Defend Truth


Competing moralities and having the last word in a war that has entered the realm of the divine


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

It is difficult to see the emergence in Israel of a secular democracy ‘from the river to the sea’ that is home to all religions, races or creeds, as it was before the Nakba. There is simply too much hurt, and fear and loathing.

There is a point during a long war when it becomes difficult for outsiders to see any sense in the conflict, when observers are tempted to say that the conflict should “just end”, that the competing sides should declare a ceasefire, shake hands, bury the dead and resolve grievances and start the “healing” and rebuilding.

Combatants are fatigued, commanders may fight on regardless of scenarios placed before them, and civilians are frightened. War itself produces types of friction on the fields where combatants meet to maim or kill each other.

Unless you have picked a side in the decades-old Palestine-Israel war and intend to stay with it, trying to see the moralities at play in the current phase of the war is a bit like staring at a sugar cube in a cup of coffee; the longer you look at it the less you see. We may try, and we do…

It is hard to say what will happen next in the war. It’s tempting to think that this time will be different; that the war will end sometime soon, and a settlement will be reached.

There is, also, very little evidence to suggest that the invading forces will surrender, and hand Gaza back to the Palestinians, intact. It’s too late for that, too. There is also very little evidence to suggest that the Palestinians will stop the fightback that began in the 1920s.

It does not help that in many cases, most recently in Cape Town, pro-Palestine rallies were marked by cries of “Allah hu Akbar”, which is the right of every Muslim.

With the Israelis, then, drawing on a divine right to occupy whatever land they wish, and the Palestinian effort becoming increasingly inspired by divine certainty and sanction, the war, as I have written elsewhere, will probably end in paradise…

Competing moralities

When it comes to war between Europeans and its outgrowths, there is no overriding moral authority commonly shared. There’s a morality for Europeans, and another for Europe’s others.

The EU would unconditionally support Ukrainians in their war against the invading Russians, but not the people of Gaza. Before she concluded with the cry “slava Ukraini,” EU president Ursula von Leyen insisted that:

“Ukraine has been fighting for the ideals of Europe that we celebrate today, to create lasting unity and peace, to represent the values of freedom, diversity and humanity that Europe is built on. We should never forget that peace in Europe seemed impossible, improbable and far too distant for much of the last century. But it was achieved, despite the pain and despite the divisions of war. As we stand here today in a country senselessly attacked, some might think it is impossible, improbable or too distant to talk about a free and peaceful Ukraine in the European Union. But Europe is about making the impossible possible. And so is Ukraine.”

With the Palestinian-Israeli war, “Palestine must be free” (a variation of “slava Ukraini”) would be considered criminal, genocidal, Nazism to be sure and support for terrorists. 

This is an extraordinary shift in morality, reminiscent of what Joseph Conrad wrote (about Belgium’s atrocities in the Congo), “that the conscience of Europe… [which] put down the slave trade on humanitarian grounds, tolerates the Congo State today. It is as if the moral clock has been put back.”

Israel may rightfully be described as a theocratic state. That country has drifted from being a “Jewish state” to (when in 2022 the 27th government was created) becoming a state with six religious parties in control: Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Religious Zionist Party, Otzma Yehudit, and Noam.

In January this year, The New Yorker explained that under actual existing conditions, Israel took a “turn toward theocracy”. For the theocratic government, Albert Camus wrote, justice is always an afterthought and would insist, always, on having the last word on everything. 

The theocratic Israeli government (with the consent of voters) considers itself the sole arbiter of human affairs and the administration of justice. Anyone who opposes that is a terrorist and a tyrant and will be dealt with in brute tyrannicide.

That the plight of the Palestinians has been turned into a political Islamic cause turns the moral tale the other way. While the Palestinian cause has to do with land, politics, occupation, displacement, injustice, settler colonialism, resistance, fear and loathing (though Israelis may appeal to their creator, and 3,500-year origins, never mind human evolution passages over millennia and what it all means), it has, now, become part of Islamic doctrine.

