how their worldview expects to be treated. A mouthful, I know, but I think I worded it properly. But even then, that isn’t the reason why we don’t use those tactics…we don’t use them, because WE don’t use them.

      ***If an open conflict were to arise more like a war, I’d loosen this inhibition considerably.

      • “[Israel’s, and all Jews’, enemies] are not going to get out of the 8th century and join the rest of the grown up world if the grown up world validates their world view by treating them how their worldview expects to be treated.”

        Tex, you put too much hope in certain people’s ever joining the rest of the grownups’ world. The best (and most ethical) policy for grownups in response to a group of people holding a worldview that includes and fosters a motive of facilitating extermination of persons with an alternative worldview IS the extermination of that group.

        This comment is 100% sarcasm-free.

        • So, now an Ethics blog has a contributor who advocates genocide – and makes a point of saying he’s free of sarcasm?
          I am, not for the first time, flabbergasted.
          How can anyone who fancies themselves ethical advocate the “extermination” of a group?

          • Well, let’s abstract this into pure terms: If group A would be content to live peacefully with those around them but group B wants to annihilate A and has demonstrated its preparations and actions in support of that effort, group A is completely in its rights and ethically clean to annihilate group B.

            That really is completely undeniable.

            Now placing that abstract into reality one gets the multifaceted problem of:

            1) not everyone in group B looks like group B… That is too say, people who want to annihilate the Jews and have prepared to do so aren’t necessarily Israel’s immediate neighbors.

            2) not everyone who looks like group B is actually part of group B… That is to say, not every single person neighboring Israel or in Israel may actually want to destroy Israel or if they do, don’t actually do anything to contribute to the cause…

            In #2 is where you may find this poor family who had their house razed because the abstract version of the situation doesn’t mesh perfectly with reality. Until the individual members of that family clearly demonstrate they are actively part of the “group B” then hands off. If they do however, then by all means Israel has every right to annihilate members of groups that want to annihilate them.

        • So you’re talking about exterminating Arabs (ethnic cleansing) or all Muslims? And how does this make you different from the folks who want to exterminate Israel and/or all Jews?

          • As a matter of principle: if a person wants to annihilate me and tries to act on that want… I’m not a bad person for wanting to annihilate them out of a right for self-preservation.

            To temper that, and here’s where eeyoure needs to clarify, is I have to be certain a particular person is trying to annihilate me.

  2. It’s Ethically wrong.

    As to why it happens – a culture where extended families are the basic unit of society, and where property is seen as far more valuable than just another child. Those aren’t just expendable, they’re disposable.

    It’s to raise the price. Families of “martyrs” get significant cash bonuses. This encourages families with lots of kids to have one or two martyrs to gain instant profits for the rest.

    By bulldozing the assets of the family, not only do the paymasters have to shell out the $50,000 USD – apparently the going rate – but another $100,000 USD to replace the lost assets.

    It’s designed to bleed the paymasters. Money they pay here can’t be used elsewhere.

    As to whether this is right or wrong – see first sentence of this post. That’s all that should matter, the rest is just exposition.

    • A tactic that is extremely well thought out and would seem to waste Palestinian terrorist dollars, a great strategy to use against enemies! To bad the parents (barring the discovery of evidence linking them to the attacks or knowing material support of the same) by luck of living in Israel, can’t be treated like enemies!

      • According to HRW, east Jerusalem is not in Israel, but is instead occupied territory. Thus, the residents of east Jerusalem are no more residents of Israel than the residents of Aschaffenburg in 1945 were residents of the United States of America.

        • Israel believes Jersualem, all of it, is in Israel. That’s what matters most. And this— “the residents of east Jerusalem are no more residents of Israel than the residents of Aschaffenburg in 1945 were residents of the United States of America”—-is ridiculous. Come on.

          • And that is the key that makes the distinction. To add, since Israel considers Jerusalem, all of it, to be part of Israel and it hasn’t treated the inhabitants of Jerusalem as foreigners needing eviction for 60+ years, by default they are too be treated as members of the nation. Which means they are afforded protections of laws and only pursued as criminals or enemies if evidence arises.

              • Because HRW is more interested in condemning Israel than in actual Human Rights? Yes, I am aware that HRW is an Israeli agency.

              • Perhaps HRW is wrong on

                1) what a war crime is?
                2) what Israel’s national boundaries are?
                3) any other definition based consideration in this problem?

                I think your focus on this consideration is pointless as this action would be wrong domestic or not…

  3. “I am obviously doing something wrong.”

