The Moral Case for Supporting Israel: Response to the "Open Letter for the People in Gaza", in The Lancet

By Amir Shani and Boaz Arad | July 2014

Whenever the State of Israel seeks to fulfill its moral obligation to protect its citizens by retaliating against terrorist attacks and other hostile activities, it is instantaneously accused of "war crimes" by many academics. Nevertheless, the "open letter for the people in Gaza", published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, exceeds the usual accusations against Israel and its actions in self-defense. The letter by five doctors and scientists, writing in behalf of 24 signatories, gives voice to a prevalent and unjust animosity toward Israel. While claiming to uphold moral standards, the authors in reality embrace an inverted morality that blames the victim of Hamas's aggression, Israel. Calculated to demonize Israel, the letter denounces the "military onslaught on civilians in Gaza", and argues that the Israeli attacks "aim to terrorise, wound the soul and the body of the people". Conspicuous by its absence in the letter is any serious moral appraisal of Hamas, its documented initiation of force, its totalitarian Islamist goals, and its flagrant exploitation of Gazans as sacrificial pawns.

The letter makes a mockery of ethical judgment.  

Israel and Hamas are morally unequal

There is a wide moral gulf between Israel, the region's only free society, and Hamas, an Islamist faction seeking to subjugate its own people and wage jihad. The many freedoms we in the West take for granted are practically unknown in the Middle East, but protected in Israel. Israel's citizens, regardless of religion (or lack thereof) and race, enjoy the right to express their views, to criticize their government, to form political parties, to publish private newspapers. But Hamas, like the dictatorial regimes prevalent in the region, seeks totalitarian domination. It imposes Islamic law by force; it seeks to tyrannize its own population; and, per its founding charter, to wage jihad on Israel.

Yet the authors of the letter imply that Hamas fights for the people of Gaza, who "want a better and normal life". But the main goal of Hamas has nothing to do with ending the occupation, which ended in 2005; nor the siege that lasts only as long as Gazans shoot rockets into Israel and launch terror attacks; nor with providing a better life to the population of Gaza. Hamas seeks to subjugate its people under Islamic law and wage jihad to liquidate Israel.

Hamas defines itself as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, and seeks to establish an Islamic state to replace the State of Israel. The Hamas Covenant specifically denies the right of Israel to exist: "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it". The anti-Semitic Covenant clarifies that Hamas’ struggle is first and foremost a religious one: "Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts," and quotes the Prophet Mohammad: "The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him". This message of hatred – a call for the destruction of the Jewish state and the murder of Jews around the world as part of the global Jihad – is communicated and taught in Palestinian schools, universities and mosques, particularly among the young generation.

Hamas is the aggressor. Israel is retaliating in self-defense.

Gaza has been under Palestinian control since Israel's complete disengagement in 2005. Contrary to the authors' claim, in no meaningful sense is Gaza "occupied." Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza have launched rockets into Israel and on its civilian population since 2001, attacks that only worsened following the disengagement. In June 2007 Hamas violently took control over the Gaza Strip from the its rival faction in the PNA, and re-affirmed that it does not recognize the right of Israel to exist. Since the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, Palestinians have fired more than 11,000 rockets at Israel.

In self-defense against such rocket attacks and other terrorist assaults, Israel sealed the border with Gaza and imposed restrictions on the movement of goods into the Strip, concerned that an open border would enable Hamas to strengthen its military force with advanced weapons and long-range missiles. That concern became reality, and despite the (supposedly airtight) blockade Hamas has succeeded in manufacturing and importing thousands of rockets, mainly through smuggling tunnels.

The terrorist attacks and the thousands of rockets launched on Israeli cities during more than a decade, have inflicted continuous suffering and anxiety on the Israeli population. Yet, no signs of empathy to this intolerable situation can be  found in the letter by the respected doctors and scientists. Betraying warped moral priorities, they exhibit indifference to the years of constant rockets attacks, mortars and roadside explosive charges targeting the civilian population of Israel of all ethnicities and religions, including women, children and the elderly and including Arabs and other minorities.

For lack of any other options, Israel launched three major retaliatory military operations in Gaza since Hamas took power, in order to halt the constant threat upon Israel’s residents.

Hamas bears full moral responsibility for civilian casualties

By any rational standard, it is the aggressor in war — Hamas — that is fully culpable for the death or injury of all civilians on both sides. And no objective assessment of the conflict could ignore the marked difference between Israel's conduct and Hamas's barbarism.

