Friday, May 24th

Opinion: Is This A Just War and Is The War Being Fought Justly?

letter to the editorA post by Bess Kalb on the Grudge Report about the conflict in Israel and Gaza has sparked conversation among local members of the Jewish community. Kalb has some association with the Dale as she attended Scarsdale Middle School, before moving back to the city. You can see her post here:

Below is a response to it from Mark Hershey of Scarsdale.

I think that I understand why Bess Kalb wrote what she did, however, in my opinion, there is much about the Israeli situation, and the inherent nature of armed conflict, that she has failed to understand or acknowledge. As history over the centuries has so clearly demonstrated, war is hell! Every war inevitably brings horror and pain not only to soldiers, but also to innocent civilians caught in the middle of armed conflict. Does Bess think that the British and American armies fighting to liberate Europe in World War II did so without creating equally horrible scenes of dead children, disfigured bodies, and destroyed cities?

In the end, one needs to address two questions: is this a just war, and is the war being fought justly? I believe that this is a just war — a war of self-defense — and I am fully comfortable in saying that it is entirely proper and moral for Israel to be “hell bent on our own survival”. Perhaps Bess, residing in the comfort of her home in America, need not be so concerned about her survival, and so perhaps she cannot easily relate to Israelis who are desperately concerned about their survival. I think that this is the crucial problem with many people in America. We have been too comfortable, too safe, for too long, and we have not lived through an existential war, as our parents did. Many of us simply cannot fathom the cruel fact that when you and your country face destruction or domination by a powerful and murderous foe, as Israel faces today from radical Islam, and has faced almost without interruption for the past 75 years, the only viable and moral response is self-defense, and often that means taking up arms and defending yourself as best you can. And the results are not pretty — in fact, they are cruel and horrible, for your opponents and for your own people.

Is Israel conducting the war justly? While I think that it is entirely appropriate to ask this question and to make such an assessment, I would argue that one needs to do so honestly and fairly, while considering all of the prevailing circumstances. For example, it is fair for Bess to raise challenging questions about the recent terrible tragedy involving the World Kitchen volunteers apparently killed by an Israeli attack. Nonetheless, I find it hard to believe that any Israeli official knowingly ordered the murder of innocent people, which is what some are suggesting. It is much more likely that the attack was a tragic mistake, and that the Israeli officer who approved the attack believed that there were Hamas fighters in these vehicles. Such horrible mistakes happen frequently in all wars. Indeed, many soldiers in combat are killed by “friendly fire.” This does not diminish the tragedy of this or other similar events, but equally, such a tragedy does not make the perpetrator of the event malevolent. The consequences of war are horrible and tragic. None of us, least of all the Israelis, wanted this war, and I challenge Bess or others to show examples of any other wars where one side or the other avoided large civilian casualties, massive destruction and horrible tragedies.

Could Israel do better? I honestly don’t know. I am not standing in their shoes. I am not able to see or know all of the immense pressures that such a conflict imposes on combatants. This is a war where the enemy wears no uniform, embeds itself in hospitals, mosques, schools and apartment buildings, and uses innocent women and children as human shields. Does Bess have a military tactic in mind, or can she point to another similar conflict (if there is one) where an army has successfully defeated its enemy with less human suffering? Naturally, we all would like to think that somehow an army of terrorists can be destroyed or defanged with a minimum of civilian loss of life, but the sad truth is that the Hamas terrorists who initiated this war have opened the gates of hell. One might wish that war could be pursued “humanely”, but history suggests otherwise.

I believe that we who live in comfort and security should not place impossible burdens on those who are fighting for their lives. Having said this, I would agree that Israel should try its best to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza, and to make serious efforts to move civilians out of harms way, if at all possible. I believe that Israel has tried to achieve these ends, but it is fair to ask if they could do more. What is not realistic, in my view, is to assume that such actions would prevent the horrors and tragedies of war, on both sides.

I am fortunate in my life to have never been put in a position of having to decide when or whether to pull the trigger, or press the “kill button”, but equally I have never been the target of an incoming missile, and I have never been confronted by a terrorist holding a machine gun, or a suicidal killer driving a car or carrying an explosive device strapped to their chest. We need to be sympathetic with the innocent victims in Gaza, while also being empathetic to Israelis who are continuously threatened by those who attempt to murder them. We need to remember what it was like for our parents’ generation who faced the most frightening of times and found the courage and resilience to fight an aggressive and murderous enemy, notwithstanding the horrible consequences of that war.

Bess calls for Ceasefire Now and a Hostage Deal Now. Does she mean a Hostage Deal Now at any cost? Should Israel release all Hamas prisoners, including known perpetrators of terror attacks and murders of Israelis? Should the Ceasefire be a permanent ceasefire, leaving a portion of the Hamas military capacity in Rafah intact? Should Israel agree to immediately fully withdraw from Gaza, even if it would mean a return of Hamas control over Gaza? Negotiating for the release of the hostages in the middle of a war is a painful, complex and difficult matter, and only the Israeli War Cabinet and the people of Israel can decide what trade-offs make sense under current circumstances. Surely we in America are in no position to make such decisions, nor should we try to do so.

Mark Hershey and his wife Janet have been residents of Scarsdale since 1980. All four of their sons graduated from Scarsdale High School. The Hershey family have been long time members of Congregation Kol Ami, where Mark served as President (from 1996 to 2000), and remains active. Mark retired in 2022 from HSBC Bank, an international bank based in London, where he held the position of Global Head of Commercial Credit Risk. In retirement, Mark has become active in the American Jewish Committee in Westchester, and the North American and Israeli divisions of the Shalom Hartman Institute, a leading Jewish think tank and educational institution.

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