Saturday, July 15, 2006

Israel vs. Hezbollah

I wish to let it be known that, in this current conflict, if one had to make a choice between Israel and its enemies, a person of good moral conscience would have to side with Israel. Those who would daily fire rockets at civilians are not civilized. I do not address a letter to them because I think that their religion and their culture has carried them beyond reason and no letter could do any good. Nor do I think that any appeal to reason would be effective against the supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah, because “supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah” and “appeal to reason” are such mutually exclusive concepts.

However, it is my hope that those who may support Israel have not abandoned all reason, and a letter such as this may have some affect on them.

Because even if the choice can be easily made between Israel on one side and Hamas and Hezbollah on the other, would it not be nice to be able to side with good over evil, than to side with the lesser of two evils?

So far, I am hearing that there have been over 100 people killed in Lebanon The death total is only a small fraction of the total harm. We must count the wounded and the orphaned, those who have lost their livelihood, the disruption to education, damage to an infrastructure that must be replaced by money raised in an economy that has been blown to bits along with the bridges and airports, and the psychological harms done.

Some analysts say that the motivation behind Israel’s attacks is to put pressure on the government of Lebanon to take action against Hezbollah. If this is accurate, then there is a problem here. “We are going to hold the well-being of your people hostage until the government of Lebanon gives in to our demands.” This appears to be the moral message that Israel is giving to the world, that this type of stand is somehow morally legitimate. Yet, if it is morally legitimate, then on what basis to they criticize an enemy who captures two Israeli soldiers hostage and says to the Israeli government, “We will hold the well-being of these people hostage until the government of Israel gives in to our demands.”

It does appear at times that the whole of the Middle East subscribes to the same moral code – a code that is the foundation for the death, mutilation, destruction, and suffering that dominates the region. These evils will continue until the people of the region prescribe a new moral code. I would suggest one that begins with the principle, “Punish the guilty; leave the innocent alone.” Or, in other words, “Protect the innocent from those who would do them harm.”

On this standard, the deaths, injuries, and economic and psychological harm inflicted on many of the people in Lebanon are moral failures. Many of those being made to suffer are innocent. Under the principle, “Protect the innocent from those who would do them harm,” every bit of harm suffered by the innocent is a moral failing. It can never be defended as truly good. It can only be defended as a lesser evil.

In supporting Israel, would it not be better to be able to defend a force of good, rather than a lesser evil?

“Israel has the right to defend itself.”

This is true.

However, the moral principle of self-defense is not to be taken so narrowly. My right to defend myself from those who will do me harm extends to my right to defend my wife and my children as well. If I should see some thug assailing a complete stranger, the “right to self-defense” applies to defending that neighbor from that thug. It is not actually a right to self defense – this is simply a slogan. It is a right (and perhaps a duty) specifically to defend the innocent from those who do harm to the innocent. Doing harm to the innocent is not an exercise of this “right to self-defense”, it is a violation of this right.

If we agree that many innocent people in Lebanon are suffering harm – and only a fool who falls victim to the most tortured logic and overgeneralization could doubt this. If we assert that there is a moral right to self-defense. Then we must assert that the innocent in Lebanon also have the right to self-defense. They may not have the power. However, unless we embrace the proposition “might makes right” the lack of power to defend oneself does not imply the lack of a right to do so. If they have a right to defend themselves, then who, may I ask, do they have the moral permission to exercise that right against?

These are the tortured and twisted conclusions when we define the “right to self-defense” as Israel is seeking to define it. We have a state of perpetual war with competing sides both claiming the the right to kill the other in the name of defending their own.

We get something entirely different if we define the right of self-defense as “the right to protect the innocent from those who would do them harm.”

Not, “the innocent Israelis from those who would do them harm.” Not, “the innocent Americans from those who would do them harm.” But, “The innocent.” Period. Full stop. From those who would do them harm.

Those who would protect the innocent from those who would do them harm – they are the good guys. Those who harm the innocent – they are the bad guys.

President Bush has asked Israel to try to minimize civilian casualties.


This is not the type of thing to be asked. This is the type of thing to be demanded. However, the Bush Administration has bought into the same twisted and tortured version of the “right to self-defense” that is perpetuating the violence and conflict in and around Israel. Only, Bush is using it to perpetuate the violence and conflict in and around Iraq.