    And I respectfully, disagree. At the very least, you have caused me to re-evaluate a long-held respect for someone who turned out to have clay feet. I’m still hoping that we’ll find out something that will change what I now believe to be true, but without you, I never would have gotten there. Like Joed68, I believe you are eventually headed for bigger and better things, but while you are still with us on this blog, it has been and, hopefully, will continue to be an honor and a privilege to interact with and learn from you, as well as the many other honorable and ethical commenters on this blog’

  4. The real U.S. analogy would be to put in place a policy where the homes of rampaging mass shooters are razed. Of course, it would be unconstitutional, because the Constitution’s embrace of due process of law forbids such a terrible practice. The logic for it would be the same, however.

    And Israel is subject to the U.S. Constitution?

    When carried out in occupied territory, including east Jerusalem, it amounts to collective punishment, a war crime.

    Your objection in your previous post was based on your assertion that the bulldozed apartmentwas in Israel itself, not in enemy territory, that the residents therein were legal residents of Israel, and not simply residing in territory occupied by Israel, and that the murders in question was no act of war. Bulldozing a house in those circumstances would not be a war crime, any more than the use of eminent domain in the U,S. is a war crime.

    According to Human Rights Watch, this bulldozing happened in occupied territory, not Israel itself. Their whole argument that this was a war crime is premised on that assertion – war crimes, by definition, do not include domestic acts by a sovereign towards its residents. Let us see what history said about this sort of thing.

    While American troops generally avoided the excesses of the Soviets and French, they were sharply criticized by the British for using excessive brutality and force in suppressing the Werwolf. General Eisenhower ordered the execution of all Werwolf fighters captured in civilian garb.

    It was understood among U.S. troops that they had a green light for applying frontier justice to terrorists, with no lawyers or trials. The counterinsurgency manual issued by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expedition Force (SHAEF) recommended that troops simply ignore Geneva Convention rules when dealing with the Werwolf.

    SHAEF instructions allowed using captive Germans in forced labor; seizure of German civilians as hostages; collective punishment; shooting of hostages; and massive bombings of civilian areas containing terrorists. Threats to shoot all curfew violators were commonly made. At Lutzkampen, Allied troops threatened to burn down the village if there were any violations of curfew.

    When U.S. troops were attacked at Aschaffenburg in Lower Franconia, the entire town was annihilated by Seventh Army artillery. In the fall of 1945, well after the surrender, U.S. forces still regarded Werwolf bands as “one of the biggest potential threats to security in both the American and Allied Zones of Occupation.”

    In the previous post, I had thought that the bulldozing happened in hostile territory, which would have put it on the same ethical plane as firebombing Tokyo or shelling Aschaffenburg . Your premise is based upon you assertion that the bulldozing happened in Israel. HRW argues differently, that east Jerusalem is occupied territory. In such a case, the actions of the Allies in occupied Germany serves as ethical precedent.

    so which is it, Jack? Was HRW wrong to assert that this bulldozing happened in occupied territory? Or did it happen in Israel?

    (In any case, HRW is wrong about this being a war crime.)

    • 1. The point is that the Constitution correctly states that it’s unjust. It would be unjust in the US if there was a Constitution or not.
      2. Occupied or not Jerusalem is regarded as part of Israel….by Isreal. It is not going to be unoccupied, now or ever.
      3. As I said, i could not care less about the designation of “war crime,” which is a political accusation, and has little to do with ethics.

  5. Sorry the silence led you to think there was mass agreement. It’s a no brainer here, as ends don’t justify the means.

    • Same. And even on that account, Israel’s been doing the same thing for over half a century, and it’s not been calming down the Palestinian population any. Even the damned Soviets knew when to layer the velvet over the chain-mail gloves.

  6. I get your point, Jack, but the sad fact is you are trying to walk the neutral “ethics zone” as it were between two totally hostile sides, which the two political sides have also drawn themselves up on. If you are a conservative (barring the isolationist loons) you have to support Israel. If you are a liberal, you have to support the Arabs. These are articles of faith, and if you try to walk the line between them, you are going to get crap from both sides.

    I won’t mince words, I’m a conservative, and I dislike Islam. I’ve spent far too much time studying the conflict between the Islamic world and the rest of the world to feel any other way. It is a tenet of Islam that the world divides into two worlds: the dar-al-Islam (self-explanatory) and the dar-al-harb (the world of war, or the world at war with Islam). There can be no peace between the two. As with most religions, not many hew to this extreme view, but it provides a convenient basis for not making concessions and a convenient line to whip up the crazies with. There are also a lot of crazies, relatively speaking, since there are a huge number of Muslims and even .001% would be thousands. As we found out 13 years ago and as Israel has known for decades, it only takes a very few crazies to do a huge amount of damage.

