A Call for Morality

As the Gaza war winds down, and as the extent of the death and destruction becomes evident, many critics of Israel are charging that Israel was wrong to attack the Hamas regime at all. It is important to distinguish between the conduct of the war and the circumstances that made Israeli action inevitable and necessary, even in the eyes of many Israelis who believe that this war was conducted longer and more violently than was needed in order to achieve its goals.

The statement below was written by Yoel Kretzmer-Raziel. Kretzmer-Raziel is a teacher and Torah scholar who lives at Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, near the border of the Gaza Strip. It is currently circulating by e-mail and I have translated it with his permission.–HW

Yoel Kretzmer-Raziel

The Cast Lead operation has been underway for nearly three weeks in the Gaza Strip. The moral justification for launching this operation is clear to us. Over the course of the three years following Israel’s evacuation of Gaza, Palestinian society faced a choice of which path to choose. The Palestinian leadership in Gaza chose to continue firing into Israeli territory and even to intensify its attacks, and to work to the detriment of the welfare of the Gaza Strip’s population. Had this society wished to do so, it could have created a new and entirely different situation. Israel has no interest in continuing the blockade of Gaza Strip and, had the Palestinian leadership not chosen to fire into Israel, an entirely different set of regional circumstances would have come into being.

The logic of defense requires that pressure be applied to prevent attacks on our citizens. We take no position here on which is the correct defense strategy for achieving this goal, nor do we address the diplomatic outcomes produced by the military operation. Rather, the moral issue is our concern. Clearly, however, successful diplomacy requires that the other side understand our willingness to use force.

We support the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces in their war—our war—and pray for their well-being.

As citizens whose knowledge comes from the news media, we do not know exactly what is happening within the Gaza Strip’s borders. We see, on the one hand, depictions of an IDF utterly indifferent to human life, and on the other reports about the IDF’s efforts to avoid loss of life. And we see that more and more civilians are being killed—children, old people, women, and men. Again and again we see that schools, mosques, hospitals and, especially, homes are being targeted.

The public has been using the expression “we’ve lost our cool” as a way of explaining why, at this time, it might even be best for us to inflict as much death and destruction on the enemy as we can, including civilians. The same sentiment has been used by some Israeli leaders. We reject this attitude utterly. Obviously, in a war like this some civilians will be hurt, given the way Hamas works. But we cannot in any way support this contempt for human life, and certainly not deliberate attacks on civilians, simply for the purpose of making an impression on Gaza’s inhabitants.

There must be lines that we do not cross, even at a time like this. In war one does not always shoot, certainly not when you face a densely-populated area. We must make every effort to minimize the injury of civilians, and prohibit any deliberate and intentional harm to civilians.

We call on the IDF’s soldiers and officers, and Israel’s leaders, to act only within the bounds of human morality, international law, and Israeli law.

We protest the expressions of joy and enthusiasm voiced by some civilian and military leaders during this operation. “Do not rejoice in the fall of your enemies,” King Solomon says in his proverbs. We are not a people who take pleasure in the suffering of others.

When this operation ends, Israeli society will have to look itself in the face. We need to be able to say then that we have acted consistently with our belief that every human being is made in the image of God.

16 thoughts on “A Call for Morality”

  1. Why don’t you debate the morality of dispossession, the morality of being made a stranger in your own homeland?

  2. The last paragraph sums up a major problem this war has exposed… namely that the value of Palestinian life is disturbingly low to the Israeli government, and much of the populace as well.

  3. Again, I preface by saying I am an outside who has never been in peril of violence. I have never known someone subject to violence, to death or not.

    Israel will not, I think ever, go to total war with the Palestinians–although the 82 Lebanon invasion was close. Without total war, you will always be on the wrong side of moral analysis sometimes. Soldiers will be required to decide as if not in a combat position–which can never work overlong.

    I think the real front in Israel are its Arab citizens. I think they, with the help of Jewish Israelis, are that country’s best hope for dealing–even–with the Palestinians. I do not know where it might go. But some of the best news out of the West Bank has been Arab Israeli economic support for enterprises in the WB. The difference between Israelis and Palestinians is so large that an intermediary is deeply necessary. Respect your Arab citizens. Ask them for help. Ask them what they need. Ask them how all of you might change.

    A weak position in the face of 1000+ deaths. Maybe sometimes weakness is the best way to proceed. You have a foreign land in your land. Ask it what it is, what you are. Use the power of your traditions to form the questions. You have the terrible gift of dispora, all the centuries, all the struggles, often failures. I think there is a path within all that memory. And only real Israelis can find it. Not some shrill moralizer like myself. I do not live your world; you do.