We must remember that Bush himself has adopted this twisted version of the “right to self defense” that sees nothing wrong with blowing up a house where families are gathered for a holiday dinner if there is evidence that a suspected terrorist might, perhaps, be on the guest list.

In Iraq, we are the ones showing such disregard for innocent life that we perform actions that – if they were done to Americans by others – would generate such hostility and anger that the perpetrators would know no security. Yet, the Bush Administration continues to wonder why the Iraqis respond to our actions in ways that make it so difficult for his administration to establish any type of security.

Morality dictates universal principles. If we act on principles that cannot be made universal, then the actions we perform are evil and we should be ashamed. On this ground, Israel should be as willing to bomb Beruit on the same principles it would use to bomb Tel Aviv. And America should use the same principles to decide the merits of putting a bomb on a building in Baghdad as it would use to put a bomb on a building in Boston.

Or they should be ashamed.

“But, Alonzo, you idiot! We are in a state of war! Only a moron would advocate such niceties in a state of war!”

Perhaps we should not be in a state of war. Perhaps being in a state of war is doing us more harm than good.

Yes, it is true that the use of civil courts and civil procedures to find and punish the guilty give the guilty certain advantages. There can be no doubt that the Bill of Rights in America has sometimes been used to the advantage of those who had no good intentions. And there are some who say that we need to do away with these civil liberties – that they are nothing but curtains behind which evil people may hide.

However, it has another effect. It gives the innocent a clear indication of where their interests lie.

Assume that you are an innocent person, and you wish to remain an innocent person, and you wish to entice your neighbors to be innocent persons – innocent in the sense that they, like you, follow the principle of “defend the innocent from those who would do them harm.”

In this country, we live in peace. We live in peace because we have civil liberties. The guilty can certainly hide behind these civil liberties. However, the innocent know on which side their bread is buttered. The innocent are wise enough that in this conflict we have a choice between siding those who do harm to the innocent, and those who respect the principle, “defend the innocent from those who would do them harm.”

These “civil liberties” that some treat with such contempt are a set of rules that say, “make sure that the people you harm are guilty, and that you do not end up doing harm to the innocent.” In such a system – in a system that respects “civil liberties” – such a huge portion of the population see the wisdom in being innocent that the nation can be at peace.

A society that does not care for civil liberties says, “We do not care whether you are guilty or innocent. We will make no effort to sort one from the other. We will not seek warrants based on probable cause. We will not hold trials. We will simply take who we please and do with them as we please and hope that some of them are actually guilty.”

Where there are no civil liberties, people have no particularly compelling reason to be innocent. In a region where the innocent are blown up along side the guilty, rounded up with the guilty, imprisoned with the guilty, and tortured with the guilty (only more so, because the innocent have nothing to bargain with), why not be guilty?

“But, Alonzo, there is still a clear moral difference between us and them. They target the innocent for death. We only target the guilty.”

A sniper takes a position on the roof of an apartment building. He takes deliberate aim at an innocent person and shoots. That is evil. In retaliation, “we”, who call ourselves the good guys, drop a bomb on the building, “targeting the sniper”, but killing 100 people living in the building and wounding another 200.

Could somebody please explain to me, in this case, the great moral merit to be found in “targeting the innocent” and “targeting the guilty, but harming the innocent to such great affect?”

Do you want peace? Try this. Adopt the principle that one is to protect the innocent – all innocent – from those who will do them harm. Adopt a system of civil liberties (warrants and trials) that say that you will take pains to separate the innocent from the guilty. Give the innocent people of the world a reason to take sides. There will still be criminals. Those criminals will sometimes do harm. However, innocent people will, for once, be given a clear choice.


Hume's Ghost said...

I'm currently reading Among the Dead Cities by British philosopher A.C. Grayling. In it he examines Allied area-bombing of civilian targets during WWII to see if it can be morally justified.

I wish our leaders would read it.

vjack said...

"I wish to let it be known that, in this current conflict, if one had to make a choice between Israel and its enemies, a person of good moral conscience would have to side with Israel." Why? I don't think it is ever this simple. Israel has committed its share of atrocities too. It has also target civilians. What makes these actions right when done by a U.S. ally?

vjack said...

I forgot to add this link. I think you might find it interesting:

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with vjack. While there are many innocent people in Israel, Israel as a political entity is far from innocent. I see little or no reason to prefer them to Hezbollah and Hamas. Both sides attack civilian proxies when it is too inconvenient to attack their real enemies (Israel because it can't find its enemies, and Hezbollah/Hamas because they are not well-equipped enough to fight openly).

