Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole truth

Consider the following three situations.

Situation A) Albert is driving home. It’s an icy night and he suddenly hits a patch of black ice.  Despite his best efforts, he hit into another car and tragically kills 3 people.

Situation B) Bob is driving home.  He’s had a few drinks and is driving rather aggressively.  Trying to pass someone he clips the side of their car, killing 1 person.

Situation C) Charles is driving home.  Seeing a group of people he dislikes walking, he immediately turns his car to purposefully run them over.  They narrowly jump out of the way, saving their lives.

Whose character is most morally reprehensible? If you’re like me, you’d say that Charles is the worst person here, despite not killing anyone.  Albert, on the other hand, is responsible for killing 3 people – but you might even feel sorry for him.  Indeed, it would be hard to make a case to condemn Albert more than Charles (or Bob for that matter). Focusing solely on the numbers killed would be cognitively lazy and missing the importance of the context here.  Indeed, whether Charles actually hit and killed someone would be almost irrelevant to how we judge his moral character.

Now, there’s an important difference that needs clarification – despite being the least morally reprehensible – Albert was involved in the most tragic situation.  Total deaths should definitely cue us to injustices and problems in the world, but they say little* about moral character, intent, and blame.

Yet, In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, much of the emphasis has been almost solely on the numbers.  Despite a low death toll in Israel, 2600 rockets have been fired into Israel, with the sole purpose of killing civilians.  Like the Charles example above, the intent was harm, and it was only due to the quick actions of the individuals that their lives were saved.

This of course cues us to an important question – would Hamas be any more morally reprehensible, if Israel did not have the iron dome? If Israel did not have bomb shelters? Or if Hamas had better rocket technology?  Imagine if every rocket sent with the intent to kill someone, in fact did – and the death toll was over 2600 in Israel.  Would this change how we view the conflict? Would Hamas suddenly be worse, because Israel couldn’t defend themselves? Would Charles be a worse person, if the people failed to get out of the way in time?

This of course begs the many questions related to why are we only focusing on total death for implicating moral responsibility?  Indeed, just north of Israel in Syria, the systematic death of 170,000 people has occurred and proportionally little discussion, protest, or action has taken place.

The loss of life is all equally terrible.  The more people die, the greater the need to end the conflict.  But in terms of placing blame and condemnations, focusing on total deaths is at best lazy, and at worse, systematic bias and prejudice.    This post is not meant to free Israel of any culpability, but to encourage others to think hard about what the context of what is happening, both in Israel and in the rest of the world.

* All things being equal, someone who kills more is more morally questionable.


He Started It!

He Started It:   What Israel Can Learn From the Playground

We learn from a young age, that if someone picks a fight with you, you’re best to just walk away, less it escalates. Children who fight back are disciplined as harshly and sometimes more even more so, but those who constantly pick fights, the bullies, are eventually reprimanded.  We learn that engaging in violence, no matter who ‘started it’ is always wrong.

When it comes to discussions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, almost everyone with an opinion takes an extreme; either the anti-Israel/pro-Palestine view or the pro-Israel/anti-Palestine.  In both cases, the aggression of one side is seen as unjustified and morally reprehensible, whereas the other side is simply defending itself.  Both sides seem to think that the ‘others’ are completely to blame, and that ‘their side’ is virtually without transgression.  The argument “they started it” to them seems completely for some reason, valid here.

Recently there were several attacks in Israel by Palestinian groups, killing several people and wounding more.  A bus was blown up and rockets were fired upon civilian areas, including one that hit a Synagogue and another that hit a kindergarten (although no children were in it at the time).  Israel has retaliated killing the militants, but also a child.  Additional airstrikes have taken place killing and wounding several others.  This is nothing new: rockets are fired from Gaza, which are then followed by retaliatory air raids.

In response to the recent attack, Benjamin Natanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, said, “We have a policy of exacting a very heavy price on anyone who attacks us. This policy is being implemented.”  The initial attacks are difficult, if not impossible to defend, as the sole goal was to kill innocent people. However, because one does not condone it, doesn’t mean they have to respond, as we’ve learned, engaging in violence, no matter who started it, is always wrong. However, those I know who are in Israel currently or know people there are understandably feeling hatred and fear.  Those emotions breed the need for vengeance., but those who were killed in Israel’s retaliation had brothers or sisters, parents and children, wives and friends; each one now feels more hatred and more fear.  Those feelings of hate and fear will culminate in more attacks that just add to the pain felt by the opposing party.  Pain, love, blood, life are equal on all sides.  The hate and fear felt by the death caused by one side’s attacks are felt equally by those that were retaliated on; the rational how and why those attacks were carried out are dwarfed by the extreme emotions felt.

Understanding the pain felt by the otherside may be a way to end the conflict; but the animosity of the last half century has arguably built up too far to make that a viable option.  Israel has taken a strength through arms policy, but perhaps it would be better off, taking a page from our lessons of childhood and just walking away. If an older brother and a younger brother fight, the older boy will get in trouble; it won’t matter who started.  He should’ve known better.  In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel is the older brother.  They are the more powerful and advanced military.   For this reason (not solely, but partially) that in the west, many people look at Israel as the aggressor.

However, If a younger brother constantly picks a fight with his older brother, then eventually he will be scolded.   However, as long as the older brother fights back they will always be the bully and always the one to be punished.  The only way for the older brother to gain the respect and communicate the reality of the situation to the parents is to walk away for long enough until the picture becomes clear.  Israel must do the same thing as their strength through arms policy has not been effective.  If Israel want to make the case that they truly are the ones being bullied and communicate that to  the attention of the parental international community, they have to back down.  For now, Israel may not always instigate the fight, but they are continuing it, and as the older boy, they should know better.