Jewish Law*: One Israeli Soldier Worth More Than 1,000 Palestinians

Please make sure to read my disclaimer Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem wherein I clarify that “Jewish law” here is not meant to be understood in a blanket way.  Certainly, there exist alternative, more compassionate understandings of Halakha.  I understand that many readers are deeply uncomfortable with characterizing “Jewish law” in such a sweeping manner as we have done in this “thought exercise”–but that’s the point of the article series: if you refuse to generalize Halakha, then why do you do it to Sharia?

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #4 TERRORISM!

Israel recently agreed to release over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 1 captive Israeli soldier.  The soldier’s name is Gilad Shalit: he is neither a high-ranking military official or anyone of national importance.  Then, why did Israel agree to ransom him with over a thousand men?  Why is he worth so much?

CNN ran with the headline “Shalit swap based on ‘ultimate value of human life,’ rabbis say”:

“Judaism places ultimate value on human life. Therefore in the Jewish tradition, in Jewish law, redeeming captives trumps just about everything else,” said Ascherman, of Rabbis for Human Rights. “It takes priority over anything else you can possibly do.”

So, it is just that Israelis value life so much?  Are they just that superbly moral?  I have seen such discussion on the internet and in the media, with pro-Israeli apologists comparing this “ultimate value of human life” with the “culture of death” that Palestinians (and Arabs/Muslims) supposedly have.

Yet, the CNN article is misleading, as it implies that Judaism* values human life, when in fact Jewish law* places the ultimate value on Jewish life only.   The mitzvah (religious obligation) to redeem prisoners is limited to fellow Jews. It does not apply to Gentiles. Had the prisoner been Christian or Muslim (ha!), Israel would never have made such a trade.

There is a deeply racial underpinning here: according to Jewish law*, Jews and Jewish life are always considered superior to Gentiles and Gentile life.  Prof. Israel Shahak, an Israeli human rights activist, documented the background for this racist religious dogma in his book Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. For example, he quotes Rabbi Abraham Kook, largely considered “the ultimate father figure” of Religious Zionism, who stated that “the difference between a Jewish soul and the souls of non-Jews…is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle.”

Admittedly, such beliefs are not unfamiliar to Radical and Ultra-Conservative Muslims, who argue that “the worst Muslim is better than the best non-Muslim.”  Similar statements can be heard from fundamentalist Christians.  Yet, Religious Zionists take this bigoted idea much further, using it to justify the killing of civilians: to save one Jewish life, killing any number of Gentiles is acceptable.  Not only can one exchange 1,000 Gentile prisoners for 1 Jewish prisoner, but one can also kill 1,000 Gentiles to save 1 Jewish prisoner (or as revenge and deterrence in the case of a Jewish soldier who was killed).

Rabbi Michael J. Broyde asks rhetorically on p.4 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition (a book written under the auspices of the world’s leading Orthodox Jewish minds):

If the government can rescue a soldier only by killing a dozen innocent infants in the enemy camp, may it do that?

Broyde argues in the affirmative, noting that “enemy civilians” are “less sacred than one’s own soldiers.”  Even if it were otherwise, Broyde argues, Jewish law* allows for a “presumptive hora’at sha’ah (temporary edict/suspension of law) that would permit such[.]”  He goes on to say:

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, for example, permits the sacrifice of oneself as a form of hora’at sha’ah [temporary edict/suspension of law] that is allowed by Jewish law to save the community.  While the voluntary act of heroic self-sacrifice and the killing of an unwilling victim are not parallel, I think that one who would permit a Jewish soldier to kill himself to save the community, would permit the killing of “less innocent” enemy soldiers or even civilians in such situations as well.  In grave times of national war, every battle and every encounter raises to such a level, I suspect.

In “every battle and every encounter,” it is permitted to kill “even civilians.”

Broyde raises a very odd argument, rhetorically asking:

If a government can choose as a matter of policy to engage in retaliatory military action that risks the lives of its own soldiers and civilians in a time of war, does it not follow that it may do so with enemy soldiers and civilians as well?

Rabbi Norman Lamm asks on p.238:

To use the Talmudic phraseology, is the blood of Israeli soldiers any less red than that of enemy Arab civilians?

The bottom line is that the Jewish military can kill enemy civilians to “save its soldiers.”  Prof. David Shatz writes on p.xix of the introduction to War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

It would be morally acceptable, and perhaps even required, to cause civilian deaths in order to save your own combatants.

How many civilian deaths?  Certainly, “killing a dozen innocent infants in the enemy camp” to save 1 Jewish soldier is not unreasonable.  The 1-to-1,000 ratio is also acceptable.  Mordechai Eliyahu, the late Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, bellowed:

Even when we seek revenge, it is important to make one thing clear – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.

He went on to say:

The Talmud states that if gentiles rob Israel of silver they will pay it back in gold, and all that is taken will be paid back in folds, but in cases like these there is nothing to pay back, since as I said – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.

The Sephardi Chief Rabbi called for carpet bombing the Palestinians instead of “risk[ing] the lives of Jews.”  The Jerusalem Post reported in an article entitled “Eliyahu advocates carpet bombing Gaza: Says there is no moral prohibition against killing civilians to save Jews“:

The former chief rabbi also said it was forbidden to risk the lives of Jews in Sderot or the lives of IDF soldiers for fear of injuring or killing Palestinian noncombatants living in Gaza.

Similarly did Rabbi Yaakov Perin famously state that “one million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”

One of Israel’s justifications for the 2006 Lebanon War, which killed over a thousand Lebanese (mostly civilians), was to recover two IDF soldiers.  Does it seem reasonable to kill over a thousand people to recapture two soldiers?

During the conflict in Gaza, Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, former Rabbi of the Beit She’an Valley in Northern Israel, opined that “the Halacha (Jewish law) countenances the killing of non-combatants in times of war,” and that “there is no excuse for endangering our own citizens or soldiers to protect the lives of civilians on the other side.”  This is an argument for Israel relying on carpet bombing against a civilian population instead of sending in ground troops to fight in “hand-to-hand combat.”

Far from being the views of some radical, fringe element in Israel, these are the mainstream beliefs of Religious Zionism.  These attitudes are reflected in Israeli society as a whole, with “more than 70 per cent support for bombing Gaza–but just 20 per cent support for a ground invasion.” It is no surprise then that indiscriminate killing–accepted by international law as “equally” criminal compared to targeting civilians–is thus the norm of Israeli war policy.

Surely, a dozen or a thousand Palestinian infants (who will grow up to be terrorists anyways) are not worth the life of one brave Israeli soldier.

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This racist line of thinking reaches its logical conclusion by encouraging the slaughter of civilians to “protect” Jewish soldiers.  A Jewish soldier’s life is so much more precious than the lives of enemy civilians that this trade-off is acceptable.  On pp.65-67 of Jewish History, Jewish Religion, Prof. Israeli Shahak documents a Q&A between an Israeli soldier and Rabbi Shim’on Weiser (a conversation originally published in the yearbook of one of Israel’s prestigious religious institutions, Midrashiyyat No’am).  In it, the soldier asks the rabbi:

[Am I] permitted to put myself in danger by allowing a woman to stay alive? For there have been cases when women threw hand grenades.

Rabbi Weiser responds by saying:

The rule “Whoever comes to kill you, kill him first” applies to a Jew…[but] it only applies to him if there is [actual] ground to fear that he is coming to kill you.  But a Gentile [non-Jew] during wartime is usually presumed so, except when it is quite clear that he has no evil intent.

In other words, Jews are considered innocent by default, whereas Arabs are guilty until proven innocent.  If there is any doubt as to the innocence of the Arab civilian, such a person should be killed just to be on the safe side.  The Israeli soldier responds by restating the Rabbi’s position:

As for [your] letter [to me], I have understood it as follows:

In wartime I am not merely permitted, but enjoined to kill every Arab man and woman I chance upon, if there is a reason to fear that they help in the war against us, directly or indirectly.

In the current climate, there is such a high level of paranoia in Israeli society that almost every Palestinian is seen as a threat, constituting “a reason to fear.”

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Similar arguments are raised by many of Israel’s ardent defenders to justify killing civilians.  Former IDF soldier and full-time Israeli propagandist Cori Chascione of Jewcy opines:

Individual [Israeli] soldiers are not permitted to risk their own lives in order to avoid collateral damage or to save civilians…a soldier’s life comes before a civilian in enemy territory

Ted Belman of Israpundit.com writes:

As a numbers game, is it moral to cause one of your own to be killed to avoid killing ten of them? What about one hundred of them. In the last few days we killed 100 of them and lost 2 of ours. To my mind that is moral.

How similar is this rhetorical questioning; we saw it in the sober, serious, and scholarly book written by the leading Orthodox Jewish luminaries of the world (see above).

With views such as these emanating from mainstream Orthodox Judaism, it is only natural that others would take this paranoid worldview even further, such as Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira who declared that it would be licit to kill [Palestinian] children if there was a fear that they would “grow up to become enemies of the Jewish people.”

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As I have repeated over and over again, I am not trying to categorize all of Judaism, all interpretations of Jewish law, or all Jews as one way or another.  I am simply establishing that extremist views such as these exist in no short supply.  So why this overwhelming focus on Islam, Islamic law, and Muslims?

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #4: TERRORISM!

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #3 Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (II)

Israeli professor and human rights activist Israel Shahak wrote in the preface of his book Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (co-authored with Norton Mezvinsky):

Virtually identified with Arab terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism is anathema throughout the non-Muslim world.  Virtually identified with ignorance, superstition, intolerance and racism, Christian fundamentalism is anathema to the cultural and intellectual elite in the United States.  The recent significant increase in its number of adherents, combined with its widening political influence, nevertheless, make Christian fundamentalism a real threat to democracy in the United States.  Although possessing all the important social scientific properties of Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism is practically unknown outside of Israel and certain sections of a few other places.  When its existence is acknowledged, its significance is minimized or limited to arcane religious practices and quaint middle European dress, most often by those same non-Israeli elite commentators who see so uncompromisingly the evils inherent in Jewish fundamentalism’s Islamic and/or Christian cousins.

As students of contemporary society and as Jews, one Israeli, one American, with personal commitments and attachments to the Middle East, we cannot help seeing Jewish fundamentalism in Israel as a major obstacle to peace in the region.  Nor can we help being dismayed by the dismissal of the perniciousness of Jewish fundamentalism to peace and its victims by those who are otherwise knowledgeable and astute and so quick to point out the violence inherent in other fundamentalist approaches to existence.

Pro-Israeli apologists are certainly “quick to point out the violence inherent in” Radical Islam while simultaneously dismissing “the perniciousness of Jewish fundamentalism to peace.”  MEMRI is one such group: this Israeli propaganda machine churns out cherry-picked translations from Arabic texts, in an attempt to magnify the threat of Radical Islam.  Meanwhile, these same sorts of pro-Israeli elements levy the charge of “Self-Hating Jew” and “Anti-Semitism” against all who would point out similar radicalism in the Israeli/Jewish community.  Prof. Shahak was himself the victim of such slurs (and now I have been accused of this as well).

We are constantly barraged by screeds warning us how inherently violent Sharia is–and how Islam supposedly compels its adherents to commit acts of terrorism–yet few would be comfortable with holding Judaism to the same standard we do Islam.  Certainly, Halakha (Jewish law)–as understood by Orthodox Judaism in Israel (the only form of Judaism recognized by the Jewish state)–permits targeting and killing civilians, collective punishment, and ethnic cleansing. It also permits terrorism against civilian populations. Rabbi Michael J. Broyde writes on pp.23-24 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

Air warfare greatly expands the “kill zone” of combat and (at least in our current state of technology) tends to inevitably result in the death of civilians.  The tactical aims of air warfare appear to be fourfold: [1] to destroy specific enemy military targets, [2] to destroy the economic base of the enemy’s war-making capacity, [3] to randomly terrorize civilian populations, and [4] to retaliate for other atrocities by the enemy to one’s own home base and thus deter such conduct in the future by the enemy.

The first of these goals…is permissible…The same would appear would be true about the second…It would appear that the third goal is not legitimate absent the designation of “Compulsory” or “Obligatory” war. The final goal…could perhaps provide some sort of justification for certain types of conduct in combat that would otherwise be prohibited.

In a future article, I will explain the different types of wars as understood in the Jewish tradition: for now, however, the reader ought to know that on p.14 Broyde quotes Maimonides that “a war to deliver Israel from an enemy who has attacked them” would constitute a Compulsory/Obligatory war.  This is nearly a unanimous opinion.  Prof. Arye Edrei writes in Divine Spirit and Physical Power:

[The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo] Goren[,] stated frequently in his writings that the contemporary wars of Israel meet the criterion of obligatory wars because their goal is to save Israel from the hands of an oppressor, and he categorized the Peace for Galilee War [1982 Lebanon War] as such a war.