Israel, as it presently exists, is a racist state. It proclaims - by its very name as well as by its policies and actions - the supremacy of one religious, cultural and ethnic group over all other inhabitants of that region of the world. Israel is not a free society that treats all people fairly. It is in need of, at least, serious political reform before it can be considered a regime worth preserving.

I understand that you're attempting to urge that type of reform in this post; but I don't see why you are urging it on only one side. What, other than racism, would justify the conclusion that Palestinian or Lebanese Muslims are incapable of moral reform and honestly working toward peace, so that it's not even worth trying to talk to them? The actual command echelons of Hamas and Hezbollah may be too committed to their war to change (although I wouldn't take even that for granted), but the Palestinian and Lebanese people are certainly not. They may see Hamas and Hezbollah as the only forces willing to stand up to Israeli injustice, but if they can be convinced that terrorist violence is not a good way to work for justice, it's possible that a more peaceful resistance to Israeli oppression could emerge.

Maysun said...


Take a look at this site -

The Holocaust doesn't in any way justify Israel's present atrocities.

You can't go around saying 'Never again'as regards your own people and have no compunction about destroying/harassing/humiliating others.

As for the Hezbollah and Hamas - I have no more sympathy for them than I have for bigger terrorists like the United States government - but I wonder how open and receptive the American people would be towards the Israelis if the Bible had specified the USA, instead of the Middle-East, as the Jewish homeland.

Given that the US closed its borders to the Jewish people during the height of the Holocaust, I think I can guess.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I find it strange to note that, in these comments, I notice a lot of exaggerated claims about who is the root of all evil, and not much conversation on the actual point of the article. My point being that, "protect the innocent from do them harm" is a better principle than that which the U.S. and Israel appear to be using.

vjack: In the context of the posting I find your comments confusing. Please identify an example where I called an action "right" when done by a US ally that I would not call "right" universally.

The comment that I made had to do with "if one had to make a choice" between the two. To this, I can simply ask . . . if you had to move into one of two countries; Israel, or a country governed by Hezbollah, which would be better?

I begin with the assumption that proposing a doctrine of "protect the innocent from those who would do them harm" would fall on deaf ears if I suggested it to people who fire area-of-effect weapons on whole cities as a matter of policy and who cheer suicide bombers who kill dozens in restaurants, shopping malls, and bus stops.

If Hezbollah had the same weapons avaialable that Israel has, the civilian casualties would be orders of magnitude higher.

Chris: Saying that Israel's injustices mean that "there is little or no reason to prefer them to Hezbollah" is, to me, like saying that America's injustices mean that "there is little or no reason to prefer them over Al-Queida."

America has done wrong. It continues to do wrong. I have identified many of those wrongs in these postings. Yet, a statement that one cannot clearly pick the American government as the preferred winner in a battle against Al-Queida seems to be drawing an unwarranted conclusion from this evidence.

With respect to Hezbollah, I think that "reform" is as possible as it is with Al-Queida. Theirs is a culture of violence. A better strategy, I would argue, would call for better treatment of civilian "innocents" so that they have less of a reason to support and side with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah might respond to such a strategy by becoming less violent to earn the respect of the people. If they do -- if Hezbollah were to renounce violence as a political tool and would also adopt the principle "protect the innocent (including the Israeli innocent) from those who would do them harm," then that would be good.

Dr J Many of your statements are inaccurate. I do think if one is to condemn somebody, then one should at least gather the facts, and not level charges that are not true.

(a) Hezbollah has not taken over Lebanon. It roams freely through south Lebanon, but it holds only a fraction of the seats in the Lebanese government -- a government that is substantially anti-Syria.

(b) Media estimates in a conflict such as this tend to be low because the media tend to only speak about confirmed killed or wounded. Casualty figures tend to go up over time, not down.

(c) This did not "start" with Hezbollah crossing into Lebanon. Hezbollah allegedly did this in order to get soldiers that it could use to bargain for the release of thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Israel is responding not only to this kidnapping but to years of rocket fire out of south Lebanon. All of this is a part of a long history that did not "start" even within recorded history.

Besides, the question is not who "started" this. The question is, "how can we end this?"

On this matter, I hold that adopting the principle, "Protect the innocent from those who do them harm" would help.

(d) I suspect you did not read the article. I have an argument that specifically talks about the difference between targeting civilians and harming civilians that you ignored.

