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The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (IV)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

We have just seen how the mainstream, Orthodox Jewish rabbinical leadership in Israel justifies collective punishment.  However, as I noted previously, it is important to remember that

Israeli apologists from “liberal, secular” Judaism voice similar ideas.  Case in point: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s greatest defenders from the “liberal, secular” spectrum of the Jewish faith.  Dershowitz is credited as being “Israel’s single most visible defender” and “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”

In a 2002 article in the Jerusalem Post, Prof. Alan Dershowitz argued that the Israeli government should not only destroy Palestinian homes but entire villages, arguing that Israel should

announce the first act of terrorism following the moratorium will result in the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave, and then troops will come in and bulldoze all of the buildings.

The response will be automatic. The order will have been given in advance of the terrorist attacks and there will be no discretion. The point is to make the automatic destruction of the village the fault of the Palestinian terrorists who had advance warnings of the specific consequences of their action. The soldiers would simply be acting as the means for carrying out a previously announced policy of retaliation against a designated target.

Further acts of terrorism would trigger further destruction of specifically named locations. The “waiting list” targets would be made public and circulated throughout the Palestinian-controlled areas. If this automatic policy of destroying targets announced in advance is carried out with the full support of the entire government, including those who are committed to a resumption of the peace process, a clear message will be sent to the Palestinian people: Every time terrorists blow themselves up and kill civilians, they are also blowing up one of their own villages.

In other words, whenever a Palestinian suicide bomber kills a few Israeli civilians, Israel will respond by decimating an entire village.  This is not too different from Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s call to incur Palestinian civilian deaths–“whatever it takes to make them stop.”

Norman Finkelstein writes on pp.175-176 of Beyond Chutzpah:

Indeed, [Alan Dershowitz] advocates not only individual house demolitions, but also “the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations” after each Palestinian attack.  “The response will be automatic.”  Such massive destruction, he concludes, will further “the noble causes” of reducing terrorism and promoting peace…It is hard to make out any difference between the policy Dershowitz advocates and the Nazi destruction of Lidice, for which he expresses abhorrence–except that Jews, not Germans, would be implementing it.

Lidice was a village destroyed by Nazi forces in retaliation for the murder of a Nazi official.  One finds it difficult not to see the similarity between the policy of retaliating against Palestinians by destroying their villages and what happened to Lidice.  Indeed, this comparison was first invoked by the Israelis themselves.  Finkelstein writes:

The association of destroying villages with Lidice occasionally crops up in the history of Zionism. In his study of the first Arab-Israeli war, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (2004), Benny Morris reports: “As Jewish losses mounted [in December 1947], the policy-makers’ and, in some localities, local Haganah commanders’ hearts grew steadily harder… Binyamin Mintz, the leader of the orthodox Po’alei Agudat Yisrael Party, said with respect to a certain village in the Negev: ‘If the possibility arises of evicting all its inhabitants and destroying it, this must be done.’ (But Sapir, the mayor of Petah Tikva and a major orange-grove owner, argued against destroying whole villages, ‘even small [ones]… This recalls Lidice – [and] here is food for thought.’)” (pp. 73-4)

One thing pro-Israeli apologists cannot tolerate whatsoever is Nazi comparisons (only they are allowed to compare this and that Arab/Muslim leader to Adolf Hitler).  Therefore, it was no surprise that Alan Dershowitz defended himself from these “outrageous” charges, saying: “In Finkelstein’s world, ‘destroying empty houses’ in order to deter terrorism is the equivalent of genocide.”

Of course, Norman Finkelstein never equated this to “genocide.”  Alan Dershowitz’s policy would constitute a war crime, a massacre, and an act of ethnic cleansing (running an entire village out of their homes is ethnic cleansing)–but not genocide.  That Dersowitz supports ethnic cleansing but not genocide is hardly reassuring.  It is the difference of being a supporter of rape but not murder.  Furthermore, Alan Dershowitz’s defense is misleading.  His initial statement clearly stated that “there will be no distinction.”  The obvious and apparent reading of Dershowitz’s words in the Jerusalem Post article clearly indicates that civilians will be killed if they do not vacate their homes–and that these deaths will be blamed on Palestinian terrorists.

