Monday, July 21, 2014

A few thoughts on discourse related to the current flare-up of hostilities

People who blog about current events almost inevitably make themselves part of horizontal or lateral propaganda (a useful term I learned from Jacques Ellul). Because of this, I've remained largely silent. I don't trust my judgment and I don't want to be a propagandist for any cause. As a Jew, I know that I should raise my voice in support of Israel's right to defend itself from random rocket attacks on civilian populations. But I find myself silenced by the growing toll of civilian deaths in Gaza. I understand that the Israeli aerial assault, naval operations, and ground invasion aims at degrading the capability of terrorists emerging from tunnels to wreak as much havoc as possible and I cherish recent grudging IDF expressions of respect for the Hamas fighters they've encountered. But I am also troubled by the mounting evidence of blind contempt, hatred and racism among Jews and Israelis that is evident in blogs and reflected in a widely posted program of ethnic cleansing penned by a member of the Israeli Knesset. At the same time I am dismayed by anti-Jewish violence and anti-Semitic slogans heard across Europe. I sympathize with my friends in Israel whose lives are disrupted by air-raid sirens and my heart breaks when I think of the acute degradation and devastation suffered by the people of Gaza. It is hard to find anything useful to say other than, stop!

Any yet, it is difficult not to notice that this of all conflicts takes up disproportionate amounts of our attention; disproportionate because it pales in comparison of what Syrians are doing to Syrians, Islamists to Muslims (and Christians), the increasing threat to the Kurdish regions of Iraq, the intransigence of the Maliki government, the deterioration of Libya, the return to military rule in Egypt, the flailing about for a proper response to what's going on between Russia and the Ukraine, the complete silence on Pakistan's military operations in Waziristan. Not to speak of the ever new assaults on our natural environment, the earth and the resources we all share and depend on.

Jerusalem, I have been told, has largely remained sheltered from rockets fired from Gaza, though there have been protests and clashes since the heinous and hideous acts of killing and revenge that are now almost eclipsed by the new Gaza war that was triggered by these criminal acts. What lessons are Palestinians to learn from all this, what lessons Israelis? How are we to talk about any of this without taking sides and turning ourselves into propagandists, appeasers or war-mongers?

I found a few useful articles that discuss the role of social media in the ongoing propaganda wars. Jodi Rudoren writes about this in today's NYTimes, for example. There was also an interesting discussion of responses to the current situation in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine. But the, to me, best and most pertinent article appeared in The Forward, where Jay Michaelson offers advice on "how to turn down the social media flame."

As to my own reading, I picked up Sari Nusseibeh's very haunting little book, What is a Palestinian State Worth? It is a book on Palestinian statehood by a philosopher, member of an old Jerusalemite family, who wants us to think out of the box. Because thinking within the box merely means more of the same: more hatred and frustration, more killing and revenge, more mutual threats of complete destruction, more war and death. We definitely need to go beyond the slogans. We may even need to think beyond statehood, borders, and flags. Thinking within the box merely reinstates the zero-sum-game of "justice for Palestine" v. "security for Israel." What is at stake here is whether we can rediscover and care for humanity, our own as well as that of the other. This is not just a matter of basic morality or religious faith but of politics, though surely of a new politics, one founded on the principle of coexistence rather than the desire of domination and annihilation.

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