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Moe V. Gandi
Could Violence Be Moral?
By Dov Greenberg
 
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (October 2, 1869 – January 30, 1948)

As terror continues to threaten our brothers and sisters in Israel, let us turn to the greatest leader of the Jewish people, Moses, for a genuine road map toward peace and liberation.   

Moses' profile

The Hebrew Bible shares only three incidents about Moses' life prior to G-d choosing him as a leader and prophet (Exodus Chapter 2):

1) As a young man, Moses goes out among his brethren and sees an Egyptian overseer brutally beating a Hebrew. He strikes down the oppressor, burying him in the sand. 

2) The next day, Moses attempts to bring peace between two Hebrews who are fighting, but the aggressor is indignant and says, "Who appointed you as a prince and leader over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Realizing that his intervention the previous day had already become known, Moses escapes from Egypt and finds refuge in Midian. 

3) In Midian, Moses probably wants nothing more than peace and tranquility. Instead, he finds himself embroiled in yet another conflict. He witnesses the local shepherds bullying a group of girls who were first in line to draw water from a well. He immediately rises to their defense, driving off the offending shepherds.

These are the only episodes we know about Moses (besides the circumstances of his birth) prior to his selection by G-d as a leader, because they express a paradigm indispensable to leadership: A leader must have the courage to battle injustice wherever it exists. In all three instances, Moses is deeply committed to fighting injustice. He intervenes when a non-Jew oppresses a Jew, when two Jews fight, and when non-Jewish men oppress non-Jewish women. When it is necessary to kill, he is willing to kill. When it is sufficient to talk he is ready to talk; when it is necessary to fight, he is prepared to fight. One who rejects the choice of aggression out of a sense of compassion may be a kind human being but a wholly inadequate leader, because the long-term results of a failure to battle evil are far worse.

Politically Incorrect

In modern terms, Moses is politically incorrect. He does not lecture the Egyptian taskmaster about "the cycle of violence" or give him a lesson on "rage management." Moses knows that by the time he will complete his lecture the Hebrew might be dead. Moses is aware that at times, violence is a moral, though difficult, choice. It saves the lives of the innocent.

Prohibiting moral killing, guarantees immoral killing. It is violence used by police that stops violent criminals from murdering and hurting innocent people. There are many innocent men and women alive today solely because someone used violence to save their lives. If someone had killed the hijackers of 9/11 before they commandeered the planes, thousands of lives would have been saved.

Gandhi's Advice

Throughout history, many chose not to emulate Moses' example. During the Second World War, for example, when it appeared that Nazi Germany will attempt to capture England, Mahatma Gandhi offered the British the following advice:

"I would like you to lay down the arms you have which are useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession... If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them."

To the Jews of Germany Gandhi offered a similar message:

"I am as certain as I am dictating these words that the stoniest German heart will melt [if only the Jews] adopt active non-violence. Human nature ... unfailingly responds to the advances of love. I do not despair of his [Hitler's] responding to human suffering even though caused by him." Had Gandhi convinced the English to lay down their arms and practice non-violence, the Jewish people would have been annihilated, democracy and human rights would have disappeared, and the world would have been plunged into a new Dark Age of unimaginable cruelty. War, while always unfortunate and painful, is not always evil; sometimes, fighting a war is the most moral thing to do.

Astonishingly, the nation that Moses created -- Israel -- has in recent years emulated Gandhi rather than Moses. With the Oslo accords, we invited our sworn enemies to take parts of our homeland in the belief that they would reciprocate with peace and good will. Instead of declaring outright war against the terrorists and their infrastructure, we chose to practice restraint and non-violent diplomacy. Many of us believed then, and many Jews still believe, that the stoniest terrorist heart will melt in response to our peaceful advances.

Chamberlain and Churchill

In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain appeased Adolf Hitler, by allowing the German Fuhrer to occupy the Sudetenland for a mere promise of peace. Chamberlain then returned to England and announced that he had brought "Peace in our time."  Winston Churchill denounced him as a naive appeaser who believed that he could buy Hitler's good will by giving in to his immoral demands. "You were given a choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war." 

Sadly, the same has transpired with Israel. By relinquishing parts of our homeland, Israel chose dishonor. In return, Israel received war. Today we are in the midst of the worst bloodletting in Israeli history. The relentless terror is a direct result of the tragic policy that believes in appeasing terrorists and not destroying them. Appeasement is suicidal for the innocent and ensures victory for the evil.

The terror war on Israel, like World War II, is a war against the Jews. Losing is catastrophic. Losing is not an option. This is no time for appeasement or restraint. This is a time for righteous might.

The prophets of Israel were the first to conceive of peace as an ideal. Isaiah gave voice to the great words engraved in the imagination of the West: "Nation shall not lift up sword against Nation; neither shall they learn war anymore."  But the way to hasten Isaiah's vision is to fight evil, not allow it to flourish. At another time when the Jews needed to forcefully confront their enemies, the prophet Joel declared, "Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears." The use of moral violence must always be the last resort. But when all other attempts fail, righteous might is the only response to immoral violence.

~~~~~~

Posted on February 16, 2005
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