How to Sell 'Ethical Warfare'
Claim moral superiority, intimidate enemies and crush dissent –
One of my students was arrested yesterday and spent the night in a prison cell. R's offence was protesting the Israeli assault on Gaza. He joins over 700 other Israelis who have been detained since the beginning of
Simultaneously, the Israeli media has been towing the government line to such a degree that no criticism of the war has been voiced on any of the three local television stations. Indeed, the situation has become so absurd that reporters and anchors are currently less critical of the war than the military spokespeople. In the absence of any critical analysis, it is not so surprising that 78% of Israelis, or about 98% of all Jewish Israelis, support the war.
But eliding critical voices is not the only way that public support has been secured. Support has also been manufactured through ostensibly logical argumentation. One of the ways the media, military and government have been convincing Israelis to rally behind the assault is by claiming that
The Israeli media continuously emphasises
• Israel could bomb houses from the air without warning, but it has military personnel contact – by phone no less – the residents 10 minutes in advance of an attack to alert them that their house is about to be destroyed. The military, so the subtext goes, could demolish houses without such forewarnings, but it does not do so because it values human life.
• Israel deploys teaser bombs – ones that do not actually ruin houses – a few minutes before it fires lethal missiles; again, to show that it could kill more Palestinians but chooses not to do so.
• Due to the humanitarian crisis the Israeli military stops its attacks for a few hours each day and allows humanitarian convoys to enter the Gaza Strip. Again, the unspoken claim is that it could have barred these convoys from entering.
To the Palestinians, the message is one that carries a clear threat:
The message to the Israelis is a moral one. The subtext is that the Israeli military could indiscriminately unleash its vast arsenal of violence, but chooses not to, because its forces, unlike Hamas, respect human life.
This latter claim appears to have considerable resonance among Israelis, and, yet, it is based on a moral fallacy. The fact that one could be more brutal but chooses to use restraint does not in any way entail that one is moral. The fact that the Israeli military could have razed the entire Gaza Strip, but instead destroyed only 15% of the buildings does not make its actions moral. The fact that the Israeli military could have killed thousands of Palestinian children during this campaign, and, due to restraint, killed "only" 300, does not make Operation Cast Lead ethical.
Ultimately, the moral claims the Israeli government uses to support its actions during this war are empty. They actually reveal
Neve Gordon teaches in the Department of Politics and Government,