Every Jew is familiar with Deuteronomy 30:19: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” This Torah obligation is binding not only upon individuals, but also upon states – especially the always imperiled State of Israel. Even before individual Israelis can “choose life” with confidence, it is incumbent upon the government of Israel to do the same. In essence, this means putting an immediate end to its time-dishonored policy of “Land For Nothing,” and ensuring a national capacity to assure protection of the country’s citizens. Whether driven by Oslo Agreements or a so-called “Road Map,” Israel can never expect citizen compliance with a policy of collective suicide.
Significantly, in this matter of national protection, international law parallels Torah. Governments maintain their legitimate authority only to the extent that they can offer their citizens a reasonable assurance of protection. This principle is well known in Western political philosophy. According to the 17th century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, sovereignty actually derives from the assurance of protection: “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign,” says Hobbes in Chapter XXI of Leviathan, “is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them.”
Similarly, Jean Bodin, a 16th century French political theorist, argues that sovereignty stems entirely from the capacity to provide safety: In The Republic, he comments:
“The word of protection in generall extendeth unto all subjects which are under the obeysance of one soveraigne prince…As we have said, that the prince is bound by force of armes, and of his lawes, to maintaine his subjects in suretie of their persons, their goods, and families: for which the subjects by a reciprocall obligation owe unto their prince faith, subjection, obeysance, and succour.”
It is also true, under compulsory international law, that governments must conform to certain clear standards of human rights, and that where they do not meet such standards, individual citizens may have the right – and perhaps even the obligation – to disobey that government. Under certain circumstances (that is, where government policies are heading the country toward genocide and war), these citizens may even have the right and/or obligation to overturn that government by extraordinary means.
What do these principles have to do with the current State of Israel? Plainly, for both philosophical and jurisprudential reasons, there is compelling ground for arguing that Israeli government authority over its citizens is now increasingly problematic. From the standpoint of philosophy, Israel’s multiple and debilitating surrenders of territory that incrementally create an enemy state of “Palestine” call into question government authority over the citizenry. After all, these surrenders have made it substantially unlikely that Israel can any longer protect its citizens from authentically existential harms.
From the standpoint of international law, to the extent that Israeli surrenders and consequent citizen vulnerabilities may constitute a violation of essential human rights, namely the incontestable and immutable rights to live and to endure, the people of Israel may now have a right or obligation to oppose their government with very far-reaching acts of civil resistance. Moreover, these arguments not only extend as well, to the Jewish citizens of YESHA, they apply especially to these particularly endangered citizens.
Over the next several months, as Palestine is carved incrementally out of the still-living body of Israel, the Jewish State will face a growing threat of war and extermination. Recognizing this unbearable condition, an expanding portion of Israel’s Jewish citizens will certainly calculate that government authority has disappeared together with government capacity to assure protection. From this correlative argument these citizens will then do what they believe is necessary to prevent their own individual and collective annihilation. At the beginning, their actions may take the form of traditional civil disobedience. After a time, it is likely that they would escalate to more robust forms of civil resistance.
This is not a pleasant or welcome picture. On the contrary, it is a scenario that must be avoided. But to succeed in such avoidance, the government of Israel must take the initiative. It is the government’s responsibility, immediately, to take such measures as are needed to prevent the coming regional war – a war that could involve chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons.
What are these measures? The answer is to implement policies that will restore citizen protections and thereby enhance government authority. At a minimum, such policies must point to (1) an absolute cessation of Oslo/Road Map-generated territorial transfers to the Hamas-controlled Palestine Authority (PA), including any transference of Jerusalem. These policies must also include (2) an absolute Israeli rejection of Palestinian demands for the “right of return,” demands that would put a decisive end to the State of Israel via demographic implosion; (3) increased Israeli military preparations for dealing with the renewed Egyptian/Syrian menace and the rapidly growing strategic threat from Iran; and (4) increased Israeli preparations for dealing with terrorist-directed chemical and biological weapons.
If the next post-Sharon government of Israel wishes to forestall civil disobedience and prevent outright civil war, it will first have to restore its severely compromised capacity to assure citizen protections. With such restoration, it will be acting in conformance with the authoritative expectations of both Torah and international law. Without such restoration, it will not only create a condition of intolerable national insecurity, it will also ensure that virtually any subsequent form of anti-government opposition in Israel would be permissible. It is time, finally, for the government of Israel to “choose life.”
Copyright The Jewish Press, 2006. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is author of many books and articles dealing with political philosophy and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.