Editorial: International alliances require sensible thinking


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In another bloody chapter of what seems like a never-ending conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, the United States continues to support its longtime ally in the Middle East. Politicians, protesters, and the general public are throwing their collective support behind Israel. In fact, since the Pew Research Center began surveying U.S. public opinion about Israel in 1978, support for the Jewish State has never been higher.

Among Israel’s supporters is Iowa’s own Joni Ernst, a Republican candidate running for the seat of retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. Here’s the gist of what Ernst’s website says regarding the U.S. alliance with Israel: “As history has proven time and time again, America has no better friend or more loyal ally than she does with Israel.”

Supporting Israel has been a key part of U.S. foreign policy for decades among both Democrats and Republicans, so none of this is especially surprising.

However, given some of Israel’s recent behavior, it would be wise to reconsider the nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship. We’re not saying the United States should cease being allies with Israel, but to apply the logic of Socrates to foreign policy: the unexamined alliance is not worth having.

If the United States is an ally of Israel simply because it has always been a friend to Israel, it does not follow that an alliance is still a good idea. Periodically re-evaluating and questioning old beliefs is the rational thing to do, especially when dealing with matters of public policy, and that’s exactly how Americans and their politicians ought to approach the ongoing crisis in Israel.

It all began late last month after the killing of three Israeli students. From the beginning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held Hamas and the Palestinian Authority responsible for the deaths, the New York Times has reported. Israel immediately responded by sending thousands of troops into the West Bank, arresting hundreds of Palestinians, many of whom were top-ranking members of Hamas. Netanyahu and Israeli military officials refused to disclose the evidence surrounding who was responsible for killing the three students.

Nevertheless, Israel chose to target Hamas in the following days, which the BBC reported has claimed at least 175 lives as of Monday afternoon. The United Nations estimates the vast majority of Palestinians killed are civilians. In spite of rocket attacks launched in retaliation by Hamas (a ruling political faction in Gaza branded a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel, and the European Union), the U.S.-supported Iron Dome missile defense system has ensured that no Israeli civilians have died.

Netanyahu defended the extremely lopsided casualty ratio by suggesting that Hamas was launching rockets from areas that are densely packed with civilians. Therefore, in responding to Hamas rocket attacks, some Palestinian casualties can’t be avoided.

Agree or disagree with Israel’s actions, this is a heavy-handed response. Relative to the deaths of three Israeli students, tragic as it is, cracking down in this manner seems like a disproportionate reaction. Rogue members of Hamas did in fact commit these horrifying murders, but is it right to hold all of the Palestinian people responsible?

According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which both United States and Israel have agreed, “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”

Furthermore, since 2006, Israel has blockaded Gaza to deter Hamas rocket attacks. This has cut off much of the fuel supply, consequently making food, medicine, and electricity hard to come by. Crippling poverty and massive unemployment have followed.

Compounding these problems, Israel insists on constructing new settlements in the West Bank, tightly regulating Palestinians in their daily lives, and now is harshly retaliating against an entire people for the crimes of a few.

Granted, in the past, the international community has condemned Hamas as well as Israel for committing war crimes.

Loyalty is a virtue, but so is justice. Many of Israel’s actions of late violate international law. They are unjust. They are cruel. They are not conducive to the peace process. We ask Ernst — not just Ernst, but all U.S. politicians — is that the kind of nation America wants to call her ally? At the very least, she should be on the side of peace.

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