Friday, January 9, 2009

Righteous Kills?

I did not know (as stated here) that Gideon Levy was a former IDF soldier, but that's maybe why he can be such an honest and sharp commentator. This is probably why Levy doesn't tip toe in the name of 'balance' when he writes about his own society. He will--no doubt--be called a self-hating Jew by some (as if bashing Bush had made half of the US citizens "self-hating Americans"), but I've always found substance and intelligence in his columns.

I tried to write about the debate of morality versus expediency in Israel; I also commented about how to believe in moral intentions faced with immoral actions; and finally there is a great sense that Israel is getting blind, tone deaf and endangering itself, and I tried to discuss this also. I did it in my own clumsy way, but this column of Levy kind of sums it up with clearer -- also more severe -- language.

The one argument I rarely follow, however, is that of numbers. The rightness of a war is not judged by the differential body count. Some commentators (including Levy below) sound as if the indicator of how wrong the war is is how many Palestinians died (versus IDF soldiers or Sderot random victims). But in modern times, those who have won wars have done so by being ruthless. The best example of that is the US. The Civil War was won by "gutting out" the South -- and that meant killing a lot of civilians. At the end of WWII we pressed Germany to capitulation by merciless artillery bombings of Dresden, Frankfurt, etc., killing mostly civilians. And need I mention the Pacific front and Japan? In a cold-blooded pragmatic world, if you decide to go to war, maybe ruthlessness pays off (certainly does in sparing your soldiers, if not 'colateral dammage'). The differential just shows how much better equipped, trained or smarter you are than your enemy.

So the numbers can be shocking as they translate into civilians, innocent, flesh and blood women and children. And my friends. But to me, Israel is not wrong because of the casualty rate, but because the occupation and subtle rejection of peace efforts which forces unending war as the only logic. It's not a matter of degree of violence, it's a matter of the nature of the choices which have been made--the choice of violence embodied in conquest and occupation.

Levy's column is in Haaretz but you can read it below.

Help me not despair.

Photo credit:
The Time of the Righteous - Gideon Levy
This war, perhaps more than its predecessors, is exposing the true deep veins of Israeli society. Racism and hatred are rearing their heads, as is the impulse for revenge and the thirst for blood. The "inclination of the commander" in the Israel Defense Forces is now "to kill as many as possible," as the military correspondents on television describe it. And even if the reference is to Hamas fighters, this inclination is still chilling.

The unbridled aggression and brutality are justified as "exercising caution": the frightening balance of blood - about 100 Palestinian dead for every Israeli killed, isn't raising any questions, as if we've decided that their blood is worth one hundred times less than ours, in acknowledgement of our inherent racism.

Rightists, nationalists, chauvinists and militarists are the only legitimate bon ton in town. Don't bother us about humaneness and compassion. Only at the edges of the camp can a voice of protest be heard - illegitimate, ostracized and ignored by media coverage - from a small but brave group of Jews and Arabs.

Alongside all this, rings another voice, perhaps the worst of all. This is the voice of the righteous and the hypocritical. My colleague, Ari Shavit, seems to be their eloquent spokesman. This week, Shavit wrote here ("Israel must double, triple, quadruple its medical aid to Gaza," Haaretz, January 7): "The Israeli offensive in Gaza is justified ... Only an immediate and generous humanitarian initiative will prove that even during the brutal warfare that has been forced on us, we remember that there are human beings on the other side."

To Shavit, who defended the justness of this war and insisted that it mustn't be lost, the price is immaterial, as is the fact that there are no victories in such unjust wars. And he dares, in the same breath, to preach "humaneness."

Does Shavit wish for us to kill and kill, and afterward to set up field hospitals and send medicine to care for the wounded? He knows that a war against a helpless population, perhaps the most helpless one in the world, that has nowhere to escape to, can only be cruel and despicable. But these people always want to come out of it looking good. We'll drop bombs on residential buildings, and then we'll treat the wounded at Ichilov; we'll shell meager places of refuge in United Nations schools, and then we'll rehabilitate the disabled at Beit Lewinstein. We'll shoot and then we'll cry, we'll kill and then we'll lament, we'll cut down women and children like automatic killing machines, and we'll also preserve our dignity.

The problem is - it just doesn't work that way. This is outrageous hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Those who make inflammatory calls for more and more violence without regard for the consequences are at least being more honest about it.

You can't have it both ways. The only "purity" in this war is the "purification from terrorists," which really means the sowing of horrendous tragedies. What's happening in Gaza is not a natural disaster, an earthquake or flood, for which it would be our duty and right to extend a helping hand to those affected, to send rescue squads, as we so love to do. Of all the rotten luck, all the disasters now occurring in Gaza are manmade - by us. Aid cannot be offered with bloodstained hands. Compassion cannot sprout from brutality.

Yet there are some who still want it both ways. To kill and destroy indiscriminately and also to come out looking good, with a clean conscience. To go ahead with war crimes without any sense of the heavy guilt that should accompany them. It takes some nerve. Anyone who justifies this war also justifies all its crimes. Anyone who preaches for this war and believes in the justness of the mass killing it is inflicting has no right whatsoever to speak about morality and humaneness. There is no such thing as simultaneously killing and nurturing. This attitude is a faithful representation of the basic, twofold Israeli sentiment that has been with us forever: To commit any wrong, but to feel pure in our own eyes. To kill, demolish, starve, imprison and humiliate - and be right, not to mention righteous. The righteous warmongers will not be able to allow themselves these luxuries.

Anyone who justifies this war also justifies all its crimes. Anyone who sees it as a defensive war must bear the moral responsibility for its consequences. Anyone who now encourages the politicians and the army to continue will also have to bear the mark of Cain that will be branded on his forehead after the war. All those who support the war also support the horror.

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