Something feels different about this Israeli war. Previous incursions have gone without much import, the IDF killing hundreds of Palestinians, Palestinians making the diplomatic rounds excoriating Israel, and then everything settling back down into a dull stalemate. Even with US media bias, it’s gotten through the media filter that Israel’s war against Gaza is both disproportionate and horrific. When you trap a population in a Mediterranean gulag, and then pummel it, even the most jaundiced see that it’s morally reprehensible. No, Hamas shouldn’t launch rockets at Israel. But Israel has a rather effective missile defense system. Gaza has AK-47s. It is not an equal contest.
Perhaps it’s the prevalence of social media. During Israel’s previous incursion into Gaza, Twitter was in its infancy. Now with over a billion users, real time pictures from the killing zone are scrolling across millions of Twitter feeds. News organizations won’t show photographs of the dead and maimed; Twitter users will. Smoke plumes, flattened buildings, and screaming children are just a few of the images completely and effectively circumventing the media filter.
Israel’s spokespeople have also been closely questioned by Western media outlets, as in this interaction between Mark Regev and the BBC’s Emily Maitlis:
The usually smooth Israeli PR machine is unable to cope with thousands of reports coming out of Gaza. Israel is no longer the plucky little state facing overwhelming odds; it’s the dominant military power in the Middle East, now oppressing a nearly defenseless population in the name of “security”.
As militarily the conflict is not an equal one, neither is it equal morally. With every dead child, Israel loses more of its moral position. Hamas, a “terrorist organization”, is seen as the victim in the conflict. Perhaps that’s a bit too far; Hamas certainly has enough black marks against it. But every dead child, every destroyed hospital costs Israel valuable standing, standing which is passed on to the Palestinians, leaving the international community less willing to listen to Israel’s prerequisites for an end to the conflict. As Amira Hass writes in Haaretz:
These victories add up to our moral implosion, the ethical defeat of a society that now engages in no self-inspection, that wallows in self pity over postponed airline flights and burnishes itself with the pride of the enlightened.This is a society that mourns, naturally, its more than 40 soldiers who were killed, but at the same time hardens its heart and mind in the face of all the suffering and moral courage and heroism of the people we are attacking. A society that does not understand the extent to which the balance of forces is against it.
Inured by decades struggling for its survival, Israel now doesn’t see that it has become that against which it claimed to be fighting. It is no longer fighting for its existence; that fight was won long ago. It is now fighting to maintain an iron grip on a people which can’t do it any existential harm, just because it’s been so ingrained by years of fighting that people living in squalor will drive it into the sea.
The fact is that with every dead Palestinian child, with every school bombed, Israel contributes to its insecurity, not security. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may think that this war will serve him politically in the short run. But to continue with Amira Hass:
“In all the suffering and death,” wrote a friend from Gaza, “there are so many expressions of tenderness and kindness. People are taking care of one another, comforting one another. Especially children who are searching for the best way to support their parents. I saw many children no older than 10 years old who are hugging, comforting their younger siblings, trying to distract them from the horror. So young and already the caretakers of someone else. I did not meet a single child who did not lose someone – a parent, grandmother, friend, aunt or neighbor. And I thought: If Hamas grew out of the generation of the first intifada, when the young people who threw stones were met with bullets, who will grow out of the generation that experienced the repeated massacres of the last seven years?”
Our moral defeat will haunt us for many years to come.
The “light unto the nations” is in its deepest moral darkness. Its own 2,000 years of oppression have blinded it to the oppression it now practices on others. This is the difference; the tipping point has been reached. In a world as connected as ours, the narrative cannot be controlled. It has spun out of the possibility of control by spin doctors like Mark Regev. Israel may think its back is against the sea; most of the world sees that it’s beating a man who is already prone, bleeding, near death.
Palestinians won’t murder Israeli civilization; they don’t have that power. But Israel is perfectly capable of committing suicide. What’s needed on all sides is a recognition of common humanity. Nothing else will suffice. Without it, the darkness will only grow deeper.