Therefore, it is permitted under Halakha for Israel to “randomly terrorize [Arab] civilian populations.”  Notice also that the fourth “tactical aim,” permitted under Jewish law, also fits under terrorism: “to retaliate for other atrocities by the enemy to one’s own home base and thus deter such conduct in the future by the enemy.”  This is manifested in Israel’s policy of “massive retaliation,” which is a euphemism for state terrorism: the goal is to inflict so many Palestinian civilian casualties that it would serve as a deterrent to future terrorist attacks.

Professor Herbert Leventer of Yeshiva University legitimizes “terror bombing,” writing on p.75 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

If, in an emergency, you engage in the occasional assassination, terror (rather than mere strategic) bombing, killing of civilian shields–you do no wrong, and have no reason even to feel regret.

Adam Aptowitzer of B’nai Brith opined:

Terror is a tool, terror is a means to an end … When Israel uses terror to … destroy a home and convince people to be terrified of what the possible consequences are, I’d say that’s acceptable use to terrify someone.

The truth is that terror is an option to be used by states in order to prevent deaths of their own citizens and others. Acts that take place in Gaza and [the] West Bank, you might want to classify them as terrorists sponsored by the state. But when that is being done to prevent deaths, are we going to say that is wrong

(Note: To give credit where credit is due, I first came across this quote in Norman Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah.)

Throughout its short history, Israel has terrorized the Palestinian population.  From 1948 when “the Hagana and other Jewish paramilitaries were terrorizing Palestinian civilians” (quote taken from p.56 of Prof. Sean F. McMahon’s The Discourse of Palestinian-Israeli Relations) to the recent 2008-2009 Israeli war on Gaza–described by the United Nations as an operation “designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population”–state terrorism has been used by the Israelis very consistently.  (In the future, I will write a more detailed article documenting the systematic terrorism conducted by the state of Israel.)

Today, nearly half of Israeli Jews (46%) support “price tag” terrorism against Palestinians.  Price tag terrorism refers to “acts carried out against Palestinians in revenge of government actions harming the settler enterprise.” These are characterized as “pogroms meted out by fanatical settlers against defenseless Palestinians,” and involves violence against civilians.  Price tag terror is conducted by “Israeli soldiers and settlers” who”rampag[e] through” Palestinian villages, meting out “retributive violence.”

These terror attacks include blowing up cars, vandalizing homes, beatings, and stabbings.  Just a few hours prior to writing this article, an article was published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Palestinian cars were set aflame.  [Editor’s Note: This article was written a few weeks before it was published.  A few days before the article was published, however, a mosque in Northern Israel was burned down by Jewish extremists.] Mosques are a favorite target for “price tag terror,” which have been burned down.  All of this goes on “under the watch of the army and with the encouragement of state-funded religious nationalist rabbis.” Not only do nearly half of Israeli Jews support price tag terrorism but “most traditional, national-religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews believe these actions are justified (55%, 70% and 71%, respectively).”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a terrorist himself, declared that “neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.” (hat tip: NassirH)

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In addition to specifically allowing “terror bombings” that target civilians, Jewish law permits “indiscriminate violence” against civilians during milhemet mitzvah (Obligatory war), which all of Israel’s current wars are considered.  As Mordechai Eliyahu, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, stated, “[there is] absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians.”

According to international law, there is no difference between intentionally targeting civilians and indiscriminately killing them.  Dr. Norman Finkelstein writes in the preface to Beyond Chutzpah:

One often hears that Hamas’s deliberate targeting of civilians cannot be compared to Israel’s “unintended” killing of them.  However human rights organizations report that Israel’s use of live ammunition is “indiscriminate” (HRW) and “on many occasions… deliberately targeted” civilians (Amnesty International), and accordingly conclude that the purported distinction between Hamas and Israeli violence “makes no difference” (B’Tselem). If Hamas were to declare after blowing up a crowded civilian bus that it had only meant to kill a military officer in the vehicle and not the other passengers, it would rightly be ridiculed. Yet how different is it when Israel drops a one-ton bomb on a densely populated Gaza neighborhood in order to liquidate a Hamas military commander and then declares that the fourteen civilian deaths were unintentional? In his authoritative study on the laws of war, Israeli legal scholar Yoram Dinstein observes:

…From the standpoint of LOIAC [Law of International Armed Conflict], there is no genuine difference between a premeditated attack against civilians (or civilian objects) and a reckless disregard of the principle of distinction: they are equally forbidden.

Even if, for argument’s sake, we assume that Israel’s attacks on civilians are unintentional and accordingly that the worst it can be accused of is “reckless disregard of the principle of distinction,” it is still the rankest hypocrisy to require of Hamas that it cease violent attacks yet not put a comparable requirement on Israel to cease what is “equally forbidden.”

I would argue, however, that a case could be made that Israel’s indiscriminate use of violence against civilian populations is actually worse, because far more civilians die in such attacks than from Hamas’s terrorist bombings.  To put it simply: a terrorist attack against a civilian bus limits the death and destruction to one bus, whereas “drop[ping] a one ton bomb on a densely populated neighborhood” results in the death and destruction of many buses in that neighborhood.

Yet, Israel’s defenders seek to justify and normalize indiscriminate violence against civilian populations.  Ted Belman, editor of Israpundit.com, argues:

Israel is free to employ ALL munitions, tactics, equipment and personnel in her arsenal to defend herself against the outlaw Hamas terrorist organization. Short of the intentional targeting and murder of truly uninvolved and innocent civilians, Israel can (and should) operate as freely as she desires to protect her territorial sovereignty and the lives of her citizens.

What could be clearer.

What could be clearer, indeed.  Belman argues that there is a “non-existent duty to avoid killing enemy civilians.”  So long as Israel does not “intentionally kill civilians,” it can use indiscriminate violence to kill as many civilians as it needs, “even in disproportionate numbers” on the order of “100 of them…[to] 2 of ours.”  Belman says: “To my mind that is moral.”  This is Israeli and Zionist morality.

The actual ratio is very similar: during the Gaza conflict, conservative estimates from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have it that 1,387 Palestinians were killed (of which at least 773 did not take part in the hostilities at all), whereas only 9 Israelis were killed (of which only 3 were civilians).  This is a ratio of more than 250 to 1.  Three civilians were killed by deadly Qassam and Grad rockets, and in response 773 civilians–who took no part in hostilities at all–were slaughtered.  This, according to the mind of Ted Belman, is “moral.”

To conclude, Jewish law permits–and Israel routinely commits–acts of violence specifically targeting civilians, which is in addition to the licence granted to wreak indiscriminate violence against civilian populations. Why is it then that all we ever talk about all day long is how Islamic law is this and that?  Why do we constantly hear serious pundits pontificating about “what’s wrong with Islam” and how Islam needs to go through a reformation, and yet we never hear a peep out of anyone about Jewish law?  Why the skewed discourse?  What gives?

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #3: Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (II)

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #3 Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (I)

On the previous page, we saw how Halakha obligates Jewish armies to “leave one side open” when they attack a Gentile city; this is to allow civilians the opportunity to flee the city.  The corollary to this is that any civilians who don’t flee are automatically considered “combatants” and “human shields” who can be licitly targeted and killed.  Not only has this concept been used by Israel to promote the ethnic cleansing of Palestine but it is also used to absolve Israel of any blame for indiscriminate violence against civilian populations.

For example, during the Gaza War in 2008-2009, Israel supposedly dropped “hundreds of thousands of leaflets” and used “telephone calls” to warn residents of Gaza to evacuate the area before Israel dropped bombs on their heads (quotes from Alan Dershowitz).  Here Dershowitz is mimicking the line by the Israeli state itself; the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed ”the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) makes strenuous efforts to give advance notice to the civilian population” of impending Israeli attacks “so that they have an opportunity to leave the area.”

Dershowitz calls these “unprecedented efforts to avoid civilian casualties,” with Israeli-friendly Richard Kemp arguing that “during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”  Prof. Asa Kasher, author of the IDF Code of Conduct, argues that the Israel Defense Forces are “the most moral army in the world” (The Most Moral Army in the World™) because “[w]ho tries harder than we do to warn the neighbors [to leave a conflict zone]?”  Kasher then engages in typical Israeli self-congratulatory praise.  Israel’s America’s pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC shielded Israel from all criticism by noting that “Israel dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets and made 250,000 phone calls to targeted areas to warn citizens they were in danger.”

But only if Israel dropped not “hundreds of thousands” of leaflets but two hundred million leaflets!  If only 500,000 phone calls were made instead of “250,000!”  Then only a crass Anti-Semite could take umbrage at the IDF’s sojourn in Gaza that killed scores of civilians.  After all, doesn’t dropping a certain number of leaflets and making so many phone calls absolve oneself from all responsibility?

What utter nonsense.  Under international law–and using one’s own common sense–it is not permissible to carpet bomb an area with impunity just because warning leaflets were dropped beforehand–no matter if four billion leaflets and ten trillion phone calls are made in advance.  These “advanced warnings” are clearly meant to absolve Israel of all guilt for killing civilians, and have nothing to do with actually saving civilian lives.

What’s more is that the leaflets or phone calls do not give any information as to where the civilians are supposed to flee from or to.  In fact, the leaflets and phone calls can be seen as nothing more than threats designed to instill terror in the civilian population.  They are part of Israel’s psychological operations, not an ethical consideration.  Electronic Intifada reproduced one such leaflet:

To the residents of the northern Gaza Strip:

The terrorist actions originating from your areas are forcing the Israel Defense Forces to respond harshly to those who are subjecting the citizens of the State of Israel to danger.

We call on the Palestinian Authority to shoulder its responsibility to prevent these criminal acts.

We warn you of the danger of remaining in the areas which are being used to launch terrorist actions and we advise you to leave your homes.

We are not responsible for the consequences if you ignore our warning.

Israel Defense Forces

I could not “independently corroborate” this report, but The Guardian documents something very similar, reporting that Gazans would be called by Israelis, saying: “You and your family are requested to leave home because the IDF intends to attack it.”  The article says further that “the pre-recorded message department of the Israeli military has been gearing up again, threatening people apparently selected at random…”  What can this be other than terror by telephone?

The Guardian reported further:

The Israeli air force today dropped leaflets on the Gaza Strip warning residents that it plans to escalate its military offensive, now in its second week.

The army said it had dropped the flyers throughout Gaza and that the notices are meant as a “general warning”.

These “general warnings” do nothing but instill panic and terror in the Palestinian population.  They don’t know when or where the attacks are coming, and where they are supposed to flee to.  Considering that all the infrastructure, including highways and major roads, were destroyed, one wonders where and how the Gazans can flee?  Certainly, they cannot flee Gaza entirely, which is blocked off on all four sides; interestingly, the “fourth side” is not left open.

In addition to aiding Israel’s psychological operations against the Palestinians, these terror leaflets and phone calls absolve Israel of all blame when it then unleashes its fury against civilian populations. They were warned, and therefore they had it coming.  Israel then carpet bombs the area with impunity, its conscious clear from all guilt.  Then, Israelis pat themselves on the back, fascinated by their superior sense of morality and how they continue to have the The Most Moral Army in the World™.

Human Rights Watch had this to say about Israel’s terror leaflets and phone calls [Note: I broke this into paragraphs to make it more readable]:

In public statements, Israeli officials have countered allegations of unlawful civilian deaths by claiming that the IDF had warned Gaza’s civilian population in advance by dropping leaflets, making telephone calls, and breaking into local radio and television broadcasts. International humanitarian law encourages armed forces to provide advance warnings of an attack when circumstances permit, but the warnings must be “effective.”

In Gaza, the IDF’s warnings were too vague, often addressed generally to the “inhabitants of the area.” Leaflets were dropped from high altitudes and scattered over wide areas; many Gaza residents told Human Rights Watch that they disregarded the leaflets because they were so common and widely dispersed.

In addition, the warnings often did not instruct civilians on what steps to take or where to find safety after fleeing their homes. With the beginning of the ground offensive on January 3, the IDF warned residents to “move to city centers,” but then some city centers, such as in Gaza City, Beit Layiha, and Jabalya, came under attack, as two of the incidents documented in this report show.  Ultimately, Gaza residents had no safe place to flee, given the closure of Gaza’s borders, enforced mostly by Israel but also by Egypt in the south.

Finally, even after warnings have been issued, international humanitarian law requires attacking forces to take all feasible precautions to avoid loss of civilian life and property. Just because an attacking force has issued an effective warning does not mean it can disregard its obligations to civilians; attacking forces may not assume that all persons remaining in an area after a warning has been issued are legitimate targets for attack.

Clearly, Jewish law (as understood by Religious Zionists) and Israeli conduct seems to think otherwise: if you warn them, you can kill them. And then, even as you wipe your blade clean of the blood just spilt, you can revel at your own greatness, your high level of morality.

