Letters / On “Iron Dome Is Not a Defensive System”

In the May 25th Jewish Currents newsletter, Dylan Saba argues against supporting Iron Dome because by saving Israeli lives, it enables Israel to destroy Palestinian lives at little cost. Had Saba simply argued that all aid to Israel ought to end given its systematic violation of Palestinians’ human rights, I would have had no quarrel with him. Instead, he is at pains to say that the defensive Iron Dome should be opposed “on the specific grounds” that it deprives Palestinians of the means of deterrence. But the unjust killing of Palestinian civilians does not justify the killing of Israeli civilians. Even in cases when retaliatory violence does deter, it is an immoral tactic, and as such, does the Palestinian struggle for justice no favors.  

On a purely strategic level, little in Israeli history supports the idea that the prospect (or reality) of Palestinian violence discourages Israel from visiting vastly disproportionate violence on Palestinians. The deadly Palestinian bus bombing campaign in the mid-’90s hardly made Israelis more inclined to good-faith diplomacy; instead, it induced them to elect the virulently anti-Palestinian, anti-diplomacy Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. One could just as easily conclude that the deaths of more Israeli civilians by Gazan rocket fire would provoke further Israeli aggression rather than mitigating it—a terrifying prospect considering the profound asymmetry in military capability between the two parties. If Palestinians had nuclear weapons, or at least the military capabilities of a powerful state, they might eventually affect deterrence, but this prospect is nowhere on the horizon.

The injustices that Palestinians have so long suffered, and the absence of a clear path to vindicating their rights, naturally leads to a nihilistic despair that settles for the satisfaction of whatever symbolic retribution may be available. But the road to equality and full valuing of Palestinian lives does not run through more civilian Israeli deaths, actual or prospective. Of course, Israeli dislike of the status quo is the sine qua non of progressive change, but an increase in annual Israeli deaths is hardly the key factor. I believe that for a deterrent to be effective against Israel’s military might, it has to threaten an unacceptable cost that cannot be countered militarily. Imposing such a cost will likely involve Israelis realizing that the occupation erodes their own democracy, in addition to a geopolitical climate intolerant of Jewish supremacy and a powerful nonviolent resistance movement organized by Palestinians and progressive Jews. To advocate for violent resistance instead is to play the game on the Israeli right’s home court.

Mitchell Silver
Jamaica Plain, MA

The letter writer is a member of the JC Council.