Jerusalem at night. CREDIT: joiseyshowaa.

Jerusalem. CREDIT: joiseyshowaa. (CC)

Oct 11, 2023 Article

Terror Attacks in Israel: A Complete Rout of Ethical Principles

The cruelty of the Hamas attacks on Israel is a shocking expression of hate and depravity, pure and simple. We watch in horror and disbelief at this latest and most tragic example of man’s inhumanity to man.

It is vital that we stand with these victims and the people of Israel as witnesses to their pain and suffering. And it is equally important that we condemn those who perpetrated these crimes against humanity—so intentionally, willfully, and without mercy.

There can be no justification for the intentional killing of innocent civilians, hostage-taking, and the imprisonment of women, children, and elderly with the threat of public execution. Any qualification—“yes but,” ‘on the other hand,” “at the same time”—is a hollow attempt at moral equivalence and an evasion of responsibility.

If the line is as clear as I suggest, then what are we to make of such a complete rout of ethical principles?

Civilization rests on a convergence of reason and experience that yields principles such as individual accountability, the prohibition of torture, and the duty to protect innocent bystanders. It is in the breach—precisely in moments such as this one—that commitment to these principles must be re-affirmed loudly, proudly, and without reservation.

In 2016, Carnegie Council was visited by Gen. Moshe Yaalon, former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) chief of staff, and Professor Michael Walzer, author of Just and Unjust Wars. When asked about security threats facing Israel Yaalon said: “Military excellence has handed us an advantage on the battlefield, but this edge can only be maintained if we preserve our ethical superiority. And as the war on terror develops and intensifies, so must our determination to deliver an unequivocal moral response to the challenges it brings."

Nations are communities based on values. Hamas has revealed its values, and Israel is now being tested in its response. As Yaalon’s comments suggest, IDF leadership knows that military success alone will not be sufficient, as a moral response requires recognition of the rights of all—including Palestinians—and the pursuit of a just peace.

In his talk, Yaalon invoked the journalist Moshe Beilinson who wrote a 1936 editorial titled "Until When?” As violence flared in pre-state Israel, Beilinson asked: Until when will we have to live by our sword? Until when will we have to fight for our existence?

The answer remains elusive, and it lingers for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Especially in this horrific moment engulfed in the fog of war, we cannot lose sight of the fact that mutual recognition and respect should be the determined goal for all of us who believe that a better future is possible.

We get there by reaffirming the equal moral worth of every human being, the duty to protect the innocent, and a commitment to empathy as a matter of both morality and enlightened self-interest. Those who commit to these principles will have the advantage of moral clarity in a time of turmoil and tragedy.

In the dark days ahead, let us hope these ethical principles will light the way.

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Moshe "Bogie" Yaalon. CREDIT: Amanda Ghanooni

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