Foundation Blog
Ethics Oslo/Peace Process

Cruel Mercy

I must confess to being infuriated by Israel’s Government. I am sickened by the leaders of this Government. How they self-righteously proclaim, to an uncaring world, of how Jewish soldiers have risked and even lost their lives to minimize the death of innocent Arab civilians.

This merciful government, in particular the Sharon/Peres/Ben-Eliezer security cabinet, has cruelly sacrificed the lives of Jewish soldiers—for example in Jenin—on the altar of “world opinion.” This false and futile humanism—for Israel-bashing continues—has no precedent in the practices of nations, and no basis in the teachings of the prophets and sages of Israel.

Quite apart from the fact that Israel’s Adjacent Arab Jew-Haters are anything but innocent, let alone humanists—more than 85% support human bombs—mercy and kindness while waging war against the enemy is contrary to military science as well as Jewish law. The first object of war is to utterly defeat and disarm the enemy. A government that risks the lives of its soldiers to spare the enemy, which may then resume its attack, is criminally irresponsible. No a Torah-oriented government would succumb to such folly, and no other government so much cherishes peace. Let us try to understand this.

The Jewish sages exalt peace: “Great is peace, for God’s name is Peace” (Bamidbar Rabbah 11:7). “Great is peace, for it includes all blessings” (Vayikrah Rabbah 9:9). Nevertheless, the Torah deems it a mitzvah to wage war against Israel’s enemies. Besides, King Solomon said, “To everything there is a season … a time for war and a time for peace.” Each time has its own laws. There are laws for war, and there are laws for peace.

The sages teach: “There is a time to kill, in the time of war, and a time to heal, in the time of peace.… There is a time to love, in the time of peace, and a time to hate, in the time of war” (Kohelet Rabbah 3:1). Consider the verse, “When you go forth to battle against your enemies” (Deut. 20:1). The sages ask: “What is meant by ‘against your enemies’”? They answer: “God said, ‘Confront them as enemies. Just as they show you no mercy, so should you not show them any mercy’” (Tanchuma, Shoftim 15).

True, there may be among the enemy some innocent or upright individuals, but one ought not take them into account when prosecuting a war, for they should have risen up against or fled from evildoers. The Mishna says: “Three were present when Pharoah declared, ‘Let us deal wisely with them’ (Exod. 1:10): Bilam, who advised Pharoah to act this way, was killed. Job, who remained silent, was punished with suffering. Jethro, who fled, merited to have descendants sit in the Sanhedrin” (Sotah 11a).

The government of Israel should be guided by Israel’s greatest monarch, King David: “I have pursued mine enemies and overtaken them. Neither did I withdraw till they were consumed. I have smitten them through, so that they are not able to rise; they are fallen under my feet. For Thou has girded me with strength unto the battle. Thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me. Thou hast also made mine enemies turn their backs unto me, and I did cut off them that hate me. … Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind; I did cast them out as the mire of the streets” (Psalms 18:38-43).

These words may seem cruel for effete, overly civilized Jews. They would rather Jews be the victims than the victors of war—the less to worry about anti-Semitism. Fearful of “world opinion,” Israeli governments have pursued a policy of self-restraint against Arab terrorism ever since Oslo. How many Jews have been murdered, how many Jewish children have been made orphans, how many Jewish men, women, and children have been crippled for life, how many Jewish families have suffered so horribly because of this senseless, cowardly, and futile policy?

And how many Arabs as well as Jews would be alive today had the government of Israel pursued a cruel but quick and decisive war against Arafat before he could accumulate so many weapons, and indoctrinate a generation of Arab children to hate and kill Jews, while this inept and timid government burned incense to “world opinion”? How cruel is the merciful policy of this government! How cruel is its kindness! And the policy continues with none to denounce this foolish and fearful government.

Yes, the Jewish people are known (even by their enemies) for their kindness and mercy (which is why Arabs store weapons in hospitals and schools and shield themselves behind women and children). In time of war, however, “do not show [your enemy] any pity” (Deut. 7:17), on which verse the Ramban comments: “Through the mercy of fools all justice is lost.” This is especially true vis-à-vis Arabs, who despise weakness, which only drives them to kill more Jews.

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