An Experiment on Legality and Moral Truisms

It’s official.  What Israel did was completely legitimate; at least, according to the majority of US newspapers, academics, members of Congress, and the Vice President.  From this point forward attacking a ship in international waters and killing civilians is now, officially, a legal act; well, kinda.

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According to Vice President Biden,

“Look, you can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not  — but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know — they’re at war with Hamas — has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Israel,

“rightfully invoked its right to self defense…Hamas could end the blockade at any time by recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing violence, and releasing Gilad Shalit,”

Overlooking his false accusations against Hamas, apparently the thousands of prisoners Israel holds from Palestine and Lebanon are irrelevant.  Also, Israel’s recognition of the democratically elected government in Gaza must be a “different matter”.

Republican whip Eric Cantor defends the blockade, saying it was designed to

“to deny Hamas the weaponry and raw materials it needs to continue its rocket attacks in Israel, killing innocent people,”

Gary Ackerman, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, said he

“strongly support(s) Israel’s right to defend itself, and the right of Israel’s naval commandos, who were executing a legal mission, to defend themselves by using force when they were brutally attacked.”

This sentiment can be found among prominent academics like David Rothkopf, David Makovsky at the Christian Science Monitor, Islam scholar Robert Spencer, and even Eliot Spitzer.  It seems that the general attitude towards the recent events is that the Flotilla was controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organization who seeks to destroy Israel, and was carrying weapons that would be used against Israeli citizens.

First, the Hamas bashing is hurting the peace process by distorting the facts.  For example, Hamas has accepted Israel and agreed to end the hostilities-on the pretext that Israel falls back to 1967 boarders. Hamas was democratically elected by the people of Gaza and provide a great deal of service to those suffering.  For more on Hamas read Chris’s post here.

I would like to try an experiment.  Let’s suppose that Hamas decides that US shipments of military arms, helicopters, and tanks to Israel are a threat.  Hamas, therefore, decides to blockade Israel.  This blockade destroys Israel’s economy, leads to mass malnutrition, and is responsible for the deaths of dozens of people. When international aid ships depart for Israel carrying European legislators, Nobel Laureates, medical supplies, and medicine, Hamas lands commandos on board and in the mess dozens of innocent people are killed.

Now, this event is only fiction.  Let’s remember that Hamas has no navy; no army; no marines; no anti-air defense; no air force.  But lets assume that they do.  Would we accept this?  Of course we wouldn’t.  In fact, if this event happened we would hear of the radical nature of Muslims, the danger of “jihadi” groups and their lack of concern for human rights.  This would be a clear sign that there is a “clash of civilizations”.   Indeed, those fighting back against the Hamas commandos would be lauded as heros, not instigators.

This situation, however, holds some truth.  US shipments to Israel do threaten the people of Gaza.  US weapons are used against innocent Palestinians, Lebanese, and other groups in Israel.  In fact, Hamas does claim that Israel is destroying their land and killing their people and therefore they have a right to defend themselves. Does the US accept this? Does anyone accept this? Mostly no.  It is interesting that the majority of politicians and academics in the US accept Israel’s claims but not those of Hamas, Hizballah, or the PA.  In fact, Israel’s case is much weaker because it is the military occupier and is bound by international law.

The most basic moral truism is that we apply the same standard of judgement on ourselves that we place on others.  This was recognized by Kant centuries ago when he enunciated his Categorical Imperative; or the Law of Universality. If we accept Israel’s right to attack civilian and/or military ships in international waters because of its fears of Hamas, we must also accept Hamas’s right to attack civilian or military ships because of its fears of Israel.  If Israel has the “right’ to break international law because it is “at war” then so does Hamas or Iran.  And so on.

Unless one is willing to throw out international law, human rights, the UN charter, US legal code, and a whole host of other legal doctrines and precedents, there is but one conclusions; that Israel and the US stand virtually alone in the world in defending these “acts”.  Further, these “acts” were illegal and part of a much larger international terror campaign by Israel, backed by the US, against the people of Gaza.  I don’t use the word terror very lightly; however, these acts were politically motivated violence against a civilian population thereby fitting almost any common definition of terrorism.  Furthermore,  Hamas is continually ridiculed, misrepresented, and condemned for their “terrorism”; some of it deserved no doubt.  Israel, or the US for that matter, should not be sheltered from the same standard we apply to those in Palestine, Lebanon, or Iran.

