Ten eyes for an eye

The Old Testament rule of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is often quoted to expose someone who is is merciless to those he regards as his enemies. It is quite a different kind of justice to the one preached by Jesus when he asked his followers to “turn the other cheek” when someone slaps them in the face.

What is often forgotten is that even this brutal “an eye for an eye” rule was meant to prevent escalating vendettas, where two families would inflict ever increasing punishments on each other to exact revenge for previous misdeeds by members of the other family. Without it the violence could escalate without limits, until one side is wiped out.

I can’t help but think of this ancient concept of justice when I watch the news from Israel and Lebanon in these days of war. As I write this, over 50 Israelis have been killed since the beginning of the war, while numbers in Lebanon are anywhere from 500 to 750 dead, depending if bodies suspected to still be buried under collapsed buildings are counted or not. The vast majority of these victims are civilians, about one third of them are children.

It is obvious in this conflict that Israel has overwhelming firepower, but it can not use that firepower to win itself peace. I believe it is doing exactly what Hezbollah wants it to do, responding to a calculated provocation in way that will fan the flames of hatred against Israel in the Arab and Muslim world. 1 in 7 Lebanese is now a refugee. Billions of dollars in damage to housing, infrastructure and the whole economy will throw back Lebanon by years.

An excessive response that punishes Lebanese civilians, including many children, for the violence of Hezbollah will make it harder for both sides to speak to each other. A durable peace can only be based on a negotiated compromise.