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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org