Does Israel Have the Moral High Ground? A Response to Bill Maher.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to suggest that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is one of the most emotionally charged and polarizing geopolitical conflicts in the world today. The reason for this is that both sides of the conflict believe that they are in the right. Israelis believe that their claim to the land of Israel is based on their historical connection to the land. There’s the religious argument in favor of Israel which believes that it was the land promised to the Israelis by God. There’s also the secular argument (promoted by Bill Maher and others) that Jews historically lived in Israel and therefore have a right to return to their ancestral land. On the other side of the conflict is the Palestinian claim which is rooted in the fact that they were already living on the land when Jews began settling to build the nation of Israel.
I mention Bill Maher because over the years he has been a very vocal supporter of Israel. This has included defending the Israeli occupation of Palestine on the grounds that Jews lived there first. He stated: “The Jews have been in that area of the world since about 1200 B.C., way before the first Muslim or Arab walked the earth. … I mean, Jerusalem was their capital. So if it’s who got there first, it’s not even close.” Most recently, Maher defended Israel by stating, “I think the Israelis have always had the moral high ground. I think they still do.” Maher’s emphasis on Israel’s moral superiority is rooted in his belief that Israel, unlike Hamas, does not intentionally target innocent civilians. He acknowledged that civilian casualties are collateral damage in war but emphasizes the difference between rejoicing in civilian deaths and expressing regret for them.
The problem with Maher’s commentary on the issue is that he is very selective with historical facts. For example, it may be historically true that Jews lived in the region before Arabs existed as a people, but Jews were not the first to live in the region either. According to the Bible, the Israelites massacred the Canaanites and took the land from them. There are questions around the historical accuracy of the Bible’s depiction of how the Israelites settled in the land of Cannan, but I mention the Bible’s narrative here to show that based on Jewish religious traditions, Jews were not…