The Enablers

Of some people and institutions we expect and demand scrupulously moral behavior. Of others, while we may not approve of their behavior, we expect the worse. Expecting the best can be ennobling. Expecting the worst not only provides an implicit excuse for bad behavior, but can represent a subtle form of bigotry. We are witnessing the classic case of the phenomenon in the current conflict between Israel and the Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

One the one hand, we have Israel trying to free its northern border with Lebanon from the armed terrorist group Hezbollah. This goal is consistent with UN resolution 1559 which explicitly “calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.” Israeli military actions have sometimes resulted in the death of innocent civilians. However, in large measure, the civilian deaths were a direct consequence of Hezbollah hiding themselves and their missiles in civilian areas including residences, schools, and mosques. Moreover, Israel has used door-to-door tactics to remove Hezbollah. They could have achieved the same goals by more indiscriminate use of air power. Instead, they have chosen a tactic that will cost more Israeli military lives, but will minimize civilian casualties. Yet, Israel is roundly criticized by the international community for the civilian deaths that do occur.

One the other hand, besides putting Lebanese civilians in jeopardy as a tactic of war, Hezbollah is launching Katyusha rockets into Israel. These rockets are so inaccurate that they can have no practical military value. Instead, they are lofted indiscriminately in the murderous hopes that they will kill civilians and terrorize populations in northern Israel. These rockets even include small metal pellets, a Syrian innovation, designed to cause as many casualties as possible. While these tactics are criticized, the criticism is milder, perhaps because we do no expect much of Hezbollah. These low expectations represent a form of anti-Muslim prejudice

If we find situations where the Israelis have, either accidentally or through other errors in judgment caused collateral damage, they should be criticized. No one is beyond criticism. Indeed, the Israelis have a robust tradition of self-critique.

However, we cannot permit such serious examination to draw a moral equivalency between Israeli and Hezbollah tactics. To do so is to provide an incentive for Hezbollah to use schemes that will maximize civilian causalities and to act as a terrorism enabler. If every time civilians were killed as a consequence of the deliberate intermingling of fighters and civilians by Hezbollah, Hezbollah rather than Israel were portrayed as the primary culprit, the tactic would cease to be of political advantage.

Of the fact that Hezbollah cynically facilitates civilian casualties, there can be no doubt. Even more gruesome, there is even evidence that Hezbollah imports in corpses from other areas as a propaganda ploy for the benefit of reporters.

World opinion can legitimately aim its rhetorical firepower at inappropriate use of military power, however unless it does so carefully it risks the collateral damage of a moral equivalency which encourages the use of civilian populations as shields. In such cases, the ill-place shots of world criticism can result in unnecessary civilian deaths just as surely as an errant bomb intended for a different target. In some significant measure anti-Israel world opinion encourages Hezbollah’s tactics and makes the world community unintentionally responsible for civilian causalities.

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