OpinionIsrael at War

Zionism’s goal of a moral state

There is an evil in our midst never imagined before in Israel’s history.

A convoy of military vehicles seen near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, Oct. 15, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
A convoy of military vehicles seen near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, Oct. 15, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.

Zionism didn’t hope to just create a Jewish state that would be a place of refuge for Jews persecuted all over the world. Zionism didn’t even just look to create a state for the Jews. Early Zionists and Israeli pioneers wanted to create a new brand of nation that would lead the world in morality and be a light unto the nations. It aimed to incorporate Arabs into its citizenry and treat them as equals. Even as Arab countries expelled Jews—more than 800,000 of them—Israel embraced Arabs, enabling them to enter all areas of Israeli life with no restrictions. As Israel went to war with its Arab neighbors, it committed to fighting morally along the codes set by the international community, even as its Arab enemies refused to do so.

There are innocent Palestinian Arabs in Gaza. These are people tragically stuck in circumstances not of their own making and who do not have the wherewithal to change their situation. I feel for these people and want them to lead peaceful lives. It is illegal, immoral and inconsistent with Jewish and Torah values to purposely target innocent people in a military operation. Innocent people are always caught in the crossfire of war and counted as “collateral damage,” but the difference between fighting a war morally and immorally is whether the army is purposely targeting innocent civilians or is accidentally hitting them.

The challenge facing any military is how far they have to go to ensure they don’t accidentally harm innocent civilians. While international law governs many aspects of war, there is always a gray area that can’t be codified because of the difference in circumstances from situation to situation. The main question facing any military is how many compromises do they have to make on their military objectives to avoid collateral damage?

When Zionists founded the State of Israel, part of their mission was to create a defense force that could protect the Jewish people while maintaining the standards of morality. All too often, countries claiming to be civilized carried out horrific atrocities when they went to war. Early Zionists wanted to ensure Israel’s forces never fell to those levels. The Israeli Defense Forces balanced their military objectives with avoiding civilian casualties a step further than any other military. The IDF not only compromised on military objectives but on its soldier’s security to avoid civilian casualties. Many Israelis didn’t and don’t agree with this policy. These Israelis felt that there was no reason to sacrifice our safety for the enemy’s security.

The IDF’s policy to go to the farthest degree to save innocent lives has been a point of pride for many Israelis and Zionists. To those in favor of this policy, compromising on Israeli soldier’s safety to avoid civilian casualties was consistent with the values of early Zionists. Even in the face of accusers who would slander Israel as warmongers who ignored international law and committed genocide, Israelis boast about the IDF’s policy of “knocking” on rooftops and explaining the righteousness of the IDF’s actions.

Yet now things have changed. Israel and its people are still opposed to targeting innocent civilians and they maintain the IDF and other militaries should compromise—slightly—on military objectives to limit civilian casualties. Significant military objectives or IDF soldier lives will no longer be compromised during the current war.

Palestinian apologists claim that the people of Gaza are Hamas’s pawns in a conflict they didn’t start, participate in or support. They claim that Hamas is a rogue terrorist organization that doesn’t represent the Palestinian people and instead is a branch of more nefarious terrorist organizations around the world. Israel’s opponents claim that Palestinians in Gaza are just as much victims of Hamas as Israelis. They frequently accuse Israel of knowingly targeting Gazan neighborhoods that are full of Palestinians caught captive in a conflict not of their making or of their responsibility.

What these people don’t admit is that Hamas came to power and stayed in power with the Palestinian people’s support. They won’t tell you that Hamas runs kindergartens and social services alongside their terrorist wing; the people know about each facet of Hamas’s operations and still support them. In poll after poll of the Palestinian people, Hamas is the most popular of the leading Palestinian organizations.

The Palestinian people’s support of Hamas and its nefarious activities doesn’t make them as culpable as Hamas members who carried out the horrific acts on Oct. 7. But their backing of Hamas does make them guilty of supporting evil and helping it achieve its goals of hurting the Jewish people.

The evil acts Hamas terrorists perpetrated—murder, rape and kidnapping innocent people, even children—crossed a line that requires a much harsher Israeli response than it has ever previously enacted. It requires the complete and total vanquishing of Hamas leadership, members and infrastructure. Hamas’s destruction must be so absolute that it can no longer operate; it may never be allowed to rise again. The Israeli Defense Forces will be forced to go town by town, street by street and maybe even house by house to find and eliminate Hamas members and to rescue Israeli hostages. In its efforts to win the war, Israel must not compromise its military objectives and its soldiers’ safety.

Israel isn’t bloodthirsty; the nation wants to live in peace in this region alongside its Palestinian neighbors. The Israeli and Palestinian people have much to give to each other. This war has revealed an evil that causes peace to be a mere mirage. There is an evil in our midst never imagined before in Israel’s history. In a choice between evil and good, us and them, the values of Zionism dictate that the Israeli people choose good. And that is the Jewish people’s safety and security.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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