How different are these leaflets and phone calls from the warnings issued by Zionist forces during the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948?  Israeli historian Benny Morris writes on p.191 of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem:

Throughout, the Haganah made effective use of Arabic language broadcasts and loudspeaker vans.  Haganah Radio announced that ‘the day of judgment had arrived’ and called on the inhabitants to ‘kick out the foreign criminals’ and to ‘move away from every house and street, from every neighbourhood, occupied by the foreign ciminals’.  The Haganah broadcasts called on the populace to ‘evacuate the women, the children and the old immediately, and send them to a safe heaven’.  The vans announced that the Haganah had gained control of all the approaches to the city…

Morris calls these “psychological warfare broadcasts” designed to “stun” and cause “demoralization” of the enemy population.  The tactic worked, with terror-stricken Palestinians fleeing from their homes and villages en masse.

There is thus a continuity in Israel’s terror tactics, hardly something for pro-Israeli apologists to boast about.  The thing that makes Israelis somewhat unique is that they don’t stick to justifying their tactics, but go so far as to make outlandish claims such as being The Most Moral Army in the World™.  This is a sort of jingle that Israel’s propagandists hope will stick in our heads if they just keep repeating it often enough.  A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.

*  *  *  *  *

Zionists seem to think that they can bomb a city with impunity once they’ve warned its inhabitants beforehand.  Certainly, this is the dominant theme in Religious Zionist circles.  In an entitled Purity of Arms, the Jerusalem Post documents the views of the “the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis” who think that “the IDF bears no moral responsibility” for civilian deaths in Gaza:

Most of the rabbis cited Maimonides (1135-1204), one of the most important halachic authorities in Jewish history, as proof that collateral damage, including civilian deaths, is permitted. Maimonides pointed out the obligation of a Jewish army to leave an enemy force an open route to retreat, even in an obligatory war like the one waged in the North. “Whoever wishes to escape must be allowed to escape… whoever wishes to make peace can make peace… whoever wishes to fight… is attacked until conquest is achieved,” writes Maimonides in his Laws of Kings.  Maimonides’ ruling fits the IDF’s policy of forewarning civilian populations of air attacks, thus giving them the chance to escape. However, once noncombatants have been warned, the IDF bears no moral responsibility for their lives if they are unintentionally killed along with terrorists, arms and ammunition stockpiles, according to Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitz, head of the Birkat Moshe Hesder Yeshiva and an expert on Maimonides. This is true, says Rabinovitz, even when the civilians are held against their will by Hizbullah, as was the case in many incidents, especially in predominantly Christian Lebanese neighborhoods. “It is Hizbullah’s fault if these people are killed, not ours,” says Rabinovitz, echoing the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis.

Previously, we saw how such views were espoused in War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, written by the leading Orthodox Jewish minds around the world.  Here, we see that this views are “echo[ed] by the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis” in Israel.

* * * * *

As I stated previously:

To be fair, Israeli apologists from “liberal, secular” Judaism voice similar ideas.  Case in point: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s greatest defenders from the “liberal, secular” spectrum of the Jewish faith.  Dershowitz is credited as being “Israel’s single most visible defender” and “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”

Prof. Alan Dershwoitz justifies ethnic cleansing in his book Chutzpah.  Norman Finkelstein writes on p.47 of Beyond Chutzpah:

Dershowitz explicitly lends support to….collective punishment such as the “automatic destruction” of a Palestinian village after each terrorist attack (“home destruction is entirely moral…among the most moral and calibrated responses”); torture such as a “needle being shoved under the fingernails” (“I want maximal pain…the most excruciating, intense, immediate pain”); and ethnic cleansing (“Political solutions often require the movement of people, and such movement is not always voluntary…[I]t is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many respects to some massive urban renewal”).

Did Finkelstein take the statement out of context, as Dershowitz later claimed?  In fact, when we look at the entire passage, it is more damning against Dershowitz.  The self-professed “civil libertarian and human rights activist” Alan Dershowitz writes on p.215 of Chutzpah:

Political solutions often require the movement of people, and such movement is not always voluntary.  Making Arab families move–intact–from one Arab village or town to another may constitute a human rights violation.  But in the whole spectrum of human rights issues–especially taking into account the events in Europe during the 1940s–it is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many respects to some massive urban renewal or other projects that require large-scale movement of people.

As can be seen, Finkelstein faithfully reproduced Dershowitz’s words.  Dershowitz responded by whining:

Another made-up quotation by Finkelstein is his claim that in my book Chutzpah I analogized “ethnic cleansings” to “urban renewal.”  I say nothing of the kind in Chutzpah.  I never even mention “ethnic cleansing.”

Dershowitz’s only response amounts to: But, I didn’t use the word ”ethnic cleansing!” It would be like someone endorsing Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers, only to protest when someone else “accused” him of supporting the Holocaust.  But I never used the word ”Holocaust.”

Is the esteemed Harvard law professor ignorant of the meaning of the word “ethnic cleansing?”  The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, a body established by the United Nations, states: “ethnic cleansing alone—that is, the forcible expulsion of the members of a protected group…”

Therefore, when Alan Dershowitz says that it wouldn’t be a big deal to “make Arab families move–intact–from one village or town to another” (which he clarifies would “not always [be] voluntary”), this is the justification of ethnic cleansing.  Dershowitz focusing on the words “ethnic cleansing” instead of the concept shows how hollow his response against Finkelstein is.

That Dershowitz is referring to nothing short of ethnic cleansing can be ascertained without a shadow of doubt from his next few paragraphs, in which he not only references other acts of ethnic cleansing, but tries to justify them (in order that he can then justify the ethnic cleansing ”forced transfer” of Palestinians); writes Dershowitz on p.216:

For example, following the end of World War II, approximately fifteen million ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from their homes in Poland, Czechoslavakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and other Central and Eastern European areas where their families had lived for centuries.  Two million died during this forced expulsion. Czechoslovakia alone expelled nearly three million Sudeten Germans, turning them into displaced persons. The United States, Great Britain, and the international  community in general approved these expulsions, as necessary to secure a more lasting peace. The presence of “disloyal minorities,” or so-called fifth columns, had helped to destabilize Europe on the eve of World War II. It would be a source of increased stability if “population transfers” could produce a new Europe where Germans lived only in the two Germanies and other nations had populations that reflected their own ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. President Franklin Roosevelt’s assistant Harry Hopkins memorialized his boss’s view that although transfer of ethnic Germans “is a hard procedure,” it is the only way to maintain peace.”

The words in bold are the quintessential reasoning behind ethnic cleansing: using “population transfers” to purify the land of ethnic minorities would increase Europe’s stability and get rid of “fifth columns.”  Dershowitz goes on, justifying the “forced transfer” of “fifteen million ethnic Germans” (one wonders how the pro-Israel community would react if a German justified the ethnic cleansing of “fifteen million ethnic Jews”–do you think that such a person would still be the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University?).  Writes Dershowitz:

The ethnic German populations of these European countries had included individual traitors, saboteurs, and fifth columnists.  But they had also included significant numbers of simple farmers, factory workers, and apolitical people who just happened to speak German and live in German enclaves. But since ”their people” had started the war and then lost, it was deemed appropriate for entire ethnic German communities to bear the burden of relocation in order to reduce the likelihood of future wars. On the scale of human rights violations, forced transfer of minority ethnic populations in order to enhance the stability of the region did not weigh heavily in the postwar era.

After justifying the forced expulsion of fifteen million ethnic Germans because “their people” had started the war, Dershowitz writes:

Similarly, many Arab residents of the new Jewish nation of Israel were encouraged to emigrate to Islamic countries by a combination of factors, including fear, a desire to live under Islamic rule, and political considerations.*

The exchange of populations in the Middle East served some of the same goals as the far more extensive, lethal, and systematic one that was taking place in Europe. It would remove potential fifth columns, stabilize the region, and enhance the prospects for peace.

* In assessing the morality of these transfers, it must be recalled that many Palestinian leaders supported Hitler during World War II. They also actively and successfully opposed opening the doors of Palestine to Jewish immigration during the Holocaust.  They were not–as is sometimes claimed–entirely innocent bystanders to the Holocaust. They bear some moral responsibility.

There are too many lies above to refute, but for now, let us lay to rest the issue of whether or not Alan Dershowitz is justifying the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.  But I didn’t use the word ”ethnic cleansing!”

*  *  *  *  *

The support for ethnic cleansing runs very high among Zionist Jews, especially among Religious Zionists but also voiced by “liberal, secular” elements of the Zionist community (such as Alan Dershowitz).  Indeed, according to a survey conducted by Haifa University’s Center for the Study of National Security a majority of Israeli Jews support a policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, with a quarter saying they would consider voting for the Kahanist party Kach, known for its vocal support of ethnic cleansing as a resolution to the conflict.

As we have seen, Jewish law and war ethics permit shedding the blood of civilians who directly and indirectly “support and encourage” the war effort (even if just by “mere words”), as well as those civilians–women, children, and babies included–who passively support hostilities.  ”Passive” support refers to the mere act of living in the same city as a terrorist or militant.  ”Even babes in their mothers’ arms are to be killed” (these are the words of Rabbi Michael J. Broyde who was quoting, and agreeing with, Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel on p.24 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition).  This is the Zionist Jewish justification for collective punishment.

Collective punishment is taken to its logical conclusion, with the endorsement of ethnic cleansing.  Besieged civilians who “refuse” to leave the city (such as the stubborn “babes in their mothers’ arms”) are licit to kill.  It seems then that, under Jewish law, the only type of civilian that is protected from harm or death–and this too is something debatable–is the one who flees his homeland.  Everyone else can be slaughtered.  In other words, Halakha offers the enemy civilian population two options: flee or die.  The choice is between ethnic cleansing and massacre.  Pick your poison.

Note: The next part of this series will be published shortly.

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #3: Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (I)

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher, pages I, II, III, and IV

We have seen previously (see pages IIIIII, and IV) how Halakha permits collective punishment.  It is perhaps no surprise then that ethnic cleansing, the logical conclusion of collective punishment, is also facilitated.

When a Jewish army is about to attack a Gentile city, it must issue an ultimatum offering the besieged population three options: (1) flee, (2) subservience and tribute, or (3) war and death.  To this effect, Rabbi Michael J. Broyde cites the great Maimonides on p.20 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition in a section entitled “The Civilian, the Siege, and the Standard of Conduct:”

Mamoinides states:

Joshua, before he entered the land of Israel, sent three letters to its inhabitants. The first one said that those that wish to flee [the oncoming army] should flee. The second one said that those that wish to make peace should make peace.  The third letter said that those that want to fight a war should prepare to fight a war should prepare to fight a war.

As for the second option of “peace,” this is clarified on p.212:

Before undertaking the siege of a hostile city, offers of peace must be undertaken.  The terms are subservience and tribute.

Here, we come to understand an interesting Jewish war ethic: the prohibition to surround a city on all four sides.  Writes Broyde on pp.20-21:

Maimonides codifies a number of specific rules of military ethics, all based on Talmudic sources:

When one surrounds a city to lay siege to it, it is prohibited to surround it from four sides; only three sides are permissible.  One must leave a place for inhabitants to flee for all those who wish to abscond to save their life.

Broyde clarifies:

I would add, however, that I do not understand Maimonides’ words literally.  It is not surrounding the city on all four sides that is prohibited–rather, it is the preventing of the outflow of civilians or soldiers who are seeking to flee.  Of course, Jewish law would allow one to stop the inflow of supplies to a besieged city through this fourth side.

Sounds pretty ethical, right?  But here’s the rub: because Halakha commands the Jewish military to always allow civilians to flee the city, those civilians who fail to do so automatically forfeit their civilian status and are classified as combatants.  Writes R. Broyde on p.22:

This approach [allowing civilians to flee] solves another difficult problem according to Jewish law: the role of the “innocent” civilian in combat.  Since the Jewish tradition accepts that civilians (and soldiers who are surrendering) are always entitled to flee from the scene of the battle, it would logically follow that all who remain voluntarily are classified as combatants, since the opportunity to leave is continuously present.  Particularly in combination with Joshua’s practice of sending letters of warning in advance of combat, this legal approach limits greatly the role of the doctrine of “innocent civilian” in the Jewish tradition. Essentially, the Jewish tradition feels that innocent civilians should do their very best to remove themselves from the battlefield, and those who remain are not so innocent.  If one voluntarily stays in a city that is under siege, one assumes the mantle of combatant. [90]

In footnote 90, Broyde says that “I would apply this rule in modern day combat situations to all civilians who remain voluntarily in the locale of the war in a way which facilitates combat.”  Translation: these Arab civilians who don’t flee for their lives when Israel invades them are “not so innocent” and “assume[] the mantle of combatant.”

