FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How to Sell "Ethical" Warfare

One of my students was arrested yesterday and spent the night in a prison cell. R’s offence was protesting the Israeli assault on Gaza. He joins over 700 other Israelis who have been detained since the beginning of Israel’s ruthless war on Gaza: an estimated 230 of whom are still behind bars. Within the Israeli context, this strategy of quelling protest and stifling resistance is unprecedented, and it is quite disturbing that the international media has failed to comment on it.

Simultaneously, the Israeli media has been towing the government line to such a degree that no criticism of the war has been voiced on any of the three local television stations. Indeed, the situation has become so absurd that reporters and anchors are currently less critical of the war than the military spokespeople. In the absence of any critical analysis, it is not so surprising that 78% of Israelis, or about 98% of all Jewish Israelis, support the war.

But eliding critical voices is not the only way that public support has been secured. Support has also been manufactured through ostensibly logical argumentation. One of the ways the media, military and government have been convincing Israelis to rally behind the assault is by claiming that Israel is carrying out a moral military campaign against Hamas. The logic, as Eyal Weizman has cogently observed in his groundbreaking book Hollow Land, is one of restraint.

The Israeli media continuously emphasises Israel’s restraint by underscoring the gap between what the military forces could do to the Palestinians and what they actually do. Here are a few examples of the refrains Israelis hear daily while listening to the news:

• Israel could bomb houses from the air without warning, but it has military personnel contact – by phone no less – the residents 10 minutes in advance of an attack to alert them that their house is about to be destroyed. The military, so the subtext goes, could demolish houses without such forewarnings, but it does not do so because it values human life.

• Israel deploys teaser bombs – ones that do not actually ruin houses – a few minutes before it fires lethal missiles; again, to show that it could kill more Palestinians but chooses not to do so.

• Israel knows that Hamas leaders are hiding in al-Shifa hospital. The intimation is that it does not raze the medical centre to the ground even though it has the capacity to do so.

• Due to the humanitarian crisis the Israeli military stops its attacks for a few hours each day and allows humanitarian convoys to enter the Gaza Strip. Again, the unspoken claim is that it could have barred these convoys from entering.

The message Israel conveys through these refrains has two different meanings depending on the target audience.

To the Palestinians, the message is one that carries a clear threat: Israel’s restraint could end and there is always the possibility of further escalation. Regardless of how lethal Israel’s military attacks are now, the idea is to intimidate the Palestinian population by underscoring that the violence can always become more deadly and brutal. This guarantees that violence, both when it is and when it is not deployed, remains an ever-looming threat.

The message to the Israelis is a moral one. The subtext is that the Israeli military could indiscriminately unleash its vast arsenal of violence, but chooses not to, because its forces, unlike Hamas, respect human life.

This latter claim appears to have considerable resonance among Israelis, and, yet, it is based on a moral fallacy. The fact that one could be more brutal but chooses to use restraint does not in any way entail that one is moral. The fact that the Israeli military could have razed the entire Gaza Strip, but instead destroyed only 15% of the buildings does not make its actions moral. The fact that the Israeli military could have killed thousands of Palestinian children during this campaign, and, due to restraint, killed “only” 300, does not make Operation Cast Lead ethical.

Ultimately, the moral claims the Israeli government uses to support its actions during this war are empty. They actually reveal Israel’s unwillingness to confront the original source of the current violence, which is not Hamas, but rather the occupation of the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem. My student, R, and the other Israeli protesters seem to have understood this truism; in order to stop them from voicing it, Israel has stomped on their civil liberties by arresting them.

NEVE GORDON is chair of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and author of Israel’s Occupation (University of California Press, 2008).

 

 

 

More articles by:

Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies and the co-author of The Human Right to Dominate.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail