An Eye for a Thousand Eyes

Arabist reader and friend Ryan O’Kane sent me the following piece he wrote:
An Eye for a Thousand Eyes
The Political Morality of Supporting Israel

Israel’s carefully managed escalation game is sucking the world into political chaos. But its success depends on the world’s moral confusion and paralysis. If we are to act in time to end this unfolding catastrophe, we need clarity – now.

In some ways, the strategy for beginning this war was similar the buildup to the 1967 war. The well-documented Mossad and CIA (under Richard Helms) operation to spread rumours of an impending Israeli war on the region was intended to deliberately heightened tensions and provoke Israel's neighbours into pre-emptive action – i.e. the mobilisation of Nasser’s troops in Sinai [1].

Over the past 3 years a similar campaign of unsubstantiated intelligence estimates, paranoid rumour mongering and public sabre rattling has pushed towards the international isolation of Iran and forced US/UK/Israel’s enemies to make military preparations for an impending attack.


This strategy is extremely effective for, even though its targets understand that such pre-emptive actions or preparations will serve as the public pretext for US/UK/Israel’s war, failing to make preparations would expose them to an untenable risk of national martyrdom.

The regional parties targeted in this conflict - Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran – all claim that they had predicted and planned for the enemy’s aggression. Hassan Nasrallah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards claim that Israel had originally planned the war on Lebanon to take place in October, and that Hezbollah’s “cross-border� raid was intended to draw Israel into the conflict before their war preparations were complete [2]. This is, of course, a rational public stance to defend their moral superiority in the conflict. Offence must always be portrayed as defense.

At first glance it seems ironic that the destabilising precedent set by America’s doctrine of pre-emption gives Nasrallah’s claims increased international legitimacy. But for the US/UK/Israel this is a price worth paying. They understand that the battle for moral superiority is not won in the UN or international courts but through the “information war� for “hearts and minds�.

The pro-Zionist “spin and spam� machine - the “hasbara� - believes that it has the technological, financial and ideological superiority [3] to counteract international diplomatic pressure with the “human shield� of public opinion.

But it is not the “legality� of Hezbollah’s “kidnap� of Israeli troops that is the subject of public debate. If it were, we would have to investigate the claims by the Lebanese Police that the Israeli soldiers were confronted and captured in Aitaa al-Chaab, a village on the Lebanese side of the border [4], or that kidnapping civilians for bargaining purposes has been practised systematically by Israel throughout the middle-east conflict. Instead, the battlefield assigned to the “hasbara� is that of political morality, in order to focus on the “superior legitimacy� of their cause and the “debased� values of their enemies.

This is a battle that Israel must not be allowed to win, for tribalism and racism are the only values that could legitimate the lack of “moral equivalence� (to use John Bolton’s favourite phrase) between Israel’s 60-year “low/high-intensity� warfare against its Palestinian and Arab neighbours and the occasional risks to which Israelis are exposed by the sporadic and largely ineffectual military resistance to occupation.

This is not a blurry line. This is not some dinner party ethical conundrum, or complex “moral maze�, about between humanity’s responsibility to “the planet�, the rights and wrongs of euthanasia, or the abstract concept of “property as theft�. The morality of Israel’s rampage is not complex at all. It is deafeningly simple.

For the moment let’s put aside the historical-political abstractions of “the middle-east conflict�, of “the cycle of violence�, and of “religious� or “ethnic tensions�. Just once, let us unclothe reality from its banal words - its “collateral damage� and “surgical strikes�.

Draw a line around the events in Lebanon and Gaza and fix your gaze on human consequences in the raw. Since June 28, Israeli cluster bombs, chemical weapons, guns and soldiers have killed more than 700 people, forced almost a million people to flee their homes in terror and subjected at least 4 million others to a level of deprivation, fear and psychological torture that very few middle-class suburbanites could describe from their own experience – and that includes those in Tel Aviv. The amount of Israelis killed in the same period – 51.

Maybe the “numbers game� is crude. As if balancing the books on this morbid balance sheet could cancel the debt of revenge. Unfortunately, as death cannot be “exchanged� for life, “balancing the books� only means only one thing, more killing. But ethics are all about “proportionality�, about ensuring that the consequences of your actions are “proportionate� to your human needs. Only a racist ideology such as Zionism could conclude that the consequences of Israel’s attacks on Gaza and Lebanon are “proportionate� to the need of Israelis for “security�. Indeed, Olmert confirmed at the outset of the conflict that the “lives, security and well-being� of Israelis is “more important� than those of Palestinians [5].

The tribal exceptionalism of Zionism is therefore perfectly suited to the ideological demands imposed by the modern doctrine of “asymmetric warfare� – i.e. the crushing of the weak by the strong. Universal values, such as “human rights�, are therefore the real “existential threat� to the “Jewish State� and to US foreign policy. The hijacking of the United Nations by the US and other “friends of Israel� has served to discredit not only the UN, but the very viability of a universalist system of political morality. The “liberal myth� of Western democracy has been debased by a long history of hypocrisy, but no issue has been so corrosive throughout the short lifespan of the UN than its defense of Israel’s colonial apartheid state.

The murder of 4 UN soldiers by targeted Israeli strikes on the Lebanese border is the lethal injection for this terminally ill institution and the utopian dream of political universalism that it represents. The UN and Israel were twins, both born out of the “never again� urge following the catastrophe of World War II and the Nazi holocaust. As has become all too clear, these two dreams – one of a world based on universal human rights, international law and political consensus and the other on a hierarchy of racist “exceptionalism� – are entirely incompatible.

The unilateral imposition of a “New Middle East� will effectively end the 60-year stalemate between Israel and the United Nations and consign the UN and its naïve fantasies to the dustbin of history.

Despite the precedent Israel’s exceptionalism sets for the emergence of rival “tribal� movements, the Zionists seem to believe that the death of universalism is in their interests. Simply put, in a world system debased to the level of “survival of the fittest�, many friends of Israel believe it to be the “fittest� nation in history - more so even than the United States. But the exposure of naked power at least brings clarity. It is self-evident that preventing the fulfilment of this fascist prophecy is the most important moral duty to face political progressives since the 1930s.

1. Tolan, Sandy. 2006. New Lessons from the Six-Day War: Documents Show Complex History before First Shot In, SFGate, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2006/06/11/ING14JA85K1.DTL&type=printable. (accessed July 28, 2006).

2. SITE Institute. 2006. A Speech from Hassan Nasrallah, Leader of Hezbollah, Speaking of a New Middle East Project and Attacks of Greater Intensity Than in Haifa. In, SITE Institute, http://www.siteinstitute.org/bin/articles.cgi?ID=publications197906&Category=publications&Subcategory=0. (accessed July 28, 2006).

3. El Fassed, Arjan 2006. Israel's Foreign Ministry Provides Free Internet Tool to Online Activists. In, Electronic Intifada, http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article5239.shtml. (accessed July 28, 2006).

4. Frank, Joshua. 2006. Kidnapped in Israel or Captured in Lebanon? In, Daily Kos, http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/7/25/92027/5840. (accessed July 28, 2006).

5. Macintyre, Donald. 2006. Olmert: Israeli Lives Worth More Than Palestinian Ones. In, Independent, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article1095841.ece. (accessed July 29, 2006).