Israel received a lot of criticism for its handling of the flotilla #1. To what extent in Jewish law is Israel justified in balancing its security interests over allowing "humanitarian" supplies to reach Palestinians in Gaza?
I am not sure I can approach this question from within our usual Western values, since, it seems to me, the Torah's perspective of the issue is so radically different. The first step in explaining my understanding of the Torah position is that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, meaning that our right to settle there is God-given and overrides the rights of others to the Land, should we have the political and military power to exercise those rights. In our case, as it happens, the world community also granted Jews the right to a state in that Land, conveniently merging the Torah's perspective with the ordinary political one.
Where the two diverge is in how to react to Arab intransigence in resisting that development. Particularly in Gaza, where Hamas-- an organization that has not yet renounced terror in its battle against Israel, has not yet accepted Israel's right to exist, and fosters or provides safe haven to even more radical terrorist groups-- is the democratically elected government (meaning, the citizenry of Gaza as a corporate body has signed on to their leadership), it seems to me that the Israelis have every right to treat all of Gaza, its leaders, its military, and even what we call its civilians, as enemy combatants. I call them that because the Gazans have consistently refused to distinguish combatants from civilians, by having combatants wear uniforms and have everyone else refrain from any military action. It was precisely to guard this distinction that uniforms became part of wars; while dispensing with them makes it easier for Gazans to fight, it also, it seems to me, loses them that distinction.
If so, the whole Gazan territory is at war with Israel and, as such, the Israelis, by Jewish law, have every right to defend themselves, including by blockading them completely (siege is a time-honored form of war). War is unpleasant, which is why we try to avoid it. Remember that Israel left Gaza in order to bring an end to that war, but instead found itself under continued attack from Hamas and other Gaza-based organizations. Remember that Israel repeatedly complains about-- and fights against, smuggling tunnels through which Gazans bring weapons and other military supplies into the Gaza Strip.
In war, Jewish law allows for a great deal more than stopping "humanitarian" supplies; the Gazans can end the war with several simple steps they refuse to take. War, what is it good for? Not a lot, but the Gazans attempt to both continue to fight that war and then try to make the rules the Israelis have to follow in how they defend themselves would be laughable, if not for the sad fact that the rest of the world buys into their insane logic.
The "flotilla incident," in which several ships attempted to run the Israeli blockade in the waters on the coast of Gaza, has fueled much animosity toward Israel. As a question of values, there are certainly competing values at play here. On the one hand, the Israeli army has a right to protect its citizenry and its troops. If a threat was detected on board the Turkish ship -- the Mavi Marmara -- then the Israeli army has a right to defend itself. This fact must be considered in evaluating the entire event. On the face of it, this was not simply about allowing "humanitarian" aid supplies into Gaza for Palestinians. That might have been the case of other vessels that attempted to break the blockade. However, the protesters on the Mavi Marmara had ulterior motives. And the Jewish value of pikuah nefesh (saving a life) should trump other issues.
It is important to mention that since the "flotilla incident," Israel has relaxed the rules of the Gaza blockade and now allows in many more items that are designated for humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza. Yes, this was a public relations nightmare for Israel and her army, but from a values perspective the Army acted appropriately.
The following paragraph is the conclusion of a major article written by my distinguished colleague, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson. I believe that it answers the question.
The position does not stop quite there. The ultimate master for the rabbis is God; the ultimate values,shalomand a life of community. The issue is not whether to wage war or not, but rather what brings peace, what permits a fully flowering of life. Thus there are limits to what they consider “peace.” A craven peace that prohibits the propagation and continuation of culture, learning, and ethics, which prohibits what Norman Lamm has termed the “basic moral code”, is an intolerable condition, certainly not a peace. Similarly, a life which is without the possibility of family, integrity, love and morality is not a fully human life. Not merely lack of war, but peace—shalom—and life are the absolute around which other values revolve. Those absolutes require protection. In an unredeemed world, an unwillingness to defend peace and life result in their loss. As products of the real world, the sages of Judaism not only prohibited aggressive war but insisted on defendingshalomand life against assault.
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