    It remains a sticking point in the world of Islam that there is this postage stamp of a Jewish state among the 20+ states that once comprised the Muslim Ottoman Empire. Part of it is the Islamic ideal that once land is Islamic, it remains forever Islamic and must be taken back. Part of it is lingering embarrassment over the fact that the surrounding Arab states got their asses kicked in 1948 when they tried to murder Israel in the cradle. A big part of it is the fact that a lot of Israeli Arabs at the time left, thinking Israel would be no more in short order and they could walk back in afterward. These folks backed the wrong horse, and now identify as Palestinians. The title itself is a lie. There is no nation of Palestine and never was. The name is that of a Roman province, coined from the name Philistines, and imposed in the wake of the Roman conquest of Judea. The Byzantines Arabs, the Crusaders, the Turks, and later the British kept using it for various reasons, but never as an independent nation, always as a region or a province of something else. Those forced out still insist on a “right of return” which is a thinly veiled attempt to flood Israel with Arab refugees (after 70 years who knows what house belonged to who?) and destroy its character as the Jewish state. You put this mix of wounded pride, religious hatred, and will to conquer or die trying together, and you have a pretty toxic mix, I think we all agree.

    Against this you have Israel, the only long-time functioning democracy in the region (Turkey has had several military coups that have only NOT ended badly because you have generals willing to go “back to the barracks” and Iraq and Tunisia’s democracies are fledgling), the most successful economy in the region not based almost solely on oil, and the only firm ally the US has in the place. In a lot of ways they are like the US, except they are surrounded by nations whose people do not look favorably on their continued existence.

    Yes, Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties in place, and have for a while. Their people, however, are still hostile and all too willing to look the other way on terrorist activity within their own borders as long as it is directed at Israel. Syria does not, and the still raging civil war is a toss-up between Baathism and bin Ladenism, neither of which is likely to be tolerant of a Jewish state nearby. Elsewhere Iraq and Iran hold safe havens for terrorists to organize and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are all too willing to bankroll families whose sons perish in suicide bombings or other attacks.

    Israel has neither the numbers nor the strategic depth to be able to play around with this level of enmity. It is also full of “soft targets,” schools, malls, restaurants, synagogues, all kinds of places where large numbers of people gather and there is not a huge security presence, tempting targets for a young Arab who has few prospects otherwise and whose death might be profitable for his family. Israel’s police and military and other emergency services do a fine job, but, like all those services everywhere in the world, they can’t be everywhere at once. It only takes one Arab with a suicide belt or an axe to kill as many unarmed Jews as he can reach before he is killed, and only two or three to perpetrate a much bigger act of terror and murder.

    The one thing that might give at least some of these hopeless young men pause is knowing that, if they commit an act of terror, the consequences will fall back on their families. A family who can just shrug and say “we had no idea what he was up to” and avoid consequences can encourage an otherwise shiftless son to commit an act of terror in secret and thereby profit. A family who knows they will lose their home if a son commits an act of terror might think otherwise, it’s tough to spend or even collect a Saudi-funded bounty if you are in the streets with no set address, home, or possessions. The same might apply to community leaders. It’s easy for an imam to secretly meet with his more fanatical worshippers and point them in the direction of Hizbollah or a similar group if he knows all he has to do is lie and avoid consequences. However, if he knows that if a terrorist is traced back to his congregation, then the IDF and Israeli police will be kicking down doors and knocking down walls in his neighborhood, he might be more inclined to keep his mouth shut.

    When you think about it, it’s pretty simple. Terrorists frequently use hostage-taking tactics to try to get what they want, then kill the hostages when their demands are not met. This is just their own tactics being turned against them on a larger scale. No one likes it when their own tactics are turned against them, any more than any of us like it when our own words are thrown right back at us, so of course they cry “unfair.” I submit that it is fair, especially when faced with an existential threat. Israel’s primary responsibility is the safety of its own people, not to kiss the asses of the UN or human rights groups, and its ethics need to be constructed with that in mind.

  7. Gosh, I check out for a few days and this is what happens. The far right on your blog is out for blood on this issue Jack. It sickens me.

    • Clarify that…

      On the topic of the post, I think most of the initial defenders of Israel’s actions have softened or changed their stance given further meditation.


      On the general notion of Israel’s right to self-defense (from which I think most people’s knee jerk defense of Israel in this is rooted before realizing the scope of this particular situation), why would that sicken you?

      • I think I set it forth pretty well, Tex. To be a liberal is to BE an Arab defender against Israel, and Beth’s a liberal of the deepest blue. Maybe it’s the idea of standing with the little guy, even when the little guy is wrong and setting off bombs. Maybe it’s just anti-Semitism.

      • “On the topic of the post, I think most of the initial defenders of Israel’s actions have softened or changed their stance given further meditation.”