What applies above to the Jewish state’s shift to theocracy may apply to a putative Palestinian state. It is difficult, in other words, to see the emergence of a secular democracy from the river to the sea as it was before the Nakba; home to all religions, races or creeds. There is simply too much hurt, and fear and loathing.

Anyway, that era passed in 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini made Muslims around the world believe that an Islamic theocracy was possible, even necessary. Before that, countries like Iran or Afghanistan were much more open societies where women were not held back and corralled into domesticity behind veils.

This is not to say that all Muslim-majority countries are clones of Iran (or Afghanistan, for that matter). But the same religion that has always insisted that it praised, respected and celebrated women has, in places, put women in chains.

To be clear, there are versions of Judaism that place dress codes and restrictions on women in ways not dissimilar to Muslim versions which insist that women dress according to scripture.

Whichever side god supports will prevail

It is important to insert a caveat here, in bold text, that a lot depends on whether Muslims or Jews believe that conventional beliefs and values as habitually understood, are right or wrong. Nothing that is written here prevents people from following their religious beliefs – not until it causes harm to others.

One of the smart thinkers of the last century, Bertrand Russell, made a rather awful suggestion after the United States dropped its atomic bombs on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since the US was the pre-eminent and unchallenged military power after 1945, Russell suggested that the US should exploit its power and (also) bomb Moscow. This, he said, would prevent Moscow from launching its own nuclear power.

Russell believed in the American slogan, “better dead than red”. This removed from the table any moral consideration, any ideas of right and wrong. There was only the American way.

It seems that among the competing morality tales of the Palestine-Israel conflict, each side wants to have the last say on all matters of humanity and justice. The ones with the greatest numinous power can drop the next bomb, as it were, without any argument and without questioning the legitimacy of such action.

Put differently – we have the power as we have demonstrated, so why don’t we just go ahead and use it? Nobody dares to ask questions (or they’re just Nazis and supporters of terror).

In Europe of the 16th (and 17th) century, the Jesuits were associated with regicide, and with “approving” the killing of kings. I never quite got a handle on that (I stand to be corrected) except for the understanding that the Catholic zealot, François Ravaillac, assassinated King Henry IV of France in 1610 and that the era would be marked by contesting moralities between state administration of justice and the church, which provided divine authority as its source for the administration of justice.

I read all of that too long ago to make it make more sense. Ravaillac was, of course, funded externally and protected, albeit briefly, by his benefactors. I seem to recall that he lost his mind or pretended to do so after the assassination…

Nonetheless, in the present conflict, there is no clear objective between “killing the king” (the administrator) or killing the idea(s), those beliefs and values constitute and hold together Israelis or Palestinians.

What we do know, for sure, is that the Israelis have god as spiritual guide and benefactor, and the US serves that role in the material world.

My guess is that they will have the last word. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Karen Spangler says:

    Invading forces you say? Who went into Israel on Oct 7 and slaughtered over 1400 Israelis?! I think that Israel went into Gaza to obliterate Hamas who, by the way, could give 2 twits about the Palestinian people. They have the headquarters underneath hospitals and when Israel told the Palestinian people to evacuate..they were stopped by Hamas. Hamas is a 100% terrorist organization funded by Iran, who is a 100% terrorist state. In my opinion, Hamas being driven out of Gaza will be a blessing to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis.

    • John P says:

      Whilst there is much about this opinion piece that I am uncomfortable with and much that I am still digesting your response cannot go unanswered. Yes, the Hamas attack was a despicable terrorist act and they are a terrorist organization funded by Iran, nobody is arguing this except perhaps a few radicals. BUT your response is nothing more than parroting right wing, autocratic Netanyahu propaganda with absolutely no proof or rational argument.

      Can you provide proof that Hamas prevented Palestinians from evacuating or that they have headquarters underneath hospitals?

