Sunday, January 04, 2009

Who is Wise?



For a utilitarian moralist, a consequentialist, the only way to judge Israel's war in Gaza is to try to figure out if it will cause more good than harm. We know the harm so far, but we do not yet know what the future harm will, or what, if any, the benefits will be.

The fog of war is still upon us. We don't know which "facts" to believe, we don't know either sides true intentions - I hope no on believes either the statements of the Israeli or Hamas leadership - which in any case are contradictory - and we don't know how the military moves will turn out.

The Talmud tells us:

Who is wise? He who discerns what is about to come.

And it goes on to give us some rules of thumb to live by: perhaps for those of us who are not fully "wise" yet

Who is a mighty man? He who subdues his evil passions. ...

What shall a man do to live? Let him mortify himself with good deeds and study.

What should a man do to kill himself? Let him concern himself only with keeping himself alive.

(Tamid 32A. The context here is not personal, but geo-political. The Rabbis are imagined in this story as giving advice to Alexander the Great. The picture above shows Alexander in the Temple receiving some of that Jewish wisdom. Click on it to see it in a larger version.)

Ethan Bronner has written an excellent piece in the N.Y. Times, analyzing the possibilities of "what is about to come." (You should really read the whole article, rather than just my snippets.) He speculates on what the goals of the Israeli government might be and what might happen if it actually achieves them:
As Israel’s tanks and troops poured into Gaza on Saturday…a question hung over the operation: can the rockets really be stopped for any length of time while Hamas remains in power in Gaza? And if the answer is determined to be no, then is the real aim of the operation to remove Hamas entirely, no matter the cost? ...
“There is no doubt that as long as Hamas controls Gaza, it is a problem for Israel, a problem for the Palestinians and a problem for the entire region.”

Vice Premier Haim Ramon went even further Friday night in an interview on Israeli television, saying Israel must not end this operation with Hamas in charge of Gaza.

“What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern,” Mr. Ramon said on Channel One. “That is the most important thing.” ...

While it may sound decisive to speak of taking Hamas out of power, almost no one familiar with Gaza and Palestinian politics considers it realistic. Hamas legislators won a democratic majority in elections four years ago, and the group has 15,000 to 20,000 men under arms. It has consolidated its rule in the past 18 months since pushing out its rivals loyal to the more Western-oriented and moderate Fatah party…

And while there are plenty of Gazans who would prefer Fatah, they seem hardly organized or strong enough to become the new rulers. [And even if they were] they would never be willing to ride into Gaza on the back of an Israeli tank. In fact, the longer Israel pounds Gaza, the weaker Fatah is likely to become because it will be seen as collaborating.

The likelier result of a destruction of the Hamas infrastructure, then, would be chaos, anathema not only to the people of Gaza but also to those hoping for peace in southern Israel."
So even if Israel achieves the goal of "not allowing Hamas ability to govern", what them?

One idea being kicked around is an international force to govern Gaza. Essentially to turn Gaza into a UN protectorate - ala Kosovo. This would require NATO and probably some moderate Islamic states (Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia ?) to step up to the plate and provide the armed forces required. The idea would be to govern Gaza for 5-10 years, eliminate any incursions into Israel, bring some stability and economic prosperity to Gaza, and then, hopefully when cooler heads have prevailed and there is more of a stake in peace, hand Gaza back to a non-fanatical Palestinian leadership.

Well, as the saying goes, "If my mother had wheels she'd be a truck".

If any of us - Israeli leadership included - is wise enough to know that this, or some similar scenario, will come to pass, then maybe this war can be justified. Otherwise Israel's leadership may be wiser to stick to the Rabbis other rules of thumb for Alexander: subdue your warrior passions, do good deeds and think hard about the full range of consequences, and don't be concerned only with your own sides welfare.

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