Opinion | Tony Jones: Hamas, Israel and our democracy

While doomscrolling online recently, I couldn’t help but reflect on the many discussions I came across regarding whether Israel was adhering to the rules of war in its response to Hamas in Gaza. The irony of opining on rules for an activity that is inherently lawless is not lost on me. Nations can defend themselves, but come on guys, let’s play by the rules and ensure we have us a nice, civilized war.

For all the talk about the rules of war, it seems to me that rarely has civilized behavior been a part of it. Whether it be WWII and the atrocities committed by the Nazis and Japanese or the Viet Nam War with the napalming of villages and noncombatants, mass civilian casualties, intended or otherwise, has always been a part of war. And that fact shows no signs of changing in the 21st Century.

For instance, seemingly from the moment that Russian forces invaded Ukraine, war crimes against the Ukrainian people have been rampant. Whether it’s the bombing of civilian housing and infrastructure, the abduction of Ukrainian children, or the rape and torture of villagers, implementing terroristic violence on the Ukrainian civilian population has been part of the Russian war plan from the start. Russian president Vladimir Putin apparently is not concerned with rules on civilized warfare or with the international uproar the actions of his armies has caused. If there’s eventually a negotiated peace or Russia wins the conflict, Putin the war criminal, will not be prosecuted.

Hamas’ horrific attack on Israeli civilians was about as bad as political violence can get. Sponsored by Iran, the leaders of Hamas knew and counted on the Israeli response to their incursion into Israel being massive and brutal. And it has been, and it has called into question whether Israel’s offensive in Gaza is within the boundaries set by the rules of war and made some wonder whether the victim (Israel) is itself also guilty of war crimes. It’s a good question because Palestinian civilian casualties are mounting as Israel tries to navigate an offensive in which the difference between combatants and civilians is often lost in the fog of war.

At this point, it seems aggressors in Eastern Europe and the Middle East are casting all rules aside in contesting western dominance around the globe. Russia and Iran are trying to draw the U.S. into their conflicts as active combatants, knowing that the resulting political turmoil in the U.S. will challenge our resolve on the world stage. From the start, Putin has made his Ukrainian adventure about pushing back on NATO and particularly the U.S.. He saves his most heated rhetoric for comments about us. And recently the leader of Hezbolla, Hassan Nasrallah, in a speech put the responsibility for settling or further inflaming the conflict between Hamas and Israel squarely on America’s shoulders.

As if that weren’t challenging enough, recent polls have shown that there is a significant percentage of the U.S. population that believes that internal political violence may be justified in setting our country straight. As such, we essentially have a fifth column lurking in our midst, the majority of whom are from a movement that has shown a propensity towards violence already, as shown by the events of Jan. 6.

I can’t help but wonder what those folks, who believe political violence in the U.S. is justified and may be necessary, think such a conflict would be like. War is a breeding ground for the atrocities humans inflict upon one another, and civil war brings its own particular brand of horror, as neighbor fights neighbor and brother kills brother. With foreign nations clamoring for our blood, it’s tragic that there is such a large contingent of U.S. citizens who would consider their own countrymen the enemy and contemplate raising arms against them.

As a country on the international stage, the U.S. is the light of democracy that gives hope to the imperiled. But that light also acts as a beacon for our enemies, a target for their violence and ire. At home it is imperative that our political parties and elected officials work to unify our country behind that radiance because the next few years will test the soul of this nation and a house divided against itself will not stand.

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