Adjusting the Moral Compass, Part II
By Vic Rosenthal, ABU YEHUDA
…European universalist ethics no longer promotes the survival of cultures that espouse it in the environment that is present-day Europe. We certainly see in present-day Europe all of the above responses to this pressure: adaptation, migration and cultural failure. – Part I
This is even more true for Israel. A nation-state whose moral code is based on the idea that all men are brothers will not survive in the Middle East. It needs to operate according to more tribalistic moral principles, in which the welfare of its own culture and people are given priority over others.
What are the practical implications of such a change to our moral principles?
The case of Elor Azaria provides a starting point. Azaria shot dead an already ‘neutralized’ Palestinian terrorist. This was a violation of standing orders as expressed in the IDFs code of ethics, which explicitly forbids harming prisoners of war.
In his defense Azaria argued that he believed the terrorist may have been wearing a suicide vest. But the military prosecutor, the Defense Minister and other officials apparently did not believe him.
When he was indicted for manslaughter, there were large demonstrations in various parts of the country calling for him to be freed. I suspect that many of the participants didn’t believe him either, but nevertheless they felt strongly that he was not guilty of a crime in any event. I believe they were thinking something like this:
Here is a 19 year-old soldier whom we have entrusted with protecting us, and whose job makes him a target at all times, even when he’s waiting for a bus. We send him into combat in places like Gaza or Lebanon where our tactics of doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties put him at great risk of becoming a casualty himself.
Palestinian terrorists have been murdering Jews on our streets at random, and this one has just stabbed and tried to murder his fellow soldier. The terrorist will receive medical treatment and be incarcerated in a safe and relatively comfortable prison with other terrorists, until he is released in exchange for a hostage or because the PLO has told the American president that freeing terrorists will lead to ‘peace’ negotiations.
Meanwhile, our soldiers will continue to be targets and have to operate among restrictions designed to protect terrorists.
Perhaps Azaria violated orders. But in a larger sense, what he did was not wrong. The position we place our soldiers in is wrong.
This is a perfect example of the tension between the concern for the ‘other’ – in this case a deadly enemy – that is built into what I called ‘European universalist morality’, and our own need to protect ourselves. There are several asymmetries here: Palestinian terrorists are not bound to obey rules protecting civilians or prisoners; indeed, they prefer soft targets when possible. When they are caught they are treated well and often released to continue their activities. They act according to a genocidal ideology in which every Jew is a target for murder, while our soldiers are required to behave like policemen and ‘detain’ a ‘suspect’ who has ‘rights’ that must be protected.
In this case, not only was the shooter, Azaria, charged with a crime, but several IDF officers at the scene were reprimanded for failing to provide prompt medical care for the wounded terrorist.
It isn’t just the army. The mission statement of Magen David Adom, the Israeli organization affiliated with the International Red Cross, calls for care to be given to “any individual in need, avoiding discrimination based on nationality, religion, gender, age, class, political affiliation or ideology.” This has been consistently interpreted to mean that care should be given in an order based on severity of injury, regardless of whether the patient is a terrorist or his victim. A badly injured terrorist, in other words, is expected to be treated first! Whether this happens in actual situations is another matter, which illustrates the moral conflict inherent in the attempt to maintain a universalist morality in a tribal region like the Middle East.
The psychological consequences of our European-style ‘fairness’ on our tribal enemies are also counterproductive. They understand our ‘goodness’ as weakness, and take maximum advantage of it. It does not make them admire us or wish for peace; rather, it generates contempt and encourages them to continue using violent tactics.
What is true of our rules for warfare and counterterrorism also applies to our public diplomacy and other areas. Our leaders express an understanding of the supposed Palestinian need for a state and desire to sit down with them and negotiate a peace deal, while the Arabs publish maps on which Israel does not appear and educate their children to love martyrdom above all. We provide surgery in our best hospitals to the relatives of leaders of Hamas and the PLO, while they encourage their people to pick up a knife and stab a Jew.
The universalist approach to conflict is to look for technical solutions. Hamas can’t stop firing missiles at us? Develop a way to shoot the missiles down, but don’t hurt anybody. No choice but to bomb Hamas targets? Develop a way to warn civilians (and incidentally, Hamas fighters). The PLO has impossible demands, designed to destroy our state? Try to compromise. Arabs stabbing Jews in the streets? Try to arrest them; only shoot to kill as a last resort.
One of the implications of a universalist morality is that there is no such thing as anenemy in the traditional sense. If anyone should be considered an enemy it would be the leaders of Hamas and the PLO; yet our doctors save the lives of their relatives. In this view even terrorists have rights, and the people of Gaza and the Arabs of Judea and Samaria shouldn’t be punished collectively for what their leaders do. After all, everyone is an individual and everyone has human rights.
Israelis have taken this European approach even further. Because of our (historically inappropriate) guilt complex toward the Palestinians, we might say that “everyone has human rights especially the Palestinians.”
But what if we realign our moral system to see the conflict in tribal terms?
This is war and the Palestinians are the enemy. Who speaks like this in Israel today?
When we confront a terrorist, we should shoot to kill, just like in a firefight in Bint Jubail. The terrorist Sgt. Azaria shot probably shouldn’t have been alive in the first place. No, we shouldn’t shoot prisoners of war, but we don’t need to provide medical treatment to enemy casualties either, at least until all of ours are taken care of. Non-uniformed terrorist operatives are unlawful combatants, and can be tried for murder or terrorism if they survive. Needless to say, there should be an option to apply the death penalty in these cases, and it should be applied liberally.
You don’t supply water, electricity, food and cement to an enemy population, especially one which has no desire to overthrow its leadership. And the Palestinians, both in Gaza and Judea/Samaria have defined themselves as an enemy, by their choice of leaders, by what they teach in their schools and say in their official and social media, and in their popular support and enthusiastic participation in terrorism against Jews.
Collective punishment? Of course they should be punished collectively, because their guilt as an aggressor is collective.
If it is determined that he had no good reason to fear the wounded terrorist, Sgt. Azaria will have violated a standing order and should be punished for doing so. But his punishment should be minimal. We put him in an untenable situation and expect him to behave like, pardon the expression, Jesus Christ.
A Palestinian terrorist who tried to murder a Jew ended up dead. It’s war. Stuff happens in war. Get over it.