Not only since the film Schindler’s List have we seen the saying of first-century rabbis–“He who saves a life saves a whole world”–been held up as the guiding principle for the military behavior of western countries.
Israel, in particular, under the microscope of a hostile international community, is reluctant to claim a clear victory over its enemies.
In the Matot-Masei weekly Torah portion, prior to the conquest of Canaan, the Israelites are commanded a very different military doctrine:
On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places…
“‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.'”
It doesn’t sound pretty at all, but when you look at the state of Israel today, you can’t help but see the wisdom in this divine command. Had the Jews completely driven the Arabs out of the country in the 1948 War of Independence and later in the liberation of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, all that would have remained to do was defend the land from external enemies.
However, it almost pains me to write these lines, because I don’t want to harm even our Arab enemies. Forcing families out of their homes would be very difficult for me and I’m glad not to be a prime minister who has to make such decisions.
Am I perhaps too influenced by our modern ideas of humanism not to be willing to do harm to my enemies in order to live in peace in my country in the long term? But if God has no mercy on Israel’s enemies, why should I?
Also, the Talmud says, “Whoever pities the cruel eventually becomes cruel to the compassionate.”
So sympathy seems out of place here, because our sympathy for the Arabs in Israel leads them to regularly carry out terrorist attacks against our civilian population. They are not afraid of death, nor of prison. Israel’s compassion really seems to know no bounds.
The only excuse I have for my probably-misplaced sympathy and that of my Israeli government is the fact that, unlike the situation in the Bible, we have not received a direct command from God.
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