        I”m so glad that further meditation was needed to discover that perhaps razing innocent people’s houses was wrong — well, at least some people might now acknowledge that this was wrong.

        I’d love for someone to explain to me how this is different than what’s going on in Ferguson right now. Wait, I can. Looting and burning is wrong (whatever the perceived cause) — state sanctioned looting and burning is worse.

        And that is not being liberal of the deepest blue, this is knowing right from wrong, just from unjust, and an obvious human rights violation when it smacks me in the face.

        • I don’t need to meditate before knowing right from wrong and THAT is what sickens me. Because however much I disagree with many of the people on this blog, you all are smarter than the average humans living on this planet. So for you all to jump to these conclusions, and then vigorously defend them, well then there is little hope for society at large.

          Happy Thanksgiving.

          And I am writing this with no sarcasm whatsoever.

          • And we all know you’re the smartest damn person here, Beth. If you’re going to refute the points made, then refute them, but if you’re just going to come in here, give us this faux outrage, and toss off a pat point or two, forgive me if I am not impressed.

            • My point is that most — if not all — of the people on this blog are smart Steve. So if smart people are taking these positions, then what the hell is the point of discussing ethics?

              This is why I haven’t been commenting as much lately. I don’t expect people to see my way on all issues, there can be room for disagreement and healthy debate. But on certain areas — like basic human rights — there is pure right and wrong. I don’t need to defend that any more than I would have to defend that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

        • 1) You can drop the self-righteous condescension. There are countless positions taken via knee-jerk responses that you leftists take on a regular basis without meditation. Positions that are obviously wrong, yet you still take them. Interestingly enough, in general, Leftists DON’T soften their stances after further meditation. So you can lose the attitude towards those who did require further thought to shift away from their initial gut reactions.

          2) Their initial reactions are understandable – Israel is beset by enemies on all sides and from the inside, so it almost always has to react with disproportionate responses. This was a typical disproportionate response, it’s easy to say “oh, well it’s what they have to do” before letting the mitigating factor sink in that the targets of this action were not provably related to the crime in a material fashion.

          3) Difference between that and Ferguson? Erm…. and you are flabbergasted that people here had initial kneejerk reactions in support of Israel?

            • Your disapproval/approval stance on the riots makes no difference about your view that the Israel episode and Ferguson episode hold scant little in common other than the most abstract of concepts.

          • 1. Examples please.
            2. Nope. This was an old policy that they went back to again. It is by definition “not” a knee jerk reaction. It is a return to violating human rights.
            3. I don’t support razing homes or businesses– or state-sanctioned razing.

            • 1) I was going to create an onerous list of them, but decided not too. This smells a lot like you planning on going down the list and responding to each item, “I personally haven’t asserted that view.” But that won’t fly, you blanket condemned the so-called “far right” of this blog for quickly supporting a position. The Left does the same, that doesn’t make it right. My original assertion stands, you can lose the attitude towards them given how most of them eased their support after further meditation, considering how typically your crowd fails to ease support of the indefensible even after further thought and exposition. If you want a list, I think there’s been about a dozen topics Jack has discussed in the past 3 months here that specifically call out the Left on kneejerk defenses of the indefensible…and true to form the “far left of this blog” defended those stances and FAILED to soften their stances after meditation.

              2) I referred to the support for Israel’s conduct by the so-called “far right” of this blog as kneejerk, not Israel’s conduct itself. Rephrase your response in that regard please, because otherwise it doesn’t apply.

              3) Swell.

              • And, as part of the far right, I take offense to being lumped into that remark. In response to another commenter I was among the first to condemn Israel’s action, in agreement with Jack. Not bragging or looking for an apology, but blanket statements like that will sometimes come back to bite you.

          • “2) Their initial reactions are understandable”

            Of course, because most of us, when victimized harbor some desire for frontier justice. Yes, it’s understandable. And then, as sentient, evolved beings, we think again and know that it is not the answer.

            The question we ask here on this blog is “Is it ethical?” Understandable? Maybe. Ethical? No.

            • Good, you must’ve read everything I’ve written here. But you’ve misfired. This sub-thread isn’t about the ethics of Israel’s actions in this episode, but Beth’s really odd commentary.

  8. I’ve defended Israel’s actions, but not using any of the rationalisations given in this article. I think the government of Israel’s actions are intended to manage the panic level in the Jewish public and thus forestall political pressure to do much worse. As always, it is a matter of how people feel.

    I feel immensely sad, and proportionately resolved to promote common understanding and mutual acceptance between peoples of the area and of the world. That or at least some reasonable US foreign policy in the region. I am sorry if this is disappointing.

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