Israel now faces existential destruction from two main sources: The Islamic Republic of Iran and the aspiring Islamic republic of “Palestine.” One source is an established state with an expanding near-term potential to inflict nuclear harms. The other is a Hamas-led configuration of terror groups that seeks to become a state for the immediate purpose of annihilating an existing state. Neither Iran nor Hamas is particularly subtle or circumspect about what it hopes to inflict upon Israel. On the contrary, both are entirely explicit about their unrelenting intent to commit genocide.
What shall Israel do in order to endure? The use of force in world politics is not inherently evil. In preventing nuclear and terrorist attacks, force is indispensable. All states have a right of self-defense. Israel has every lawful authority to forcibly confront the evil of Iranian missile strikes and Palestinian terror. Facing at least a two-pronged assault on its very survival, it now has the clear legal right to finally reject being a victim. Instead, it has the regrettable but clear corollary right to become an executioner. From the standpoint of providing security to its own citizens – a provision that is central to all government authority – this right has now become a distinct obligation.
Albert Camus would have us all be “neither victims nor executioners, living not in a world in which killing has disappeared (we are not so crazy as that), but one wherein killing has become illegitimate.” This is a fine expectation, yet the celebrated French philosopher did not anticipate another evil force for whom utter extermination of “The Jews” was its declared object. Not even in a world living under the shadow of the recent Holocaust did Camus consider such an absurd possibility.
But Israel lacks the quaint luxury of French philosophy. Were Israel to follow Camus’ genteel reasoning, the result would be another boundless enlargement of Jewish suffering. Before and during the Holocaust, for those who still had an opportunity to flee, Jews were ordered: “Get out of Europe; go to ‘Palestine’.” When they complied (those who could), the next order was: “Get out of ‘Palestine’.” For my Austrian-Jewish grandparents, their deaths came on the SS-killing grounds at Riga, Latvia. Had they made it to “Palestine,” their sons and grandsons would likely have died in subsequent genocidal wars intended to get the Jews “OUT of ‘Palestine’.”
Failure to use force against murderous evil is invariably a stain upon all that is good. By declining the right to act as a lawful executioner in its struggle with genocidal war and terror, Israel would be forced by Camus’ reasoning to embrace its own disappearance.
Why was Camus, who was thinking only in the broadest generic terms, so mistaken?
The answer lies in his presumption of a natural reciprocity among human beings and states in the matter of killing. We are asked to believe that as greater numbers of people agree not to become executioners, still greater numbers will follow upon the same course. In time, the argument proceeds, the number of those who refuse to accept killing will become so great that there will be fewer and fewer victims. But Camus’ presumed reciprocity does not exist – indeed can never exist – especially in the Jihad-centered Middle East. Here the Islamist will to kill Jews remains unimpressed by Israel’s disproportionate contributions to science, industry, medicine and learning. Here there are no Iranian or Palestinian plans for a “Two-State Solution”; only for a Final Solution.
Martin Buber identifies the essence of every living community as “meeting.” True community is an authentic “binding,” not merely a “bundling together.” In true community, each one commits his whole being in G-d’s dialogue with the world, and each stands firm throughout this dialogue. But how can the dialogue be sustained with others who cannot “bind” in the absence of murder? How can there ever be any conceivable solution to the genocidal enmity of Iran and Hamas/”Palestine” to Israel, so long as this enmity is presumably indispensable to their declared primary meanings in the world?
In national self-defense and counter-terrorism, Jewish executioners must now have an honored place in the government of Israel. Without them, evil would triumph again and again.
For Iran and Hamas, the murder of Jews is not so much a means to an end as an end itself. In this antiheroic Islamist world, where killing Jews is often both a religious mandate and a presumed path to personal immortality, an Israeli unwillingness to use all necessary defensive force will invite mega-death and unrelieved despair.
To be sure, killing is sometimes a sacred duty, but certainly not for the loathsome reasons expressed daily by Iran and Hamas. Faced with undisguised sources of evil, all civilized states must sometimes rely upon the executioner. To deny the Israeli executioner his proper place at this 11th hour of danger would make a mockery of the principle of “Never Again” and would simultaneously open the floodgates of even greater human catastrophes. In the best of all possible worlds, Buber’s “binding” would supplant all “bundling,” but we don’t yet live in the best of all possible worlds. And in our existing condition, we must always remain prepared to fight strenuously for our collective Jewish survival.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on issues concerning international relations and international law, especially war and terrorism. He is the author of some of the earliest books on nuclear war and nuclear terror, and is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.