Chamas: the broken moral compass

I've been blogging since 2005 (the same year Israel pulled out of Gaza, forcing its own citizens to leave their homes to clear the land for others). In all these years, I have eschewed politics. But I just cannot remain silent on this. I thought of 2 key connections in TaNaCh for the situation, and here is one of them:

You may have heard that it’s better to have a stopped clock than a broken one that keeps going. The reason for that is that the stopped one is at least right twice a day. Likewise, a broken compass is more dangerous than one that simply doesn’t move because you think you’re going in the right direction when your orientation is all wrong.  If your compass just doesn’t move, at least you know that you’re lost and you’ll have to find some other means of getting on the right track. The same holds for a broken moral compass, which so many are brandishing.

The name Chamas is about more than a terror organization; it’s about utter corruption of justice. That’s the word used for what brought the decree of the mabul. The land was filled was chamas. The word is sometimes translated as robbery and sometimes as extortion. The text doesn’t tell us that the judgment came because of arayosm, though that was rampant but because of what really amounts to a misdemeanor.  Why is that so bad?

The generation that fell into chamas was considered unsalvageable – unlike the generation that set up the Tower of Babel in an attempt to defy a Deity over them. Our tradition teaches us that G-d can even find good in people who think that can fight him so long as they show a spirit of unity and cooperation. He does not, however, find any hope in a society that shows no regard for each other.  When this is taught to children, they learn the profound importance of love for our fellow man – which has positive effect even for the worst sinners. That’s not only important but central to Jewish thought.

Those of us who are adults should be able to appreciate still another aspect of this lesson. The chamas of that generation was not just a matter of people who made a habit of causing harm to others. The reason why it was so bad is that it corrupted the whole system of justice. Extortion is not technically stealing, so the one who got money out of his victim that way could say, he acted within the law. Those who did steal outright did would claim that he only took an amount that didn’t meet the legal minimum for crime and, consequently, was not subject to persecution.

 Though many laws translate into “thou shalt nots” there is also a key “thou shalt” that all civilizations must follow in order to survive: that is to set up a system of justice.  When people find out a way to perpetuate crimes with impunity, and so justice is never served, we have an utterly corrupt society.  Now we have that situation in the way terrorists manipulate people’s sympathies to exonerate them from all the harm they do to their own people as well as the Jews they hate.

I have heard people respond to all the evidence you can offer about what Israel actually does do versus what Hamas does, and  their response amounts to this: “War is never justified, and so even if Israel is attacked, it cannot defend itself.”  They even admit that all reason goes out the window when they see a heartbreaking picture of a dead child (never mind that often those pictures are really from Syria where there countless more Muslims are murdered by Muslims). As for the knee-jerk reaction to images that sells news, read Simcha Jacovibi’s analysis of how the media perpetuates the broken compass, pointing people in the wrong direction and actually rewarding Hamas for using their own people as human shields in: Those TV cameras responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza.

I have read people seriously declare that Israel can’t fire at the places where rockets are known to be stored if there is even the possibility of a civilian casualty. You can cite all the atrocities of Hamas, but they just wave the pictures of Gazan children as the only definitive point of a moral compass. That is not to say that Israel should or does go after children. It does everything in its power and evens risks the safety of its own troops (through warnings, through ground invasion, through avoiding the annihilation through bombs that could easily have pulled off in just a day if it truly were bent on genocide as their accusers claim).

One fundamental error made in this argument about who is moral in war is in automatically favoring the side with the heaviest losses. Pointing out civilian casualties doesn’t prove who was in the right. If so, we’d have to say that instead of honoring Lincoln, we would castigate him for calling for a war in which the north pummeled the south and caused the death of more than 50,000 civilians there.  We would be forced to say the Allies were wrong simply because they had superior weapons and won the war against the greatest force of evil the world had seen until that time.

Incredible as that sounds, that’s exactly where this broken moral compass leads, as those people who claimed they are motivated by compassion and the cause of human rights lead rallies in which they call for a Jew-free country and extol Hitler’s Final Solution. Yes, in our supposedly more enlightened time, and it will get far worse if it is not stopped.  

Giving in to Hamas tactics would forever tie the hands of all victims of terror. All the terrorists would have to do is put some kids in front of their arsenals and say, “You can’t touch me because your self-defense will be twisted into a war crime.” That is a cynical corruption of justice; that is chamas.

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