ישעיהו ליבוביץ - Yeshayahu Leibowitz
מצאתם טעות בטקסט המאמר? אנא דווחו לנו

After Kibiyeh
פורסם ב1953-54
וגם בספר Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State
פתח מסמך ב-Word

On October 13, 1953, Arab infiltrators from the region of Kibiyeh - an Arab village in Samaria - tossed a hand grenade into a Jewish home in the immigrant village of Yehud. A mother and two of her children were killed in their sleep. This act, which followed a continuous series of murderous attacks in the area, brought about a reprisal by the Israel Defense Force. On October 14, an Israeli force attacked Kibiyeh, which is a considerable distance past the truce line. In this action, more than fifty inhabitants of the village were killed and forty houses were destroyed.

This action caused a storm of protest in the world. Israel's explanation, that the attack was carried out because the bitterness and wrath in Israel against the crimes of infiltrators from the region, was not accepted by public opinion in the world and the UN Security Council strongly condemned Israel.

Kibiyeh, it's caused, implications, and the action itself are part of the great test to which we as a nation are put as a result of national liberation, political independence, and our military power - for we were bearers of a culture which, for many generations, derived certain spiritual benefits from conditions of exile, foreign rule, and political impotence. Our morality and conscience were conditioned by an insulated existence in which we could cultivate values and sensibilities that did not have to be tested in the crucible of reality. In our own eyes, and, to some extent in those of others as well, we appeared to have gained control over one of the terrible drives to which human nature is subject, and to abhor the atrocities to which it impels all human societies - impulse to communal murder. While congratulating ourselves upon this, we ignored, or attempted to ignore, that in our historical situation such mass-murder was not one of the means at our disposal for self-defense or for the attainment of collective aspirations. From the standpoint of both moral vocation and religious action, exilic existence enabled us to evade the decisive test. Attachment to the Galuth (Diaspora) and the opposition of many of the best representatives of Judaism to political redemption within historic reality was, in no small measure, a form of escapism reflecting the unconscious fear of such a test - fear of the loss of religious - moral superiority, which is easy to maintain in the absence of temptation and easy to lose in other circumstances.

However, values are precious to the extent that their realization is difficult and easily frustrated. This is the true religious and moral significance of regaining political independence and the capacity to deploy force. We are now being put to the test. Are we capable not only of suffering for the sake of values we cherish but also of acting in accordance with them? It is easy to suffer physically and materially and even to sacrifice one's life for their sake. This requires only physical courage, which is abundant to a surprising degree in all human communities. It is much more difficult to forego, out of consideration for such values, actions which promote other prized ends - legitimate communal needs and interests. The moral problem becomes acute when two good inclinations clash. The overcoming of an evil inclination by a good one is difficult but not problematic.

It is very easy - and therefore hardly worthwhile - to express moral reservations about acts of violence and slaughter when one bears no responsibility for defending the community in whose cause such acts are perpetrated. Before the establishment of the state, the community included some adherents of "purist morality" who immigrated to Palestine against the wishes of the Arabs and conducted their lives here under the protection of British bayonets and the arms of the Hagganah (Jewish self-defense organization), but considered that the right of other Jews to immigrate depended on the consent of the Arabs. They declared Aliya (immigration) without such consent to be immoral. Yet they did not oppose the creation and operation of the Jewish national-cultural center (the Hebrew University) in Al-Kuds (Jerusalem) against the angry objections of the Arabs, because this institution was dear to them. Nevertheless, they allowed themselves to denounce the institution of the Yishuv which were responsible for bringing in Jews and settling them on the land, when, in the face of vigorous Arab opposition, they carried out these activities. Even after the establishment of our state, for which we alone are responsible and in which only we have the power to act, some of our intellectuals, pretending to represent Jewish teaching of mercy and charity, addressed themselves to the ruler of another state and petitioned him to pardon spies who had threatened the security of the state.[1]These self-righteous "saints" in Jerusalem failed to appreciate that since they were not responsible for the security of the United States and their actions and reactions had no influence for good or bad, it was easy for them to be the "righteous ones". The president of the United States, however, bore the responsibility for the welfare and security of 180 million fellow Americans, and his choice of justice or mercy could affect their fate; the "righteous ones" were not in this position.

Only the decision of one who is capable of acting and on whom rests the responsibility for acting or refraining from action can pass the genuine test of morality. We, the bearers of a morality which abominates the spilling of innocent blood, face our acid test only now that we have become capable of defending ourselves and responsible for our own security. Defense and security often appear to require the spilling of innocent blood.

This moral problem did not arise in connection with the war we conducted for our liberation and national restoration. True, we used to see war as the "craft of Esau", but it was repulsive only to the extent that it was made into a way of life in the sense of "by the sword shall you live" (Gen. 27:40). But war, often enough, is one of the manifestations of the social reality, an inseparable part of it so long as messianic redemption has not occurred. We accept war - without enthusiasm or admiration, but also without bitterness or protest - just as we accept many repulsive manifestations of human biological reality. In declaring our will to live as a real historic nation - not a meta-historical and metaphysical one - we took upon ourselves the functions of national life we had shunned when we were not bound by the tasks and concerts of normal national existence. By the logic of history and of moral evaluation, our war of independence was a necessary consequence of our two-thousand year exile. Only one prepared to justify historically, religiously, or morally the continuation of the exilic existence could refuse to take upon himself the moral responsibility for using the sword to restore freedom.

