Confronting what he once called "our century of fear," Albert Camus would have us all be "neither victims nor executioners," living not in a world in which killing has disappeared ("we are not so crazy as that"), but one wherein killing has become illegitimate. This is a fine scholarly expectation, to be sure, yet the effective result could only be an insufferable enlargement of pain, injustice and disorder, especially in the Middle East. Deprived of the capacity to act as a lawful executioner, the State of Israel would be forced by Camus's distorted reasoning to become a victim and, in relatively short order, to disappear.
Why was Camus, who was thinking, of course, in the broadest generic terms, and not about Israel in particular, so sorely mistaken? Where, exactly, did he go wrong? By seeking an answer to this question, Israel can now learn a great deal about its own increasingly problematic survival.
My own answer to the question lies in Camus's presumption, however implicit, of a natural reciprocity among human beings and states in the matter of killing. We are asked to believe by the philosopher that as greater numbers of people agree not to become executioners, still greater numbers will follow upon the same course. In time, the argument proceeds, the number of those who refuse to sanction killing will become so great that there will be fewer and fewer victims. The problem, of course, is that Camus's presumed reciprocity does not exist, indeed, can never exist, all the more so in the Middle East. The will to kill Jews, as citizens of a Jewish State should have learned from so many for so long, will always be unimpressed by Israel's particular commitments to Reason and Goodness. It follows that Jewish executioners have their distinctly rightful place in world politics, and that without them there will only be more victims - victims like those mothers, fathers and schoolchildren who died on a Jerusalem bus last month, or on the Ramat Gan bus a few weeks earlier.
In the next-to-best-of-all-possible-worlds for Israel (the best of such worlds would be one where the Jewish State had no enemies at all), that country's most implacable foes would subscribe to the minimal settled norms of civilized international behavior. Here negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians might actually be sensible, and might even lead to generally gainful agreements for all parties. But Israel does not live in such an imaginary world; rather, it lives in a world wherein Jerusalem's desperate demonstrations of civility are interpreted by enemies as weakness and where Jerusalem's repeated unwillingness to use appropriate force (because Israel wants to be "good") is taken as an invitation by uncivilized enemies to terrorize and murder.
Traced back to its origins, the barbarism of Israel's enemies (Hamas, PLO, it makes no critical difference) is rooted in frightful attitudes toward death, both individual and collective. So long as these enemies see some "remedy" for their own unbearable mortality in the killing of outsiders, in the killing of Jews, they will, as we have seen in the recent behavior of terrorists, prepare gleefully to become executioners. This leaves Israel with essentially three options: (1) create conditions whereby terrorist enemies of Israel can be detached from their frenzied (however unwitting) pursuit of immortality; (2) create conditions wherebythese enemies can detach "final solutions" for their overriding fears of death from the killing and torturing of Jews; or (3) create conditions whereby erroneous Israeli presumptions about Reason and Goodness that have spawned more and more Jewish victims are quickly discarded, conditions favoring the prompt preparation of legal and purposeful "executioners."
Options 1 and 2, of course, are beyond the realm of possibility. Nothing Israel can do could ever affect its terrorist enemies' most deeply-rooted orientations to death and deliverance. Israel can only look seriously at Option 3, deciding to accept it, and thereby to survive, or to reject it, and thereby to "die." Although the professors and the pundits all over the world would grieve at such expressions of Israeli "inhumanity," this grief would represent little more than the altogether predictable lament of people who cannot see blood on their own hands, people with very limited intellectual capacity (in spite of their vaunted credentials) and people with very limited awareness of memory. Moreover, this pathetic and revolting lament would be far easier for Israel to bear than the consequences of a misplaced faith in Reason and Goodness, the sort of faith that presently underpins the obscene foolishness of a so-called Peace Process.
In the next-to-best-of-all-possible worlds for Israel, the Jewish State could choose to be neither a victim nor an executioner. But in the existing world, Israel and its terrorist enemies both operate amidst the "rules" of an authentic global anarchy, a decentralized system of power and authority wherein right is coincident with power and justice is dependent upon force. In this terrible and terrorizing world, a world whose security dynamics remain what they have been since the Peace of Westphalia in the seventeenth century and which will continue for the forseeable future, Israel must recognize that genocide against Jews is far more than a receding memory. Understood in terms of Israel's persistent unwillingness to be an executioner, it could also be a contemporary expectation.
Sadly (as we now witness each day of essential NATO bombing of Serb weapons in Bosnia), sometimes killing is a sacred duty! Camus failed to acknowledge this, a failure born of self-deception concerning human fears, human possibilities, and human law. Faced with such fears and possibilities, all law must rely, in the final analysis, on the executioner. To deny the executioner his proper place, as the ancient Hebrews, among many others, were aware, is to destroy civil society altogether, to make certain of us victims.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) Professor Department of Political Science writes nontraditionally on matters concerning international relations and international law.