The MidEast num­bers game

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Jeremy Brier

PAINT­ING BY num­bers is easy but it doesn’t make for a very il­lu­mi­nat­ing pic­ture. The lat­est con­flict be­tween Is­rael and Ha­mas has been con­stantly re­ported by ref­er­ence to the lat­est death toll and the grow­ing num­bers are matched by the hy­per­bole of the com­men­ta­tors. What started as an “an ex­change of fire” be­came a “cri­sis”, which be­came “a mas­sacre”, and then, ac­cord­ing to that bas­tion of sen­si­tiv­ity and un­der­state­ment Yas­min Qureshi MP, be­came “the same” as what hap­pened dur­ing the Holo­caust.

It is of course vi­tal to be mind­ful of the hu­man tragedy of war­fare, but the fact that [by Tues­day] 160 Pales­tini­ans had been killed for one Is­raeli death is not a re­li­able guide to events in and of it­self with­out a rig­or­ous ex­plo­ration of why that dis­par­ity ex­ists and which party is morally cul­pa­ble for the deaths.

The con­text for the dis­par­ity in loss of life is in the first in­stance Is­rael’s in­cred­i­ble Iron Dome air de­fence sys­tem.

It has in­ter­cepted ap­prox­i­mately 90 per cent of in­com­ing rock­ets and, with­out it, many Is­raeli cit­i­zens would have been killed. In terms of sav­ing in­no­cent lives, the in­ven­tors of the Iron Dome would have as a good a case as any for win­ning the No­bel Peace Prize (but don’t hold your breath). The other fac­tor crit­i­cal to the loss of life cal­cu­la­tions is the un­der­re­ported fact that Ha­mas place sites of mil­i­tary im­por­tance amongst its civil­ian pop­u­la­tion. Hos­pi­tals, mosques and res­i­den­tial com­plexes are Ha­mas’s cho­sen mu­ni­tions de­pots and rocket launch­pads. This should be seen for what it is: a cal­cu­lated de­ci­sion to mar­tyr people for a pub­lic re­la­tions vic­tory against Is­rael and it is in con­trast to the IDF’s ef­forts to min­imise civil­ian ca­su­al­ties by ra­dio warn­ings, text mes­sages and leaflet-drops.

Un­der­stand­ing this con­text for the dis­parate out­comes of the com­bat in terms of loss of life is one im­por­tant step in see­ing the truth be­hind the num­bers.

How­ever, there is a broader and deeper moral anal­y­sis be­yond this, in terms of iden­ti­fy­ing the real cause of the com­bat. The es­sen­tial start­point is to recog­nise that Is­rael has no rea­son or pur­pose to at­tack un­pro­voked. Af­ter cen­turies of dream­ing, Is­rael ex­ists, lives and flour­ishes. It has no ide­o­log­i­cal de­sire to at­tack Gaza, where it vol­un­tar­ily ceded power and con­trol in 2005.

This ap­proach con­trasts with Ha­mas, an or­gan­i­sa­tion driven by fun­da­men­tal­ist ide­ol­ogy and which ex­pressly de­fines its mis­sion to kill all Jews in its widely-avail­able but sel­dom pub­li­cised Char­ter. The rock­ets which rain down on Is­rael re­flect an in­dis­crim­i­nate de­sire to kill. Though they fail in this en­deav­our, they make life un­bear­able for many and, in any event,

What is the price to pay for pro­tect­ing one’s so­ci­ety?

they con­sti­tute a crim­i­nal re­cur­rence which no coun­try could with­stand for­ever.

So to as­cribe the cause of in­no­cent Pales­tinian deaths to the IDF, de­fend­ing Is­rael against these at­tacks, is to make the moral er­ror of blam­ing the im­me­di­ate cause-in-fact of the killing (the IDF) rather than the truly cul­pa­ble orig­i­nal cause which, but for its hap­pen­ing, the events in ques­tion would never have oc­curred (Ha­mas ag­gres­sion). Test this by posit­ing the coun­ter­fac­tual sce­nario where Ha­mas does not fire rock­ets or mur­der hitch-hik­ers. Then, the IDF does not at­tack Ha­mas tar­gets and there is no asym­met­ri­cal death toll.

This all poses a dilemma which reaches far be­yond Is­rael’s borders and af­fects Bri­tain more than we yet re­alise. That is, how do demo­cratic na­tion states like ours main­tain a mod­ern and a lib­eral so­ci­ety against a ter­ror-led Ji­had an­ti­thet­i­cal to its val­ues and driven to fight with­out fear? Is­rael hap­pens to be on the front line, but if and when Bri­tain or Hol­land or Spain are un­der fire, with sus­tained at­tacks upon its people, coun­tries used to peace will sud­denly find that they must con­front Is­rael’s predica­ment.

They will need to con­sider if they too will seek to tar­get their en­e­mies in the knowl­edge that this will cause in­no­cent deaths, or whether in­stead a new na­tional moral­ity has taken hold in the West which casts self-de­fence as un­war­ranted ag­gres­sion and dic­tates that caus­ing col­lat­eral loss of life is too high a price to pay to pro­tect one’s people. Is­rael, 66 years young and for­ever un­der threat, can­not af­ford to risk the lat­ter ap­proach.

Jeremy Brier is a Lon­don bar­ris­ter

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