Even though we would argue that the international norms of war arerigged against a free country fighting in self-defense, Israel goes to astonishing lengths to comply with these laws of war intended to avoid harming civilians. Israel's military goes far out of its way to warn of impending strikes, dropping warning leaflets in Arabic, phoning and sending SMS to residents, and even aborting missions if passersby are seen nearby a target.

Bearing that in mind, observe how Hamas exploits Israel's painstaking approach and the debased moral outlook of Western commentators. In both past operations and the current one – Protective Edge – Hamas and other Islamist groups have eagerly used Palestinian civilians as "human shields", hiding in and firing rockets from private homes, hospitals, mosques, and schools, as well as UNRWA shelters. They do so intentionally, in order to draw the Israeli Defense Forces into military actions that result in civilian casualties. Moreover, children were used to construct Hamas's network of tunnels, and according to Hamas officials, at least 160 children have been killed while digging them.

By encouraging human-shield "martyrs", Hamas and its Islamist allies cynically cause Gazans deaths and injuries in an abhorrent ploy to tug at the heartstrings of the Western media, international public opinion, as well as credulous intellectuals.

Civilian casualties are an unwelcome fact in war. Hamas deliberately exacerbates the death toll with its inhuman tactics. It uses the people of Gaza – the elderly, women and children – as expendable, sacrificial objects. Morality requires that we blame Hamas, not Israel.

Enabling Hamas

The authors of the letter complain that Israel prevents the entry of building materials into Gaza, so that "schools, homes, and institutions cannot be properly rebuilt". But permitting such materials would be a gift to Hamas, and judging from experience, it would encourage further aggression.

Sadly, operation Protective Edge revealed and is still revealing dozens of terror tunnels in the Gaza Strip, built with the express purpose of military attacks on Israel. Three times during the operation Hamas terrorists emerged from these tunnels in the vicinity of Israeli civilian communities, with the purpose of murdering Israeli citizens. The Washington Post reported that:

the resources devoted by Hamas to this project are staggering, particularly in view of Gaza’s extreme poverty… the typical tunnel cost $1 million to build over the course of several years, using tons of concrete desperately needed for civilian housing. By design, many of the tunnels have entrances in the heavily populated Shijaiyah district, where the Israeli offensive has been concentrated. One was found underneath al-Wafa hospital, where Hamas also located a command post and stored weapons.

All *this* — along with thousands of rockets smuggled in to Gaza — during a blockade.

So long as Hamas is in control of Gaza Strip, fully reopening its land and sea borders and allowing Hamas to import building materials so that they can construct new tunnels and smuggle more rockets, is simply a demand that Israel sacrifice the security of its citizens. The Hamas regime inflicts great sorrow and pain on the people of Gaza. But it is simply immoral to demand that Israel renounce its obligation to safeguard the lives of its citizens.

Punishing the Actual Victim, Israel

Like many of their colleagues in academia, the authors of the letter call for an academic and commercial boycott of Israel. That campaign, however, rests on a grotesque double standard. Revealingly, the same voices on the political left who want to ostracize Israel do not demand boycotts of Russia and China for their violent oppression of Chechnya and Tibet, respectively. Where are the European and North American academics campaigning with comparable energy to boycott Saudi Arabia's religious subjugation of women, Egypt's cruel police-state, or the savagery of the Assad regime's war? But observe how Israel — the only regime in the Middle East that actually protects the rights of all its citizens — is singled out for acting in self-defense.

What the sanctimonious clamor for a boycott demonstrates is not a commitment to the moral principle of individual rights, but a contempt for it.

In the Name of Morality, the West Should Support Israel

The authors of the letter are scientists and practicing MDs, and surely must acknowledge the need to base their medical judgment, evaluations, and treatments on vast and updated knowledge, understanding the history of their patients and their environment as well as understanding the risk of any course of treatment they advise. In denouncing Israel, however, they abandon any pretense at forming a moral judgment by equally rigorous standards of evidence and reasoning. The result is that the authors of the letter convict themselves as apologists for Hamas's war on Israel.

By any rational moral standard, we in the West should support Israel's retaliatory campaign of self-defense against Hamas.


Dr. Amir Shani is a Senior Lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Boaz Arad serves as the director of the Ayn Rand Center Israel and is co-founder of the Israeli Freedom Movement.

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