The price even a non-intentional embrace of anti-Israel propaganda places on the believer was brought home to me during a recent conversation with a good friend, whose opinion I respect on all matters, who was aghast at the bloodletting at the Gaza border over the last month.
Interestingly, she was willing to accept that the thousands of rockets shot from Gaza into Israel over the last decade constitutes acts of war, and was even willing to believe that Hamas was responsible for civilian casualties on its own side if it placed its rockets in civilian locations. And, with a little cross-examination, she was ready to give up her original assertion that the tunnels Hamas has been digging incessantly into Israel were not a means of civilian resupply, but rather tools of war.
But neither of these understandings could budge her from the opinion that Israel’s use of live fire to protect its border with Gaza was appropriate or legitimate. “You don’t shoot people,” she kept coming back to. In other words, she believes that the IDF has the right and responsibility to arrest, detain and do whatever other non-lethal things it could to protect the people it defends from harm, but that shooting should be a last resort to be applied only when actual lives are in danger.
Now keep in mind that my interlocutor is a decent and moral person, as well as being highly intelligent. But as we went through a series of logic-based arguments regarding the difference between war and crime fighting, the fact that a majority of those killed were jihadi fighters, or nature of the Hamas regime and its primary role in creating Gaza’s misery, I was clearly unable to shake her of the belief that undergirded her primary response to current events: that you shouldn’t shoot people if you don’t have to.
And you know what? She’s right! In the ordinary course of life, and even in policing and warfare, you shouldn’t shoot people if other effective choices are available. But given that non-shooting options, like the construction of a separation barrier in the West Bank (which all but eliminated casualties from both terror and the fight against it) has become Exhibit A for the Israel = Apartheid propaganda slur, it’s not at all clear that promises to judge Israel less harshly if it does something to defend itself other than what it’s doing right now will ever be kept.
Getting back to Gaza, it continues to surprise me just how many false things one must believe to accept the anti-Israel narrative. For instance, images and video that uncontestably show the violent nature of the Hamas-inspired marches is on display for all to see. But this must be put aside in order to declare the marches and the marchers “peaceful,” or non-violence must be redefined to make room for Molotov cocktails, incendiaries, swastikas, and the occasional live ammunition.
One must also believe that even if rocket fire and the digging of infiltration tunnels – the primary activity of those who govern Gaza – might be warlike, this new tactic (charging the border week after week) is peaceful.
And I won’t even mention the things that didn’t come up in our conversation, such as Hamas’ attitude and behavior towards women, gays and religious minorities (never mind its medieval beliefs about Jews), things that should appall anyone who believes in the rights of such groups to not suffer humiliation, torture and death – not to mention the rights of the individual to live as he or she likes.
In trying to understand how good and smart people can believe bad and stupid things, I keep coming back to the concept of ruthlessness. While you can see a description of the phenomena here, and a much longer one in this series, it is easiest to sum up the concept with its most vivid example.
After World War I, the loss of a generation left the nations of Europe exhausted, demoralized and ready to consider any alternative superior to war. In theory, this laid the groundwork for finding new ways to settle disputes other than armed conflict. But, in one of history’s typical ironies, it also meant anyone ready to trigger another war would have enormous leverage over those who wanted to avoid war at all cost.
Thus, Adolf Hitler’s choice to threaten to reignite the continent if his territorial demands were not meant was not the act of a crazy monster, but rather the rational calculation of a ruthless actor who was ready to do every day what others could not even contemplate.
Today, when war is even more destructive and attitudes towards it even more hostile, most people can’t contemplate that this beast called ruthlessness still drives the decision making of political actors. Accepting that Israel’s enemies deliberately put their own civilians at risk in order to either kill or malign Jews and maintain power means accepting that ruthless actors are still doing things that decent people have trouble even imagining.
And one way of not thinking about something that puts your whole world view in jeopardy (especially a world view which hopes for an end to armed conflict altogether) is to strip away the dark corners of reality, replacing difficult moral choices – especially those that arise when faced with a ruthless foe – with comforting bromides, like “shooting people is bad.”