This disturbing Jewish war ethic finds itself in the introduction of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, on p.xvii-xviii:

Of course, Jewish law sometimes demands overtures prior to declaring war to afford all who wish the opportunity to depart (known in Halakhah as the duty to surround on only three sides). Those who remain, however–including sympathetic civilians–are no longer innocents, and their death, when militarily necessary, is according to Broyde unfortunate but halakhically proper.

The phrase “including sympathetic civilians” implies quite clearly that also included in this are those other than sympathetic civilians–anyone who “voluntarily” stays behind.  One wonders: do Israeli rockets stop before they detonate on Palestinian heads, and ask them: “Are you voluntarily staying behind or not?”  In reality, there is no way to know how who stays behind voluntarily or not–they are all licit to slaughter.  Of course, any civilian deaths are of course “unfortunate,” something that Palestinians take great solace in knowing.

Israel routinely launches massive operations against Palestinians, often warning the civilians beforehand with leaflets and telephone calls.  By so warning, the Israelis absolve themselves of all culpability: the civilians who refuse to flee their homes are no longer innocent in Israeli eyes and become licit to kill.  Scores of Palestinians subsequently die and then the Israelis pat themselves on the back for being so moral: look at how moral and ethical we are that we actually warn civilians ahead of time that we are going to bomb them.

In a similar vein, Rabbi Broyde and other Jewish religious authorities indulge themselves in self-congratulatory awe about how immensely moral and ethical Halakha is in this regard: Jewish law has such a great emphasis on protecting civilians that we have an obligation to leave a fourth side open for them; we are so great and ethical.  Yet,  Nahmanides elaborates on this obligation in a way that clearly explains the moral rationale behind “leaving a fourth side open,” saying (as quoted on p.21 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition):

God commanded us that when we lay siege to a city that we leave one of the sides without a siege so as to give them a place to flee to.  It is from this commandment that we learn to deal with compassion even with our enemies at a time of war; in addition, by giving our enemies a place to flee to, they will not charge at us with as much force.

Rabbi Shaul Israeli, considered  “one of the most important rabbis of the Religious Zionist school of thought” and author of the influential monograph on civilians in the Jewish war ethic, noted that Maimonides [alternately known as Rambam] came to the same conclusion as Nahmanides did: the obligation to leave a fourth side open is of military benefit to the Jewish army. Rabbi Gil Student writes:

[Rabbi Shaul Israeli] explains that according to the Rambam this rule is a military tactic, i.e. the best way to create a siege is to leave a side open so the fighters have an escape route and do not need to fight to the end.

This seems to be the real rationale for the rule obligating “a fourth side” open: it facilitates the speedy and efficient removal of a native population, the necessary component of ethnic cleansing.  ”Humanitarian” concern seems to have very little to do with this, since the rule was derived from the Biblical Joshua, who slaughtered the inhabitants of a city when he conquered it.

It is true that Joshua offered some civilian populations the opportunity to flee before he invaded them (which he did by leaving open one side of the city).  But if this was done out of compassion for them, then why did Joshua kill the civilians within the city once he conquered it?  Therefore, it seems that this rule is a tactical maneuver to facilitate ethnic cleansing.

That this has very little to do with “humanitarian concern” can be gleaned from the fact that the rule to leave a side open is only to be enforced when it is beneficial from a tactical standpoint to do so.  Rabbi Shaul Israeli notes that “Rambam [said] this rule is a military tactic” but that also “this is a humanitarian law.” R. Israeli reconciles these two statements by saying: “Therefore, according to the Rambam this rule only applies when the tactic is [militarily] appropriate,” in which case it is understood to be humanitarian too.  How very convenient.

One sees this convenience in modern day Israel: during the illegal siege of Beirut (in Lebanon) by Israeli forces, a heated discussion took place about its legality from a Halakhic perspective.  The overwhelming opinion was that the action was permitted under Jewish law.  Rabbi Shaul Israeli argued that not only was the rule to leave a side open applicable only when it was tactically useful to do so, but also that the rule simply did not apply to “Obligatory wars,” a special class of war under Jewish law.  (There is widespread consensus that Israel’s wars today are considered Obligatory wars.)

Prof. Arye Edrei writes in Divine Spirit and Physical Power:

The message inherent in Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli’s argument is clear: the law to leave the fourth side open is not applicable today.

By linking the rule to tactical benefit, Jewish law is pliable enough to permit facilitation of “forced transfer of Palestinians” (Israeli euphemism for ethnic cleansing) when convenient–and massacre when desired.

Of note is that, for all their self-congratulatory awe at how immensely moral Jewish law is for demanding leaving a side of the city open for civilians, Religious Zionist rabbis are in the lead calling for more regressive methods against Palestinians.  It is certainly the rare exception that any of them would call the Israeli siege of Palestinians sinful or blameworthy.

Even Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who voiced the opposing view that it is imperative to leave a fourth side open in Obligatory wars, believed that “the Israeli army fulfilled this commandment in the siege of Beirut.”  Similarly, the vast majority of Israeli religious leaders gave their blessing to the Gaza blockade.

*  *  *  *  *

From its birth to the present day, Israel has used this warped mentality to facilitate ethnic cleansing and the slaughter of civilians.  During the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948-1949, Zionist forces efficiently emptied over four-hundred Palestinian villages and cities.  Israeli historian Ilan Pappe writes on p.101 of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine that Jewish forces “tried to force a swift departure” of the indigenous Palestinian population “by issuing an ultimatum to the people to leave their homes.”  On p.133, Prof. Pappe writes:

The [Jewish] brigade usually closed in on villages from three flanks, tactically creating an ‘open gate’ on the fourth flank through which they could drive the people out.

This rule (of “leaving the fourth side open”) and its important corollary (whoever refuses to leave “assumes the mantle of combatant”) continue to be exploited by Israel today.  Palestinians who refuse to flee are accused of willingly converting themselves into “human shields.”

Such views are articulated by leading Israeli intellectuals, such as Prof. Asa Kasher (author of the much touted Code of Conduct of the Israel Defense Forces).  Nadene Goldfoot summarizes Prof. Asa Kasher’s views: “If people don’t leave the combat zone they become a human shield for the terrorists and thus becomes part of the war.”  Kasher’s quote can be found in the Jewish Post, in which he accuses a civilian who “doesn’t want to leave” of “turn[ing] into the human shield of the terrorist.”

What could possibly be more morbid than placing the blame on the victim?  But this is exactly what Israel’s apologists do.  To add another layer to the absurdity, they then revel at their own magnificence, at how morally superior they are–how they have The Most Moral Army in the World™.

Is it really any surprise that the Jewish tradition promotes ethnic cleansing, considering that this is an overwhelmingly prevalent theme throughout the Bible?   (See parts 123456-i6-ii6-iii6-iv789-i, and 9-ii of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.)  But always remember: Islam is uniquely violent.

Note: The next page of “Promoting Ethnic Cleansing” will be published shortly.

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (IV)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

We have just seen how the mainstream, Orthodox Jewish rabbinical leadership in Israel justifies collective punishment.  However, as I noted previously, it is important to remember that

Israeli apologists from “liberal, secular” Judaism voice similar ideas.  Case in point: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s greatest defenders from the “liberal, secular” spectrum of the Jewish faith.  Dershowitz is credited as being “Israel’s single most visible defender” and “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”

In a 2002 article in the Jerusalem Post, Prof. Alan Dershowitz argued that the Israeli government should not only destroy Palestinian homes but entire villages, arguing that Israel should

announce the first act of terrorism following the moratorium will result in the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave, and then troops will come in and bulldoze all of the buildings.

The response will be automatic. The order will have been given in advance of the terrorist attacks and there will be no discretion. The point is to make the automatic destruction of the village the fault of the Palestinian terrorists who had advance warnings of the specific consequences of their action. The soldiers would simply be acting as the means for carrying out a previously announced policy of retaliation against a designated target.

Further acts of terrorism would trigger further destruction of specifically named locations. The “waiting list” targets would be made public and circulated throughout the Palestinian-controlled areas. If this automatic policy of destroying targets announced in advance is carried out with the full support of the entire government, including those who are committed to a resumption of the peace process, a clear message will be sent to the Palestinian people: Every time terrorists blow themselves up and kill civilians, they are also blowing up one of their own villages.

In other words, whenever a Palestinian suicide bomber kills a few Israeli civilians, Israel will respond by decimating an entire village.  This is not too different from Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s call to incur Palestinian civilian deaths–”whatever it takes to make them stop.”

Norman Finkelstein writes on pp.175-176 of Beyond Chutzpah:

Indeed, [Alan Dershowitz] advocates not only individual house demolitions, but also “the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations” after each Palestinian attack.  ”The response will be automatic.”  Such massive destruction, he concludes, will further “the noble causes” of reducing terrorism and promoting peace…It is hard to make out any difference between the policy Dershowitz advocates and the Nazi destruction of Lidice, for which he expresses abhorrence–except that Jews, not Germans, would be implementing it.

Lidice was a village destroyed by Nazi forces in retaliation for the murder of a Nazi official.  One finds it difficult not to see the similarity between the policy of retaliating against Palestinians by destroying their villages and what happened to Lidice.  Indeed, this comparison was first invoked by the Israelis themselves.  Finkelstein writes:

The association of destroying villages with Lidice occasionally crops up in the history of Zionism. In his study of the first Arab-Israeli war, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (2004), Benny Morris reports: “As Jewish losses mounted [in December 1947], the policy-makers’ and, in some localities, local Haganah commanders’ hearts grew steadily harder… Binyamin Mintz, the leader of the orthodox Po’alei Agudat Yisrael Party, said with respect to a certain village in the Negev: ‘If the possibility arises of evicting all its inhabitants and destroying it, this must be done.’ (But Sapir, the mayor of Petah Tikva and a major orange-grove owner, argued against destroying whole villages, ‘even small [ones]… This recalls Lidice – [and] here is food for thought.’)” (pp. 73-4)

One thing pro-Israeli apologists cannot tolerate whatsoever is Nazi comparisons (only they are allowed to compare this and that Arab/Muslim leader to Adolf Hitler).  Therefore, it was no surprise that Alan Dershowitz defended himself from these “outrageous” charges, saying: “In Finkelstein’s world, ‘destroying empty houses’ in order to deter terrorism is the equivalent of genocide.”

Of course, Norman Finkelstein never equated this to “genocide.”  Alan Dershowitz’s policy would constitute a war crime, a massacre, and an act of ethnic cleansing (running an entire village out of their homes is ethnic cleansing)–but not genocide.  That Dersowitz supports ethnic cleansing but not genocide is hardly reassuring.  It is the difference of being a supporter of rape but not murder.  Furthermore, Alan Dershowitz’s defense is misleading.  His initial statement clearly stated that “there will be no distinction.”  The obvious and apparent reading of Dershowitz’s words in the Jerusalem Post article clearly indicates that civilians will be killed if they do not vacate their homes–and that these deaths will be blamed on Palestinian terrorists.

One can gauge Alan Dershowitz’s level of morality by noting that he defends himself from accusations of supporting Israeli massacres by clarifying his position as only supporting the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages.  Pick your poison, Prof. Dershowitz; either way, you are a promoter of war crimes.  Both options constitute collective punishment.

*  *  *  *  *

That the “liberal, secular” Dershowitz and the Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Eliyahu endorse collective punishment is hardly surprising when we consider that a majority of Israeli Jews support using methods of collective punishment against Palestinians.  On p.345 of Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein cites a 2003 study (by the Israel pollster Asher Arian) that found 88% of Israelis supporting house demolitions (in the words of Alan Dershowitz on p.xxxv of The Case for Israel ”home destruction is entirely moral”).  It seems that an even greater percentage of Israelis support carpet bombing of civilian populations, evidenced by the overwhelming support for the Gaza Massacre; in this regard, the Jerusalem Post notes one such poll which

found that 92% of Israeli Jews justify the air force’s attacks in Gaza despite the suffering of the civilian population in the Strip and the damage they cause to infrastructure

Support for using nuclear strikes is also high, with an astronomical 72% of Israelis endorsing such tactics; meanwhile, Israel had the “lowest public support for destroying nuclear arms” out of the countries polled.  Compare this to those warlike, militant Iranians: a majority of Iranians (58%) opposed acquiring nuclear weaponry, citing nuclear warfare as “un-Islamic,” with “nearly three out of four (72%) say[ing] they support the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons as stated in the NPT.”

*  *  *  *  *

With such warlike attitudes dominating in Israeli religious and political discourse, it is hardly surprising to find the Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the most widely circulated paper in Israel, running an op-ed from its then editor-in-chief calling “to erase villages,” imploring God: “may their innocents die instead of ours.” Included in this death plea were “[Hizbullah’s] helpers, their collaborators, the ones who turn a blind eye, and all those in contact with Hizbullah.”  They are all guilty.

