The axiom that war always brings some tragedy in its wake is undeniable. To suggest otherwise would be naïve romanticism at best, and at worst, murderous. While one can justify acting in self-defence, it cannot be denied that one of the most terrible aspects of any military conflict are the casualties that invariably occur. Historically, this has been the reality in most armed conflicts, especially in recent times where there has been a sharp increase in civilian casualties (due to the way wars have come to be waged).
Because of these harsh realities, important queries naturally arise.
Two of these are:
What justifies a war? And if/when military action is justified, what should it look like?
These and other questions have plagued concerned minds throughout the centuries through dialogues like Just War Theory to literary works like The Prince and The Art of War. In modern times the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (not legally binding in and of itself, though some argue that its invocation has made it legally binding by means of tradition), initiated and penned by Eleanor Roosevelt and some of her peers, was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, where it has since (supposedly) served as a set of guidelines to discern whether a human right has been upheld or violated.
The answers to these questions have always been disputed and will likely continue to be. However, any fair or rational individual cannot reasonably dispute one thing: recognizing the hypocrisy of judging or denouncing another nation for their military intervention in a threatening situation where, if faced with comparable circumstances, the accuser(s) would not or could not have acted differently themselves.
Why then, if we are indeed truly reliable with our standards, is Israel consistently and arbitrarily singled out as a nation deserving of being sanctioned, boycotted, and condemned everywhere from the lowliest newspaper to the highest August Assembly?
Since its inception as a modern state on May 14, 1948, Israel has faced numerous attacks from its neighbours whose self-proclaimed aim was to utterly destroy the world’s only Jewish state—not the least of which occurred on the evening of its birth when five Arab armies joined forces in an attempt to annihilate Israel. Despite having vastly fewer resources and numbers, Israel survived, successfully thwarting this murderous onslaught.
In October 1973 the Yom Kippur war occurred when an Arab alliance launched a surprise attack against Israel on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, a religious day of fasting and prayer. This war (a particularly painful one for Israel) lasted nearly a month. As supplies waned and the battle continued, Israel’s Prime Minister, Golda Meir, entreated the then American President, Richard Nixon, to send Israel weapons so that they could continue fighting. Fortunately for Israel, he agreed, changing the tide of the war in Israel’s favour. Israel was able to regain the territory it had lost in the weeks before, successfully pushing the invading armies back into their own countries. Many argue that America’s emergency assistance in this instance was largely responsible for the survival of the Jewish State during that war.
From 1948 until the present, modern Israel has faced opposition on many different fronts. Despite being the only democracy in the Middle East, one that provides equal rights for all of its citizens (Jews and Arabs alike work as doctors, lawyers, and journalists—serving side by side in government, on the supreme court, etc.), there remains a concerted effort from organizations like the PA, the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, and many of the surrounding nations to undermine Israel both militarily and through legal and journalistic means. Israeli civilians have endured bus explosions, car rammings, rocket attacks, stabbings, and more while the families of the terrorists guilty of these crimes are paid handsome fees by Palestinian leadership to compensate and encourage these murderous acts.
In the face of these ongoing attempts to destroy Israel, Israel has continued to defend itself, if only to the degree that it can maintain its survival, not to try to truly defeat their foes (or to cause excessive harm to them), despite these forces being constantly bent on Israel’s destruction.
Yet in spite of these standards, Israel has faced greater international condemnation than any other nation for defending itself. Not for carpet-bombing a non-militarized region (which other nations have done), but for doing the bare minimum to survive. While other democratic countries respond to outside threats with the ferocity required to subdue their enemy permanently, and while authoritarian regimes use hostile speech and aggressive military action to strive to achieve their ends, Israel is the only one consistently scapegoated as being the problem.
Thus, the unfair standard we are faced with when it comes to Israel.
One of the most frequently brought up accusations against Israel is the charge that because fewer Israelis have died in comparison to Palestinians, that Israel is somehow “more” at fault in this conflict than the latter. This fallacious argument is essentially punishing one side for not having enough “dead people” on it while deliberately failing to understand the context we are dealing with.
Palestinian actions include but are not limited to the fact that groups like Hamas are known for using their own people as human shields, and encouraging terrorism (both in philosophy and in deed) among all members of their population including the most vulnerable: their own children. They consistently indoctrinate their fellow citizens with an ideology of hate that, if not followed (there are of course many Palestinians who do not accept these ideas), will be met with intimidation and fear of punishment or death if any kind of meaningful stand were to be taken against it.
Israel, on the other hand, has taken major steps to protect human life from the threat of terrorism (both Israeli and Palestinian). These include but are not limited to: building a security fence—which resulted in a 90% reduction in terror attacks (sadly many innocent Palestinians are impacted as a result of poor Palestinian leadership and the misguided ideology it enforces), sending text messages and dropping leaflets out of planes telling Palestinians to evacuate a certain area—essentially warning them of an attack before it occurs, and abandoning military missions if it means that innocent lives will be at risk.
Furthermore, Israel has developed the cutting edge Iron Dome technology (with a 90% success rate) to save more of their civilian lives, at great financial cost to themselves. Each Iron Dome battery costs $100 million and each missile costs $50 000, while the Palestinian mortars shot down cost $500 each—at most. It would be “easier” for Israel to defend itself by directly launching a heavy attack against its enemies, destroying all of their bases once and for all, but in an effort to save lives on both sides, Israel pays the heavy financial price of operating the Iron Dome, as well as the heavier personal price of its civilians, who never know when another missile might be fired against them.