      Can you truly justify the massive over the top response of the IDF with aerial bombing destroying entire residential areas and support infrastructure? Is this a surgical response aimed at Hamas and the release of hostages or just a massive revenge attack aimed at keeping Netanhayu in power?

    • Louise Louise says:

      Please dig a bit deeper into the history of Palestine? October 7th 2023 is a terrible date for sure, and HAMAS committed a terrible crime, but it’s far more complex than this date. It takes time to try and understand both sides of a situation and the history of Palestine is no different. HAMAS started off as a charity, with one of the founders being a paraplegic. Why did it turn into a violent resistance group?

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Given that I don’t formally identify as Muslim or Jewish .. or for that matter Christian, I think your fascinating take on this issue is bound to provoke many ‘strong’ reactions/responses ! No doubt many deciding to ride their long standing personal hobbyhorse/s, inflicting as much whip ‘pain’ on the poor animal , that the SPCA may have to be summoned ! That is if the IDF will let them in! Not unlike that being inflicted on the medical staff, various UN agencies staff, Red cross/crescent staff, local (since international ones are not allowed into Palestine!) journalists etc. in Palestinian territory. From the first few comments already posted, they will no doubt be supplemented with many, many more ….”having the last word on everything” ! Oy vey !

  • Skinyela Skinyela says:

    “Anyway, that era passed in 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini made Muslims around the world believe that an Islamic theocracy was possible, even necessary. Before that, countries like Iran or Afghanistan were much more open societies where women were not held back and corralled into domesticity behind veils.”

    The revolution in Iran and the coming into being of the likes of Ayatollah as ‘supreme leaders’ is a direct product Uncle Sam’s cooking there, just as what Afghanistan has become is also Uncle Sam’s doing.

    Too bad if a secular state with equal rights for all, from river to the sea, is not possible because the conditions(in my opinion) for a two-state solution are no longer there. It now seems that, since the first two options(one state with equal rights and two-state solution) are no longer possible , Israel has decided to drive all the Palestinians out of both Gaza and the West Bank.

    The saving grace would be a change in public opinion in USA as well as the electorate in Israel electing a moderate, responsible, pragmatic government.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      The challenge facing your last proposal about electing ‘moderate, responsible, pragmatic ‘ leadership … is that the last time it happened in Israel , Yitshak Rabin was ‘assassinated’ … as happened with Gandhi (et al) in India many years before. “moderate, responsible, pragmatic” does not ‘sell’ very well … nor does it generate the kind of megalomaniacal ‘fervour’ of hatred and ‘quick’ solutions that attract many people… methinks. BUT … I may be wrong !

      • Skinyela Skinyela says:

        I don’t subscribe to fatalism, you seem to. Had you suggested an alternative to that last proposal I would understand, but you left it at that. Must I remind you that Mandela was a moderate among hardliners in the ANC, President Lincoln was a pragmatist, etc. Every political change has martyrs.

  • dexter m says:

    except for your opening statement which i get…the rest is all over the place that is being polite. And for all if you are pro Israel read up on Palestinians and their history . And if pro Palestinian on Jews and their history .
    We end up with ” Victims of victims and refugees of refugees ”
    No right or wrong side .Just right and right.
    Read a study of the genetic research by Ariella Oppenheim Hebrew university on group of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arab men .Finding they had a common ancestors within the past several thousand years. This seems more a like a family dispute on inheritance than a religious dispute .
    And both never have any winners.

  • David Silman says:

    Some spurious conclusions based on faulting perception. That many in the current Israeli government are observant Jews, has little bearing on domestuc policy. Driving on a Saturday is a religious infraction. Aside from being pelted with rocks by the anti-zionist religious nutcases – the Naturei Karta sect- There is no legal impediment or penalty for driving on the Sabbath. The NK mobflatter the religious nutcases in Iran along with any Palestinian body in opposition to the continued existence of Israel. Not a theocracy.

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