Column on Arab-Israeli Conflict and Terrorism

Inexcusable: Terrorism

Tibor R. Machan

In discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict one often comes across disturbing
defenses of anti-Israeli policies by such organizations as Hamas and
Hezbollah. One such line of defense I have encountered, for which even
some of my colleagues in philosophy have shown sympathy, is that given the
desperate situation of Arabs, say in the Gaza strip, one must accept their
resort of terrorism, including, of course, the indiscriminate murder of
people, many of them children and thus indisputably innocent of anything
that might plausible justify killing them. And often this line of defense
is put in terms of what Israel has done to Arab citizens in Gaza, placed
them into desperate situations by cutting off the flow of supplies,
starving them, etc.

Without going into the whether the claims against Israel are true or
accurate, of who is ultimately responsible for the conditions in Gaza, it
is crucial to realize that even if those claims were all true, they would
fail to justify terrorism, the murder of innocent people for political
purposes and the like. Say I am starving and say I believe that this has
been caused by various adults around my neighborhood. Would my situation
justify my recklessly lobbing bombs around the homes in this neighborhood,
never mind who is being killed by what I am doing? Am I justified in my
state of desperation to inflict violence on those who have had nothing to
do with what I am experiencing? No, not at all. All one might say is that
I have completely lost control over myself and am now simply flaying about
madly, caring nothing about the consequences, about whether any remnant of
justice attends to my conduct. And in that case I need to be pacified!

It is one thing to show some understanding of the dastardly
conduct of certain people in dire straits. It is something else entirely
to claim that this conduct is just or justified. And over the last decades
it is difficult to deny that on the whole, apart from the early terrorist
actions of certain Israelis, the overwhelming majority of indiscriminate,
often suicide, killings have been done by anti-Israeli partisans.

For some reason that escapes me, quite a few people who would
ordinarily be appalled at deeds of cruelty toward the innocent seem to
find what these anti-Israeli parties are doing acceptable. I cannot see
that the fact that Israeli policies are imperfect, disputable, sometimes
over the top, serve in the slightest to give these anti-Israeli policies
unobjectionable or even OK on balance.

Again, I hasten to say that a full grasp of what is happening
between Arabs and Israelis escapes me, albeit I seriously doubt that
anyone has that grasp, given how it is tied up with a very long history,
many religious convictions based on faith, and, most of all, collectivist
or tribal thinking. Some of the arguments that are propounded by many who
contribute to the debate, especially on the anti-Israeli side seem, also,
to be linked to manufactured historical events and religious claims that
are wholly unprovable.

At times simply abstaining from forming any conclusions about
these matters is acceptable. But that is nearly impossible to do in a
democracy where one is called upon to approve or disapprove policies of
one’s government vis-à-vis foreign governments. Even if the entire
situation in, for example, the Middle East is basically irrational and
beyond hope of sorting out fully, one is simply left with a need to have
some attitude so as to be able to assess with some measure of competence
what one’s government is doing (even in circumstances that are tainted
with confusion and a history of mistakes).

I am certainly only in the process of coming to grips with the issues, not
by any stretch of the imagination at the point of having formed a fixed,
stable position on them all. But just as Socrates, who confessed not to
know very much at all, continued to search, along with all of his pupils,
for what is true, perhaps some attentive if incomplete reflections on the
Arab-Israeli situation can help advance not only one’s understanding but
the eventual resolution of the troubles.

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