“Israel regrets every injury to civilians. I call on the residents of Gaza: Don’t stay there. Hamas wants you to die, we want you to be safe.”
This is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as quoted in the Jewish Daily Forward, cleansing the nation’s collective conscience. Is it really that easy to sweep away the moral sting of violent action? A captive population is being pummeled with missiles. Well over 500 Palestinians have died so far in Operation Protective Edge, three-quarters of them civilians and, of course, many of them children. But “we want you to be safe” and wish we didn’t have to do this.
Netanyahu, pushed into a public relations corner by global sympathy for the Palestinians, also made this slightly more cynical, less regret-tinged comment: “They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can. They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.”
Glenn Greenwald compared this remark to a 1941 comment by Joseph Goebbels, belittling the Jews for plucking the sympathy strings of soft-hearted Germans: “One suddenly has the impression,” the Nazi propaganda minister wrote, “that the Berlin Jewish population consists only of little babies whose childish helplessness might move us, or else fragile old ladies.”
Violence begets violence in a never-ending cycle. And violence is almost always perpetrated against the powerless. The perpetrators have “interests” at stake but almost nothing to lose. Bombing a civilian population is the moral equivalent of torture. This is the story of Western civilization; it’s the story of “progress.” On and on it goes.
Writer Naomi Klein, who is Jewish-American, put it this way when she spoke in Israel in 2009, according to Haaretz: “The debate boils down to the question: ‘Never again to everyone, or never again to us?’”
Nations aren’t formed around the first possibility, which requires an evolutionary leap we haven’t made as a species: to build collective structures that honor the whole of humanity. Nations require enemies. Last week, writing about nationalism, I quoted historian Michael Howard, who wrote: “From the very beginning, the principle of nationalism was almost indissolubly linked, both in theory and practice, with the idea of war.”
Israel is the contemporary poster child of this principle.
In an open letter addressed to the United Nations and the nations of the world, 64 public figures — among them, seven Nobel Peace Prize recipients — called for an arms embargo against Israel, whose “ability to launch such devastating attacks with impunity largely stems from the vast international military cooperation and trade that it maintains with complicit governments across the world.”
This is the hegemonic complicity, one might say, that rules the world. Richard Falk, former U.N. special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, called it “accountability for enemies of the West, impunity for the West and its friends.”
He went on: “Such double standards highlight the tensions between law and justice. There is currently no greater beneficiary of this deformed political culture of impunity than the political leadership and military command structure of Israel.”
The most chilling sentences in the open letter signed by the Nobel laureates and others were these: “Israel’s military technology is marketed as ‘field-tested’ and exported across the world. Military trade and joint military-related research relations with Israel embolden Israeli impunity in committing grave violations of international law and facilitate the entrenchment of Israel’s system of occupation, colonization and systematic denial of Palestinian rights.”
Field-tested? There’s more going on here than alleged self-defense, or even the pursuit of territorial interests. This is about business. Israel is one of the world’s leading arms exporters, ranking number six globally in 2012, behind the United States, Russia and France. Britain and Germany, according to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. Periodically bombing the Gaza Strip is apparently the way it field-tests its weapons and maintains a position of global respect among the international war-mongering and moneyed classes — which own the world, or at least assume they do.
Indeed, Israeli journalist Yotam Feldman is the director of a 2013 documentary called “The Lab,” which asserts that the occupied territories, whatever else they are, have become a lab for testing and showcasing Israel’s weapons systems.
There’s such a thing as self-defense, but there’s no such thing as a principled, or legitimate, war. Murder is always murder: a zero-sum game of winning and losing through sheer, violent domination.
As individuals, we can look at the carnage that our own and other governments wreak and cry, from the depth of our souls, “Never again.”
When we band together in armed groups, we link in fear and hatred and cheapen our salvation. “Never again to us (and only us)” is a battle cry of the lost, guaranteeing perpetual war and everyone’s ultimate demise — even the profiteers’.