Friday, July 4, 2008

Revenge By Any Other Name

The rampage of the Arab tractor-drive this week in Jerusalem, which killed several people and wounded many more, is rightly condemned. Yes, it is important to try to understand motives, and yes, it is important to think rationally on how to prevent the reoccurence of such events. But understanding is not excusing, much less justifying. You can say the same thing for the rampage of the student at Virginia Tech last year, which killed more people. Even if a person is driven to do something by mental illness, or by some sort of exculpating factor, the harming of innocents is to be condemned. The motives are not relevant. Death by Caterpillar is death.

But no less condemnable are the acts of revenge contemplated by Israeli officials against innocents, either the tractor-driver's family (destroying their house) or his neighborhood (revoking their residency.) In fact, they are arguably more barbaric because they are premeditated actions of a state, illegal by international law, and immoral by any morality save that of the mafia.

What is chilling about the contemplated acts of revenge by Israel politicians like Barak, Netanyahu, Oimert, Ramon, is that they are just that – revenge. Nobody is even trying to argue that destroying or sealing up the family's house is punishment or deterrence. Nobody holds the family or the neighborhood responsible (are we back in the Bible?), and since 2005, the IDF has explicitly said that blowing up houses is not an effective deterrent.

So the only reason for hurting Palestinian innocents, according to the Israeli government, is the same reason that the truck-driver presumably had for hurting Israeli innocents (which could easily have included Palestinians) – revenge. We know even less about the truck-driver's motives than those of Barak, Netanyahu, and Ramon.

Just read the following statement from the Haaretz article today

Ramon also told Army Radio that he felt, as opposed to the prime minister and his fellow ministers, that demolishing the home of the terrorist's family would not prevent the next terror attack. However, he said that the house should be demolished anyway, if the law allows it.

"I doubt that demolishing the house will achieve what it aims to achieve, though if possible, the house must be razed. The laws must be made to fit the policy and we mustn't give up," Ramon said. "What we are permitted to do, we must do as soon as possible."

What Ramon seems to be saying is that because Israel legally can demolish the house, it should demolish the house, despite there being no purpose in destroying the house. We've got a much bigger tractor than that guy did, and it is legally registered.

The Arab perpetrator drives a tractor; our perpetrators run the government. I can't see any other difference.

And please don't argue that one is under occupation and the others aren't. That gets to the understanding part, not the justifying part. Not for me, anyway. Please check your Fanon at the door of this blog.

P.S. Of course, if punishing innocents were an effective deterrent, it would still be patently immoral, wouldn't it. If you don't think so, please re-read Kant.



Anonymous said...

I hope you'll allow a brand new subscriber, a non-Jewish person and a non-religionist to weight in with a comment.

Are there not any non-violent leaders in the Israeli or American governments left who are capable and willing to stand up as you have?

Unfortunately, much of what I read from rabbis and the popular Jewish press today is rather alarming to someone as insignificant as me, to say the least.

Yet I still want to believe more rational persons who share your world-view could implement more peaceable solutions to the world's conflicts, if only permitted a voice.

Thank you for introducing me to Rabbi Magnes. I'm certain that if there is a God he loves peacemakers just like you.

Your expressiveness is appreciated and deserving of a wider audience. But do be kind to yourself today - you deserve this much and a whole lot more.

Of this I am certain.

Emmanuel said...

I used to support house demolitions for families of terrorists. I've come to the conclusion, though, that it is wrong. It doesn't achieve anything but more hate.

For the same reason I also oppose recent proposals to deny social security benefits and residency status from family members. This is a bad policy, especially when children are invlolved. If a family member assisted the terrorist, indict him. Guilt by association should have no place in Israel and the areas it controls.

I have a feeling the suggestion to revoke residency from the entire village is not something our Glorious Leaders are seriously considering, unlike the house demolition.

Anonymous said...

Important to understand the "motives" for crimes of this type? Hate is the motive.

But look at it this way.....if one think it is important to look at motives and someone says "well, Palestinian violence is 'understandable' due to the supposed 'occupation', then I can only reply that no one in history has suffered more than the Jewish people (yes, not even the Palestinians have suffered as much), and so no one, according to this way of thinking, has MORE right to be violent than do the Jews.

Anonymous said...

Good post on all counts. I sympathize more with the Palestinians, frankly, as far as the overall conflict is concerned. But I am really tired of people on any side justifying the murder of innocents.

Though if the guy in the bulldozer was just crazy, then both the Israeli and Hamas officials are worse than he was.

Anonymous said...

Historically, currents of injustice have always run deep in the Middle East, especially today in Israel and Palestine.

I'll probably never understand all its ramifications or what it might portend for the future; but clearly, revenge doesn't ever perfectly serve justice, let alone anyone's prospects for peace.

Before commenting I took the time to revisit the concept of an "eye for an eye" in Wikipedia, and I ran across this relevant quote from Gandhi:

"An eye for an eye, and soon the whole world is blind"

Perhaps the question of status has something fundamentally to do with this whole conflict of co-equal versus unequal justice... for what larger purposes... and to whose or what end is justice meant to be served... before these things called justice or revenge... can be meted out effectively.

Of course, public policy, as a tool for social engineering, also has a prominent role to play.

But, in the main, I'd like to think your viewpoints will begin to hold more popular sway because they simply are more desirable for Israel's longer-term interests.

I found the time to check out the Amazon reviews for Amitai Etzioni's latest book - "Security First: For Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy" - so I could hopefully gain some socio-political insights I'm wont to overlook...

... But, alas, I found no direct discussion so far of unequal versus co-equal status at play... as a possible central catalyst causing the hatred and mistrust between the two groups.

At the very heart of this dangerous localized conflict - one which threatens the peace of the entire world - probably are these questions of status and coercion. Before issues of justice, security or peace can be discussed I suspect we'd do well to first examine if the wider consideration of status and the implementation of force are even suitable tools anymore for modern conflict resolution.

The world is a much smaller place than at times in the past. And I'm beginning to see more-and-more that honest displays of genuine humility, mutual respect, and "uncommon" decency... may be all that one needs... to further one's aims.

But how we define "I", in relation to "us" and "them", finally holds the key to securing the peace "all of us" would prefer.

Did you ever get a chance to read the book, "Be Here Now" (1971), by Dr. Richard Alpert (Ram Dass)?

Jerry Haber said...

laurence, i will try to post some of those voices.

bar kokhbah, sorry to hear that you oppose Holocaust Studies. You may wish to read my post called "Revenge By Any Other Name" before commenting on it. Please let me know what you didn't understand.

anonymous, 100% agreement

thanks for your comment. i will check out some of those links.