One can gauge Alan Dershowitz’s level of morality by noting that he defends himself from accusations of supporting Israeli massacres by clarifying his position as only supporting the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages.  Pick your poison, Prof. Dershowitz; either way, you are a promoter of war crimes.  Both options constitute collective punishment.

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That the “liberal, secular” Dershowitz and the Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Eliyahu endorse collective punishment is hardly surprising when we consider that a majority of Israeli Jews support using methods of collective punishment against Palestinians.  On p.345 of Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein cites a 2003 study (by the Israel pollster Asher Arian) that found 88% of Israelis supporting house demolitions (in the words of Alan Dershowitz on p.xxxv of The Case for Israel “home destruction is entirely moral”).  It seems that an even greater percentage of Israelis support carpet bombing of civilian populations, evidenced by the overwhelming support for the Gaza Massacre; in this regard, the Jerusalem Post notes one such poll which

found that 92% of Israeli Jews justify the air force’s attacks in Gaza despite the suffering of the civilian population in the Strip and the damage they cause to infrastructure

Support for using nuclear strikes is also high, with an astronomical 72% of Israelis endorsing such tactics; meanwhile, Israel had the “lowest public support for destroying nuclear arms” out of the countries polled.  Compare this to those warlike, militant Iranians: a majority of Iranians (58%) opposed acquiring nuclear weaponry, citing nuclear warfare as “un-Islamic,” with “nearly three out of four (72%) say[ing] they support the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons as stated in the NPT.”

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With such warlike attitudes dominating in Israeli religious and political discourse, it is hardly surprising to find the Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the most widely circulated paper in Israel, running an op-ed from its then editor-in-chief calling “to erase villages,” imploring God: “may their innocents die instead of ours.” Included in this death plea were “[Hizbullah’s] helpers, their collaborators, the ones who turn a blind eye, and all those in contact with Hizbullah.”  They are all guilty.

Such views, widely expressed in Israeli society, are perfectly aligned with the rabbinical tradition.  In The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel, Prof. Ya’akov Blidstein quotes the influential fifteenth-century Talmudic scholar, the Maharal of Prague, who argued:

Even though there are many who did not do [anything], this makes no difference.  As they belong to the same nation which did them harm, [it is] allowed to wage war against them.

The Maharal noted that “thus it is in all wars.”  Blidstein then quotes Rabbi Shaul Israeli who says:

The halakhah allows war with Gentiles, and then this prohibition against causing harm to life is necessary nullified.  Nor have we found in war that there is any obligation to be careful and to discriminate between blood and blood [combatants vs. civilians].

Yet, discriminating “between blood and blood” is the essence of morality in war.  Yoram Dinstein, a world-renowned expert on international law and the laws of war, opines: “The preservation of this sharp dichotomy is the main bulwark against methods of barbarism in modern warfare” (as quoted on p.xvi of Beyond Chutzpah).  Collective punishment is not just morally bankrupt–it is pure barbarism.

Could it then be argued that Sharia jihad Quran Halakha, as understood by Modern Orthodoxy, is barbaric?  Or that it is incompatible with the just war theory?  The Yesha Rabbinical Council of Israel (which oversees the Jewish communities in “Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip”) certainly thinks so, issuing the following statement:

According to Jewish law, during a time of battle and war, there is no such term as ‘innocents’ of the enemy.

All of the discussions on Christian morality are weakening the spirit of the army and the nation and are costing us in the blood of our soldiers and civilians.

But always remember: it is Islam that is so uniquely violent.

Note:  The next part of this series will be published within 24-72 hours.

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