In Alana’s post about Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s conference call this morning, she reported his comments about the difficulty of trying to fight a war against an immoral foe while preserving your own morality:
The ambassador said Israel has destroyed many of Hamas’s long-range missiles in its first-stage air strikes, but that they couldn’t be completely successful “because of considerations of collateral damage.” In one case, an Israeli pilot refrained from striking a long-range missile because the pilot noticed children in the vicinity, Oren said. That missile was later launched into Tel Aviv.
The action of that Israeli pilot must be seen as praiseworthy since it showed that even in the midst of a conflict in which his country’s security is at risk, that officer was still concerned about saving the lives of Palestinian children. Even if Hamas hides its forces behind civilians, the rules of engagement for Israel’s soldiers require them not to deliberately place innocents at risk even if it confers a military advantage on the terrorists. That is the sort of decision that is in accord with the values that democratic Israel prizes as well as those of Judaism. But this anecdote raises more questions than it answers. It may, in fact, be an apt metaphor for the problems that Israel faces in its conflict with Hamas. One needn’t be a bloodthirsty militarist or be indifferent to morality or to the dictates of international opinion to understand that the consequences of such a policy may not always advance humanitarian goals.
The moral dilemma here is fairly clear. Choosing not to fire at the Hamas missile site may have saved the lives of Palestinian children who were near the weapon. But what would we think about that decision had the missile that had been spared on account of the presence of the Palestinians kids landed on a school, a school bus or a home in Tel Aviv where Israeli children might be hurt or killed? Unless you believe, as many of Israel’s critics apparently do, that Israelis deserve to be killed but that Palestinians ought to be treated as out-of-bounds for any military action, this is an immoral equation.