Hiding War Crimes Behind a Question

Israel claims its latest slaughter of Gazans is justified as self-defense because some militants are firing poorly aimed rockets into Israel. But that leaves out the moral context of Israel’s seizure of Palestinian land and its harsh blockade of the 1.7 million people locked in the tiny Gaza Strip, says theologian Daniel C. Maguire.

By Daniel C. Maguire

Doesn’t Israel have a right to defend itself? Though it is hard for a question to be wrong, this is a dead wrong question even though it is the heart and soul of Israel’s defense of its attack on little Gaza.

It is also the basis of the U.S. assessment of the ongoing moral disaster. The Senate voted unanimously to answer the question in the affirmative while ignoring all other piercingly relevant circumstances. Never has a misplaced question had such prestige and high-level cachet.

Israeli Prime Minister and U.S. President Barack Obama during an Oval Office meeting on May 18, 2009. (Photo credit: White House)

Israeli Prime Minister and U.S. President Barack Obama during an Oval Office meeting on May 18, 2009. (Photo credit: White House)

The contorted question sins by deviousness and legerdemain. With verbal wizardry, offense suddenly becomes defense with all the legitimacy that defense imports. It is akin to asking “Does a rapist during a rape have a right to defend himself if the victim resists?”

With collective amnesia, Israel and the United States brush aside basic realities of warfare. Siege (or blockade) is an act of offensive warfare. Indeed it is among the most devastating of weapons, condemned by both “Just War” theory and — very much to the point — by Jewish and Christian ethics of war.

Maimonides in the Twelfth Century summed up the Talmudic view of siege, saying it could only be justified if it left one side open for citizens to escape. Of course, it would then no longer be a siege. Conclusion: a siege is immoral. 

As Michael Walzer says in his treatment of “War Against Civilians,” “more people died in the siege of Leningrad than in the infernos of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki taken together.” The health effects of the long-term and ever-tightening siege on children and others in Gaza are horrific.

The people of Gaza are equivalently on death row since the current Israeli attack will tighten the siege. Flotillas have attempted to break the siege of Gaza by bringing desperately needed medicine and food and they have been repulsed by Israel; in one case Israelis shot and killed nine of those on a peace flotilla, one of them an American citizen.

Now back to the question that undergirds Israeli and American feeble rationalizations: does the besieger have a right to defend itself from its victim during the siege? Does not the right of the besieged to end the siege trump the claims of the fourth strongest military force in the world, which is suffocating 1.7 million people imprisoned in the narrow confines of Gaza?

The unambiguous fact on the ground is that the people of Gaza are indeed on a form of death row. With Israel on one side and the hostile and powerful Egypt on the other, with the tunnels which were economic lifelines (and not just conduits for defensive weapons) being destroyed, the siege has become catastrophic.

The Parity Lie

There are other lies huddled beneath the misplaced question: Doesn’t Israel have a right to defend itself? Prominent among them, and dominating American mainstream media, is the parity lie. The implication is that we have here a war between equal parties. But Gaza has no army, no navy, no air force, not even an airfield.

Like some blind David it is senselessly and desperately hurling unguidable pebbles at the Israeli Goliath, thus giving Israel the excuse to claim victimhood and trot out its fraudulent question to cover over its ongoing crimes against humanity.

Lies beget lies and there are more. As Lebanese-American philosopher Robert Ashmore points out, Israel and the United States with studied and stubborn effort turn their backs on the original sin of the Mideast, the reason why Gaza is the overcrowded prison it is.

What Israelis call “The War of Independence,” and the Arabs with more accuracy call al Nakba, the catastrophe, happened in 1948. Over 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes, over 500 of their villages destroyed and rebuilt with Hebrew names. That is the root of all Israeli evil. It continues apace as Israel rejects repeated Arab offers to recognize Israel if it retreats to the pre-1967 borders. Land-theft euphemized as “settlements” continue to gobble up Palestinian land, making all talk of a “two-state” solution a cynical illusion.

The United States is, as Tony Judt put it, “the paymaster” for Israeli imperialism. The U.S. Congress is, as Robert Ashmore says, “Israeli occupied territory.” The al-Qaeda leaders behind the 9/11 attacks cited the relentless U.S. support of Israeli occupation as a motive for the attack. It is in our national interest to remember that.

Resentment of Israeli aggression and our lapdog complicity is at high peak. In the age of suitcase-size atomic weapons, drones and chemical-biological micro-weapons, it is suicidal folly to press on as Israel’s enabler-in-chief. Did 9/11 teach us nothing!

Two Republican presidents — of all things! — twice blocked Israeli expansionism: Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 and George H.W. Bush in 1989 threatened to stop or diminish America’s lavish aid to Israel. The “settlement” land grab stopped until the pressure was removed, and then it resumed apace.

Palestinians are rejecting the mockery of a cease-fire-with-continued-siege, saying like the Jews who revolted in the Nazi ghettoes, we would rather die on our feet than on our knees. Those who force them to such options will yet pay a price. As Jewish scholar Marc Ellis says, “history sneaks up on the powerful.”

Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theology at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is author of A Moral Creed for All Christians. He can be reached at daniel.maguire@marquette.edu

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12 comments on “Hiding War Crimes Behind a Question

  1. Does Israel have a right to slowly and steadily expand by knocking down houses and building settlements in their place? No it doesn’t.

  2. Joe Tedesky on said:

    Professor MaGuire’s article here points out very well what America has been doing with the Israeli/Palestinian issue for years. I find Harry Truman’s position on Israel to be one of America’s lowest points in our nations history. If only Truman had taken George Marshall’s advise, and handed the Palestine issue over to the U.N.. Instead Truman at that moment thought like a politician running for county commissioner. Truman made the statement, “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism: I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.” Could there have been any answer worst than his remark? Marshall was so repulsed, he (Marshall) who never voted always attempting to be above politics, told Truman how he would not vote for the president due to his (the President’s) decision. Not longer after Marshall would resign as Secretary of State. This is where for modern America it all started.

