FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Palestinians and American Responsibility

by Todd May

Two facts are clear: that Israelis have needlessly killed many Palestinians civilians in their recent incursion into the West Bank and that the United States has greatly assisted in those killings. The first fact is obvious. The second fact is nearly as obvious, since it stems both from the billions of dollars the U.S. supplies Israel each year and Israel’s use of Apache helicopters, F-16’s, and American made products such as Caterpillar bulldozers.

The question is: what is the responsibility of American citizens in all of this? I’m not talking about the U.S. government, which is clearly culpable, but regular citizens, folks who just go to work, raise their families, and, of course, pay taxes.

Let me start with an analogy. You’re walking along the beach and you see a child drowning in some shallow waves. You know how to swim. The water isn’t very turbulent. Are you morally responsible if you keep walking? Of course you are. You could have saved the child at no risk to yourself, but you chose not to. If the child dies, you should feel responsible for it.

Have I drawn a proper analogy? In some ways I have. Palestinian civilians are no more able to resist their killing than the child could resist the waves. And Americans, through our taxes, are helping to stir the water.

Some will say there are important differences between the killing of Palestinians and the drowning child. First, what can American citizens do? The President and the Congress can do much to alleviate the situation. They’re the ones responsible. But for individual Americans it is different. The analogy here would be with someone walking along the beach that couldn’t swim. Surely that person can’t be held responsible for saving the drowning child.

It is true that if one can’t swim one cannot be held responsible for saving the drowning child. But that does not absolve one of responsibility. One can be held responsible for not telling the lifeguard about it, and even urging the lifeguard to do something if it looks as though the lifeguard can’t be bothered to act. In this case, the President and the Congress would be lifeguards; they can stop giving the support to Israel that allows Israel to kill civilians. To neglect to tell them about it would be a failure of moral responsibility.

But suppose one doesn’t know what is happening? After all, since Israel has barred reporters from the scenes of many of the killings and lied about what it was doing, the extent of the killing was often_and remains_unclear. Here again, let’s turn to the analogy. You’re not sure a child is drowning: maybe, maybe not. What do you do? You still call the lifeguard and point out what you might be seeing, and urge them to check. After all, what happens if you read in the paper the next day that a child drowned in the water of the beach you were strolling along?

Recall also that our tax dollars and our military equipment are contributing to the killing of innocent civilians, not marginally but centrally. Without those contributions, the waves would be much smaller and the child might be safe.

Of course there are some people who are more inclined to excuse Israel’s actions. They would argue that the entire analogy I have proposed is misleading. Rather than seeing the Israeli invasion as a destructive wave and Palestinian civilians as helpless children, they would offer an analogy of the following type. You’re walking along the street and you see a larger kid beating up a smaller one. You learn that the smaller kid has beaten up the larger kid’s little sister. Do you have responsibility to stop the beating? And here they would answer, not necessarily.

The problem is that this analogy doesn’t work. First, Palestinian civilians didn’t beat up anybody. And we know, Israeli denials to the contrary, that the Israeli army killed many of those civilians needlessly. So the attempt to make Palestinians guilty of a prior crime, as the analogy does, is mistaken. But even if we leave that obvious problem aside, there is a second problem. Because if the smaller kid did beat up the larger kid’s little sister, it would have been because the larger kid had beaten him up and had threatened to keep doing so. After all, the Palestinians who engaged in violence didn’t do so out of sheer orneriness, but because they have been spending thirty-five years under a brutal occupation. However, adding this fact to the analogy changes things. If a larger kid is beating up a smaller kid for taking vengeance for the larger kid’s earlier actions, then once again you have a responsibility to help the smaller kid.

But suppose you don’t know who really started it. It’s just too complex. Each of the kids is screaming that the other one started it. In order see the analogy this way we need to lay aside both the fact that Palestinian civilians didn’t beat anybody up and the fact that it is clear in the case of Israel and the Palestinians who is occupying whom. This is about the most sympathetic to Israel one can reasonably be with the analogy.

What should you do? It is clear that you are still responsible for pulling the larger kid off the smaller one. If you do pull him off and the smaller kid did something wrong, there are ways to rectify that. And if the smaller kid didn’t do anything and you walk away, then you allowed an innocent child to be harmed. Moreover, if we bring the analogy closer to home then we should add that the larger kid is beating the smaller one with a stick that you bought him.

The moral lesson is clear. We Americans, primarily through our tax dollars and military equipment but also through some of our private corporations, have contributed to the killing of innocent Palestinians, many of them children. We might not be able to stop the killings, at least immediately, but since it is our resources that are being used, we are responsible to try to stop it at least to the extent of contacting those who supply those resources and urging them to cease doing so.

Otherwise, the blood is on our hands too.

Todd May is a Professor of Philosophy at Clemson University He can be reached at: mayt@clemson.edu

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail