Uri Avnery and Asa Kasher on Operation Cast Lead, and others.

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Operation Cast Lead and Just War Theory


In his essay “Operation Cast Lead and Just War Theory” (Azure 37, Summer 2009), Asa Kasher faithfully plays the role of attorney for the defense, offering a closing statement in the case of “World Public Opinion vs. the State of Israel.” His goal is to justify the IDF’s conduct of the Gaza war, and as a result, he produces the argument of an advocate. His is not the ruling of an objective judge, and one certainly should not discuss it without first considering the claims of the other side. Now, I, too, am not a judge and am most certainly not an attorney for the prosecution. As an Israeli, I can only analyze the arguments of Kasher, who purports to represent my side. I will try to do so here.

First, however, I would like to begin with a few personal remarks: First, the experience of combat is not alien to me. I am not someone who criticizes from “the comfort of one’s armchair,” as Kasher puts it. I was recruited by the Hagana at the beginning of the 1948 war and was wounded at the end of the same year. In between, I took part in dozens of combat operations, some of which were among the harshest of the entire war. I know what a combat soldier goes through, the problems he faces, and how he is most likely to respond to them.

Second, I witnessed many atrocities during that War of Independence, some on our part, and some on theirs. I wrote about several of them in my book The Other Side of the Coin, which was published in 1950. In my experience, “purity of arms” has always been a kind of gratifying myth. I do not believe that we who fought in 1948 were any more “moral” than those who fought in Operation Cast Lead.

Third, the title the IDF occasionally bestows upon itself—“the most moral army in the world”—means nothing to me. Perhaps the IDF’s conduct of the Gaza war was no worse than that of the Russians in Chechnya, the Americans in Fallujah, or the Sudanese in Darfur. I am even willing to believe that it was better than several of them. But this is not what matters to me. My questions are: Does the IDF conduct itself in accordance with the moral standard I demand of the State of Israel under the current circumstances? Can I identify with the standard it upholds? And does it allow me to realize every man’s most basic right: to be proud of his country?

The value of an argument is evident in the language it employs. Throughout his article, Kasher disperses words and phrases such as “terrorists” and “terrorist organizations.” He concludes his piece by referring to the “malicious designs of Hamas.” This is the language of propaganda, and the use of it detracts from the seriousness of his entire argument.

The conflict between Zionism and Arab nationalism has persisted for over one hundred years. For 61 years the State of Israel has been engaged in a war with the Palestinian people. For 42 of those years we have been maintaining an occupation regime, accompanied by a settlement of occupied lands in opposition to international law. The Palestinians have responded to this situation, among other methods, with guerilla warfare. Hamas is one of these guerilla forces. A serious article would do well to restrict itself to this term alone.

Hamas is not a foreign force that invaded the Gaza Strip. The movement won the democratic elections held under international supervision in Gaza as well as other Palestinian regions. Members of Hamas come from local families. They do not “hide behind the civilian population,” as Israeli propaganda states. They are part of the civilian population, just as members of the Hagana, Irgun, and Lehi were part of the Jewish population in the British Mandate before 1948. Many Palestinians see Hamas as freedom fighters. We do not have to accept this description, but it is nonetheless clear that the term “terrorists” is erroneous and misleading.

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