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PS about Gaza

– Hamas would kill many more if they had the means.
– Israel could kill many more if they had the will.

Leif Knutsen posted these words on Facebook. To my (deeply prejudiced) Western-liberal mind, that is a good distinction.

So imagine my surprise when it turned out that another of Leif’s friends disagreed. As far as I could make it, Shoaib Sultan‘s main points were that

– Israel decides how long this conflict goes on, Hamas or other palestinians dont. Thats the difference. That the strong part choose not to kill and maim more is hardly a moral upside for them.

– It is totally wrong to consider that “Moral is to be strong and moderate”.

– Someone beating up a weaker guy isn’t moral [just?] because he doesn’t kill him.”

I love these moments when I start seeing through the arguments of both sides in an argument; both the others’ and my own. The fact that I don’t understand someone else’s point of view doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily wrong. It could mean that they’re using a different frame of reference, and/or a different value system. If my moral distinctions don’t look meaningful to them, it could be because they come from a different place, where people weigh these things differently. That’s at least a starting point, if I want treat their own opinions with the same respect that i require from them.

In my moral system, it’s wrong to beat others. Period. Whether the other is stronger or weaker doesn’t factor into the equation.

If the other is trying to kill or hurt you, I think that it’s not immoral to hit back. (I would have loved to argue that point with Gandhi.) And again, it doesn’t matter whether the other is stronger or weaker. That has to do with whether it’s wise to use violence, not with whether it’s morally justified.

Whether the other is weaker or stronger, factors in only if the party that’s being perceived as “stronger”, clearly has a choice in how much violence to use. If he’s weak, he can use everything that he has. If he’s strong, he can’t use more than is necessary to eliminate the threat from the other. But who’s “stronger”? Would it have been morally wrong of Goliath to kill David? I’m afraid not. And how much violence will it take to eliminate the threat from Hamas? Clearly more than Israel is currently using.

All this is messier in real life than in theory. Nobody can say who started it. (Jews and Philistines have been killing each other since Biblical times). Last night, I sat up reading the Geneva Conventions to try to figure out what the official rules really are. It was a depressing experience.

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