Voice

Another "thought experiment"

Several readers took issue with my "thought experiment" asking how the United States would have reacted if the Arabs had won the Six Day War and if Israeli Jews had faced similar conditions to the Palestinians in Gaza and had responded in a similar fashion.

It's a thought experiment, folks, not history, and my aim was to challenge the moral certainties and tribal loyalties that normally dominate debates on the whole Israeli-Palestinian morass. Obviously, it's child's play to identify differences between the hypothetical that I sketched and the way history actually turned out, though I didn't see how any of the ones raised in the comments invalidated my basic point. But it is hardly far-fetched (let alone anti-Semitic) to imagine Jews engaging in acts of resistance against an oppressor. That's what I would expect any group to do, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. It is precisely what the Zionists did against the British during the Mandate period, and it was Irgun leader (and later Prime Minister) Yitzhak Shamir who wrote that "neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat." 

But if you don't like that "thought experiment," here's another, offered by philosophy professor Joseph Levine at University of Massachusetts: what if Hamas was hiding out among the civilian population of Tel Aviv, and attacking Israel from within? Would the IDF be using massive force to eradicate them? Unless you think that Palestinian and Israeli civilian lives are not equal, what justifies the current policy?

Israel is hardly unique in placing a higher value on its own citizens' lives than it places on the lives of others, and we should not forget that U.S. forces have caused plenty of civilian casualties in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. "The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must." But that doesn't make it right, and there are good reasons to question whether it will even be effective in this instance.