Such views, widely expressed in Israeli society, are perfectly aligned with the rabbinical tradition.  In The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel, Prof. Ya’akov Blidstein quotes the influential fifteenth-century Talmudic scholar, the Maharal of Prague, who argued:

Even though there are many who did not do [anything], this makes no difference.  As they belong to the same nation which did them harm, [it is] allowed to wage war against them.

The Maharal noted that “thus it is in all wars.”  Blidstein then quotes Rabbi Shaul Israeli who says:

The halakhah allows war with Gentiles, and then this prohibition against causing harm to life is necessary nullified.  Nor have we found in war that there is any obligation to be careful and to discriminate between blood and blood [combatants vs. civilians].

Yet, discriminating “between blood and blood” is the essence of morality in war.  Yoram Dinstein, a world-renowned expert on international law and the laws of war, opines: “The preservation of this sharp dichotomy is the main bulwark against methods of barbarism in modern warfare” (as quoted on p.xvi of Beyond Chutzpah).  Collective punishment is not just morally bankrupt–it is pure barbarism.

Could it then be argued that Sharia jihad Quran Halakha, as understood by Modern Orthodoxy, is barbaric?  Or that it is incompatible with the just war theory?  The Yesha Rabbinical Council of Israel (which oversees the Jewish communities in “Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip”) certainly thinks so, issuing the following statement:

According to Jewish law, during a time of battle and war, there is no such term as ‘innocents’ of the enemy.

All of the discussions on Christian morality are weakening the spirit of the army and the nation and are costing us in the blood of our soldiers and civilians.

But always remember: it is Islam that is so uniquely violent.

Note: The next part of this series will be published within 24-72 hours.

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (II)

Far from teaching an ethos of forgiveness, Jewish law–as understood by Orthodox Judaism in Israel–encourages revenge and retaliation.  In this vein did Chief Rabbi of Safed in Israel, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, call for “state-sanctioned revenge” against Arabs.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported:

The chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, is calling on the government to carry out “state-sanctioned revenge” against Arabs in order to, in his words, restore Israel’s deterrence.

Rabbi Eliyahu bellowed:

It’s time to call the child by its name: Revenge, revenge, revenge. We mustn’t forget. We have to take horrible revenge for the terrorist attack at Mercaz Harav yeshiva.

He said this was necessary because the Arabs “understand very well the language of revenge.”  It is, of course, a widely held (racist) belief in Israel that Arabs understand only one language: violence.

Once again, the urge of pro-Israeli apologists in the United States is to claim that Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu is some fringe, radical element.  And once again, this would be misleading.  Not only does Eliyahu hold the position of Chief Rabbi in Safed, a city in the Northern District of Israel, but he is widely recognized as one of the leaders of Religious Zionism.  Israel National News, part of Arutz Sheva (an Israeli media network aligned with Religious Zionism), refers to Eliyahu as one of the “top rabbis in the religious-Zionist camp.”  Ynetnews, the English website of Israel’s most-read newspaper, calls him “a prominent religious Zionism leader.”  Haaretz refers to R. Eliyahu as one of a group of “prominent rabbis.”  And TorahMusings.com finds him prominent enough to reference for religious guidance.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu argued for a policy of ”hanging the children of the terrorist who carried out the attack in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva from a tree.”  (How much different is this than official Israeli policy of destroying the homes of (alleged) terrorists, with their children in it?)

R. Eliyahu went further and called for carpet bombing against civilian populations, saying:

And if they do not stop after 1,000 [deaths] then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s father, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, voiced similar views, arguing in a letter that “all civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty.”  He further argued that “there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza…” R. Mordechai Eliyahu opined:

According to Jewish war ethics, an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals.  In Gaza, the entire populace is responsible because they do nothing to stop the firing of Kassam rockets.

The late Mordechai Eliyahu (1929-2010) was the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel.  He was the religious head of the entire Sephardic Jewish population in the country.  Would our opponents claim that he too was a marginal fringe, radical character?

This highly-esteemed Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel had this to say about “revenge:”

Even when we seek revenge, it is important to make one thing clear – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs. The Talmud states that if gentiles rob Israel of silver they will pay it back in gold, and all that is taken will be paid back in folds, but in cases like these there is nothing to pay back, since as I said – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.

An article in the Jerusalem Post summarizes these abhorrent views [formatting note: I have broken up the article into paragraphs to make it more readable and less of an eyesore]:

Eliyahu advocates carpet bombing Gaza
Says there is no moral prohibition against killing civilians to save Jews.

All civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty for Kassam attacks on Sderot, former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu has written in a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Eliyahu ruled that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings.

The letter, published in Olam Katan [Small World], a weekly pamphlet to be distributed in synagogues nationwide this Friday, cited the biblical story of the Shechem massacre (Genesis 34) and Maimonides’ commentary (Laws of Kings 9, 14) on the story as proof texts for his legal decision.

According to Jewish war ethics, wrote Eliyahu, an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals.  In Gaza, the entire populace is responsible because they do nothing to stop the firing of Kassam rockets.

The former chief rabbi also said it was forbidden to risk the lives of Jews in Sderot or the lives of IDF soldiers for fear of injuring or killing Palestinian noncombatants living in Gaza. Eliyahu could not be reached for an interview.

However, Eliyahu’s son, Shmuel Eliyahu, who is chief rabbi of Safed, said his father opposed a ground troop incursion into Gaza that would endanger IDF soldiers. Rather, he advocated carpet bombing the general area from which the Kassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life.

“If they don’t stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand,” said Shmuel Eliyahu. “And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.”

In the letter, Eliyahu quoted from Psalms. “I will pursue my enemies and apprehend them and I will not desist until I have eradicated them.” Eliyahu wrote that “This is a message to all leaders of the Jewish people not to be compassionate with those who shoot [rockets] at civilians in their houses.”

As we have seen, these views are held by mainstream Modern Orthodox Judaism, enshrined in War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, that notable work produced by the leading Orthodox Jewish luminaries from all over the world.  Controversy surrounded Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s statements only because of the way he expressed them: too directly and too bluntly; more importantly, he was unfortunate enough to catch media attention in a time Israel was on the receiving end of international criticism.

R. Eliyahu clarified his position, saying:

I’m not talking about individual people in particular [to take revenge], I’m talking about the state.

This clarification makes it clear that Eliyahu’s stance lines up properly with Jewish orthodoxy.  Prof. Gerald J. Blidstein writes in The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel:

The killing of civilians is acceptable, provided it is initiated by sovereign authority [the Israeli government], not by individuals taking the law (quite literally) into their own hands.

Mainstream Orthodoxy does not differ with the “Jewish Underground” in principle over the killing of Arab civilians.  Instead, the difference is only in that the latter permits the individual to carry out these acts, whereas the former restricts that “right” to the government.

Certainly, revenge in war is something accepted by Religious Zionism.  Rabbi Moshe Zemer writes in Evolving Halakhah:

Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli’s summary leaves no room for doubt: It follows that there is a place for reprisal actions and revenge against the enemies of Israel and that such action falls into the category of an Obligatory War.

Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, like Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, justifies collective punishment by invoking Biblical narratives.  In one particular story, seven innocents are killed in retaliation for an injustice. Writes Broyde on pp.5-6 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

The Talmud makes no mention of the fact that the underlying act [of retaliation]–the murder of seven absolutely innocent people as an act of retaliation–violates the Jewish rules of murder.  The reason that is so is clear.  This retaliatory conduct in wartime does not violate any such prohibition.

Broyde concludes that “retaliation when done to teach a lesson is not a general violation of Jewish law.”  Rabbi Norman Lamm adds helpfully (on p.235):

In contemporary society, vengeance is considered morally objectionable.  Recently, however, scientists have discovered revenge can be quite “normal” and often plays a positive role in human relations.

This “positive role” includes the merciless slaughter of innocent civilians.

Next: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (IV)

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (II)

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

In The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel, Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein cites Rabbi Yoezer Ariel’s opinion that the Israeli government–but not the Israeli citizen–is permitted to target and kill civilians in order to incur a collective punishment on the enemy population.  Blidstein notes that this is accepted as the “moderate” opinion–and the mainstream one–in Religious Zionism.  It is moderate in relation to the more extreme view taken by the Jewish Underground, which permits individual Israeli citizens to take the law into their own hands.

Blidstein writes that Rabbi Yoezer Ariel’s view allowed

for the deliberate killing of citizens in times of war.  However, the term “at times of war” is itself critical.  According to Rabbi Ariel, war may only be conducted by “a king or by the public, whose authority is like that of a king,” a condition already hinted at in the words of Rabbi H. D. Halevi.  There is no state of war without such an authorized decision [from the king or its equivalent]; hence, “an individual may not declare war [on his own].”  Rabbi Ariel interprets Maimonides’s references to the event [of Dina] in a similar way.

Blidstein concludes:

On the whole, then, the thrust of [Rabbi Yoezer] Ariel’s article is pragmatic, not principled.  The killing of civilians is acceptable, provided it is initiated by sovereign authority, not by individuals taking the law (quite literally) in their own hands.

What is more disturbing is that the great Maimonides does not restrict this permission to the government; writes Blidstein:

Rabbi [Yoezer] Ariel admits that this approach is not shared by all the medieval authorities.  It does not reflect, for example, the Maimonidean attitude toward the subject; Maimonides allows–and even encourages–the individual to act. However, Ariel argues, the vast majority of the rishonim did not concur with this view, recognizing as legitimate such action only on the part of the state, and not the individual.  This is true even if study of the sources which he cites indicates a more complex study.

So, we have an accepted, minority view–held by Maimonides no less–that individuals (such as Israeli settlers) are permitted to kill civilians as a form of collective punishment.  Meanwhile, the so-called “moderate,” mainstream opinion is that this right rests with the Israeli state alone.  (Note, however, that Blidstein is hesitant to agree with Ariel’s claim that “the vast majority of the rishonim [the “classical” halakhic authorities] did not concur with this view,” arguing that the reality is much more “complex.”  What one can glean from this is that there were other rabbinical authorities of the past who permitted individual Jews to kill non-Jews, who can be quoted by the Jewish Underground types.)

It should also be pointed out in The Orthodox Forum’s annual book War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Rabbi Michael J. Broyde rejects Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s view that collective punishment (even against babies) is prohibited.  Indeed, Prof. Ya’akov Blidstein notes that Goren’s view was not taken seriously by other Religious Zionist rabbis because it “is not based upon Talmudic sources,” which “naturally weakens its halakhic impact and authority.”

Rabbi Shlomo Goren was the first Chief Rabbi of the IDF.  Although he had some very extreme views (such as calling it a “tragedy” that Jews did not “blow up” the Dome of the Rock Mosque and Al-Aqsa Mosque–a view held by the Jewish Underground), with regard to “collective punishment” he held the non-Talmudic view.

Yet, by Operation Cast Lead (the Gaza War) in 2009, the IDF rabbinate had shifted to the right.  The new Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Avichai Rontzki, issued statements in line with the majority view among Religious Zionists, commanding soldiers that “no mercy should be shown” to the enemy (the Gazan population).  An “IDF rabbinate publication” quoted the works of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner saying “When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers.”  To make it very clear that “the enemy” referred to here was the civilian population, the IDF publication likened the Palestinians to the Bible’s Philistines, who were exterminated to clear the land for the Jews.

When an Israeli human rights group cried foul at this IDF publication, the Israeli government scrambled to do damage control.  Naturally, their “investigation” claimed that the publication was distributed only in a few isolates places and had not been properly vetted.  Western news outlets reassured us that Rabbi Shlomo Aviner was just an “ultra-nationalist,” a fringe, radical element in Israel.

Yet, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is not some fringe, radical element in Israel.  Instead, he is a well-respected rabbi of Modern Orthodox Judaism in Israel.  As the Jerusalem Post notes, R. Aviner “is considered one of the spiritual leaders of the Religious Zionist movement.”  The Jewish Daily Forward calls him “one of the leading Religious Zionist rabbis.”  Ynetnews, the English website of Israel’s most-read newspaper, calls him ”one of Religious Zionism’s leading rabbis.”  Haaretz calls him “a leading Yesha rabbi” and “one of religious Zionism’s most influential rabbis.” Israel National News, part of Arutz Sheva (an Israeli media network aligned with Religious Zionism), calls Aviner “a well-respected rabbinical authority within much of the religious-Zionist sector.”

TorahMusings.com, an extremely popular blog supervised by Orthodox rabbis, says:

To place R. [Shlomo] Aviner into contemporary society, he is on the left wing of right wing Religious Zionists.

Left wing?  One can only imagine what the right wing is.  In other words, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is perfectly in the mainstream of Religious Zionism–nay, he is one of its “spiritual leaders.”