(e) Instead of praying, might I recommend trying to come up with something to do that can actually do some good?

Patt Your "no morals" claim is hate-mongering hyperbole. If we are going to address real-world problems, let us begin with a respect for real-world facts.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I choose to correct your mistakes.

Not everything you wrote was a mistake. Please recall my original statement where I offered no moral concessions to Hezbollah at all. My opening statement specifically said that if one has to make a choice between Hezbollah and Israel that a morally conscientious person would have to side with Israel. Nobody here has yet convinced me otherwise -- that the situation in the Middle East would be better off with the Israeli government replaced by a Hezbollah government ruling the same area.

If you actually did read my article you will find that I said some of the same things that you said -- using very similar words. Your accusations that I am ignoring aspects of the discussion that I explicitly mentioned display a distressing lack of regard for the truth.

My specific proposal concerned the claim that the moral principle, "Protect the innocent (and, by this, I have in mind mostly children who have no capacity to choose sides) from those who would do them harm," is a better moral guide than the principle that Israel is operating under. True? False? Do you have any input on the actual subject of my post?

(Your time is your own. If you wish to waste it in prayer instead of doing something constructive, that is your right. However, my preference is that you take whatever time you would waste praying for me and doing something useful with that time instead.)

Anonymous said...

"...if one has to make a choice between Hezbollah and Israel..."

Isn't that disingenuous? We don't have to make that choice. We can condemn both sides for their respective failures to behave like civilized peoples.

Anonymous said...

I think that if Hezbollah had access to the same weapons as Israel, civilian casualties would be *lower*. Israeli military casualties would of course be much higher. Most of their rockets hit civilian "targets" because their rockets are too inaccurate to aim at and hit military targets - even for a highly militarized country like Israel, the vast majority of its land area is civilian. They fire randomly beacuse it's the only weapon they have, and they hit mostly civilians because that's mostly what there is. The majority of the differences between the two sides' ways of fighting the conflict are clearly attributable to the differences in their circumstances - what capabilities they have and how the enemy can be found and attacked. Ignoring these facts and considering them to be part of the nature of the combatants is an instance of the fundamental attribution error.

It's possible that Hezbollah would deliberately hit some religious targets, but given the nature of the conflict I'm not sure it's fair to classify those as "civilian". Religion, on both sides, is anything but an innocent bystander. I *don't* think that they would deliberately target marketplaces or apartment buildings if they could target, say, barracks or airbases instead. Barracks and airbases are obviously more valuable targets, *if* you are able to hit them.

I see terrorism as fundamentally an act of desperation. Nobody chooses terrorism over open war, if they have the means to wage open war and believe that they have a chance of winning. Terrorism is the act of people who want to strike out at someone they fear or hate (often both), but know that they do not have the means to fight them openly. I don't say this to excuse terrorism, but to understand it; if we, as non-terrorists, want to reduce the amount of terrorism in the world, it helps to correctly understand its nature and causes. Condemnation has limited use against a pattern of behavior that is powered by such strong and primitive emotions, and retaliatory violence (as we are seeing now in Iraq) only reinforces the fear, hate and desperation.

In fact, I think this conflict epitomizes some of the philosophical problems I've had with your moral system since I started reading and commenting on this blog. The two sides have strong desires which are incompatible (they each desire to own and control a certain area of land, and to proclaim the superiority of their respective religions). Both sides have shown their desires to be highly inflexible in the face of both condemnation and actual violence. They are either irrational, or proceeding from different sets of axioms that cannot be reconciled (e.g. god gave this land to *our* people), or both. Now what?

As for the United States, I'm not sure a disinterested third party *should* prefer the present U.S. regime to al-Qaeda. (Of course, any moral agent is under an obligation not to hold citizens who aren't involved in the present regime responsible for its actions, just like we have a responsibility not to hold innocent Iraqi villagers responsible for al-Qaeda's actions - or like Israel has an obligation not to hold all Lebanese responsible for Hezbollah's actions.) I'm not a disinterested third party, though, so I lack perspective on the issue. But I can't see any clear moral reason why "our" murders and torture and bombings of whole cities are better than "theirs". The United States was founded on certain principles and those principles, *if they were still being followed*, would have given the United States a position of moral superiority; but they aren't still being followed and it's hard to justify the claim that the fact that *some* people in the United States advocate a return to those standards is somehow relevant to the morality of our country's present actual acts.