  4. I do not believe that the IDF ever targeted civilians on purpose. Hamas purposefully sets up its snipers and mortars next to schools and mosques in order to draw fire knowing that it’s own civilians will be killed and the world will scream. Hamas has no interest in an independent Arab state next to Israel, it wants to wipe Israel off the map and kill Jews and Christians. It is legal and legitimate to return fire no matter where the source is. Hamas carries the responsibilities of the lives it puts in danger.

  5. Mr. Alan:

    When I’m legally deported back to County Derry from America, you can come tell these Israelis where to go. Until that time, why don’t you tell us upon whose stolen land you sleep tonight? Is it your own sense of guilt or just hatred of Jews that brings you here for another round of “whack-a-mole?” (maybe “whack-a-troll” is a better play on words)

    “We take no position here on which is the correct defense strategy for achieving this goal” Love this line. Just like I say to my people under the subject line CONDUCT, “commands are required to get it right but they are not required to tiptoe; I will not recommend we spend 90 per cent of our time fixing you”

    Israel did get it right; this is the first day in weeks I have not read of rockets falling on southern Israel. When the next volley of rockets happens – who will be the first to say it this war was a failure? Not me: Law of Rodef doesn’t require you to get it right – just save your life.

    Now I will engage in a little prolepsis. I have read something a long the lines of “those Israelis so damn smart how could they be *accidently* killing civilians?” Well here’s some news for the world, Israelis aren’t so bloody smart; some of them managed to engage in friendly fire which should “in and of itself” – given the high price Israelis place on one human life – be solid evidence that Israelis (Jewish and Druze Israeli) can make dumb-ass life-altering mistakes just like the rest of us “intelligent” primates.

  6. Yoel says:
    We protest the expressions of joy and enthusiasm voiced by some civilian and military leaders during this operation. “Do not rejoice in the fall of your enemies,” King Solomon says in his proverbs. We are not a people who take pleasure in the suffering of others.


    Question: then why do we say Hallel in commemoration of the downfall of the Egyptians who were pursuing us into the sea? Yes, I know G-d tells the angels not to but he allows the Benei Israel to do so. Also read the “Shirat HaYam” which was said after this event, also note in the TANACH that there were celebrations after other victories, such as that of Devorah and Barak. Sure, we always have to keep in mind that it is G-d who arranges our victories, but since when can we not enjoy it?

  7. Thank you, Haim, for translating this — it is an eloquent statement of the moral limitations — and the deep moral defects — of even the more deeply sensitive of the liberal religious Zionist crowd.

    Should I look at the glass half-full? Should I try to read between the lines? Is there any moral criticism whatever of the IDF’s operation in Gaza?

    Sadly, there is not. We are not told what the IDF did; we are told what they should not do. Not even a whisper of criticism in statements like:

    “There must be lines that we do not cross, even at a time like this. In war one does not always shoot, certainly not when you face a densely-populated area. We must make every effort to minimize the injury of civilians, and prohibit any deliberate and intentional harm to civilians.

    “We call on the IDF’s soldiers and officers, and Israel’s leaders, to act only within the bounds of human morality, international law, and Israeli law.”

    Does one have to be a rabbi to come up with something as bland and as trivial as this? Should we jump for joy that we have the son of a Yedidya member is not as much as a moral cretin as Shmuel Eliyahu?

    Do we really need to be told not to be happy that Palestinian children have been killed — not because of us, of course, but because of them?

    Sadly, the statement shows again that morality and deceny is dead among the religious Zionist Jew — the fact that a son of David Kretzmer can be so coopted by the religious Zionist school system that any hint of moral criticism (and it is only a hint) has to die the death of a thousand qualifications — lest he have no audience whatever — speaks volumes about the spiritual death or orthodox Judaism today.

    I will take one Gideon Levy over a thousand Yoel Kretzmer’s.

  8. Why hasnt Iran’s role in this conflict received more scrutiny. The Gazans elected Hamas, but Iran has purchased them to deflect attention from their nuclear weapons program. The Iranian strategy worked wonders, with habers and Pollacks doing exactly what the imams ordered. Iran will fight Israel to the last Palestinian (or Lebanese)

  9. Ah, yes. I have just received another order from the Great Imam. I must execute it here:

    Hamas won probably the fairest election in the non-Israeli Middle East. They were dumbfounded by their victory. As was Condi Rice. Political Hamas offered an extended “Arab truce.” What is such a thing? Somewhat made up. They lived in a world of idealized past, evoking stories of Arab behavior, one of which is an extended (10 years or more) truce where goals are not renounced, but combat is suspended. Now, do we know any other groups that have endured through stories of their past? Just asking.