R. Aviner is well-respected in Orthodox circles.  He has written articles that appear on many mainstream Jewish and mainstream Orthodox Jewish websites, including The Jerusalem PostOrthodox Union website (ou.com), Israel Nation News, and TorahMusings.

Aside from this, of course, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is the rosh yeshiva (dean) of the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva, a Religious Zionist Talmudic academy in Jerusalem that fundraisers in the United States.  It is the same institution where Rabbi Abraham Kook, the “main ideologue of modern religious Zionism,” sent his son to study.  Shlomo Aviner is also the Chief Rabbi of Beit El.  He can hardly be considered a fringe character.

Indeed, R. Shlomo Aviner moves in the same circles as the Modern Orthodox rabbis of The Orthodox Forum and the authors of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.  On TorahMusing’s website, we find that Rabbi Shlomo Aviner shared the same podium in New York state with none other than Rabbi Michael J. Broyde and Rabbi Norman Lamm.

Yet, when this controversy broke about the IDF’s chief rabbi using a publication with quotes from Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Israel’s defenders in the West tried to portray R. Aviner as some “ultra-nationalist” fringe lunatic.  Yet, this is clearly misleading.  One should hardly be surprised, considering that I have found virtually the exact same views in the book written by The Orthodox Forum, which is the combined work of Orthodox Jewish experts from around the world.  The only difference, of course, is that (1) R. Aviner’s wording is more direct and frank, whereas The Orthodox Forum says the same thing but in a more “sophisticated,” intellectual way; (2) Aviner was unfortunate enough to catch the media’s attention during the Gaza controversy.  It is the latter reason that forced Israeli apologists to throw him under the bus and take one for the team.

*  *  *  *  *

What then does Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the “left-wing” of the Religious Zionist right, argue?  He argues that “Purity of Arms” applies only to Jewish civilians.  He says on his very own website (emphasis added):

We are all for “Purity of Arms” and for saving citizen lives. But which civilians? Our civilians

Aviner concludes by saying: “They are guilty, we are not.”  He also extends “purity of arms” to Jewish soldiers (but not to Palestinian civilians).  In a question and answer section, Rabbi Aviner argues that “purity of arms” refers to protecting the lives of Jewish soldiers, not to Palestinians.  He warns: “Don’t tarnish the purity of arms with the blood of our own soldiers.”

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner writes:

The Mechilta (halachic midrash) says “The best of the non-Jews should be killed.”

He clarifies that “this statement refers to a time of war,” at which time “even a ‘pleasant’-seeming non-Jew is killed.”  He justifies carpet bombing civilian populations, saying “it is permissible according to the Halachah based on the law of ‘rodef.’”  The entire civilian population, including children and babies, acquires the title of “rodefim” and is thus licit to kill.

Where have we heard all this before?  In fact, it is the exact same argument heard in “the contemporary halakhic discussion in Israel.” Is it not misleading then to categorize Rabbi Shlomo Aviner’s views on this subject to be the rantings of some fringe “ultra-nationalist” extremist?  R. Aviner did not make this view out of thin air; rather, he points out that ”this is also the ruling of Ha-Rav Shaul Yisraeli in the book ‘Amud Ha-Yemini’ at the end of chap. 16.”  He is here citing the tract written by Rabbi Shaul Israeli, who justified the Qibya Massacre in 1953, in which two-thirds of the victims were women and children.   R. Israeli’s influential tract has been used to justify killing civilians from the early years following Israel’s birth all the way to the Gaza Massacre in 2008-2009.

Next: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #1 Civilians Are Really Combatants

As I documented in the previous article, the first way in which Jewish law justifies the targeting and killing of civilians is by classifying civilians as combatants if they indirectly take part in the war effort–even if by “mere words.”

But what about civilians who neither directly or indirectly participate in the war effort?  Surely they will be protected, right?

Not so.

Jewish law permits targeting civilians who “passively” support the war effort.  A “hostile civilian population” is guilty of “passive” support if they fail to root out the combatants/terrorists living in their midst.  If the city’s population does not do this, then they are all liable to be killed–including women, children, and babies.

In War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, the highly esteemed rabbi and professor Michael J. Broyde finds support for collective punishment in the Bible: on page 6, he cites the story of the Rape of Dina.  Dina is raped by a man named Shekhem, and the entire city of Shekhem is put to the sword for this crime.  (The rapist, Shekhem, has the same name as the city he lives in.)  Broyde quotes Maimonides as saying that “the inhabitants of Shekhem [the city] were liable to be killed since Shekhem [the person] stole [Dina], and the inhabitants saw and knew this and did nothing.”

Rabbi Broyde reflects on this story by saying:

Consequently, if one is in a situation where innocent people are being killed by terrorist acts that cannot be stopped by catching the perpetators themselves, and those terrorists are supported by a civilian population that passively protects them and does not condemn them, collective punishment might well be permitted by Jewish law.

Broyde permits the “collective punishment of vast segments of society for the active misconduct of the few.” In other words, civilian populations are “liable to be killed” if terrorists commit “active misconduct” and they [“the inhabitants”] “saw and knew this but did nothing.”  If the civilian population does “not condemn them [the terrorists],” then they [the civilians] can be killed.

Rabbi Broyde invokes the views of two of the most authoritative rabbinical authorities in Jewish history, Maimonides and Nahmanides.  Broyde notes: “Both share the basic approach of permitting collective punishment.” He writes on p.6: “Maimonides rules that…all members of society may be punished,” and on p.7 that Nahmanides would “permit regulations that include collective punishment.”

This view, justifying collective punishment, is promoted within the first few pages of the book War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.  Prof. David Shatz writes on p.xiv of the Introduction that “Jewish sources present a view of jus in bello [conduct of war] that is more permissive than many secular accounts,” and that Jewish law permits

imposing collective punishment on vast segments of an enemy society in response to the misconduct of a few, as could happen when terrorist perpetrators escape capture.

He goes on to say that “the Jewish polity may licitly embark on hostilities in a way that might involve causing civilian deaths.”  This allowance is beyond just collateral damage–which, under Jewish law, is a given–and encompasses civilian populations that are targeted as punishment for “passively” supporting terrorism.  This “passive” support is also to be understood differently than “indirectly” supporting terrorism (“material support”).  Passive support refers to mere inaction: if the PLO and the rest of the Palestinians cannot stop terrorists from firing rockets, then they are all guilty and can be killed via collective punishment–including women, children, and babies.

*  *  *  *  *

This view is supported by Torah MiTzion, the national and international Religious Zionist movement that promotes Torah study with service in the Israel Defense Forces, providing a “generation of Religious Zionism, balancing between safra v’sayfa (book and sword).” In an article entitled Jewish Law in Our Times, the legal adviser of the group asks rhetorically “Can Collective Punishment Against Fighters and Citizens Be Justified?”, a question which he answers in the affirmative, saying:

Whenever a battle is waged by one nation against another, there is no need to differentiate between one person and another, even if many members of that nation do not actually take part in the actual fighting.

The author goes on to say that “if we are faced with a situation defined as war, there is no obligation to differentiate between fighter and citizen.”  The principle of discrimination simply does not apply in times of war.  This is especially true “because the State of Israel has been in a perpetual state of (halachically defined) war ever since its inception.”  He then quotes the esteemed Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin) who said that a person is only punished for spilling blood

at a time when it is otherwise appropriate to act with brotherhood [peacetime]. But this is not the case during war, when it is a time to hate. Then it is a time to kill and there is no punishment whatsoever for so doing, because this is the way of the world.

*  *  *  *  *

As I discussed earlier, Rabbi Shaul Israeli’s “thoughtful article” is hearkened as “the starting point” for discussion of “war-related topics” in the Jewish religion; in it, R. Israeli uses a complex religio-legal argument to justify collective punishment.  He invokes the Jewish law of din rodef–the law of the pursuer–which basically says that if a person is chasing you trying to kill you, you can kill him first.  It stands to reason, therefore, that a bystander could also kill the rodef (pursuer) as well, in order to save your life.  In fact, it may even be considered obligatory to do so.  This religious law is used to justify killing civilians by transforming entire civilian populations into rodefim [pursuers].

In The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel, Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein notes the trend in halakhic circles to use “the definition of a hostile population as a rodef [pursuer], direct or indirect.”  Blidstein notes:

There is also a tendency in contemporary halakhah to categorize as rodef a population that is “supportive and encouraging” of hostile, murderous actions.

Once dutifully transformed into rodef, the entire civilian population becomes licit, or even mandatory, to kill.  This justification was given for the Qibya Massacre, in which 69 Palestinians were slaughtered (of which two-thirds were women and children).  Writes Blidstein:

In his essay, Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli argues that a group of civilians, such as the residents of Qibia, who were notorious for their support and encouragement of terrorist acts, are likewise to be treated as rodefim [pursuers].

He goes on to say:

Rabbi Yisraeli concludes from this that even those citizens who support and encourage acts of terror, for example, are considered rodefim, and one may deal with them in kind.  In so ruling, however, he has offered many people a very far-reaching justification for aggressive treatment of civilian populations…[He] is speaking of people who provide the murderer with support and encouragement, but do not take an active, directly conspiratorial part in the act itself.

He is also speaking of those who give “passive support” to terrorism, i.e. doing nothing other than happening to live in the same city as the terrorists.  Unless you actively hand over the terrorists or their names to the Israeli authorities, it is assumed that you are guilty–you are a rodef–as well.

*  *  *  *  *

Instead of protecting civilians from the killers, Jewish law seeks to protect the killers of civilians (by shielding them from prosecution). Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein entitles one sub-section of his article as “Protection of the Aggressor,” in which he discusses this disturbing issue.  Once the civilian population has been deemed rodefem, Jewish soldiers may kill them and are to be protected from all prosecution for doing so.  This is because the rodef–in this case the civilian population–is legally considered a “dead man” and their “blood is like water.”  Therefore, lethal force may be used, even when less than that may have sufficed. Writes Blidstein:

One who deliberately kills the rodef is in any event exempt from punishment by the court because the “pursuer” is defined as gavra katila–an individual who is already considered as if dead in a legal sense…

Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli follows a similar line in his article on the Qibia incident, but arrives at a more far-reaching conclusion, equating the license granted the bystander with that of the person threatened.  Not only is the bystander who kills the pursuer (when he could have used less lethal means) exempt from punishment; he is allowed to behave in such a manner ab initio [from the beginning]. “…When he [the rodef] has been warned and continues to pursue…there is no rule at all requiring one to take care to use non-lethal means, for then [spilling] his blood is permitted, and one may kill him by virtue of the rule, that his blood is like water.”

In times of war, Halakha accepts collective punishment as acceptable, even when applied to the “innocent child.”  Writes Prof. Blidstein:

Behavior in war, according to Rabbi [Ya’akov] Ariel, is based upon the collective identity of the members of the participating nations.  In this organic view, even the innocent child is an organ of the greater body of the nation.  Thus, one waging war against this body is allowed to harm the child as well, just as the fighting body may itself demand of all its organs that they devote themselves to the war effort.  This argument dismisses the question of the personal innocence of the one injured–on one side or the other–as irrelevant.

Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel reasoned:

Just as in a personal struggle…it is your right to protect yourself by striking the soft belly [of the aggressor]…so in war against the collective, you may strike those organs of the [enemy] nation that seem [appropriate] to you, in order to prevent a strike on the part of other organs.

The civilians of the enemy nation (including children and babies) become licit to kill, just as “the Biblical Simeon and Levi killed all of the inhabitants of Shechem (Gen. 34), including those who had nothing to do with the rape of Dinah.”

On p.24 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Rabbi Broyde writes of Rabbi Ariel:

War is the collective battle of societies, R. Ariel posits, and thus there are no innocent civilians, even babes in their mothers’ arms are to be killed, as harsh as that sounds. [96]

In footnote 96, Broyde gives his view, agreeing with the statement but limiting the right of killing “innocent civilians, even babes in their mothers’ arms” to the [Israeli] government.  Here is footnote 96, found on page 40:

96.  R. Yaakov Ariel, “Haganah Atzmit (ha-intifida ba-halakhah),” Tehumin 10:62-75 (1991).  He basis his view on the famous comments of the Maharal on the biblical incident of Shekhem, which defend the killing of the innocent civilians in that conflict along such a rationale.  R. Shlomo Goren, “Combat Morality and the Halakhah,” Crossroads 1:211-231 (1987) comes to the opposite conclusion.  See also the article of R. Yoezer Ariel (brother of Yaakov Ariel), who also reaches a different conclusion; R. Yoezer Ariel, “Ha’onashat Nokhrim,” Tehumin 5:350-363 (1979). In this writer’s view, R. Yoezer Ariel’s paper correctly distinguishes between individual and national goals in this matter.

