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  • Reverend James Squire

The Hardest Decisions


 A friend of mine sent me an article that appeared in The New York Times which he thought was the best response to the ethics of what is going on in Gaza. The article is titled How to Think Through the Moral Tangle in Gaza by Nicholas Kristof (June 1, 2024). It certainly provides a realistic ethical response to the situation in Gaza that is welcomed by my friend and me. Kristof recounts the issues that are involved and an ethical answer that makes sense.


But it does something more. It makes clear that the most difficult decisions with which we are confronted are right/right decisions. I have pointed to the obvious way people address the dilemma in Gaza and Israel. It is to see the problem where one of the parties involved is right and the other is wrong. This category of decision making is usually the first of two ethical frameworks that are making their point but not solving the problem.


It is the approach that the Republicans in Congress that this decision-making model has been forefront in thinking. They have taken to holding the presidents of universities feet to the fire with yes or no questions. Their only goal is to underscore that antisemitism is the central and the only issue to be considered. There is little concern about what is happening to the people of Gaza or Islamophobia. This leads to the answer that Israel is right and the Palestinians including Hamas is wrong.


But when we look at the amount of discontent on university campuses, there is more concern with the killing of Palestinians and the fact that they appear to have no voice. This produces that decision-making answer that the Palestinians are right and the Israelis are wrong.


The more support by Biden and Congress for Israel, the louder support is given to the Palestinians on the college campuses as well as the international blowback. We hear the words that one side is right and the other wrong. The question that has stirred up the heat is, “Whose side are you on?


The second kind of decision making is wrong/wrong. Both sides are wrong, and the ethical issue becomes the via media, who is the lesser of two evils or a choice that is wrong but necessary and we attempt to identify who is less wrong, a burst of terrorism killing innocent Jews or the massive attacks on all the Palestinian people including a preponderance of women and children.


Kristof writes, “All lives are equal, and all children must be presumed innocent. So while there is no moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel, there is a moral equivalence between Israeli civilians and Palestinian citizens. If you champion the human rights of only Israelis or only Palestinians, you don’t care about human rights.”


The solution needs to be framed in terms of human rights. That is the best course forward. “Each side sees itself as a victim, which is true – but each side is also a perpetrator. There is no excuse for Hamas attacking Israel on October 7 and murdering, torturing, and raping Israeli civilians. And there is no excuse for Israel’s reckless use of 2000-pound bombs and other munitions that have destroyed entire city blocks and killed vast numbers of innocent people, more than 200 aid workers. When Israel began military operations after October 7, it was a just war. What starts as a just war can be waged unjustly.” Recall that the Just War Clause supports war if it is in self-defense but must be fought with a degree of moderation and never target civilians.


Right now, the people meeting to negotiate a cease fire, in my opinion and possibly Kristof as well, are caught in those categories of right/wrong and the lesser of two evils. The road to a solution is that highway that will lead to peace when they begin seeing future possibilities for peace as the heart of the solution. This is right/right decision making, the harder of all decisions but the one that produces solutions and has a brighter future for both Palestinians and Israelis.


Right/right decision-making means that people in Congress cannot use this war to win political points by attacking colleges and only talking to gain political points or donors to universities who express concern only for one group when two groups are needed to bring about peace.


But there is something else that is my own personal experience. I have written about being at Yale at the time of the ending of the Vietnam War, the protests were done on college campuses that had students who could afford to go there or had something that the universities wanted. I would see all the fervor of protests during the week. The students would go home to their high-end homes on weekends and vacations. Granted you must know their moral stance was important and notable. I didn’t see the middle-class students or those from the low socio-economic class in the protests. One of my college roommates, a halfback on the football team, did several tours in Vietnam as a Green Beret. When he returned from the war, he couldn’t function as a teacher. He had to go back into the service for more structure and hierarchy as part of his PTSD. He trained other green berets for fighting.


Where are the protestors regarding the Israeli and Hamas War now? Each evening, we see that war is still going on.  No signs! No tents! I had that thought while watching the remembrance offered for those who died on D Day. Fewer vets are getting to France as there are some who turned 100. Would I have had that much courage when I was 17?


“To establish peace, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority will need new leaders. This won’t be achieved tomorrow. But there are peacemakers on each side. To understand how a path toward peace may emerge, consider the words of the Chinese writer Lu Xun more than a century ago: ‘Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally there is nothing – but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.’ It must have people with the hardest decision making skills with a mindset of Right/Right to achieve success.




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