The pro-Israel resolution passed by congress yesterday emphasized the idea that Israel has a right to self-defense. And certainly Israel does have a right to self-defense, as do all nations. Still, this is a much more problematic concept than its invocations in the context of the Gaza assault imply.
One time when I was riding my bike, someone threw a smallish rock at me from a housing project across the street. As it happens, the kid didn’t hit me and everything was fine. But I suppose if he’d hit me in just the right way I could have been knocked down and injured. And depending on what the cars on the road were doing, it’s conceivable that I could have wound up being run over and terribly injured. Long story short, it was a pretty terrible thing for the thrower to be doing. And this has been a sporadic problem in the city for a while. But obviously it wouldn’t have bene right for me to stop, get off my bike, pull a bazooka out of my bag, and blow the houses from which the rock emanated to smithereens while shouting “self-defense!” and “double-effect!” And had I done so, and killed some innocent people in the course of things, and then I’d tried to say that the real blame for the deaths lay with the rock-thrower who’d started it everyone would look at me like I was crazy. And this is true even though it’s clear that going to the police would have been useless in that case.
I don’t believe in analogies, so don’t read that as one. Rather, it makes the point that the existence of a right to self-defense doesn’t authorize just doing whatever any more than the injustice of occupation justifies deliberately targeting civilians.