    What is even more saddening is how little the American public knows of our country’s involvement with Israel. Little does our news media cover the sickening reality that the Palestinians live with day to day. It has been to easy to paint the Palestinian as a stark raving mad Arab. This stereotype is the image which most Americans have been given. So, it seems only fair that Israel protects itself from these crazies who just want war because they don’t like the Jews.

    It is long overdue that Americans finally hear, and see the truth.

  3. bobzz on said:

    Joe, I don’t doubt your quote from Truman. I would like the source, if you weren’t quoting from memory.

  4. Florence Steichen on said:

    Excellent. Thank you!!

  5. alan.weisbard@gmail.com Jay Weisbard on said:

    I would be a lot more persuaded by Maguire’s polemic if Hamas showed the slightest interest in a compromise allowing Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace. Maguire acts as if a return by Israel to the 1967 borders would bring peace. But for Hamas, it is all about 1948 and reversing Israel’s very existence. And Maguire seems to be on board with that, arguing that the very creation of Israel as a refuge for the Jews after the Holocaust were a catastrophe for civilization. Without getting into a full debate on Papal behavior leading up to and through the Holocaust, Maguire’s account leaves all too little doubt about his lack of sympathy for Jewish concerns of any kind.

    I say all this as one who has expressed serious criticism of Israeli policies up to and including the conduct of this war. But I also respect the agency and moral responsibility of the Palestinian people and their elected leadership, and their responsibility, shared with Israel, for failing to reach a viable political settlement.

    Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

    • Joe Tedesky on said:

      Dear Professor Weisbard, ever since I first read your post here the wheels in my head have not stopped turning. Considering how right you are as regarding Hamas, and their goals, as against Israeli goals, is mind blowing if not even more so.

      What I wrote above about President Truman is only to point out how a politician thinks. We all know that what Truman did, was done to satisfy a 2 million dollar campaign contribution from the then American Zionist. Truman struggled with the Palestine/Jewish issue of his day. He actually favored in private other methods toward a solution to the Palestine settlement. One could even goes so far as to say that Truman carved out the mold for all American Presidents ever since. Eisenhower and George HW Bush have been so far to date the only American presidents who did put their foot down towards modern day Israel policies.

      I do agree with you pointing out there are two sides to this conflict. I haven’t the answer, but I am still learning, and trying to pay close attention.
      Respectfully J.T.

      The following links are worth while, and maybe helpful.
      Jewish Group Delivers Mourner’s Kaddish For Gaza Victims
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/26/jewish-group-kaddish-gaza_n_5622021.html

      This is Not a War on Terror; the War Itself is an Act of Terror
      by URI AVNERY
      http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/25/this-is-not-a-war-on-terror-the-war-itself-is-an-act-of-terror/

      Ref; Gore Vidal recollection…..
      http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/jewhis1.htm#Foreword

  6. John J on said:

    There was a deal reached between Rabin and Arafat. A fanatical revisionist Zionist killed Rabin for that, and many more had the same sentiment. In the election to replace the lost PM the revisionist Zionists won. Arafat so trusted Rabin that he didn’t close all the loop holes. One was that all settlement activity on the occupied territory would stop. I sure every descent person wanting peace would see continued settlement activity as destructive to the peace process and a snub. The Palestinians saw through it right away.
    Read Bobzz offensive comment on the next article, “Netanyahu’s Bloody Calculations”. I would have thought that kind of material would be removed but at least it’s enlightening.

  7. bobzz on said:

    John, I think you were referring to my comment in “US Complicity in Israel’s Crimes”, not “Netanyahu’s Bloody Calculations”. What is really offensive to all but Israel and its sponsor is the slaughter. As for Palestinians that are being starved, and pushed out of their land, what do you expect? I get that the Jews have gone through centuries of persecution culminating in the Shoah. I get the desire for a homeland, but Zionism has sent Israel over the edge—a view shared by peace loving Jews. My comment highlighted the utter inhumanity of the slaughter. Zionists no longer look to the Tanak for its moral instruction; they have reduced it to a land deed, not just the land the Arabs are willing to concede (the 1967 borders) but to the whole Solomonic kingdom. The Zionist course will end in disaster, not just for the Israelis. As for my comment, do you really buy the facile argument that Palestinians are using the women and children as shields or that their errant missiles (plural) hit a UN compound?

  8. To me, the situation is a little like if your neighbor kid hits your kid with a water gun and your kid then responds with bullets from a rifle.

  9. rosemerry on said:

    Thanks for this article.
    Israel pretending to “self defence” when is it illegally occupying Palestinian land, keeping over half a million settlers on the WB and destroying houses and taking over more and more in the WB and E Jerusalem while exerting complete air, sea and land control with vicious sanctions and frequent attacks on Gaza is monstrous. The “dangerous rockets” which are blamed for being ineffective or for “targeting Israeli civilians” (very unsuccessfully) are equated or considered worse than fullscale slaughter by the IOF. The demonstrable fact that the rockets always FOLLOWED Israeli breaking of truces never get mentioned in the MSM. Self defence for Gaza, with its own army, bases, weapons etc would not even be needed in the Israelis did not keep up the siege. Hamas HAS agreed to the “Arab Peace Plan 2002, which surely Dr Weisbard knows. Recent interviews with Hamas leaders are clear (in Al Jazeera-sorry I don’t know how to do the linking).