Foreign Policy Blogs

Israel and the Right to Defend Itself

Israel and the Right to Defend Itself

Editor’s Note

The following is a guest opinion piece by Ayesha Vahidy. Ms. Vahidy is currently working towards her Masters degree in International development at the University of British Columbia in Canada. She holds a BA in Political Science from York University in Toronto, Ontario. Ms. Vahidy works as a consultant in diversity at public and private organizations. She was previously a consultant at, IBM, the Toronto District School Board and Bell Canada, Canada’s largest telecommunication entity. She has also served on the board of Amnesty International.

* There will be a guest opinion piece as a response to arguments made by Ms. Vahidy.


Do Israelis have the right to be frightened by the experience of the Nazi Holocaust and do all they can to prevent a repetition of that nightmare? Absolutely. Do Israelis and their American friends have the right to be on high alert and take it seriously when groups like Hamas and demagogues like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten to wipe Israel off the face of the map? Of course.

Do the people of Israel have the right to be angry and protect themselves when rockets are launched against civilians in Jerusalem and elsewhere? No doubt they do. Do they have the right to fight back hard against groups that embrace murderous attacks on unarmed victims like Hamas, Hezbollah and, before that, the Palestinian Liberation Organization? Certainly. Those rights, however, do not imply an unchecked moral license, utilizing a massive technological advantage to rain murder and mayhem from the skies of Gaza.

This past week, civilian deaths from Israeli air raids in that overcrowded strip of poverty and misery have neared 100, with more than 800 wounded, including more than 200 children. Israelis can claim they are just going after the terrorists with their wide-scale bombings. But Americans made similar claims when they exterminated a village called My Lai in South Vietnam in 1968. In the weeks leading up to that slaughter, American soldiers in the region near My Lai had been killed in sneak attacks by a persistent enemy. Enraged and terrorized, those troops felt they had earned complete moral authority as they gunned down the unarmed and the helpless in that little area of hamlets. Gaza is My Lai on a much larger scale. What is going on in Gaza has morphed far beyond an assertion of self-defense. Consider for a moment these quotes:

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai: “We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages, destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water.”

Gilad Sharon, son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: “We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.”

Michael Ben Ari, a member of the Israeli Knesset: “There are no innocents in Gaza, don’t let any diplomats who want to look good in the world endanger your lives; at any tiniest concern for your lives – Mow them!”

Mr. Yishai, Mr. Sharon, and Mr. Ari ignore that neighborhoods are worlds in microcosm, containing toddlers learning to walk, young couples dreaming of their lives together, parents beaming with joy as their children master the alphabet, the elderly struggling with pain, the disabled bravely grappling with ordinary movement, the mentally ill, the weak, and the sick, as well as the grab bag of terrorists and murderers Israelis say are their sole targets.

Yet, Sharon and Yishai know well that there’s not a “smart” weapon on earth that can distinguish between saints and sinners when Israeli bombs “destroy all the infrastructure “and “flatten entire neighborhoods.” Mr. Ari doesn’t even acknowledge the distinction.

I’ve heard quotes like this from other supporters of Israel, some who are Jewish and others who are gentile. This rhetoric is no longer tethered to the horrible deaths of three Israelis and the injuries of 60 others due to Hamas missile strikes. Such extremism echoes from deeper wells of hatred. The words above are fevered dreams of genocide.

I have heard too often in recent years a blood libel aimed at Arabs – that all are terrorists and anti-Semites. In conversations, I have heard Arabs called “animals” and that it is impossible to negotiate with them. Those speaking these hateful words become the funhouse mirror reflections of the Arab extremists they despise: the evil buffoons who deny Israel’s right to exist, who madly assert that the Holocaust never happened, who republish incendiary nonsense like the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” charging Jews with darkly plotting to conquer the world, and other outrageous claims against anything Jewish.
Such anti-Semitism spawned the disease represented by groups like Hamas. Bloody words precede bloody deeds. Decades of dehumanizing rhetoric aimed at African Americans wove the lyncher’s rope. Israelis need to remember this and outsiders who bear good will towards Israel and to the larger Jewish diaspora need to call witness to this fact. The words cited above do not represent the beliefs of most Israelis. And, contrary to a now widely accepted myth in the West, most Arabs are not Hamas assassins in waiting

But the extremists have gained an audience in Israel, and even a footing in the current Israeli government, just as they earlier gained a following in the Occupied Territories. When one asserts a need to obliterate entire neighborhoods, that person has claimed a right, even an obligation, to exterminate the people living there regardless of their status, their deeds, or their culpability. This is a license to kill a people, not just the terrorists living among them. At this point, a person has crossed from defending the homeland, to protecting life and property, to becoming a terrorist. And remember, terrorists always think they have good excuses.