    The proposal makes more sense than now if one imagines a tribal world. Hamas also offered to allow external auditing of their governmental budget. The US and Europe responded by halting aid; Israel responded by halting tax payment transfers. Hamas entered power under declining resources in an already sparce land.

    As David Grossman has said, we did not give the proposal a change at all. We have no idea where it would have lead, nor whether Hamas would have begun to change internally thereby. Instead, the West denied democracy after touting democracy. A story we must now live with.

    If you will not be what we want, we will not listen to you. They played our democracy game and won. We said, no fair. Hamas is not Western; nor is Fatah. We forget the thugs in nascent democracy–just look at American history.

    I see not Hamas as an ideal champion for Gaza or Palestine. But I do believe what we experience now is most significantly a product of our turning backs upon their electoral victory. We refused to chance. Consider that the exiled military leader of Hamas, in Syria, was against Hamas participating in the election; he was refused, they won and…well.

    All glory to the Great Imam! Purity everywhere!

  10. I was intrigued by this piece. Thanks for posting it. My daughter (13) noticed that the death ratio in this war has come close to 100 Palestinians to 1 Israeli, at least as reported in the US.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Hamas’ intransigence brought about this round of destruction, but the response of “ba’al habayit hishtageya”, as your writer points out, is absurd and out of line with all that’s good in Jewish values. Especially as the US is inaugurating Barack Obama, especially 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., it’s hard for me to accept violence, even when it’s coming down on my head. How much more so when I am responsible for it!

  11. The boycotts of Hamas began not after the election, but after the violent purging of fatah. Hamas could have taken steps to end the boycott but chose not to, because they have a religious commandment to destroy Israel. In a sense this is reminiscent of Hitler’s ascent to power, in which he won by democratic means, but staged a phony Reichstag fire to consolidate Nazi rule. Pollock, keep it up, perhaps the imams will give you a free trip to Iran. You are certainly doing the imams bidding

  12. Scott, most historians (and German courts) agree the Reichstag fire wasn’t staged and that Marinus van der Lubbe was in fact the arsonist, and not in cahoots with the Nazis. That his trial was a travesty of justice and that the Nazis exploited the event is another story altogether.

  13. Why do you need to fight so hard, Scott? Why the enemey in single colored black?

    Get your facts straight on the boycott of Hamas. Europe, the US, and Israel all refused to deal with Hamas quite soon after their election.

    We do not know what Hamas might have been. We have a fair, albeit still skewed, idea of what it is now. Again, I quote Cicero: Choose your enemies wisely–for you shall become them. Perhaps Cicero was placed by Allah to be used as a later weapon by dupes such as I.

    That Hamas, immediately after election, offered an extended truce you remain silent on. I must have been a lie, therefore not worth comment. You have created a mental map where the only option is to eradicate. You are fighting the Nazis again. Are you ready to exterminate the foreign race which threatens you, man of greater power?

  14. Fiddler-
    It is pretty clear that Van Der Lubbe had been in contact with Gestapo agents who were masquerading as Communists and they encouraged him to burn the Reichstag building as a protest against the Nazi regime, while actually intendging their provocation to be a weapon against the Communists, as indeed it turned out to be. The commander of the Berlin Fire Department, who was not a Nazi, later stated that there is no way Van Der Lubbe could have started the fire all by himself. Any statements that Van Der Lubbe made that he worked alone must be taken with a grain of salt, recall that he was in the custody of the Gestapo and they could easily threaten him to say what they wanted him to say.

    The murder of Sergei Kirov was used by Stalin in 1934 the same way. Stalin wanted to rid himself of a popular rival and to , at the same time, use it as a weapon to destroy his open opponents. The assassin, Nikolaev, was a disgruntled former employee of Kirov’s and NKVD agents encouraged him to carry out the murder and saw to it that Kirov’s bodyguards were detained at the moment Nikolaev was given access to Kirov.

  15. So, Y. Ben-David, we continue to fight WW II. Never Again. No–Always Again. I will not condemn the future to live my past endlessly. If you protect yourself too forcefully from your past, you may find yourself playing a different role in that past. The greatest victory of the Nazis past is the imposition of an ontology of race. I will continue to battle them.

  16. I read today that maybe only 500-600 people died in Gaza during the Israeli raid, most were males between 17-23. Both Hamas and Israel had reasons for wanting to believe the higher numbers.

    The idea that comparing the numbers of Palestinian and Israeli dead in any way proves the disproportion of Israeli actions is wrong. It is an open miracle that more Israelis haven’t died since 2000. Also, Israel has bomb shelters; my understanding is that there are none or very few bomb shelters in Gaza, although there are plenty of tunnels.

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