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One thought on “An Experiment on Legality and Moral Truisms

  1. The “Truth?” about our “Experiments”……at Lunch

    I had lunch with my father yesterday. He is 70 years old this year. My father never even mentioned the word “Israel” much less made any reference to the place or ideas contained and implied when one says “Israel”, during my youth. He is a Mormon man and is by far the most ardent follower I know of his faith. As a religious Mormon man, in every way a badge of Honor for him (all religious followers?), it seems odd to me now that it was never mentioned. I have a childhood of very limited memory as my proof. However, I am quite certain it was never a topic of any importance in my home as a child. I never heard of the Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and the implied importance of this area until I was out of my house @ 18.
    I asked my father at lunch today what Israel meant to him. No suggestions, no language to direct the conversation in any way, just a 43 year old son asking his 70 year old father @ lunch in Utah what Israel means to him.
    “I’m not sure I know enough to say”. Ahh, the Truth we all seek. An American retired male school teacher who admits he does not know a great deal about what is happening in or around Israel except that “it is probably religious in nature and too confusing to really know or understanding, except its religious”. I asked if what was/is happening in Israel had any effect on him, in anyway? He thought for a moment and said I don’t think so, except that the foretelling of biblical prophecy is probably coming true (Mormon prophecy heavy accented with KJV Bible, cut and pasted per the Mormon belief of “ we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly…whatever that means to you all). He admitted that there was so much political “stuff” happening he simply did not desire to find out as there was “too much to know and stay current on and too many sides and too many opinions”, and that he believed it was obvious, in countless examples around the world, that a “prophecy” of some kind was being “fulfilled”. Again, an honest answer and an insightful one. Who is to say it’s not correct in the USA 2010?
    Amid the many Prime Time media reports about Israel recently and the violence surrounding, if not directly in Israel, almost all of what I see-read-hear about the place, I must admit, it was about as honest an answer as one could expect currently in the USA from the general population. I looked around the restaurant as we ate, sizing people up and wondering if they too, had the same opinions and cares about Israel and the 10-11 people killed by Israeli military in the past few days and the “experiment” Chase is referring to. What “experiment” are we really referring to when we ask about people killing each other? I am convinced that I know so little as to the motives of individuals usually, but the motives for a group, thankfully and sadly, usually are available to us and their impact, so what am I, an insurance agent in Utah supposedly to do? Anger, frustration, unfairness, brutality, torture, humanitarian aid, guns and blood and killing, brutal violations of dignity and respect, no doubt families broken and ripped apart, vengeance being created and fueled by the hour and by the family, horrors of unimaginable ways of death (for a insurance agent in Utah), and to be sure a sense of utter frustration on my part for the loss of life in this situation and what I sense is always the underlying reasons, and the stone cold ongoing apprehension that I can have no impact on what happens in Israel ( or Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Congo, Ethiopia, and much of the USA )?
    I don’t give up. I simply think the illusions of our many beliefs are killing us. We are taught, from such a young age, that hope is somehow “in” us and a worthwhile pursuit. We are told that we are special, and that there is reason for fighting, usually for a moral & honorable “us” versus ”them”. And then we kill each other over things like skin color, sex ( and of all things, who you actually have sex with –homosexuality-is somehow a religious concern and a moral-whatever that means-problem ), who deserves the ground another lives on, who took land from another, what very old books tell us we should be doing, etc. This is the hope that gets taught? I may be very mistaken, but look what is happening, how wrong am I?
    We are lost, and I don’t care what happens to the people on the many boats on their way to “friends” in Gaza anymore than they even know or care about me in Utah. An unfair statement perhaps, but again the question raised by Chase is an “Experiment on Legality and Moral Truism”. We are failing to be kind, we are failing to act on what we know and instead act on that most dangerous concept of “faith’. Faith that power will win, faith that human legal ideas will somehow overpower religious ideology, faith that knowing is enough to change the convictions of those who believe they are on a God’s mission. Being unconvinced of nearly all explanations that the Supernatural and or God’s that are offered, it is easy to see my path of a skeptic of Supernatural motives, and my corner of accusation for those in question of the “experiment” Chase refers to. No less so than why the “experiment” of outcries from governments and leaders across the world. There is no real concern, only illusion of motive and self flagellation for a hypocrisy that is always been with us. From every side as the media of every format is telling me. In the case of Israel, is it in fact the religious claim of land owned or owed to them? Is that what they think and is that what motivates them to behave this way and why Hamas is treating them as such? There are competing claims about who is deserving of what and there is no agreement on the “big” issues, so we have guns and bullets until someone is beaten? ? What do they think and who should I listen to? When should I start to make my desire to stop seeing blood and bombs and needless (only to me since this has been going on…..FOREVER?) killing? We don’t want to change the situation in Israel, nor do those who claim they are on their way with Humanitarian aid.
    True help is not food, clothes, equipment, guns, and multiple boats. Its forgiveness and letting go of, the reasons for “us” versus “them”. It’s all I have from my self centered little perch in Utah. Can we move away from killing one another until we move away from our “experiment” on human relations using Bibles, Koran, Talmud’s, Book of Mormons, Bhagavad Gita, the Analects, Tao Te Ching and anything else that has thousands of year old ideas that claim to have THE market on reasons for our existence?
    The experiment as is has failed. Everyone, me included, is to blame. I know this and I disagree with killing people unless we are in self defense. Exactly, if I’m not mistaken, is what both sides will say they are doing.

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