A Question of Conscience

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Although the oft lamented, near demise of the peace camp in Israel has become the subject of current debate-whether in disappointment, anger or in horror, some heroic stories still persist in defying the prevailing “wisdom.

The ilks of Peres and Ben Eliezer are no longer the objects of amazement and condemnation, since they have proven their turncoat, opportunistic bents beyond question, having been willingly co-opted by the Sharon extremist government for both the misleading spin and dirty tricks departments.

Nor are the ilks of Yossi Beilin and other Labor party “rebels” being singled out for heroism in their desperate attempts to engineer meetings, joint statements, and back-channel talks with Palestinian officials.

The real heroes are those who rarely get mentioned in the Israeli, let alone international, media as individuals of conscience who dare defy the overwhelming discourse of hate, racism, and violence that seems to have taken hold within and beyond the Israeli public.

Rather than succumb to the ultra-nationalist, xenophobic version of popular politics that attempts to rationalize the worst of Israeli measures against the Palestinians while blaming the victims for the horrors being inflicted upon them, this distinctive minority has dared to challenge the lies and distortions and to take a stand despite the high price to be paid.

Among the journalists, Amira Haas and Gideon Levy stand out as examples of courage and honesty.

Among the activists, the Women’s Peace Coalition (including many organizations) has taken the forefront in defying the dangerous politics of Sharon and his gang, taking to the streets in growing numbers. Women like Neta Golan and Dafna Golan have maintained a steady commitment to those principles of justice, peace, and human rights that seem to have been swept away by the rising tide of hatred and destruction.

Among the most persevering are long-time activists Leah Tsemel, Judy Blanc, and Shulamit Aloni who have not wavered in their commitments and courageous struggle not just for Palestinian rights but also for the soul of Israel.

Organizations like Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Gush Shalom, and many others have also steered a steady course despite the turbulent waves.

When, during the earlier intifada, movements like Yesh Gvul emerged to challenge the military establishment and militarization of Israeli society, they were viewed as challenging the most “sacred” of Israeli tenets and power systems.

Thus, to see Yesh Gvul reemerging now, along with other organizations and individuals challenging the same military supremacist mentality is a sign of health within an Israeli society that many had deemed hopelessly captive to the power industry of unbridled and unquestioned violence.

Women like Rela Mazali and objectors of conscience such as 18-year-old Yair Khilou and his fellow army resisters are a resounding cry for sanity and morality in the face of warmongering Sharon, Mofaz, and Ben Eliezer.

The question, however, remains unresolved within Israel’s rarely questioned assumptions about blind obedience to military orders and the glorification of military force.

Recently, Shulamit Aloni raised two questions that are in pressing need of a daring response. Both have to do with culpability-individual responsibility and guilt.

The first is the responsibility of decision makers in Israel for the war crimes and crimes against humanity being exercised against the Palestinian people with full impunity and with official authorization by such “killers” as Sharon and Mofaz. She called for the compilation of evidence and the preparation of files to be presented before appropriate tribunals at the right time.

Given the fact that Sharon, so far, has been “sanitized” by the press and world (mainly western) leaders and has been exempt from real accountability for his decades-long history of massacres and war crimes against innocent Palestinians has not gone unnoticed. Neither “rehabilitated” nor repentant, Sharon has been not only unleashed on a captive and defenseless Palestinian population, but also granted a “green light” and the blessings of the US to do more of the same. His indictment by a Belgian court rarely gets a cursory mention in the American press, while he gives himself license to murder and to label his enemies as “terrorists,” despite the fact that he has transformed Israeli policy as a whole into officially sanctioned state terrorism.

Perhaps it is time for those who have been swept away by the Sharon military storm (or the bulldozer of death and destruction) to take pause, to stop awhile and consider the implications of their actions. Sooner or later, history will catch up with them, and the question of their individual responsibility and guilt will be raised.

The second issue is that of the “I was only following orders” infamy. Here, the “ordered” have to make the distinction between blind obedience and matters of individual conscience, between military discipline and moral mutiny.

An Israeli soldier who is given instructions to torture or to beat to death captive Palestinians is called upon not only to question the legal consequences of such crimes (however distant they may seem now), but he/she is also required to consider the internal distortions and ramifications of such brutality on his/her own sense of values and self definition.

A soldier who aims at Palestinian children’s heads and etches a notch on his gun barrel with every “kill” will ultimately have to face more scars on his own psyche and moral character.

Even those who fly Apache gun ships or F 16’s will have to face the horror of their own (however anonymous) innocent victims, for physical distance does not provide any moral distance or immunity.

On land, those who drive the heavy machinery designed to demolish homes, uproot trees, and destroy crops will also have to face a different type of “deprivation” from the total material deprivation of their Palestinian victims.

And at every check post, those young individual Israeli soldiers who indulge in the daily humiliation of every individual Palestinian should also question the price they are paying, now and in the future, for their desensitization toward human dignity and human suffering.

Perhaps those who have already refused to obey immoral orders are a distinct minority; nevertheless they remain visible symbols of a spirit that rejects moral torpidity and inhumanity.

Perhaps those who dare to challenge their military “superiors” and moral “inferiors” are preparing the way for a future course of action that perceives a reality beyond the unquestioned military superiority and dominance of the Israeli occupation.

Ultimately, these “righteous” Israelis will be the ones who will redeem Israel’s soul in the future when the days of historical reckoning will dawn as separate from the impunity of the present.

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