As can be garnered from Broyde’s own words, R. Yoezer Ariel agrees with his brother R. Ya’akov Ariel in principle, permitting targeting and killing innocent civilians (including children and even babies).  He does, however, limit this right to the government (the Israeli state), not to individuals (such as Israeli settlers).  This is the most popular view among Religious Zionists: the Israeli state is allowed to impose collective punishment, targeting and killing “hostile civilian populations.”

Should we call these views representative of The Halakha (Jewish law), just as Zionist Islamophobes insist on categorizing one particular interpretation of Islamic law as The Sharia?  Should we smear all of Judaism because of such views, just as Zionist Islamophobes would smear all of Islam for the views of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Muslims?

Note: Page II of “Collective Punishment is Kosher” will be published within 24-72 hours…

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #1: Civilians Are Really Combatants

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

The first way in which Jewish law justifies targeting and killing civilians lies at the very heart of the issue.  The starting point of the just war theory (and international law) in regards to jus in bello (just conduct during war) revolves around the definition of combatant and civilian.  Jewish law (Halakha), as understood by mainstream Modern Orthodox Judaism in Israel, utilizes very different definitions for these two words.

International law, as enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, narrowly defines combatants as those who take direct part in hostilities of an armed conflict.  The T.M.C. Asser instituut in The Hague notes:

Article 3 [of the Fourth Geneva Convention] indicates that during non-international armed conflicts the persons who enjoy protection against the various forms of violence and infringement mentioned are ‘[p]ersons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause…’

Similarly, the following groups are protected under international law:

…medical officers, corpsmen, chaplains, contractors, civilian war correspondents and armed forces personnel who are unable to engage in combat because of wounds, sickness, shipwreck or capture (ie. POWs)…

In essence, “direct participation in hostilities” refers to using a weapon. This is the fundamental underpinning of international law with regard to distinction and protection of civilians.

Jewish law, on the other hand, deems anyone who indirectly ”participates” in the hostilities to be a combatant and therefore fair game.  Those who ”materially contribute to the war effort” can be licitly targeted and killed.  On p.xvii of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Prof. David Shatz writes:

[Rabbi Michael] Broyde also raises the issue of who is a combatant.  In his view, Halakha maintains that anyone who materially contributes to the war effort is a combatant and thus a fair target.

Based on this “definition,” the modern-day state of Israel takes a very expansive view of “combatant,” legitimizing the targeting and killing of Palestinian civilians.  We clearly see an example of the great latitude taken in this regard by modern-day Jewish religious authorities in the case of the Qibya Massacre.  Rabbi Shaul Israeli, considered  “one of the most important rabbis of the Religious Zionist school of thought,” penned one of the most influential monographs on this subject, entitled “The Qibia Incident in Light of Halakhah.”  In it, he legitimized indiscriminate violence against civilians.  This tract, as we shall see, has defined the Religious Zionist view towards the issue of distinction.

The esteemed rabbi and professor Michael J. Broyde writes on p.22 [note: all citations are from War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, unless otherwise indicated]:

Indeed, the earliest modern discussion of this topic was presented by R. Shaul Israeli in 1954 in response to the killing of civilians by Israel Defense Forces Unit 101 at Kibia (Qibya) in 1953.  R. Israeli argues that civilians who conspire to assist in the undertaking of military operations can be killed through the pursuer rationale, as they are materially aiding the murderers.

He continues:

Indeed, R. Israeli goes even further, and seems to adopt the view that those who simply extend support to terror–by encouraging acts of violence with mere words–can be labeled combatants as well. This is not, R. Israeli posits, any form of collective punishment, as only people who are guilty (whether of murder or conspiracy to commit murder) are actually being punished.

The reference to “the killing of civilians by Israel Defense Forces Unit 101 at Kibia (Qibya) in 1953″ refers to the Qibya Massacre, in which sixty-nine Arabs were slaughtered–of which two-thirds were women and children.  Prof. Avi Shlaim, a prominent Israeli historian at Oxford University, writes on p.91 of The Iron Wall:

[Acting defence minister Pinhas] Lavon’s order was executed by Unit 101, a small commando unit created in August to carry out special tasks. Unit 101 was commanded by an aggressive and ambitious young major named Ariel (“Arik”) Sharon.  Sharon’s order was to penetrate Qibya, blow up houses, and inflict heavy casualties on its inhabitants. The full and macabre story of what happened at Qibya was revealed only during the morning after the attack.  The village had been reduced to a pile of rubble: forty-five houses had been blown up, and sixty-nine civilians, two-thirds of them women and children, had been killed. Sharon and his men claimed that they believed that all the inhabitants had run away and that they had no idea that anyone was hiding inside the houses.  The UN observer who inspected the scene reached a different conclusion: ”One story was repeated time after time: the bullet splintered door, the body sprawled across the threshold, indicating that the inhabitants had been forced by heavy fire to stay inside until their homes were blown up over them.”

There are too many issues to comment on here.  There is the obvious inhumanity and depravity of the IDF–the Most Moral Army in the World™–firing upon civilians to keep them in their houses and then blowing up those houses on top of them.  Prof. Martin E. Marty writes on p.286 of Fundamentalisms Observed that, in the context of war, Halakha would indeed permit tactics “such as blowing up homes of parents of Arabs who harm Jews.”

What is truly amazing, however, is that this scenario–the Israelis blowing up and bulldozing Palestinian homes–is a pattern repeated throughout Israel’s short history.  All this was done to terrorize the Palestinian population, in order to get more Palestinians to flee their homes to make way for Israeli settlers.  This perfectly fits the quintessential definition of terrorism, yet all we ever hear about is Hamas this or Hamas that.

Then, there is the fact that the war criminal responsible for carrying out this massacre, Ariel Sharon, would later be elected Israel’s prime minister.  Such is the moral state of the modern day state of Israel–war criminals and terrorists are voted into power.  One continually hears about how evil the Palestinians are for voting in Hamas to power, while hearing almost nothing about how Israelis have routinely voted terrorists and war criminals into office.

Another interesting thing to comment on is that discussions of Ariel Sharon and Israel’s war crimes focus on events such as the Sabra and Shatila Massacre, in which Israel only played a support role.  It is my opinion that the focus on the Sabra and Shatila Massacre is a mechanism that deflects attention away from those massacres that were directly carried out by Israeli soldiers.  There are countless such instances, so why the emphasis on Sabra and Shatila?

In any case, it was following the Qibya Massacre that Rabbi Shaul Israeli published a monograph entitled “The Qibia Incident in Light of Halakhah,” which articulated the halakhist view towards the targeting and killing of “hostile civilian populations.”  It was reprinted with some expansions under the title “Military Actions for the Protection of the State” in chapter 16 of Amud ha’Yamini.  This work has had lasting influence in modern halakhic discussions in Israel, and came to form the majority view of the Religious Zionist movement, which is the dominant form of Orthodox Judaism in Israel.  On p.32 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Rabbi Michael Broyde refers to Rabbi Shaul Israeli’s article as a “thoughtful article” that is “the starting point” for such discussions. Commenting on a vast collection of Jewish articles on “war-related issues,” Broyde notes that “the overwhelming number of [them] agree with the starting point of R. Israeli.”

But perhaps we ought to look at a dissenting opinion to see what is contained in Rabbi Shaul’s tract.  Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein published an article entitled The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel in which he criticizes R. Israeli’s view, saying:

[Rabbi Shaul] Yisraeli develops a systematic and extensive discussion concerning the issue of the attitude to be taken toward a hostile civilian population that supports and encourages violent, murderous acts.

He notes that Rabbi Israeli legalized the killing of entire civilian populations “for their support and encouragement of terrorist acts,” instead of just those actually involved in terrorist acts. ”People who provide the murderer with support and encouragement, but do not take an active, directly conspiratorial part in the act itself” are licit to kill.  Therefore, “‘supportive and encouraging’ civilian population[s]” become “combatants” and can be killed en masse.

Prof. Blidstein notes that “the exact meaning of the terms ‘encourage’ and/or ‘support’” are left wide open.  That the state of Israel takes the widest possible meaning is apparent by the incident in which the view itself was first articulated by R. Israeli: in the Qibya Massacre, “two-thirds of them [were] women and children.”  How children and babies can be guilty of “encouragement and support” of terrorism and be licitly killed by the Israeli military is as much a mystery to me as the Canaanite or Amalekite children and babies being killed in the Bible for the “crime of idolatry.”

Blidstein concludes:

It seems to me that the general direction revealed here is quite clear.  Most of the authors surveyed read the halakhic sources in a manner that allows for extremely forceful action toward various Arab populations, whether these populations encourage and support hostile activity, or only have Arab ethnic identity.

He notes ruefully:

We have also encountered authors who attempted to limit this tendency, but these seem to be less than fully effective in their treatment, and are, within the school surveyed, in a minority.

Prof. Blidstein says his “general thesis” is

that there is a tendency in this school [Religious Zionism] to legitimate more aggressive activity against the civilian population, and to read rather narrowly those restrictions intended to limit and circumscribe such activity.

The fast and loose way in which Israel strips non-combatants of their protected civilian status is very disturbing.  Here, we have the justification of a brutal massacre of 69 civilians of which two-thirds were women and children–an act of state terrorism in its purest form–based on the claim that these were “civilians who conspire[d] to assist the undertaking of military operations”–those who supposedly “simply extend[ed] support to terror–by encourag[ing] acts of violence with mere words.”  In reality, however, there is no way to reasonably determine even this much, and it is simply assumed that the civilians “encouraged and supported” terrorism.

The truth is that the state of Israel routinely strips civilians of their protected status by claiming that they “materially contribute[d] to the war effort.”  This is a very easy charge to levy, requiring very little proof and certainly the issue of proof becomes moot when the civilians have already been killed.  It is especially convenient considering that most indigenous populations indirectly support resistance movements against the occupiers, and the Palestinians can hardly be expected to be different in this regard.

By this all-encompassing definition of combatant, the American women factory workers during World War II who produced parts for planes and tanks would be classified as “combatants” and become licit to kill.  By this definition, American journalists who wrote in support of the war against Nazi Germany would become “combatants” and become fair game.  The millions of American citizens who bought war bonds would similarly become “combatants.”  When we apply this standard to ourselves, it seems truly unthinkable, immoral, and evil.  But when we apply it to Palestinians, it becomes something acceptable.

*  *  *  *  *

To be fair, Israeli apologists from “liberal, secular” Judaism voice similar ideas.  Case in point: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s greatest defenders from the “liberal, secular” spectrum of the Jewish faith.  Dershowitz is credited as being “Israel’s single most visible defender” and “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”

One would hope that as a law professor and self-professed liberal Alan Dershowitz would adhere to international law by respecting the idea of distinction and protection of civilians.  Unfortunately, one would be quickly disabused of such a notion by reading Dershowitz’s writings.  He argues that the word civilian is “increasingly meaningless.”  Dr. Norman Finkelstein documents Dershowitz’s morally repugnant ideas on p.xvi of Beyond Chutzpah:

The main target of Dershowitz’s “reassessment of the laws of war” has been the fundamental distinction in the laws of armed conflict between civilians and combatants.  “The preservation of this sharp dichotomy,” Yoram Dinstein has written [a world-renowned expert on international law and the laws of war], “is the main bulwark against methods of barbarism in modern warfare.”  However, ridiculing what he deems the “increasingly meaningless word ‘civilian’” and asserting that, in the case of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, “‘civilianality’ is often a matter of degree, rather than a bright line,” Dershowitz proposes to replace the civilian-combatant dichotomy with a “continuum of civilianality”:

Near the most civilian end of this continuum are the pure innocents–babies, hostages and others completely uninvolved; at the more combatant end are civilians who willingly harbor terrorists, provide material resources and serve as human shields; in the middle are those who support the terrorists politically, or spiritually. [189]

[189] He goes so far as to suggest that combatants might deserve more solicitude than civilians in time of war, depending on “the precise nature of the civilian’s ‘civilianality.’” (Preemption, p.247)

Prof. Alan Dershowitz is but one voice in a pro-Israeli movement trying to “revise” international law in order to strip civilians of their protected status (more on this later).  By “revising” the definition of “civilian” to include those who provide “indirect” assistance to the war effort–or who “materially support” the war (even if by “mere words”)–these pro-Israeli defenders are taking a sledgehammer to international law.

One can imagine the absolute outrage if the shoe was on the other foot–if pro-Palestinian groups were justifying the targeting of Israeli civilians for their “material support” of the war effort and military occupation.  If, in the words of these Orthodox Jewish authors, “mere words” in support of the combatants stripped civilians of their protected status–or if, in the words of the “liberal, secular” Jewish law professor Alan Dershowitz, “politically[] or spiritually” supporting the war effort reduced one’s “civilianality”–then the majority of the Israeli population would no longer be considered purely civilian; in that case, wouldn’t Hamas or Hezbollah be legitimated in targeting and killing them?

