Gaza and After: An Interview with Paul Berman

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[H/t to ZWord. Michelle Sieff’s interview with Paul Berman is well worth reading. An excerpt is below.]

How have you judged Israel’s actions against Hamas? Do you think Israel used disproportionate force against Hamas?

There is an obligation to live, which means that Israel has not just the right but the obligation to defend herself. Judging the proportionality of the Israeli actions runs into a complication, though – something of a logical bind.

It is now and then noted in the press that Hamas, in its charter, calls for the elimination of Israel – though, actually, the charter goes further yet, which is almost never noted. Article Seven of the charter, citing one of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, makes clear that Hamas acknowledges a religious duty to kill the Jews. It’s all pretty explicit. Which Jews in particular must be killed, in order to bring about, as the charter puts it, the “Last Hour?” Article Seven merely stipulates “the Jews” – which leaves open the possibility, I would think, of killing all of the Jews, or at least (judging from other sections of the charter) the Jews who inhabit any place that is now or used to be Islamic. In any case, the Jews of Israel.

What is Israel trying to fend off, then? Two possibilities. First: it’s not so hard to imagine that, if Hamas were allowed to prosper unimpeded, and if its allies and fellow-thinkers in Hezbollah and the Iranian government and its nuclear program likewise prospered, the goal announced in Article Seven could be largely achieved. History has some experience with political movements that proclaim in their founding documents the intention of killing the Jews. And so, a first possibility is that Israel is up against military enemies who have every intention of committing a genocide, and who might conceivably succeed. The possibility that Israel is defending itself against a genocide ought to lead any reasonable person to grant the Israelis a degree of latitude in judging what is a proportionate action – even if, as Michael Walzer points out, an invocation of genocidal dangers could also end up as a justification for doing too much.

However, a second possibility. The Hamas charter is full of wild language – not just the part about killing the Jews, but also the invocation of the Protocols of Zion and of an antisemitic theory of history. But maybe all of this stuff should be regarded merely as an overwrought cry of pain – an expression of powerlessness. Maybe there is a kind of pathos of victimhood and suffering in Hamas’ ideas, and not much more.

[Read it all here]

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