Politics Opinion

Backing Israel's rage-fuelled revenge presents moral dilemma

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Both PM Albanese and President Biden have supported Israel's retaliation against Hamas (Image by Dan Jensen)

World leaders have been quick to condone Israel's retaliation on Hamas, giving the nation freedom to commit violence with little accountability, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

THE AWFUL REALITY of the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel is that there can be no punishment commensurate with its barbarity, without victims or their representatives resorting to similar acts of barbarism.

This is a moral dilemma faced by many victims of violence. We yearn for justice but often there can be none without abandoning our own principles. Instead, we have to settle for what the legal system offers and that frequently seems inadequate compared to the horrors of the crime committed.

Israel is seeking to address the inhuman Hamas atrocities perpetrated on its people by starving Palestinian civilians, denying them water, energy, fuel and medicine, and bombing their communities. Already there a far more Palestinian children, women and men dead than were lost in the Hamas massacre and there will be many more Palestinian deaths and injuries as Israel’s attack escalates.

One of the more popular narratives supported by Western leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, is that Hamas is responsible for the suffering currently inflicted on Palestinians by Israel.

As reported on SBS News:

‘Albanese said the responsibility for “what is happening now rests firmly with Hamas and the actions that they have taken” as Israel continues to bomb Gaza in retaliation for deadly Hamas attacks on 7 October.’

In the United States, some senators are running the same line.

During an appearance in Tel Aviv, Utah Senator Mitt Romney said:

“You are going to see pictures of Palestinian civilians that are going to be injured, killed by virtue of the conflict, which is ongoing. I hope you recognise that those individuals are being killed because of Hamas, not because of Israel.”

This argument gives Israel licence to inflict as much destruction it wants for as long as it wants, on the grounds it has been goaded into retaliatory violence by Hamas atrocities and therefore is not responsible for any destruction it perpetrates. It’s an attempt at sophistry that a high school debating team could see through, yet it is propagated by influential actors as a reasonable justification for incommensurate retaliation.

U.S. President Joe Biden threw his full support behind Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to launch a ground incursion to “eliminate Hamas”, despite the inevitable toll this will take on Palestinian civilians. However, Biden seems inconsistent, also telling Israel not to repeat the mistakes made by the U.S. after 9/11, mistakes he attributed to the country being “consumed by rage”.

Biden said:

“Justice must be done. But I caution that, while you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”

Many would argue that the US response to 9/11 did not result in “justice” and according to a review of some post-9/11 literature in the Washington Post:

Rather than exemplify the nation’s highest values, the official response to 9/11 unleashed some of its worst qualities: deception, brutality, arrogance, ignorance, delusion, overreach and carelessness...


To an unnerving degree, the United States moved toward the enemy’s fantasies of what it might become — a nation divided in its sense of itself, exposed in its moral and political compromises, conflicted over wars it did not want but would not end.

Perhaps the best advice Biden gave Netanyahu was to guard against using rage as the basis for making irrevocable decisions. However, as the leader of a far-Right ultranationalist government, in considerable domestic strife for his undemocratic interference in the country’s judicial system and facing criminal charges himself, Netanyahu no doubt saw some personal advantage in declaring war at this time.

Using the tsunami of overwhelming fury and grief at the Hamas atrocities, Netanyahu enacted Biden’s support for retaliation against the terrorists, while ignoring his caution against acting from rage.

Israel is not entitled to implement rampant destruction on Palestinian people and neither was the U.S. entitled to its devastating, rage-fuelled actions after 9/11. The retaliation in both instances is incommensurate. However, the objective isn’t to keep the punishment consistent with the crime.

It’s not justice that is sought, it is revenge, a desire that can only be sated by inflicting far more destruction on your enemy than he has inflicted on you.  

There is no observance of the principle of proportionality in this position. This principle requires that ‘the anticipated incidental loss of human life and damage to civilian objects should not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected from the destruction of a military objective’.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this principle and others that seek to contain the savagery of war is that observance of them signals the difference between state-sanctioned warfare and terrorism. When the state refuses all constraints, the line between the two ceases to exist and the victim becomes the barbarian.

It is deeply disturbing that Western leaders, including our own, appear to be sanctioning the abandonment of these principles in their support of Israel’s war crimes.

According to SBS on Monday:

Biden also ramped up his diplomacy, convening calls on Sunday with Netanyahu and Pope Francis and speaking with the leaders of Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Britain about getting aid into Gaza and preventing the conflict from spreading.


In a joint statement, the leaders voiced support for Israel's right to defend itself. They also called for adherence to international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians.

The hypocrisy of calling for ‘adherence to international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians’ while simultaneously supporting Israel’s slaughter of them should be noted with the contempt it deserves. So should the fact that none of them are calling for a cease-fire and negotiations.

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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