The moral high ground has been lost by Israel in the Gaza onslaught while it attempts to avenge the Hamas attacks on Oct 7. The leaders of the Knesset seem convinced that the slaughter of 15,000 civilians is justified and that there will be no moral consequences. Does this attitude rest on an ancient Biblical story concerning the Amaleks who became the enemy of Israel. “God then commands Saul to destroy the Amalekites by killing man, woman, infant and suckling” This kind of revenge is primitive in the extreme but Netanyahu has been quoted as saying Israel needs an Amalek response, Whether this is metaphorical or not, the bombing of Gaza is a primitive act of wanton destruction on a scale reminiscent of WWII.
For Americans a question that should be asked is why Israel is receiving $3.8 billion annually from the U.S. in military aid with another $14 million being promised by the Biden administration. This is taking place while one million Americans are homeless and many more are living near the poverty line? Under such circumstances why is America enabling the destruction of Gaza, the forced homelessness of tens of thousands, and on the West Bank the continued expropriation of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers. America is making itself a moral spectacle to the world as it becomes an accomplice to the deliberate destruction of an indigenous people.
In her book “And Then your Soul is Gone” Kelly Denton -Borhaug describes “moral injury and war culture”. She writes: “U.S. citizens don’t really want to know what has gone on in our name, with our money and with the tacit permission…of U.S. violence around the world….we distance ourselves from the suffering caused by war yet “moral injury results from participation in the moral distortion of the world that is created by war”. The writer quotes Hannah Arendt concerning the “banality of evil” when Arendt notes how [moral injury] becomes most pernicious when it is “routinized and normalized”.
What is taking place in Gaza is the most transparent of age-old motives: to dispossess the indigenous people of their land by any means possible. The truth is that dispossession of indigenous land worldwide has a long sordid history, often dressed up in religious language such that, as Borhaug notes: “to present a divinized portrayal of war and militarism as a sacred enterprise”.
The recent display of overwhelming military power by Israel is also intended to cast fear into “enemies” nearby, but in this war against the Palestinians it is achieving the opposite. Arab countries are not in awe nor are they made more fearful, even as the American navy sits at anchor ready to intervene. Large segments of the population of Arab countries are disgusted and are taking action by boycotting businesses and products coming from America and Israel. We may see that small actions, carried out by large numbers of people, can result in powerful consequences.
The Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy, in a talk to the Israel Lobby spoke of three principles believed in by Israelis: 1st is the belief that Israelis are the chosen people”; 2nd is the belief that Israelis are always the victim; 3rd is the belief that Palestinians are less than human, compared to Israelis.
At another talk Gideon Levy noted that “Israeli rage and desire for revenge are not justified…you have to completely ignore the last 100 years in order to believe that Israel is entitled to revenge. They have far more to answer for than the Palestinians. The only way all this can possibly end well is if the U.S. intervenes. I don’t see Israel coming to its senses and developing a conscience without pressure from the outside”.
He also noted that “ethnic cleansing” by the settlers in the West Bank is supposedly “illegal” but the Israel military protects the settlers. These are Jewish terrorists…burning down houses and fields of Palestinians…under the smokescreen of the Gazan war, There is encouragement of the government…the suffering of Arabs in East Jerusalem…still to some extent, Jerusalem has been annexed by Israel, so these neighborhoods have been invaded by settlers with the help of the police…”
This dehumanization of Palestinians is not a new phenomenon. When the British General Dyer massacred 500 nonviolent protestors in Amritsar, India in 1919 he was not reprimanded by the British hierarchy. This flagrant injustice ignited all of India against British rule while Gandhi, who at one time admired the British, became extremely critical of the “evil” that British leaders had succumbed to. Despite being jailed by the British he spent two decades dedicated to expelling Britain from India.
Coincidentally, Britain, during the same period placed tens of thousands of troops in Palestine and assigned a High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel who was supportive of Jewish immigration. Following him were eleven other High Commissioners who held authority over Palestine until 1948. The British withdrew from India and Palestine in 1947 and 1948, within a year of each other. Violence was rife in both withdrawals. Some parties were aggrieved for differing reasons. In India it was a partition between a Muslim and Hindu territory and British withdrawal in August, 1947. In Palestine the Zionist leadership attacked both the British and the Palestinians but withdrawal did not take place until May,1948. Gandhi did not live to see the formal withdrawal due to his assassination by a Hindu nationalist in January, 1948 who was convinced that Gandhi was too supportive of Muslims.
The Gandhian phrase: “an eye for an eye makes everyone blind” was quoted by Ofer Cassif, a temporarily suspended member of the Israeli Knesset, who was being interviewed. We are, he said “in a vicious cycle”. Most of the people of Israel have to rid themselves of their rage” He said: “the government includes psychopaths and bigots who are happiest when they are destroying the opposition. Such people “don’t even care for Israeli people, they believe in the greater Israel, “Eretz Israel” [the largest expanse of biblical Israel] “Obviously the intention is to drive the Palestinians out of Gaza…to expel the Gazans…it is not a secret….they believe it..there are thousands who oppose this but the majority will only be able to change their minds when it is too late. The fascists in the Knesset do not want to see any opposition. [They now demand] that the police totally forbid any demonstrations against the present war in Gaza. One Knesset member wants to give M16 rifles to the west bank settlers. “Americans must understand that these fascists in the Knesset may use their power eventually against us…the regular people of Israel.”
Ofer has been struggling for some years to achieve peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians and their right of return to their homeland. He predicts that “Israel is dooming itself not only by committing genocide against the Palestinians and shocking the entire world, but by arming its own citizens to the teeth. Civil war is around the corner as society grows ever more extremist while its democratic institutions are being dismantled. Unless there is rapid change, Israel will self-destruct from the inside.”
In the case of the bombing of Gaza, a recent poll notes that a majority of Israelis support it despite its lethal consequences, as a result, they become complicit in the sin of a conflagration of another people, and in a vast moral universe of pain and suffering; all this from anger and vengeance and dispossession. When is enough not enough? How long will people suffer the traumas of injury after the death of friends and relatives? There are always consequences to violence, especially on a scale of what is now taking place, whether it is due to Hamas or Israel or America. The bigger the sin perpetrated against others (in this case the Palestinians) the more consequential the long- term psychological suffering, not only to the victims, but inevitably, to the aggressors as well. Moral injury is deep-seated and involves a long difficult process of healing and atonement. Such a process demands acknowledgement of the pain and suffering inflicted, and a willingness to face one’s complicity in the consequences of collective decision making.
Hugh Curran is a Lecturer in Peace and Reconciliation Studies at the University of Maine in Orono.