Therefore, in our religious-moral stocktaking, we neither justify the bloodshed on the war (in which our blood was spelled no less than that of our enemies) nor do we apologize for it. The problematic issues concern the manner of conducting that war, which goes on to this very day, and what is to be done after this war will be over. It is a difficult and perplexing problem: once the "craft of Esau" has been granted legitimacy, the distinction between the permissible and the forbidden, between the justified and the blameworthy, is very subtle - it is like that "handbreadth between heaven and hell".[2]We must constantly examine whether we have transgressed and crossed that fine dividing line.

We can, indeed, justify the action of Kibiyeh before "the world". Its spokesmen and leaders admonish us for having adopted the method of "reprisal" - cruel mass punishment of innocent people for the crimes of others in order to prevent their recurrence, a method which has been condemned by the conscience of the world. We could argue that we have not behaved differently than did the Americans, with the tacit agreement of the British, in deploying the atomic bomb: America saw herself in the fourth year of a war she had not initiated, and after the loss of a quarter of a million of her sons, facing the prospect of continued war in the style of Iwo Jima and Okinawa for an unforeseeable period of time. This fear led to the atrocity of Hiroshima, where 100,000 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in one day to bring about the quick termination of this nightmare. We, too, are now in the sixth year of a war that was forced upon us and continues to inspire constant fear of plunder and murder. No wonder that border settlers and those responsible for their life and security overreacted and reciprocated with cruel slaughter and destruction.

It is therefore possible to justify this action, but let us not try to do so. Let us rather recognize its distressing nature. There is an instructive precedent for Kibiyeh: the story of Shekhem and Dinah.[3]The sons of Jacob did not act as they did out of pure wickedness and malice. They had a decisive justification: "should one deal with our sister as with a harlot?!" The Torah, which narrates the actions of Simeon and Levi in Shekhem, adds to the description of the atrocity only three words (in the Hebrew text) in which apparently it conveyed the moral judgment of their behavior: "and came upon the city unawares, and slew all the males". "The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled there sister" (Gen. 34:25, 27). Nevertheless, because of this action, two tribes in Israel were cursed for generations by their father Jacob.[4]

Although there are good reasons and ethical justifications for the Shekhem-Kibiyeh action, there is also an ethical postulate which is not itself a matter of rationalization and which calls forth a curse upon all these justified and valid considerations. The Shekhem operation and the curse of Jacob when he told his children what would befall them in the "end of days" is an example of the frightening problematic ethical reality: there may well be actions which can be vindicated and even justified - and are nevertheless accursed.

Citation of this example from the Torah does not reflect belief in the uniqueness of the "morality of Judaism". It does not imply that the action of forbidden us as Jews. It is intended to indicate that the action is forbidden per se. "the morality of Judaism" is a most questionable concept - not only because morality does not admit a modifying attribute and cannot be "Jewish" or "not Jewish". The concept is self-contradictory for anyone who does not deliberately ignore its religious content.

There is , however, a specifically Jewish aspect to the Kibiyeh incident, not as a moral problem but an authentically religious one. We must ask ourselves: what produced this generation of youth, which felt no inhibition or inner compunction in performing the atrocity when given the inner urge and external occasion for retaliation? After all, these young people were not a wild mob but youth raised and nurtured on the values of a Zionist education, upon concepts of the dignity of man and human society. The answer is that the events at Kibiyeh were a consequence of applying the religious category of holiness to social, national, and political values and interests - a usage prevalent in the education of young people as well as in the dissemination of public information. The concept of holiness - the concept of the absolute which is beyond all categories of human thought and evaluation - is transferred to the profane. From a religious standpoint only God is holy, and only His imperative is absolute. All human values and all obligations and undertakings derived from them are profane and have no absolute validity. Country, state, and nation impose pressing obligations and tasks which are sometimes very difficult. They do not, on that account, acquire sanctity. They are always subject to judgment and criticism from a higher standpoint. For the sake of that which is holy and perhaps only for its sake - man is capable of acting without any restraint. In our discourse and practice we have uprooted the category of holiness from its authentic location and transferred it to inappropriate objects, thus incurring all the dangers involved in such a distorted use of the concept. This original sin of our education appears already in our Declaration of Independence. Its use of the expression "the Rock of Israel" in the concluding sentence reflects a fraudulent agreement between two sectors of the public, which is to the credit of neither. The secular nation and state adjusted the sense of this term at its convenience, and used it to bribe the religious minority. The latter did not refuse to accept the bribe, even though it recognized the hypocrisy implicit in the use of this sanctified epithet. The "Rock of Israel" invoked by King David and by the prophet Isaiah, and incorporated in the benediction following the reading of Shema in the Morning Prayer, is not an attribute of Israel but is above Israel and transcends all human values and manifestations, personal and collective. The "Rock of Israel" of the Declaration of Independence is immanent in Israel itself. It is the human essence and might of Israel; Israel as manifested in the history. The use of the term from the Bible and the prayerbook to designate values of our consciousness, feeling, and the forces motivating our national-politic activity leads people to transfer the connotations of holiness, the absolute normative force associated with this term, to these human values. If the nation and its welfare and the country and its security are holy and if the sword is the "Rock of Israel" - then Kibiyeh is possible and permissible.

This is the terrible punishment for transgressing the stringent prohibition: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain". The transgression may cause our third commonwealth to incur the curse of our father Jacob.

[1]American citizens Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were found guilty of nuclear espionage for the U.S.S.R. They were condemned to death and executed on June 15, 1953.

[2]Pesikta 2.

[3]Gen. 34.

[4]See Gen. 49:5-7 – Ed.