Hi, I’m David Brooks, and things are serious. Not serious in a somber way, how music can sometimes make us feel, but serious in an existential way, as when we see images that disturb us to our very core. Lately, one can’t help but turn on a television or open a laptop and see these sorts of images. Whether it’s a shot of a beach in which four children are killed by rocket fire, or a man being shot by a sniper as he shifts through rubble to find survivors, the world, it seems, is on fire, and there’s little the viewer can do but sit in anguish and watch.
The current war in Israel has been going on since mid-June. We all know the story: three Israeli teenagers were hitchhiking home when they were abducted. One doesn’t need an actual investigation to know that it was Hamas, so Israel rightly started Operation Brother’s Keeper, arresting over three hundred Palestinians and killing five. Given the clear moral ecology of the situation, things should have stopped there. But Hamas has no such moral ecology—a terrorist group, they target civilians and believe unambiguously in a doctrine called political Islam, a radical view of the world that sees no difference between political and religious control. So, without provocation and for entirely ideological reasons, they began indiscriminately firing rockets into Israel, knowing that their own people would suffer for it.
Rather than remaining a mere victim, Israel then did what it had to do: it fought back. Some may think that Israel’s response is disproportionate, and the numbers are disturbing. Over six hundred Palestinians are dead now (most of whom are civilians, a third being children), and, tragically, twenty nine Israelis have been killed, two of whom, sadly enough, are civilians. While that balance might look off to some, just war theory tells us otherwise. As Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer pointed out recently, proportionality in just war theory means that the costs in casualties are proportional to the threat being confronted, not that equal numbers of people are killed. Given that Hamas has been firing generally ineffectual rockets into Israel’s Iron Dome as its citizens cower in their safe houses and bomb shelters, Israel had to use its advanced weaponry to respond. And given that Hamas uses its own civilians as human shields, Israel has found itself passively killing large numbers of them with the ethical precision that only American weaponry can provide. On paper, 609 to 29 might seem like an unfair ratio, but theoretically it makes perfect moral sense.
Israel’s hands are tied. Though the occupation, blockade, and the wall are meant to prevent these terrible deaths, they have not. Hamas knows that the more we see civilians being killed on TV, the more we will feel for Palestinians. This moral trap is horrible in its design and all the more reason to stop them. Offered a cease fire by Israel and Egypt, Hamas irrationally chose to continue its bombardment of Israel, providing no clear alternative but more violence. It’s tragic that Hamas has forced Israel’s hand in this way, and none of us can help but feel for the Palestinian and Israeli people who are both suffering equally because of the actions of one illegitimate group. I wish we could place the blame elsewhere, but Benjamin Netanyahu is responding in the only rational way possible.
I go to Israel about once a year. Israel is a plucky country built on courage, almost awkwardly straightforward talk, and intense self-criticism. Unlike any other country in the world, Israel is a land that constantly faces its own issues and accepts responsibility for them. Arabs are surely very generous and open, but they lack such a culture of responsibility, which allows them to do terrible things and then blame others for it. Given this impossible bind the Israeli government faces, it’s unclear what sort of end game we can hope for, but the world must stand by a country that is once again suffering extreme victimhood due to an immoral and barbaric ideology. Until Hamas is eradicated or at least neutralized, Israel will have no rational actors to come to the table for a real peace agreement. If I’m right, and I hope I’m not, we can expect our screens to continue to be filled with yet more fire and tragedy, and ourselves impotent rage.