Moral Clarity of Israel-Hamas War

Moral Clarity of Israel-Hamas War

Kayode Komolafe

“For me, justice is the first condition of humanity” – Wole Soyinka

Eleven days after the October 7  horrific  attacks on Israel by Hamas, President Joe Biden of the United States was in Tel Aviv to express his solidarity with Israel and, in his words, for “the world to know where the United States stands.”

His host, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke about the significance of an American president visiting Israel at war. He expressed gratitude for America’s “unequivocal  support,” emphasising that  “the world sees that support in the moral clarity” of Biden’s statements since the attack on Israel. During the attack, the worst in Israel since 1948, at least 1,400 civilians (including children)  and soldiers were killed and no fewer than 200 hostages were taken by Hamas. 

Netanyahu acknowledged  Biden’s description of  Hamas as “sheer evil,” saying  that Biden had “drawn the line between the forces of civilization and the forces of barbarians.” Incidentally, Israeli defence minister, Yoav Gallant, had earlier called Hamas “human beast.”

On the day Biden was in Tel Aviv, Israel had in retaliation imposed a siege on Gaza, a strip that has been under the occupation of Israel for 56 years. The supply of water, food, fuel  and electricity had been cut as a result of the blockade imposed by Israel amidst bombing of targets. At least 4,000 Palestinians  been killed by Israeli  strikes as the time Biden spoke in Tel Aviv. In the  last 48 hours alone  more than 700 people have been killed   in Gaza, bringing the total to be more than 5, 000 people killed.

Although Biden asked the Israeli cabinet to ensure the delivery of  life-saving humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza,”  he had no strong words against the situation  in Gaza in which innocent civilians including hundreds of children have  died in a collective punishment  inflicted by Israel  at the time he spoke. Rather, Biden  was quick to exonerate Israel of the blast that occurred in a Gaza hospital in which scores of Palestinians including children died  without any independent  investigation. Both Israel and Hamas are still  trading blames over the tragedy. 

Doubtless Hamas should be held responsible for the killings and hostage taking of October 7  and Biden said so clearly. Israel should also be held to account  for the killings of innocent civilians under siege  for 12 days now in Gaza; but America and its western allies are not saying so unequivocally as they rightly condemned Hamas. When Russia cut supplies to Ukraine the European  (EU) said so without ambiguity  that Russia committed war crimes. In fact, in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attacks, the EU reportedly was  about to cut the aid to the Palestine Authority until reasonable counsel prevailed against this instinctive reaction. The  western double-standards are simply incredible. The West must take the rest of the world to be fools given the way they apply double- standards and invoke a  selective adherence to their values about equality of human lives.

Indeed, the voices from Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and most of  western capitals  are symptomatic of the dearth of moral leadership in the world today. This makes the global political and diplomatic outlook dangerous. 

Palestinian lives  are equal to Israelis lives and none should be unjustly taken even in a state of war.  The Geneva Conventions are not in the books for nothing.

Only yesterday, the United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, seemed to have found his voice at last to condemn  the” clear violations of  international laws in Gaza” and that “protecting civilians cannot mean  using them as human shields.” 

When the West condemns Hamas, that is said  to be  moral clarity. But when the killings of civilians by of Israel are condemned, it is not seeing as moral clarity by the West. A criticism of Israel is often taken to be antisemitic or a glorification of terrorism. 

The phrase moral clarity is often used by western politicians especially Americans when they chose to make a distinction in  human affairs between “evil -and good.” Those who  are friendly to the West  are good while their enemies are evil.

The use of  the category moral clarity is one of the hangovers of the Cold War.  Hence Soviet Union was simply the “evil empire” to President Ronald Reagan of the United States.  Now, both the Left and Right of American politics appropriate “moral clarity”  whenever they claim  that they are saying it as it is from their own perspective while clearly ignoring the other side of the argument.  Their moral clarity is often about one side of reality. Whose moral clarity is it, anyway?  