In both the Israel-Hezbollah and Bush Administration-al-Qaeda conflicts, I think we should, as davidj says above, condemn both sides for their respective failures to behave like civilized peoples (if and when they behave in a manner deserving of such condemnation, which all four mentioned parties have). In the case of the Bush Administration, we should also condemn it for violating the United States's own laws and Constitution, and we should further condemn those parties who should be responsible for exposing and/or punishing such violations and are not doing so (the media and the House of Representatives).

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Dr J

Well, thanks for offering such clear proof that you do not read what I have written.

Your statement:

Your comment that Hezbollah would be better for the Middle East than Israel is ludicrous and unrealistic.

What I actually wrote:

[I]f one has to make a choice between Hezbollah and Israel that a morally conscientious person would have to side with Israel.

Nobody here has yet convinced me . . . that the situation in the Middle East would be better off with the Israeli government replaced by a Hezbollah government....

You do realize, I hope, that you are bearing false witness against me when you make false statements about what I have written.

Anonymous said...

Well, you left out the crucially important phrase "Nobody here has yet convinced me that...". When you present the rest of the statement as if it WAS his opinion when he clearly stated that it WASN'T his opinion, that is false. Duh.

Nobody here has yet convinced ME that the IDF and current ruling party of Israel has any claim to moral superiority over Hezbollah. If they had one before the invasion, they threw it away by conducting that invasion in a manner that foreseeably resulted in a large number of innocent casualties.

Furthermore, both Israel and Hezbollah are composed of humans. Therefore there is no _a priori_ reason to believe that an attempt to influence one group toward a more moral and rational policy is necessarily more or less likely to succeed than an attempt to influence the other group. On top of that, you don't even really need to convince Hezbollah - convincing the majority of the Lebanese population would be enough to produce quite beneficial effects for the region. (Although a hypothetical Lebanese willingness to cease fire, disarm and negotiate in good faith would be largely useless absent Israeli willingness to reciprocate, and vice versa.) This is analogous to the way you only have to convince enough Israelis for a pro-peace party to win the next election. (Assuming there is one; I don't know.)

You simply can't justify a double standard without the assumption that the Israeli _people_ are somehow fundamentally morally or psychologically different from the Lebanese _people_, or that one group has natural rights that the other does not. Which is racism.

If it seems like I'm focusing my attention on condemning Israel's actions, that is only because they are being defended. There is already widespread consensus that Hezbollah's actions are terrorism, irresponsible use of violence against the innocent, and morally wrong. There is no need to belabor that point. It is only because some people are attempting to justify Israel's use of violence against the innocent that it is necessary to continue pointing out why it is *also* wrong.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Dr J

Given your rules of interpretation, it is clearly the case that if I were to write, "It is not the case that 1 + 1 = 3" you would write and say, "Your claim that 1 + 1 = 3 is absurd."


There is no way that my article can be taken as a defense of Israel. Indeed, my article was written as a condemnation of Israel. My claim that Israel is the lesser evil is no more a defense of Isreal, than my claim that the person who robbed the Radio Shack down the street is not as bad as Hitler is a defense of the person who robbed the Radio Shack down the street.

A lesser evil is still evil and is not being defended by such a claim, it is being criticized.

Saying that my post is a "defense" of Israel is almost as misleading as saying that I am claiming that Hezbollah would be better than the Middle East than Israel.

My post was written in defense of the principle, "Defend the innocent from those who would do them harm." We may morally distinguish between those who intentionally do harm to innocent people (Hezbollah), and those who knowingly do harm to innocent people (Israel). Of these, the former is morally worse than the latter. This is the same distinction that is often recognized between first degree and second degree murder.

AS for convincing the Lebonese people, you seem to be interpreting my claim as equating the Lebonese people with Hezbollah. In fact, you should interpret my argument as identifying the common Lebonese citizen as members of the innocents -- those people who are to be distinguished from the guilty and protected from harm, rather than harmed.

More importantly, my argument was that Israel is morally required to treat Lebonese innocents the same as Israeli innocents. Accordingly, I stated that Bush has a moral obligation to treat the innocents in Baghdad as he would treat the innocents in Boston. This is quite in conflict with your accusation of racism.

I suspect that your comments are directed more against some amorphous "them" who are actually defending Israel than against my point here. If you are finding a defense of Israel in my posting, I suspect that you are reading the beliefs of that amorphous "them" who defend Israel into my writings, rather than reading what I have written.