Like many people, I have been watching the events currently unfolding in the Middle East. It has been unsettling to witness the reaction of people to this appalling tragedy. This reaction has been quite different from that to the Ukraine/Russia war. In the latter there is a clear side to which one might align. However, in the former, it has not been so clear for many people.
I write this not to take sides. If one does so, one loses sight of the bigger picture and the fact that, today, many lives are being ended prematurely — many of them children; many lives have been severely disrupted in both Israel and Palestine; many people are scrambling to find a safe haven or enough bread to stop them from starving; many people are living in immense fear, anger, and hate.
A number of the people killed in the Hamas action, or taken hostage, were Israeli activists who supported Palestinians. It makes no sense for Hamas that targets them; but equally, it makes no sense that Israel responds with such a vicious retaliation, destroying the lives of thousands of innocent civilians.
What is at stake here?
- Many more lives being harmed and destroyed.
- An exceptionally high level of undeserved suffering and desperation.
- An international community that stands by and lets this happen.
After the attack by Hamas, many Western leaders came out in support of the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, when he declared a ground invasion of Gaza. How different would it have been had these leaders spoken out against the ground invasion? How different would it have been had Israel responded in a non-violent way? We will never know what would have happened, because the geopolitical order is stuck with the mindset that violence is the only response to violence. However, what we do know is that that view is short sighted and to the detriment of human and other forms of life. Violence begets more violence, in a never ending round of suffering.
Allow me to make some very simple points over which there is much confusion:
- You are not an antisemite simply because you criticize the Israeli government.
- You do not necessarily support Hamas simply because you care about the Palestinians.
- You do not condone the attack by Hamas simply because you care about Palestinians.
What has become clear in the present belligerent response to the Hamas attack shows that many people care about only some lives. The lives of those in the refugee camps in Gaza are non-grievable: simply acceptable “collateral damage.” In those attacks, Israel claims to have killed Hamas leaders — but at the expense of hundreds of innocent lives. Even someone who holds that killing innocents can sometimes be justified must hold that the mass killing we are now witnessing is out of all proportion.
What can moral clarity do? It can help us understand that the current situation does not start with the recent Hamas action. One must understand that it goes back over 100 years, when, in 1917, the British Government which controlled Palestine at the time, gave Jewish people the right to immigrate and take land traditionally held by Palestinians.
One must understand that in the territories occupied in the Six Day War, Palestinians have been subjugated and oppressed in their own land. Many people there live below the poverty line; 50% of the population depend on foreign aid; access to potable water for people living in Gaza is scant, and power outages are frequent due to fuel shortages caused by an illegal blockade imposed by Israel. Life for many Palestinians has been life without human dignity.
For several months before the attack, Israel had been experiencing much unrest among its own people. Many were displeased with Netanyahu’s corruption and the religious minority parties keeping him in power. Moreover, the U.S. governments — of all stripes — must take some responsibility for the current situation. They have permitted and aided Israel’s illegal occupations, vetoed United Nations resolutions, and supplied armaments and military intelligence. Without such backing, Israel would have had to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians a long time ago.
Moral clarity demands a discerning mind. It requires an understanding of the present situation, how it came about, and what perpetuates the turmoil. It does not demand knee-jerk violence. It’s time to envisage a different paradigm: one of non-violence. As John Donne said in his poem: No man is an island. What happens implicate us all, morally if in no other way. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Anna Malavisi is an Associate Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Philosophy, History, and World Perspectives at Western Connecticut State University.