In March of 2004, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon justified recent attacks against Hamas by declaring that “the Jewish nation has a right to defend itself…” Honestly, it was painful to hear, not because the statement was a justification of violence, but rather because the leader of a democratic, multi-ethnic State of Israel presumed those military actions required any justification at all. Actually, Israel did not have the “right” to take those measures, it had the obligation.
One of the most critical purposes of a government is to protect its citizens. If a government would, for whatever reason, lose the ability or the will to protect the governed, it would effectively forfeit the right to govern and any expectation of loyalty from own citizens. If the government can’t promise protection, it can’t expect allegiance.
This is especially true of the Jewish State. Israel was founded with the express purpose of protecting the Jewish people after their near extinction in a brutal twentieth century. Whatever might be with politics, religion or economy, the real promise of Israel was that Jews would finally be safe – if that country’s own leadership falters on that promise, then what purpose does the State of Israel serve?
Failure to protect the populace, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, has led to one conflict after another. Yet, the problem is not an external problem, it’s an internal problem brought about by some mysterious moral paralysis that has plagued us for generations. It’s not the enemy we’re having a hard time with here.
This moral paralysis does not just affect Israel, it’s rampant throughout the Western world. The West is having a problem fighting wars, and this is rooted in our value system. Our society places strong importance on the preciousness of life. We therefore have very strong reservations when it comes time to make war upon our enemies. Once those reservations inhibit the way we go to war, we’re no longer fighting – we’re playing games.
After enduring centuries of war, the Great Powers of Europe came together to bring a certain measure of humanity to war through the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions have doubtless spared the world unimaginable brutality and suffering since their implementation. However, our enemies today don’t abide by those treaties. We are fighting forces that have no intention of abiding by the Geneva Conventions or any other treaty, and therefore it’s senseless for the West to unilaterally hold standards that the enemy that does not. That’s why the US had such a difficult time closing the Iraq War.
The concept of the “moral war” is not a part of the Jewish value system. In fact, it’s far from a “moral” concept. Once you tell your enemy that you will not harm children, you have immediately dragged every child into the war zone. If you tell your enemy that you will not harm civilians, you can expect those civilians to become human shields. When you openly declare your restrictions, it’s only natural and logical that your enemy will use your restrictions against you. This is the reason that the Torah prohibits paying an exorbitant ransom for the freedom of captive Jews. Once you do that – even once – you have created and industry. Then no one is safe.
Jewish values promote a much different approach to the “moral war.” The Jewish war is one that is fought as quickly and decisively as possible. What happens to children who have lived their entire lives in a war zone? Can they go back to having a “normal” life? Certainly not – they don’t even know the meaning of peace! Fear and hatred becomes a permanent part of their personality and worldview. In such a conflict, the war has destroyed not only combatants, but an entire generation.
A Jewish war strives for the following: fight, win, and return home. And the troops can only come home when the conflict is decisively over. According to the Torah, anyone who doesn’t have the heart to go out to war must return home, lest he undermine the war effort. No soldier is forced to fight, but those who do must fight to win.
So what provokes the many wars against Israel? We do. We provoke them by announcing that we will fight like civilized Westerners and not a people surrounded by mortal enemies. We show them our weakness and are rewarded with aggression. In order for the Jewish nation to discourage war, we must fight like Jews.