Tuesday, August 08, 2006

posted by Yonatan

The good guys always win

Former Israeli PM Ehud Barak once said that had he been a Palestinian he'd have become a militant - what we often call a terrorist. This brave comment exemplifies how the political left in Israel (myself included) reasons about Palestinian actions, and in particular acts of terrorism and the two Intifadahs: by trying to put ourselves in their shoes.

To some extent, this reasoning is the great divide between the political left and right in Israel. We think of Palestinians (and non Jews in general) as people just like us, who think like us, and react to circumstances as we might have in their shoes. As human beings, we are no better than them, they are no worse than us.

Following this line of reasoning, from observing the Palestinian actions, we draw conclusions regarding their circumstances. If human beings just like us are desperate enough to go to such extremes as some Palestinians do, how dire must be the conditions in which they live, to drive them so?

This morning I heard on the news that a German newspaper reports that some of the photos from Kfar Qana were staged. That the body of a young girl was pulled out of the rubble for a new crew to photograph, and then buried again, until the next crew came. Of course, I have no idea if this story is true or not. But supposing it is true, is it more or less horrible than using civilians as human shields? Is it more or less horrible to bomb buses, restaurants, and shopping malls?

So lately, I find myself wondering a little less about what kind of dire circumstances drive people to wage their war on the back of innocent civilians, and a little more the kind of people who are inclined to do so.

What crosses their mind? Surely if they think that firing their missiles from within villages gives them an advantage, then they must believe that Israel is reluctant to bomb these villages. How can they, in their mind, reconcile this? How can they, in their mind, be the "good guys"?


Blogger howie said...


You are flirting with moral relativism I think.

There are good guys and bad guys. Does that mean good guys are only good and bad guys are only bad? No...of course not.

If I were a Palestinian...I could not be what I wanted to be, which is a moderate that is trying to find a reasonable solution. Yes...they are people like us...but then they are not.

Take one simple example...indoctrination. You went to school in Israel I assume? Half my family did, including my wife and one of my son's. I never once heard about indoctrination to hate Palestinians or to view them as subhuman. In fact, pretty much the values taught were to respect human life and judge on individual merit.

One indoctrination is good...one is bad...it is not relative.

You know as well as I do that Israel would not have gone to war in 48, 67 or 73 and even 82 and even today if there was an option.

These wars were forced on us by an enemy that wants us dead, gone....

Does this include the way all Palestinians think...no..how way too many think...yes. That is bad...it is not good or morally neutral.

I could go on but I FIRMLY believe that Israel has the higher moral ground, I accept that Palestinians have legitatment grivances (as do we) and I do not believe there is enough good will or honesty on the other side for us to make peace...not yet.

Oh...and as people die...let's see how many Israeli's dance in the streets as opposed to Palestinians.

People just like us? Well...not quite.

6:47 PM  
Blogger ran said...

Yonatan, very interesting post.I think this left-right divide stems from 2 quite contradictory human instincts: the first is to dehumanise the percieved enemy - this makes it easier to fight him. The second is to identify and empathize with him - this comforts you by giving the beliefe that since the enemy is just like you (and you don't wish for his anihilation) he does not really want to destroy you.
I think most moderate israelis can feel both instincts, and the posts in this blog are evidence of that.
Now, if these are common instincts then they must have been shaped by a long evolution of human relationships, and thus are probably both good for survival. From this I conclude that during the course of evolution many percieved enemis were found to be possible partners for peaceful relations (otherwise it wouldn't have been a good strategy and the instinct might have faded from our genes).
And about your doubts as to the human nature of hizbullah. I agree they use evil methods. Their world view is very violent and extreme. But there were always extremists in all civilizations. And hizbullah also does good things for the lebanese people (schools, hospitals, etc). It is all a very fine balance. For example, 20% of the israeli parliament is populated with extreme right wing members with pretty fanatic ideology. They are not that far from creating a coalition, and I wonder how will the Israeli army behave under their rule ? It will not be the most humane army, I can tell you that...
What I'm trying to say is that creating a stable and peacful region is something that takes years of conflict, of cultural and economical influences, of learning. I think that the Israeli public in the last few years have become more able to see and understand the other side - just when things got worse. This happens again today with lebanon - I think some israelis learn about the complexity of the conflict and of the cultural and political situation in lebanon and in the region.

12:59 AM  
Blogger Yonatan said...

I agree that that moral relativism is shifty ground, and I did not intend to go there (at least not far).

My main point was to say that recent events have induced a shift in the questions I ask, and I think that this is indicative of a reduced ability to sympathize or empathize with the other side.

To put it very superficially, I think that in general, there is a tension between a liberal view, which says that if people are in a bad spot it's because of circumstances, and the capitalistic or conservative view that it's their fault.

Clearly the lines are not well defined - indeed, part of the circumstances of growing up in most arab countries is that you're indoctrinated to blame most everything on evil zionists.

I think you implicitly touch upon the important point of how religion gets into the equation. It's not a coincidence, in my mind, that there is such a strong correlation between being an orthodox jew and having right wing views. Judaism says that we are the chosen people, and from there to conclude that we are better, that non-jews are not "As human" as us, it's a short way.

I don't know Islam that well, but I think it's the same, if not worse. As you mention, there are extremeists everywhere, just as there are good people everywhere. But doesn't there seem to be an over-abundance of muslim extremists?

12:17 PM  
Blogger Elad said...

This is a very interesting post. I want to make one point, by which I try to makes sense of in this question:
Similar to Ran, I think that most people in any organization are not terribly good or terribly evil. By international law, and it is otherwise evident, the Hezbollah leader is a terribly evil and unfortunately charismatic person. The evil deeds of hiding warefare behind civilian population is probably a Hezbollah strategy, given from the commanders and excuted by the solidiers.
It is much easier to excute an evil order than to commit an evil deed by one's own initiative.
Thus we reduce the attrocities of hiding behind civilians from many evil people to one evil leader and many "only little evil" solidiers.

6:30 PM  

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