Sometimes, the best laid plans get side-tracked when something more pressing comes along. That happened today when a friend shared an article with me from the Boston Review. Choosing Violence by Oded Na’aman (August 15, 2016). I dropped everything, read it from beginning to end, more than once, and then printed several copies to send to friends and to my members of Congress.
The author, Oded Na’aman, is a Jewish Israeli who grew up in Israel and served in the Israeli Defense Forces in the early 2000s. My hunch is that his insights are shared by many more veterans, certainly by the Israeli soldiers in Breaking the Silence.
As the title suggests, Mr. Na’aman believes that Israel chooses violence, rather than the common ethos that violence chooses Israel. He writes:
I believe that we, Israelis, did and do have choices. But how might a whole society be mistaken about such a fundamental aspect of its existence? Conversely how can individual members of society, such as me, come to doubt widespread, deeply seated belief? Sometimes actions most see as entirely reasonable are, in fact, abhorrent. At times, imperatives to which whole societies subscribe amount to mere prejudice; communities commit grave injustices while fully believing they are in the right.
These questions, perhaps not stated quite so clearly, have been rummaging around in my head ever since I returned from Gaza in May 2013.
How could my previous assumptions and understanding about the “conflict” between Israel and Palestine be so wrong? How did I come to doubt the “truth” that my country’s leaders, my family and many colleagues, and most everyone in the U.S., have absorbed as easily as the sun’s rays on a beautiful afternoon?
Am I a kook? ———- Seriously, I have wondered sometimes. Oded Na’aman writes:
How, then, could men and women who face moral isolation tell whether they are, to use [Bernard] Williams‘s phrase, solitary bearers of true justice or, instead, deluded cranks? Put another way, how might such persons be not only just but sane, not only moral but reasonable?
He doesn’t actually answer his question —- my question —- but I’m rejoicing that someone has so eloquently given voice to my fear. And I know I’m not a kook.
Please read his article.
Consider Israel’s ongoing campaign in Gaza, which continue to escalate in spite of obvious errors. Any reasonable review of these engagements reveals a consistent, perhaps obsessive, repetition of mistaken estimates, failures of foresight, unjustified use of force, and lack of clear objectives. If anything, strategic mistakes and moral failures have worsened with every campaign. The number of casualties illustrates this most poignantly. In the Gaza War (December 2008 – January 2009), more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. During the last campaign, the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict (July – August 2014), more than 2,200 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed. A comparison helps to clarify just how disproportionate Israeli actions were: in the first three weeks of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the American military destroyed 1,600 armored vehicles; in Gaza in 2014, Hamas had no armored vehicles, yet, on average, an Israeli tank fired seven times more shells per day than did an American tank in the invasion of Iraq. Israeli helicopters loosed twiced as many Hellfire missiles as American helicopters did in those three weeks of 2003. Yet no one in Israel doubts that another war in Gaza, probably harsher than the last, is in the offing.
I read those words and my heart rate jumps, I feel a silent scream rising inside, and I want to shake everyone out of their complacency.
Indifference to pain and loss — one’s own and others’ — is a prerequisite to war. Entire societies must grow numb to suffering. … [War] punishes sanity and rewards insanity.
In the second half of his article, Mr. Na’aman writes about conviction, and maybe that IS the answer I’m looking for.
He shares a true story of an incident when he and two of his friends were walking late at night up a-Shuhada Street in Hebron towards the home of a Palestinian friend. They passed a group of Jewish teens who asked them where they were going. They replied “Tel Rumeida” – the Jewish neighborhood next to their friend’s home – and walked on. One of them yelled, “Are you crazy? What are you doing walking here, in Hebron, in the middle of the night, without any protection? The Arabs will kill you! You will be slaughtered!”
They were not worried and continued walking. Observing the reaction, the kid turned to his friends and exclaimed victoriously, “I told you they are leftists!”
You see, as young as he was, the boy understood that, within Israeli society, only settlers and activists know Hebron for what it really is. Neither group subscribes to the Israeli ethos of necessary violence. The settlers condone violence and choose violence in the service of religious and ethnic causes; the activists condemn and reject it for moral and religious reasons. But both settlers and activists act from conviction rather than fear. For only conviction—the inward and full persuasion of the mind—can withstand the capriciousness of politics.
I must find a way to give voice to my conviction that the violence we see in the Middle East — Israel and Palestine — in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — is and has always been a violence of choice. And we can choose another path. I’m convinced.