Dueling Ethicists in Gaza

Haim Watzman

What was most surprising about the conference on Battle Ethics in the Cast Lead Operation held on Sunday by the Ethics Center at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem was how much agreement there was among speakers with ostensibly different points of view. Everyone from noted liberal Mordechai Kremnitzer to the IDF’s favorite ethicist Asa Kasher dissented from the simplistic extremes and sought to balance the conflicting demands of defense and respect for human life.

As Daniel Statman noted at the beginning of the conference, there’s no need for a discussion of Israel’s battlefield ethics if one’s position is either that either fighting in general or Israel’s fighting in particular is absolutely and utterly criminal. Or if you think that in war Israel can do whatever it pleases, without any constraints, in order to win.

That these two extreme positions play a prominent role both in Israel’s internal debate and in the international polemic about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not, thankfully, deterred the philosophers, journalists, and legal scholars who spoke at the conference from thinking through the issues.

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The Cliche Expert Visits Gaza (with apologies to Frank Sullivan)

Haim Watzman Q: Why Magnus Arbuthnot! How unexpected to see you in South Jerusalem! What brings you here? A: I have been sent by a respected and impartial NGO to investigate the carnage inflicted by Israel in the Gaza Strip. Q: Which NGO would that be? A: An NGO that uses an ostensible human-rights agenda … Read moreThe Cliche Expert Visits Gaza (with apologies to Frank Sullivan)

Risk and War

Haim Watzman

Howard Schweber’s analysis of the Gaza war in light of just war theory (in full at The Huffingon Post and in two parts, here and here on Jewcy) is thought-provoking and worthy of a longer response than I have time for before Shabbat on this short winter Friday. But I’d like to point out one inherent characteristic of war that Schweber does not adequately address: the nature of risk.

To frame the issue, let me turn to the theater? The theater? What connection could there possibly be? To put on a high-quality, meaningful production of a play, a director and producer need to be able to take risks. To accomplish its mission and to win, an army needs to take risks. And when you take risks, an unsuccessful or problematic outcome is not in and of itself evidence that the choices you made and the strategy you pursued were wrong.

As a boy growing up just outside Washington D.C., I was lucky enough to be able to attend performances at the Arena Stage, one of the country’s best repertory theaters. According to a story I heard then, when the theater was founded, its artistic director, Zelda Fichandler, was asked by a reporter what she would like her Washington audiences to give her. She said, if I remember correctly, “The right to fail.”

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Tough Love: The Moral Choices in the Gaza War

Haim Watzman One series of questions posed to Israeli soldiers in discussions of war ethics goes something like this: If you were ordered to blow up a house where a terrorist commander was hiding, and you had reason to believe that enemy civilians were in the house, should the order be refused? If you were … Read moreTough Love: The Moral Choices in the Gaza War

The Knesset Loses a Philosopher

Haim Watzman It’s a ritual that Israel observes before every election. One or more highly-qualified exemplars of what an Israeli parliamentarian lose out in their party primaries or decide, in disgust or exasperation, not to run again. This year’s latest victim is Isaac Ben-Israel, MK for the Kadima Party. In an interview with Ari Shavit … Read moreThe Knesset Loses a Philosopher

The Occupation Times: Ofra, Migron, Hebron, Gaza and a Splash of Optimism

Ofrah is illegal. Not just under international law, like all settlements – but also under Israeli law. The evidence is piling up.

Ofrah, near Ramallah, was the first bridgehead of the Gush Emunim movement in West Bank hills north of Jerusalem. Recently human-rights activists have succeeded in prying information on the settlement from government repositories, relying on the Freedom of Information Act. The evidence shows that most of the settlement is built on land owned by other people.

The latest report was published today by B’Tselem. Using land registry documents, the organization found that most of the land on which the settlement stands is registered as the property of individual Palestinians. Besides that, the settlement lacks any of the basic town planning approval necessary for construction. Built on stolen land, without permits, the comfortable bourgeois neighborhood is in fact a crime made tangible – and a prime example of how the settlement effort has corroded the rule of law.

In 2001,26 years after Ofrah was founded, the next generation of settlers set up the outpost of Migron. As AP’s Matti Friedman reported a few days ago,

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Gaza: The Peace of the Clumsy

Gershom Gorenberg

Maybe there will be quiet in and around Gaza on Thursday morning. This is not something to bet your savings on, or even your lunch money. According to this report , a Palestinian official says – as long as he can’t be quoted by name – that the fix is in for a ceasefire, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry says yes. Defense Minister Ehud Barak (whose politics appear to have moved rightward since 2000 even more quickly than Joe Lieberman’s) says there’s no agreement, nope, we’re just checking the details.

If it does happen, it will certainly be a positive development: people on both sides of the Gaza line will have a higher chance of getting through the day without being blown up. It will show that with the America gone AWOL from diplomacy, other actors are moving into the vacuum: Egypt mediating between Israel and Hamas; Turkey between Israel and Syria. It will prove again the sad principle that when all else fails, sometimes people are willing to try talking instead of shooting.

But it will also be worth examining the potential political impact in light of the latest poll by top Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki.

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Thanks to Our Readers

Readers’ notes in the last few days include these tidbits:

  • Moshe Feiglin, head of the Manhigut Yehudit (“Jewish Leadership”) faction in the Likud, has been touring the U.S., speaking at synagogues such as Congregation B’nai Yeshurun in Teaneck. Manhigut Yehudit’s website includes a draft constitution in Hebrew with such features as a rabbinical council that could overturn all laws. In an interview with the fawning Jewish Press, Feiglin said that “There is no such thing as innocent civilians” and said that as prime minister he would have responded to the Merkaz Harav terror attack last month by acting against the attacker’s entire village. Feiglin’s support in the Likud comes entirely from the far-right activists he has signed up as party members, to the embarrassment of the rest of the party. But what are American congregations doing hosting someone who can be called, with understatement, a fascist?
  • Thank God for the farm lobby:

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