But as Dr. Finkelstein notes on p.xvii, Dershowitz “imagines that this revision won’t apply to Israel because ‘the line between Israeli soldiers and civilians is relatively clear.’”  Finkelstein asks:

But is this true?  Israel has a civilian army, which means a mere call-up slip or phone call separates each adult Israeli male from a combatant.

As Finkelstein quips presciently on p.xviii, “it remains to consider Dershowitz’s own location on the continuum of civilianality.”  Wouldn’t being “Israel’s single most visible defender” constitute providing “material support” to Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinians?  Using the elusive and expansive word “material support” one is able to strip most civilians of their protected status.

During the Gaza War, in which Israel massacred scores of civilians, the Israelis used this “extended definition” of “combatant.”  Amos Guiora, who served as a military lawyer in Israel for 19 years, wrote:

Israel declared war on an organisation [Hamas], and by extension on all those involved in that organization – active and passive alike.

Prof. Alan Dershowitz is certainly correct about one thing: Israel’s apologists, from the Orthodox Jewish to secular sectors, have successfully rendered the word civilian “increasingly meaningless.”  By extending combatant status to civilians who “indirectly” contribute to the war effort, the Israeli state is able to justify killing civilians whenever it wants: wherever Israeli rockets land, there is a Palestinian terrorist.  Ergo, Israel never targets anyone but terrorists.

The principle of distinction and protection of civilians is the basis for war ethics under international law: could it be said then that Jewish law is fundamentally at odds with the just war theory?  Wouldn’t this be the conclusion our anti-Muslim Zionist opponents would arrive at if this were about Islam?

Next: The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Islamophobes like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller claim that Islam is more violent than other religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity.  To prove this, they argue that the Islamic holy book, the Islamic prophet, and the Islamic God are all uniquely violent–certainly more so than their Judeo-Christian counterparts.

We proved these claims completely bunk by showing the Bible to be far more violent than the Quran, the Biblical prophets to be far more violent than the Prophet Muhammad, and Yahweh of the Bible to be far more violent than Allah of the Quran.  (See parts 123456-i, 6-ii, 6-iii, 6-iv78, 9-i, and 9-ii of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.)

Instead of defending their initial claim (which they simply cannot), the Islamophobes quickly shift gears and rely on a fallback argument: they argue that “the Bible doesn’t actively exhort its believers to commit acts of violence, unlike the Quran.”  I refuted this argument in part 6 (see 6-i6-ii6-iii6-iv) in an article entitled The Bible’s Prescriptive, Open-Ended, and Universal Commandments to Wage Holy War and Enslave Infidels.

Once that argument goes to the wayside the Islamophobes then jump to their next fall back argument: “most Jews and Christians don’t take the Bible literally like Muslims do the Quran!”  I refuted this argument in part 7, showing that they do in fact understand the Bible very, very literally.

In a very predictable pattern, once this argument fails, the Islamophobes rely on yet another fall back argument, the famous cop-out “But That’s Just the Old Testament!”.  I’ve refuted this argument in part 8.

Once this fall back argument is refuted, Islamophobes once again do not defend it.  Instead, they move on to the next fall back argument:  they argue that “Jews and Christians simply don’t interpret their holy book in a violent manner, unlike Muslims.”  Writes Robert Spencer on p.31 of his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

This is Spencer’s preemptive parry to any counterattack whenever anyone (like myself) responds to his cherry-picking of Quranic verses by reciprocating and finding similar (and even worse) passages in the Bible. We are told that modern-day Jews and Christians simply don’t take those passages seriously any more, that they are merely symbolic or that they are dead letters.

Spencer et al. will then take a break from copying-and-pasting Quranic passages, and instead focus on “classical opinions” in the Islamic tradition, which they claim continue to be to this day the “orthodox, mainstream opinions according to the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence [madhaib].” By contrast, argues Spencer, classical and modern-day orthodox, mainstream interpretations of Judaism and Christianity have moved away from literal understandings of the Bible and opted for non-violent, peaceful understandings.

However, I will prove that this is not the case at all. The violent verses in the Bible helped formulate the “classical opinions” of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and continue to be held by “mainstream, orthodox” groups today.  In this article, we will examine the Jewish rabbinical tradition (both the “classical” and modern day situation); in a later article, we will grapple with the Christian side of things.

Rabbi Eliyahu Stern published an article in the New York Times entitled “Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America.” Stern’s balanced article noted that the anti-Muslim demonization of Islam (and Islamic law) “is disturbingly reminiscent” of “19th-century Europe” Anti-Semitism.  Pamela Geller, an extremist Zionist Islamophobe, published an irate letter from David Yerushalmi (who she describes as the “leading legal mind on sharia in America and my lawfare attorney”), who huffed (emphasis added):

[T]he historical comparison between the response to sharia in this country and Europe’s objection to Jewish law centuries earlier is a result of poor scholarship and faulty logic.  Jewish law, certainly since the destruction of the Jewish Commonwealth almost two thousand years ago, has had nothing to do with political power or the desire to effect dominion over another people.

To the contrary, the opposition to sharia is the fact that throughout the Muslim world, sharia is the call to an exclusive Islamic political power with hegemonic designs (see the two most prominent surveys cited here: http://mappingsharia.com/?page_id=425). The war doctrine of jihad is part and parcel of sharia.  It is alive and well as such throughout the Muslim world.

This is the same argument raised by Robert Spencer: Jewish law is peaceful and certainly does not call to violence or war like Islamic law does.

I will absolutely nuke this argument into oblivion.  (In the words of one of our readers: “Danios doesn’t make the mistake of bringing a knife to a gun fight–he brings a nuclear bomb.”)

*  *  *  *  *

One of the fundamental differences between the Islamic canon (Quran and hadiths) and the Bible is with regard to discrimination: the Islamic texts explicitly, categorically, and emphatically command soldiers to fight combatants on the battlefield only, and totally forbid targeting and killing innocent civilians (women, children, the elderly, the decrepit, etc.). On the other hand, the Bible is replete with verses in which God Himself commands the believers to target and kill innocent civilians. In fact, the God of the Bible becomes very upset with those of his followers who fail to complete acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

It is perhaps no big surprise then that one of the main ways in which the “classical” and so-called “orthodox, mainstream views” of the Islamic tradition differ from those in the Jewish tradition is with regard to discrimination: the Islamic tradition forbids its followers from targeting and killing civilians, whereas the Jewish counterpart permits it.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, convenor of the Orthodox Forum

Every year leading Orthodox Jewish luminaries from around the world–including “rashei yeshivah [deans of Talmudical academies], rabbis, educators and academicians from America and Israel”–flock to The Orthodox Forum to discuss “a single topic affecting the Jewish world.”  In 2004, the topic of choice was “War and Peace,” which was chosen due to “the United States’ involvement in Iraq” and “Israel’s ongoing war with terrorism” (quotes from p.xiii of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition).

After these influential experts discussed the issues surrounding “war and peace,” they published their discussion in the fourteenth volume of “the Orthodox Forum Series” in a book entitled War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.  As such, this book does not merely reflect the views of one or two Jewish authors.  Instead, it “brings together the thinking of a wide range of distinguished American and Israeli academicians and religious leaders from various disciplines, to shed light on the historical, philosophical, theological, legal and moral issues raised by military conflict and the search for peaceful resolution” (p.xi) with the goal of appreciating “the relevance of Jewish sources in approaching contemporary challenges” (p.xii).

[Note: Throughout this article series, readers should assume all emphasis is mine, unless otherwise indicated.  Also note that Rabbi is abbreviated to R., as is the accepted convention.]

Reading this very authoritative book, written by the brightest minds of Orthodox Judaism, I came to appreciate at least five major ways in which Halakha (Jewish law) permits shedding the blood of innocents–at least five major exceptions to the law of discrimination.

The reader should keep in mind that these five different exceptions have nothing to do with “collateral damage,” the incidental or unintended killing of civilians, which is generally accepted by international law (with some important caveats).  Instead, these five exceptions have to do with targeting and killing civilians.

I purposefully say “at least five different exceptions,” since there are most certainly more, which I shall discuss in future articles.  However, those other exceptions are debatable or held as minority opinions, such as the concept of targeted assassinations (debatable, I guess) and the idea that Palestinians should be exterminated because they are the modern-day Amalekites (a valid but minority “halakhic opinion”).  Instead, I will focus on views held by the majority of mainstream Orthodox Jewish rabbinical leadership.

*  *  *  *  *

In the United States, Judaism is split into three main sects: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox.  In Israel, however, Reform and Conservative Judaism do not exist in large numbers.  Instead, the battle lines are drawn between secular and Orthodox Jews.  According to The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 20% of Israeli Jews are secular, 25% are Orthodox (17% are Religious Zionists [Modern Orthodox Judaism] and 8% are Ultra-Orthodox [Haredi]), with the largest group of Israeli Jews (55%) falling under the rubric of “traditional.”

The views of “traditional Jews” towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem to fall in between the two major ideological groups: secular and Orthodox Jews.  For example, whereas “only” 36% of secular Israelis support “price tag” terrorism against Palestinians and a whopping majority of Orthodox Jews support such tactics (70% of Religious Zionists and 71% of Ultra-Orthodox Jews), just over half of traditional Jews (55%) condone terrorism against the Palestinians.

Orthodox Judaism is split between Modern Orthodox Judaism and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Haredi Judaism).  In Israel, Modern Orthodox Judaism is dominated by Religious Zionism (alternatively called “national-religious”).  This sect is widely considered to be the “mainstream” of Orthodox Judaism in Israel.  It is this sect, therefore, that I will focus on in my article series.

One should not, however, be led to believe that Ultra-Orthodox Judaism is much better in this regard.  Although Agudat Yisrael (the original major political party that represented Ultra-Orthodox Jews) initially opposed the Zionist enterprise, this changed after the creation of the state of Israel.  These Ultra-Orthodox Jews saw the Israeli state as a means for “state enforcement of religious laws” and wanted “increased state financial support for their schools and for religious institutions” (quotes taken from the Zionism & Israel Center‘s official website).

Today, “though still non-Zionist, [these Ultra-Orthodox Jews] tend to favor perpetuation of the occupation and vote with the right against peace moves or negotiations.” Their right-wing attitudes towards Palestinians are reflected in the earlier statistic I cited, which showed that an overwhelming majority (71%) of Ultra-Orthodox Jews support price tag terrorism against Palestinians, which is almost exactly the same percentage of Religious Zionists (70%) who do.  Ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel has been heavily influenced by Zionism and Religious Zionism, especially in their hostile views towards the indigenous Palestinians.

However, because many Israelis feel that Ultra-Orthodox Jews are “extreme,” I will focus my discussion here on the more “mainstream” sect, Modern Orthodox Judaism.  (In a follow-up article, I will outline the Ultra-Orthodox view on such subjects in order to prove that there is an emerging “bipartisan” consensus on these issues within Orthodox Judaism in Israel.) For now, however, I will largely stick to the generally accepted views within Religious Zionism.

Therefore, in my article The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians–the title that will be used for the remaining article series–I will not focus on Yizhak Shapira’s book the King’s Torah.  Despite the fact that Modern Orthodox Judaism’s rabbis seemed to accept Shapira’s views “governing the killing of a non-Jew’ outlined in the book [as] a legitimate stance” and a valid “halachic opinion,” I will bypass all such discussion by focusing on majority views held by Religious Zionism and Modern Orthodox Judaism, not the more extreme Kahanist sect of Religious Zionism.

In so doing, I will show that these majority views are hardly less worrisome than Rabbi Shapira’s opinions expressed in the King’s Torah.  I will show that one need not look to settler rabbis, Kahanists, or Ultra-Orthodox Jews to find extremely warlike views.  The mainstream Modern Orthodox rabbinical leadership will suffice.  Worse yet, Israeli Jews–deeply religious Jews–are leading the fight against the concept of distinction, the fundamental aspect of the just war theory.  They are applying pressure to change international law and to abrogate the regulations of the Geneva Conventions, which they believe are “archaic” and inapplicable today.  Could it be said, using the emotive language of our opponents, that Judaism is waging war against the principle of distinction?

The purpose of this is to prove that if there are problems within the house of Islam (which there certainly are), let it be known that the house of Judaism is no different in this regard.  It would behoove us to remind ourselves of this before we point the accusatory finger at The Other.  Extremist Zionist Islamophobes like Pamela Geller–and their Christian comrades-in-arms like Robert Spencer–should take note.

Disclaimer: Before we get into it, please read my disclaimer, Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, is the Problem. (This is in addition to my earlier disclaimer, which you should also read):

Update:

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians;#1 Civilians Are Really Combatants

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (II)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (IV)