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…
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