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Moral clarity, moral ambiguity, moral confusion

9 January 2009

“Some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated. The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating.” What I find excruciating is the moral blindness of that statement.

Several people, among them Father David MacGregor (Contact Online Weblog: Moral Clarity in Gaza), have drawn my attention to this piece: Charles Krauthammer – Moral Clarity in Gaza:

Some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated. The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating.

Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis — 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years — deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.

There were similar stories about the bombing of Lebanon two-and-a-half years ago. The problem is that it sounds like nothing so much as a terrorist death threat, phoning to say we’ve planted a bomb in such and such a place.

And then there is this: Sam PF’s Journal – Gaza – What you can do:

I’m not going to go into a long diatribe about why the Israeli assault on Gaza is wrong or the details of what is going on there. If you don’t agree that killing over 750 people including over 200 children is barbaric and obscene, then probably nothing I can say is going to convince you. And if you haven’t seen reports of what is going on in Gaza, it is because you are not looking, or perhaps are only looking at Fox News or CNN or something. It’s not hard to find otherwise.

Just one point worth noting: the Israeli attack on 6th January on a UN-run school in Jabaliya refugee camp, killing 40 people who had taken refuge there. Israel claimed there was mortar fire from Hamas from the school. United Nations officials on the ground have denied that this was the case. What is more they gave the Israelis GPS co-ordinates of where the school was, so the Israelis knew exactly what it was they were attacking.

It was truly said that one of the first casualties of war is truth, which gets drowned out by the propaganda from all sides. And propaganda does not have to be lies. The most effective propaganda can be based entirely on facts. But the facts are carefully selected, and other facts are omitted.

But there is one big lie: Krauthamer’s lie that there is moral clarity in the Gaza conflict. That is the real whopper. In the continuing Israel-Palestine conflict there have been atrocities and instances of bad faith on all sides, with each trying to justify its own on the basis of the evil committed by the others. I can’t think of any geopolitical conflict over the last 20 years where one side has been overwhelmingly in the right, and the other overwhelmingly in the wrong. One possible exception may have been the expulsion of invading Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991, but that very soon turned sour, with sanctions against Iraq leading to the death of half a million children, a price US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said was “worth it” to maintain US hegemony in the Middle East. So there too any moral clarity there may have been was lost in the murk of Realpolitik.

I belive that Daniel Larison, an American conservative commentator, makes a valid point when he says (Eunomia Taking Sides, Making Excuses):

If we are speaking of Israel’s critics in the West, including members of Western governments, none has excused barbarism of any kind. Indeed, I assume virtually all of Israel’s critics in the West take for granted that Hamas has been and is a terrorist group that at the very least continues to permit (largely ineffective) terrorist attacks from the territory it controls. Outrageous, indefensible, wrong–these are just the most common words that I have seen used and have used to describe the rocket attacks. What the critics have insisted on is the application of civilized standards to both sides on the assumption that such standards are desirable and valid, and should therefore be observed by all parties. If more of the criticism has focused on Israeli actions, it is because Israel escalated the conflict, just as more criticism initially focused on Georgian escalation of conflict with the Ossetians. The flip side of generally greater identification with Israel is greater attention to its actions, which is made all the more acute in the U.S. because of Israel’s status as an allied and subsidized government. Because we are more closely tied to and implicated in what Israel does, we are more concerned that Israel not commit blunders or crimes.

Even if one’s moral values are based on the principle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, if one looks at the number of Israeli and Palestinian deaths (not to mention those of Lebanese in 2006) over the years, the disproportion is obvious.

Since 2005 Israel, which is still punishing the original inhabitants of the lands it rules or occupies, has killed 150 Palestinians for each Israeli killed these last eight years. Just think of it. Seventeen Israeli lives have been expunged by the murder of 2550 Palestinian ones” (from A conservative blog for peace).

That’s not an eye for an eye, but 150 eyes for an eye. Not a tooth for a tooth, but 150 teeth for a tooth. That is immoral clarity.

Krauthamer’s statement shows how much the world is in need of moral regeneration, and Israel is no exception at all.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 January 2009 9:42 am

    This is probably a dumb question, showing my huge ignorance of the historical and political situation, but in this paragraph:

    “Even if one’s moral values are based on the principle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, if one looks at the number of Israeli and Palestinian deaths (not to mention those of Lebanese in 2006) over the years, the disproportion is obvious.”

    Who has inflicted the most deaths?

  2. 9 January 2009 10:38 am

    The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is certainly one of the more morally disturbing conflicts. Criticism of the actions of the Israeli and Palestinian governors seem all that is offered over the many years. I might be a bit blind and deaf but I haven’t heard a single solution to the conflict. I suspect this is because the 15% orthodox jews who want Palestinians and all non-orthodox Jews wiped out of and the equally aggressive muslim groups such as Hamas who want all people in the whole world who don’t agrre with them, wiped out. How do we hope to change this status quo without a lesson equivalent to the those learnt by Germany and Japan in WWII? It seems to me that only when the peacemakers within those lands can get the upper hand and begin making one complete nation prepared to offer everyone within its borders a right to a full life, can there be justice in that land.

  3. 9 January 2009 10:49 am

    Susan,

    Quote from another blog: “Since 2005 Israel, which is still punishing the original inhabitants of the lands it rules or occupies, has killed 150 Palestinians for each Israeli killed these last eight years. Just think of it. Seventeen Israeli lives have been expunged by the murder of 2550 Palestinian ones” (from A conservative blog for peace).

    I think I’ll add that to the post, in case other people wonder.

  4. 9 January 2009 4:38 pm

    Well said Steve.

  5. 9 January 2009 10:37 pm

    Yes, very well said Steve.

  6. 10 January 2009 6:50 pm

    I watched a video from CBS on Google News this morning on the conflict- the first half was pretty much nothing more than carefully selected IDF footage and commentary on Israel’s war aims. Only in the last minute or so was there any footage or mention of Palestinians. Of course, foreign journalists by and large have been excluded from Gaza, which means that for American viewers the story is almost exclusively from the angle of the Israeli government.

    It’s really remarkable how little outrage there is in the US, even among people one would expect it from. I’m on a large university campus, which went for Obama naturally, but Gaza is quite invisible here- certainly no protests or meetings, and I’ve yet to hear any of my colleagues bring the topic up even as an item of conversation. And of course the Chosen One himself, Barak Obama, has been virtually silent on the issue- which is very troubling. I fear that the already rather ineffectual antiwar ‘movement’ in the US is going to be further muted by Obama’s victory, as Democrats become unwilling to criticize American foreign policy with any vigour, now that one of their own is at the helm.

  7. 13 January 2009 5:11 am

    Steve, I appreciate this post. I remember reading the Krauthammer piece and thinking just how predictable his columns on the Middle East are. One has trouble using the phrase “Charles Krauthammer” and “moral clarity” in the same sentence without the assistance of a negative.

Trackbacks

  1. Moral Clarity on Gaza « Thicket & Thorp
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