Counterpoint: Collective responsibility vs. collective punishment

Objective principles of judgment must be applied to qualify one as an even-handed liberal.

January 1, 2009 13:22
Counterpoint: Collective responsibility vs. collective punishment

david forman 88. (photo credit: )

I am an unrepentant liberal. Liberalism flows through my veins. As a progressive individual, part of that liberalism embraces a sense of fair play. To be liberal means to apportion equal standards of behavior for everyone. Understandably, when passing judgment on someone else, one must consider many factors, but objective principles of judgment must be applied to qualify one as an even-handed liberal. Not long ago, I spoke before a liberal Protestant group of clergy, hoping that they would express a balanced understanding of what is happening in Gaza. That was not to be the case. They were anything but liberal. To be kind, they were terribly naive. To be unkind - but blatantly honest - they were simply a bunch of anti-Semites. To prove this point, one minister asked me: "Why should there be an Israel? Who needs a Jewish state?" Stunned, I responded: "Who asks such a question? Who needs America? Some Spaniard comes to a new continent, puts a stake down; and, lo and behold discovers a new world - America. Years later, England occupies this new country, and, over time, immigrants from Europe start arriving at America's shores. Calling themselves Americans, they wage a successful revolution against the British, after which they confine the natives (Indians or native-Americans) to reservations (refugee camps), expropriate their lands and occupy their territory. Then they import slaves from Africa, holding them hostage from the time of their arrival in the 1700s until 1964-1965 when respectively a civil rights and voting rights bill were passed. So, who needs America - with its aggressive war in Vietnam and trumped-up one in Iraq?" I continued: "Would you ask the same question about every new 'Kakistan' that is proclaimed almost daily since the fall of the Soviet empire? What about Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq - all established by international fiat when the British and the French arbitrarily divided up the Middle East at the close of World War I? At least Israel was created by an act of an international body, the UN?" Feeling myself on a roll, I went on: "And you are a Christian, who subscribes to the Judeo-Christian tradition that speaks about God's promise of the Land to the Jews. So who asks such a question? I'll tell you who - an anti-Semite." I could have spoken otherwise, showing the Jewish historical link to the land of Israel from virtually time immemorial, but I was tired of assuming a defensive posture, which unfortunately we Jews often find ourselves doing when trying to justify our legitimacy as a state. There are times when one has to just speak forthrightly, putting the other guy on the defensive. After all, the best defense is a better offense. After my onslaught, my nemesis became a shrinking violet. Apparently, my decision to be blunt had some redeeming effect, as I was beseeched after my presentation with a slew of apologies from almost everyone in the audience. Yet, I doubt I will receive a return invitation to speak. BUT LET'S return to the subject at hand - the protests against Israel's actions in Gaza. The criticism is that we are employing collective punishment to combat the firing of rockets by Hamas. What should we have done? We evacuated the settlements and pulled the army out of Gaza, and still, between quasi cease-fires, a steady stream of Kassams rains down on kibbutzim, moshavim, towns and cities. We had no choice but to react. Are we engaged in collective punishment? Absolutely. But let's examine the notion of collectivity a little further. There is a direct link between collective punishment and collective responsibility. In Israel there are dozens of human rights groups that protest its actions in the territories, claiming that the many are forced to suffer for the behavior of a few. It would be morally irresponsible not to speak out. By not protesting, we become complicit partners in Israel's actions. Similarly, we must ask: Where are the Palestinian human rights organizations that should be protesting Hamas's indiscriminate bombing of schools, factories and homes - a blatant form of collective punishment? How should Israel have responded to this intolerable situation? Before launching operation "Cast Lead," it should have offered to talk to Hamas directly; called the United Nations into session to condemn the rocket attacks from Gaza; had government ministers meet with world leaders to pressure them to denounce Hamas's actions; urged our allies to influence moderate Arab nations to call Hamas on the carpet. Let's suppose these efforts failed to stop Hamas's bombardments. Israel should have then flown jets a few meters above the houses in Gaza - day and night - constantly breaking the sound barrier with deafening noise; dropped stun and stink bombs all over the area; and cut off electricity every few hours, all the while allowing water, food, medicine and all basic services and goods to get through so as to avoid any humanitarian crisis and prevent any loss of life on either side? ISRAEL SHOULD be conducting a public relations campaign that places the onus for its actions on Hamas, simultaneously distributing the Hamas charter, which makes Hitler's Mein Kampf look moderate. Israel should also show its disengagement from Gaza; Palestinians tearing down the left-behind greenhouses and public buildings which could have served respectively as a lifeline to economic well-being and social improvement; Fatah and Hamas engaged in internecine battles that claimed 1,000 Palestinian lives; the arrests, kidnappings and assassinations by Hamas of anyone who opposes its mini-reign of terror in Gaza. Most important, a publicity blitz should include Israeli families on TV, the Internet, YouTube - all in their bombed out homes, showing hysterical parents and crying babies, so the world sees that Palestinians do not have a monopoly on suffering. Perhaps then the international community might begin to understand the complexities of the situation - that nothing is one-sided. And, if the international community still persists in judging Israel by double standards - rarely mentioning the provocation for Israel's reactions (like the International Court in The Hague concluding that Israel must dismantle the security wall without mentioning one word about terror, as if the barrier was created in a vacuum) - then we should take our case directly to them, putting our detractors on the defensive. Had Israel tried the above mentioned, maybe Hamas would have gotten the message that it is not worth it to pursue its attacks; and, if not, only then would Israel's present actions be justified. Had we employed some "out-of-the-box" thinking before executing "Cast Lead," we would have been able to stand on the moral high ground, demonstrating to the world that the real enemy is Hamas, which spews forth hatred, so cynically and brutally confirmed when they dressed up a Palestinian as captive Gilad Schalit pleading for his life before 200,000 jeering Gazans. When such cruelty and inhumanity are put on public display, without a word of condemnation by any Arab leader (or from those ministers I addressed), then it is the Palestinians who become collectively responsible for collective punishment. If my liberal friends cannot understand this, then they are no longer liberal (if they ever were) and, certainly, they are no longer my friends.

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