Saturday, May 01, 2004

A time for humility?
Helena Cobban on Israel killing Rantissi:

What follies, follies, follies!! How can anyone imagine that actions like that … will bring peace??

The one thing you can say in favor of Hamas, and its recently departed leaders, Yassin and Rantissi, is that, unlike the Palestinian Authority, it has never pretended to be interested in making peace with Israel. It has always stated its goals quite clearly – the destruction of the State of Israel, the extermination of the Jews residing therein, and the establishment of an Islamic entity in its place.

We Moderns, with our superior knowledge and understanding, believe that it is legitimate and acceptable for an organization like Hamas to strive bravely on towards its declared goals, which must be worthy and just, because they grew out of the suffering of the downtrodden. And we Moderns know for a fact that Israel is currently the only thing standing between the world and real, eternal peace. There was a poll.

We Moderns believe it is possible to do away with all the unpleasant aspects of life. We have the technology. We will eliminate war; we can cancel suffering; no one has to be hungry; no one need be ill; we will extend life indefinitely; we can bring happiness to everyone, for eternity.
Again, Kohelet comes to mind:

A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven:
A time for being born and a time for dying,
A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted;
A time for slaying and a time for healing,
A time for tearing down and a time for building up;
A time for weeping and a time for laughing,
A time for wailing and a time for dancing;
A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces;
A time for seeking and a time for losing,
A time for keeping and a time for discarding;
A time for ripping and a time for sewing,
A time for silence and a time for speaking;
A time for loving and a time for hating,
A time for war and a time for peace.

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 3, 8 (From the new translation of the Holy Scriptures according to the traditional Hebrew text).

I suddenly notice something about this passage. Something is missing. Do you notice it too? It is something that is so much a part of modern life that it seems like we can’t do without it. Read it again carefully. See if you can guess.

The thing that is missing in this passage is judgment.

Kohelet isn’t saying that one is good and the other is bad. He isn’t saying that this is desirable, while that is to be avoided. He is saying that there is a time for all these things, yes, for death, for sadness, even for destruction, for hatred, for war. He is describing the way the world works. He is telling us what to expect.

Israel didn’t kill Rantissi and Yassin as part of its quest for peace. It killed them in self-defense. ‘If he comes to kill you, prevent him by killing him first’*.

This is a time for war. We didn’t ask for this war, we didn’t instigate it. On the contrary, I believe we did our best to prevent it. But make no mistake - however unpopular it makes us - we have no intention of losing it. Defeat is not a luxury we can allow ourselves.

We are the canary in the mine. Given the nature of terrorism, the future is quite clear: if we lose, be prepared, so do you. But let me tell you a little secret: if we lose, I really couldn’t care less what happens to you.


* ‘If he comes to kill you, prevent him by killing him first’ - a popular quote in Israel. It is from the Talmud, explaining something from the Torah - Exodus 22, 1:

If the thief is seized while tunneling, and he is beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt in his case. If the sun has risen on him, there is bloodguilt in his case.

(From the new translation of the Holy Scriptures according to the traditional Hebrew text).

Jewish sages discussed this:

The commentators explain that the somewhat ambiguous phrase, “There is no blood for him” (“there is no bloodguilt in this case” – I.J.) …, means the thief’s killer bears no guilt of manslaughter (as discussed by Ibn Ezra, Rashbam). The Mishna provides the basis for this case: “The one who comes in a tunnel is judged by his end [i.e. final intention]” (Sanhedrin 8.6). In the Gemara, Raba outlines the thief’s thought-process: “If I go there, he [the owner] will oppose me and prevent me; but if he does, I will kill him” (Sanhedrin 72a).

The Talmud then summarizes the general rule for this situation: “Therefore the Torah decreed, ‘If he comes to kill you, prevent him by killing him [first]’” (Sanhedrin 72a). …the Talmud is offering a synopsis of the verses quoted above – although the specifics deal with a thief and a tunnel, the essence of the lesson is to establish justification for murder in self-defense.

(My emphasis).