Bradley Burston, a columnist for Haaretz, wrote a great blog post this week, which I will reproduce here in full. (You can read the original here, if you really want.) This post has my wholehearted recommendation. There really is no political situation in the world that is this complex and has so much at stake. While I have some ideas about what I would like to see happen, I don’t have a solution. Neither does Burston. But at least he establishes a basic ethical framework with which the Israelis and the Palestinians can hopefully make progress.
Ten Commandments for Arab and Jew at war
There is no conflict in the world more complex, more closely watched, and more historically intractable than the war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, a tireless blood feud now on the threshold of its seventh decade.
It helps little that each side lays claim to ultimate morality and consummate victimhood.
For Palestinian Muslim and Israeli Jew both, many of the most strident calls for escalation, for war until absolute victory, for refusal to compromise, for justifying injury to civilians on the other side, in fact, for eradication, political or physical, of the other side, come from ultra-nationalist religious leaders.
With radicalism at the clerical level having tainted and to some extent warped both Islam and Judaism, perhaps now is the time for the rest of us believers to put in our two cents.
Herewith, a first draft: Ten Commandments for the Arab and Jew at war:
1. Thou shalt not kill the civilian
Never target the innocent. In all armed operations and activities, make heroic efforts to respect non-combatants.
Marshal your ingenuity and skill and technical proficiency to avoid injury to children, the elderly, and all who are unarmed. If civilians on the other side are injured, investigate at once, thoroughly and impartially, and, where warranted, punish those responsible.
In populated areas, stop the use of weapons whose inaccuracy and/or lethal force, including Qassams, Kartyushas, main battle tanks, heavy artillery, fighter-bombers, flechettes, and cluster bombs, place civilians in direct danger.
2. Neither shall you use civilians as human shields.
Never launch attacks from populated civilian residences. Never use populated civilian residences as hideouts or firing platforms.
Protect civilians on your side from attack in any way possible. If the other side uses missiles against civilian areas, use all means at your command to keep civilians from harm’s way.
If non-combatants are likely to become targets, find ways to shelter them, evacuate them, or ways to stop missiles before they strike.
3. Thou shalt not worship the use of force, nor mistake revenge for self-defense, nor confuse politically motivated attacks with justice, nor believe with perfect faith that military might, carried to an extreme, will resolve the conflict.
Be not deluded that your political ends will be served by the instruments of war.
Be not persuaded that the state you despise will bend to your will in deference to rockets, mortars, suicide bombings, roadside bombings, school shootings and drive-by shootings.
Be not convinced that assassination, invasion, occupation, enforced oppression, deepened poverty, blockade, strafing, bombing, shelling, raiding, and/or besiegement, will topple the government you revile.
4. Thou shalt not practice humiliation, nor collective punishment
Remove all checkpoints except those which can be demonstrated to be absolutely necessary. Reduce friction as much as possible at remaining checkpoints. Do everything possible to allow civilians on the other side to work, pray, study, and live as normally as possible.
The people on the other side are every ounce as proud and as obstinate as contrary and as immovable as you.
Turn off their lights and their gas, and they will hate you in the cold and dark. You, and not the people you want them to hate.
Rocket them, bomb them, gun them down, and they will do everything in their power to remain on the land you claim, give you nothing more, and see that things stay that way.
5. Thou shalt not dismiss ceasefire proposals out of hand.
Nor shall you turn aside diplomatic overtures, nor order military operations to foil them.
6. Thou shalt not demolish homes.
Demolition of Palestinian homes is not a tactic. It is a form of terrorism. It does not create deterrence. It fosters hatred. It incites against peace. It engenders revenge.
7. Thou shalt raze illegal outposts.
Be not deceived that this contradicts the previous commandment. Be not taken in by those who view illegal outposts as the highest form of patriotism. Take it for what it is, in the following light:
8. Thou shalt act to restrain the renegades in your midst, terrorists, bigots and bullies, whose actions betray their own people.
9. Thou shalt not aim to “close an account.”
No military action in the Holy Land ever settled the score or closed a standing account. Military action only opens a new account.
10. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain
The clergyman – rabbi, reverend or imam ? who counsels hatred for the other, who preaches that the Lord is on the side of wider and deeper war, is not a man of God.
The man of the cloth who dismisses the beliefs of the other, the history of the other, the validity of the other’s faith-based claim to this land, is not a man of God.
The spiritual leader who forbids all compromise leads his followers to ruin.
We are, in this Holy Land, Muslim, Christian, and Jew, all of us children of the same Lord, servants of the same God, every one of us the image of our one Creator.
The preacher who preaches otherwise, he who worships at the altar of force and disdains the possibility of accommodation, condemns all of us to an eternity of war.
God help us, every one.