EDITORIAL: The consequences of moral paralysis

Israel (and a world that looks the other way) is in the grip of a moral paralysis

“We had no choice,” has become Israel’s national mantra.

But to say “we had no choice,” is to say our actions are not the fruit of our intentions. We are now the instrument of the will of others. Hamas made us do this.

There would be more moral clarity in simply declaring that Israel is a mighty power that has no compunction about the effects of its ruthless efforts to crush its enemies.

Instead, Israel wants to have it both ways: to demonstrate its might even while portraying itself as a helpless victim.

From Avi Shlaim we learn that this moral two-step actually has a name in Hebrew: bokhim ve-yorim. It means “crying and shooting.”

As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted – a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, “crying and shooting”.

In one of the latest examples of Israel’s abnigation of responsibility for its own actions, we learn that several children have spent the last few days starving as they huddle next to the bodies of their dead mothers. The Washington Post reports:

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had found at least 15 bodies and several children — emaciated but alive — in a row of shattered houses in the Gaza Strip and accused the Israeli military of preventing ambulances from reaching the site for four days.

Red Cross officials said rescue crews had received specific reports of casualties in the houses and had been trying since Saturday to send ambulances to the area, located in Zaytoun, a neighborhood south of Gaza City. They said the Israeli military did not grant permission until Wednesday afternoon.

In an unusual public statement issued by its Geneva headquarters, the Red Cross called the episode “unacceptable” and said the Israeli military had “failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded.”

When rescue workers from the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent arrived at the site, they found 12 corpses lying on mattresses in one home, along with four young children lying next to their dead mothers, the Red Cross said. The children were too weak to stand and were rushed to a hospital, the agency said.

This is what happens when a military force, its commanders, its government and the population cheering on this war believes that it has “no choice.”

This is the twilight zone of moral paralysis in which evil takes on the disguise of “necessity.”

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12 thoughts on “EDITORIAL: The consequences of moral paralysis

  1. William deB. Mills

    Your almost lyrical post is tragic on the face of it but also for a broader reason. Given the mindless reaction of virtually every U.S. decision-maker except Dennis Kucinich, I am beginning to sense that the Israeli behavior in Gaza is not the last act of the dying neo-cons but the signal of how the American Empire intends to conduct itself henceforth. If you thought we might be emerging from the dark tunnel of horror and shame endured over the last seven years, Gaza and our utterly immoral attitude toward its suffering suggest that there will be no light at the end of this tunnel.

  2. Carol Elkins

    As usual, Jimmy Carter is the one voice who says they did have a choice. It is for his truth-telling over the years that history will celebrate him. Politically, of course he won, he was the President, but then and ever since he has lost. Obama, way back in the campaign, dismissed him as a viable thinker. Otherwise Obama would have lost. We all knew that, yet we supported Obama.
    We must not forget that we bought into that, just the way Hillary, et.al, bought into the war in Iraq. Even on this website, we blinked.

  3. Arthur

    April 10, 2008 “All of the Palestinians must be killed; men, women, infants, and even their beasts.” This was the religious opinion issued one week ago by Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, director of the Tsomet Institute, a long-established religious institute attended by students and soldiers in the Israeli settlements of the West Bank.

    If the Bible is not the LITERAL WORD OF GOD, then the Jewish “right” to Palestine is just a MYTH also.
    The President of the United States has just admitted that the Bible is probably NOT LITERAL.
    09 Dec 2008 Mr Bush, who leaves office January 20, told ABC television, … Asked whether the Bible was literally true, Mr Bush replied: “Probably not. No, I’m not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it.”

  4. Sam

    Israel is between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they are portrayed as the “Goliath.” Nothing can be farther from the truth. However, thats what Israel NEEDS the world to believe. And that is the problem.

    If Israel were not as much stronger than its enemies…it would have been destroyed a LONG time ago. They are basically strong enough (read nuclear power), that destroying them isn’t worth the collateral damage to the destroyer.

    But they aren’t strong enough to stop their enemeis from hating them and trying to kill them. There is no solution for that. And after a year of rockets, they finally retaliate, and now they’re called Goliath?

    What a farce.

  5. JK

    Doesn’t Hamas also say “we have no choice”? So it’s ok for them to say that “our actions are not the fruit of our intentions. We are now the instrument of the will of others. Israel made us do this.”?

  6. Peter H

    You do realize, Sam, that Hamas would have renewed the ceasefire if Israel had agreed to remove the blockade of Gaza, right?

  7. Paul Woodward

    JK writes: “Doesn’t Hamas also say ‘we have no choice’?”

    Well actually, no. Hamas is quite explicit in saying that they have chosen resistance. They see Palestinians as being faced with a very clear choice: between concessions and resistance. They say that through the Oslo agreement Fatah chose the path of concessions. Fatah made concessions to Israel yet got nothing in return. Hamas on the other hand chooses resistance but resistance doesn’t preclude bargaining. In the summer they made a deal with Israel: a truce in exchange for lifting the siege. Hamas imposed the truce but Israel didn’t lift the siege. Then in November Israel broke the truce. Since then, Hamas has persistently reiterated its offer: a truce in exchange for opening Gaza. Israel chose to go to war.

  8. fred lapides

    Rockets have continued to be sent into Israel–at least 3. Iranian ships trying to deliver arms. Lebanon sending arms to Gaza and caught by Israeli navy.
    Hamas says they have not agreed in Egypt) to any cease fire.Send rockets at your kids and what would you do?

  9. Paul Woodward

    We had no choice… but to do something ineffective.

    The necessity of doing something that does not accomplish ones aim is a necessity driven by the desire for a cathartic release. In other words, it’s about the liberating sensation of unleashing violence even when there is no evidence that the violence accomplishes any practical aims.

    Netanyahu is now trying to seduce voters with the promise that he will crush Hamas. How’s he going to do this? Round up every member of the organization along with their families and friends and send them to an extermination camp? He knows, and every Israeli knows, this isn’t an option. So his campaign promises are empty rhetoric.

    But just a minute — he doesn’t have to exterminate them; he just has to crush their will. Right! How long will it take for Israelis to learn that bulldozers can crush houses but at the very same time they are putting in place the rebars that steel the Palestinian will. The will-crushing enterprize has miserably failed.

    The question “what would you do?” is falsely framed. It arises from the notion that poor little Israel is backed into a corner that leaves it with no choices. Gaza has been under a blockade in order to drive Hamas out of power and prevent it from being armed. The policy didn’t work. The war was meant to stop the rocket fire on southern Israel. It didn’t work.

    If you do something that doesn’t work, then — unless you’re a bonehead — you try something different.

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