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‘What Makes You Better Than Them?’

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“In that case, what makes you better than the terrorists?”

I often hear this question. It usually comes up after someone suggests that Israel ruthlessly defeat its enemies instead of maintaining its current wishy-washy approach of hiding behind security walls, wearing the enemy down, and offering land in an effort to advance peace.

I have never understood this argument. If Israel were, say, to target Arab civilians as part of a policy of collective punishment, would that render the Jewish state immoral – just as immoral as Arab terrorists who launch rockets at Israeli schools and playgrounds? Is the man who ends a fight just as guilty as the one who started it? Is the man who kills a killer just as immoral as the killer himself?

More important, however, the question itself – “What makes you better than the terrorists?” – is completely beside the point. The question presupposes that wars must have moral and immoral parties. The question further presupposes that countries fight one another in an effort to achieve moral superiority.

But neither one of these propositions is true. Countries fight one another not because they are battling for some moral summit but because they wish to live and not die.

If a mugger attacks me in an alley, I fight back not because I want to be more moral than him, but because I want to keep my money and teach the mugger a lesson while I’m at it.

Some wars are black and white. World War II is a classic example. Germany fought for an oppressive, murderous ideology while the United States fought for democracy and freedom.

But many wars do not have “good” and “bad” sides, “moral” and “immoral” parties. Who was “better” in World War I? Germany or Russia? Austria-Hungary or England? Turkey or France?

The answer is that neither side was clearly “better” than the other. Did that stop them from fighting each other? Did the Russian soldier say to himself: “Wait, I’m no better than a German soldier, how can I continue fighting?”

Of course not – because people don’t fight on account of their moral pedigree. They fight because they wish to advance a cause or because they find themselves under attack.

It happens to be that Israelis on the whole are more moral than their Arab attackers. They have no desire to kill anybody and wouldn’t harm a hair on an Arab’s head if they would only leave Israel alone. And when forced to fight, Israelis – unlike the Arabs – don’t lynch soldiers to the roaring cheers of the crowd, don’t cut open women’s stomachs, and don’t crush children’s skulls with rocks.

Fundamentally, though, it matters not one iota if Israelis are morally “better” than the Arabs or not. What matters is that the Arabs want to destroy Israel – and if Israel doesn’t trounce them first, Israel will die. Period.

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About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and holds a Masters degree from Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies.


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