Comfort from Calvin — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

I did not want to be on the plane I boarded in mid-July. I’ve been through a lot of wars, but this is the first one I was leaving the country for. How could I? I had two children in active service—a son who’s a special forces officer and a daughter in a combat infantry unit. The wonderful woman that my son was scheduled to marry in just weeks, herself an intelligence officer, had been called up as a reservist. Twice in the previous week sirens had gone off in Jerusalem as Hamas launched long-rage rockets in our direction.

      drawing by Avi Katz

     drawing by Avi Katz

But tickets for the trip, for a visit to Dad and Mom in Denver and a literary conference in New York, had long since been purchased, and Ilana insisted that I not change my plans. “It’s not as if by being here you could change anything,” she pointed out.

Ilana’s admonishment was more pregnant than she realized. For Israelis like me, loyal Zionists who have for decades spoken out for Israeli democracy, tolerance, and accommodation with the Palestinians, the Gaza War was triply depressing. We, our family, our friends, and our country are under attack and our soldiers and civilians are being killed. Israeli bombs have killed hundreds of people in the Gaza Strip, embittering a Palestinian population with whom we must find a way to live. But, no less worse, death and destruction are turning the people on both sides ever farther away from accommodation and mutual understanding. Should we give up? Are we really impotent when it comes to peace?

The power to change, the refusal to accept the world as it is and the impulse to make it better, is fundamental to Judaism. The concept of free will is built into the Jewish Bible and into the wisdom of rabbinic literature, the building block of the ethical systems of nearly all Jewish theologians and philosophers throughout the ages. Not only can we change ourselves and determine our own actions, we believe, but we can also, through our actions and words, cause other people to change the way they act and think.

How ironic, then, to find myself seated on the plane next to a Calvinist.

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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.

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Tough Love: The Moral Choices in the Gaza War

Haim Watzman One series of questions posed to Israeli soldiers in discussions of war ethics goes something like this: If you were ordered to blow up a house where a terrorist commander was hiding, and you had reason to believe that enemy civilians were in the house, should the order be refused? If you were … Read more

Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” (2) — War Ethics in a War Zone (3)

Waltz With Bashir
Haim Watzman

Waltz With Bashir directly addresses the philosophical question we’ve been discussing here. Ari Folman, the film’s director, served as an Israeli soldier on the perimeter of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut at the time of the massacre committed there by Lebanese Phalangist militiamen in mid-September 1982. Folman clearly feels guilt, and feels that he abetted an act that was comparable to the Nazis’ massacres of Jews in Europe—his parents are Holocaust survivors. To what extent is he, an individual soldier, morally culpable. Should he have acted otherwise than he did?

There can be little doubt that Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, Chief of Staff Rafael (Raful) Eitan, and the top army command knew very well what would happen if the Phalangists were given a free hand in the refugee camps. The Phalangist forces had a long history of murder, mutilation, and destruction, committed not just against Palestinians and Muslims but also against rival Christian forces in Lebanon.

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