THE TIME OF THE RIGHTEOUS
COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 12 Jan 2009
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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