In particular, moral clarity has been used as a shibboleth  by American leaders to justify or at least rationalise oppression, injustice and violence perpetrated  in the course of the  Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In fact, Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, wrote a book entitled “The Case for Moral Clarity: Israel, Hamas and Gaza.”   As Barack Obama was elected American president in 2008, an American moral philosopher, Susan Neiman,  wrote her own book entitled “Moral Clarity:  A Guide for Grown -Up Idealists.”  Neiman  explains the use of  the much abused category as follows: “Moral clarity, however, is about looking at each  particular case, looking at all the facts, looking at the context and working your answers.” Politicians and public intellectuals take that to mean labelling what they observe without being politically correct or employing euphemisms. So it is moral clarity to label Hamas “terrorist.” But the moral clarity doesn’t extend  to telling  Israel that it is violating international laws with impunity or calling  the situation in Gaza “apartheid.”   Netanyahu and Israeli intelligence  aided Hamas in the early stages to weaken  the  Palestinian solidarity. Israel once used Hamas against the Fatah faction based in the West Bank. It is reminiscent of how America once helped in the   breeding  of  elements of Osama Bin Laden’s  al Qaeda against the defunct Soviet Union. The group later turned against America in a most tragic manner. Western politicians hardly  mention these sordid facts of history in their exercise of  moral clarity.

The Question of Palestine is rooted in a bloody history. It is the oldest land dispute on earth. Violence from both sides has failed to solve the problem. The first prime minister of Israel, David Ben -Gurion,   said in 1919  of the  Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “There is no solution. We want Palestine to be ours as a nation. The Arabs want it to be theirs – as a nation. I don’t know what Arab would agree to Palestine belonging to the Jews.” Ben-Gurion could not foresee a solution to the problem; but he believed that it could be managed.  The former trade unionist who  later became a  leader of Israel once made an assertion at the outbreak of the Israeli-Arab war which Netanyahu should probably ponder today. Ben-Gurion wrote as follows: “We will break Transjordan, bomb Amman and destroy its army, and then Syria falls, and if Egypt will  still continue to fight, we will bombard Port Said, Alexandria and Cairo… This will be a revenge for what they (the neighbouring states) did to our forefathers in Biblical times.” This mindset for territorial expansionism has hardly changed in Israel 75 years later. Instead the cycle of violence reigns supreme in Palestine.

Even in 2023, some historians of the  age-long conflict are saying that the “two-state solution “ has been rendered a “diplomatic fiction”. Israeli has ignored a catalogue of resolutions against the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the encroachment of the land.

According to the Jerusalem-based human rights watchdog B’Tselem, in the last 17 years, Israel  has attacked  Gaza six times before the  present  siege, at least  4,000 people – 405 in 2006, 1,391 in 2008 and 2009, 167 in 2012, 2,203 in 2014, 232 in 2021 and 33 in 2022. It has been shown that  casualties for  civilians have outnumbered fighters.

Guterres said rightly  yesterday that the tragic October 7 attack of Israel  by Hamas “did not happen in a vacuum.”

In the face of the humanitarian  catastrophe  unfolding in Gaza and the danger of the crisis spreading in the region, it is time to have the  moral clarity to call for an immediate  political solution that will ensure the release of all the hostages and an end to the siege on Gaza.

The security of Israel should be sacrosanct while the freedom of the Palestinians and their right to own a  piece of the earth as their own  land in which to  establish a sovereign state should be guaranteed in a package  of an enduring solution.

Moral  clarity should also mean building a community of Jews and Arabs who, despite the bitterness in their lands,  defend our collective humanity.  A model of such a community  is the one of  those Jewish and Arab doctors who reportedly  worked together in bravely  attending to those injured in the October 7 attack.

Beyond that, Israelis and Palestinians must reflect on the history of the conflict to see that violence from either side  will not  bring a solution. Ben-Gurion boasted about  military power in 1948, it would a grave  error if Netanyahu in 2023 still believes the problem has a military solution.

Instead, the  real solution lies in promoting  the cause of  justice and our shared humanity in Palestine.  

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