What other army in human history, when faced with a comparable threat, has acted with such a high human rights standard?
While it is difficult for many to agree upon what constitutes as a “just war”, it is almost universally conceded that Hitler, with his murderous, expansionist agenda, needed to be stopped.
The Allies did not try to stop Hitler to any small degree—especially after the Luftwaffe began to make their routine visits to London every night. They knew that Hitler’s defeat must be total, without exceptions. In fact, the Allies did not hesitate to carpet bomb German cities which had no military targets. Over 40 000 people died in Hamburg in three days of Allied air raids, while cities like Dresden were bombed into oblivion. Churchill literally incinerated an entire city that was full of women and children, the majority of whom were refugees from Eastern Europe—as many as 135, 000 people were burned alive. These acts were clearly carried out as revenge, not as a necessity to winning the war. The American dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima resulted in the deaths of 150 000 civilians, with 75 000 dead in Nagasaki (these are both believed to be conservative estimates—and it does not account for the subsequent generations who died of radiation poisoning complications like cancer).
Americans during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, as well as NATO forces during the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and other conflicts also exerted considerable force in order to achieve their desired outcomes. Many of their actions were the cause of major long-term damage done to innocent civilians. One needs only to mention Agent Orange for terrible images of maimed innocent civilians to arise in one’s mind. Generations of these people were victimized as a result of horrific genetic mutations that came about through exposure to this toxic poison.
When fairly examining the actions of Allied, American, and NATO forces throughout the 20th century, the majority of Israel’s responses to the ever present terror threat against them could only be considered pusillanimous in comparison. Yet Israel’s attempts to keep its own borders safe are met with public outcry. While news agencies are busy condemning Israel, numerous UN resolutions and emergency sessions are organized against Israel.
To paraphrase Alan Dershowitz, when those acting with the highest human rights standards are reproached for having the worst, you have to look at who the accusers are.
To date, the UN Human Rights Council is made up of some of the worst abusers of human rights in the world. Countries like China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela are all member states with full voting rights. In other words, those genuinely guilty of human rights violations are setting legal precedent for who will be punished or not. The UN bias against Israel is real. The proof of which is that Israel regularly receives disproportionate condemnations in the Human Rights Council.
According to UN Watch and other organizations, the UN Human Rights Council (from 2006-2016) adopted 135 resolutions criticizing countries—68 of those resolutions were against Israel (more than 50%), and The UN General Assembly (from 2012-2015) adopted 97 resolutions criticizing countries—83 were against Israel (that’s 86%). Each year UNESCO adopts around 10 resolutions against Israel (100%). It has never criticized another UN Member State resolution with the exception of one resolution being adopted against Syria in 2013. Similarly, the World Health Organization, whose mandate it is to focus on global health, chooses to single out Israel with an annual resolution. No one nation has ever been singled out by the WHO. At its annual conference, the ILO (International Labour Organization) “produced a single country specific report castigating Israel.”
The UN’s treatment of Israel is excessive, proving that it is not actually adhering to a real human rights ideal. In its current state, true justice is not being carried out; rather, it is a popularity contest. Many UN member states have come to assume derogation to international law when it applies to their own nations. Turning a blind eye to the massive human rights abuses committed by these entities is an evasion of true justice. The wilful myopia of this body has become pathological.
Those speaking out against Israel have rarely had to take responsibility for their actions, whereas Israel is routinely punished (both in legal arenas as well as in the court of public opinion), often for events that never even took place. In 2002 the IDF retaliated to a terror threat in Jenin (targeting terrorists, not civilians) that the BBC reported as being a massacre against the Palestinians. While the BBC did later retract that story, apologizing for their mistake, the follow-up received little to no attention. However, the memory of the so-called massacre in Jenin remains clear in people’s minds, marring Israel’s public image. There are many other examples like this one including false reports on Gaza. When civilians die on either side it is a tragedy, but the IDF has proven that it does not intentionally target civilians as a matter of principle.
No country (or military either) is perfect or free from committing human rights abuses. All nations are guilty of human rights violations to varying degrees. That is a trait that humanity shares across the board. However, some strive to (and do) commit fewer violations than others. This imperative truth must be recognized. A true commitment to implementing justice requires that we choose to recognize those who work to espouse human rights, while holding those guilty of human rights abuses accountable for their actions.
Tragically, war always brings with it an ugliness that cannot ever fully be avoided, even with the best intentions and when the highest standard of human rights practices are implemented. Most democratic nations operate under the assumption that war should only serve as a last resort when all other means of diplomacy and sanctions have been exhausted, and when danger is truly imminent (and rightfully so).
While Israel’s neighbours continue to act out in violence against the Jewish State, consistently calling for their complete annihilation, Israel has continued to operate by these “fair rules” of war whether it is by extending the olive branch of diplomacy, giving up land for peace, or acting in limited self-defence.
Israel unfailingly demonstrates that their standards for upholding human rights are not the worst in the world; rather, they actually rise above the standards of North America and Europe, when faced with a comparable threat. It is time for people who claim to advocate for peace—for human rights, for justice, for truth, and for reason—to recognize that.