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Ben-Gurion University
Neve Gordon's "Israel's New War Ethic"


Comment, The Nation
By Neve Gordon
January 5, 2009

Watching Israeli public television (Channel 1) these days can be an
unsettling experience, and lately I've abstained from the practice. But
after being stuck for seventy-two hours with our two young children inside
a Beer-Sheva apartment, the spouse and I decided to visit my mother, who
lives up north, so that our children could play outside far away from the
rockets. My mother, like most Israelis, is a devout news consumer, and last
night I decided to keep her company in front of the TV.

For the most part, the broadcast was more of the same. There were the usual
images and voices of suffering Israeli Jews along with the promulgation of
a hyper-nationalist ethos. One story, for example, followed a Jewish mother
who had lost her son in Gaza about two years ago. The audience was told
that the son has been a soldier in the Golani infantry brigade and together
with his company had penetrated the Gaza Strip in an attempt to save the
kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

"Because members of his company did not want to hurt civilians, they
refrained from opening fire in every direction, which allowed Palestinian
militiamen to shoot my boy," the mother stated. When the interviewer asked
her about the current assault on Gaza, she answered that, "We should pound
and cut them from the air and from the sea," but added that, "We should not
kill civilians, only Hamas." The report ended with the interviewer asking
the mother what she does when she misses her son, and, as the camera zoomed
in on her face, she answered: "I go into his room and hug his bed, because
I can no longer hug him."

Thus, despite the ever-increasing loss of life in the Gaza Strip, Israel
remains the perpetual victim. Indeed, the last frame with the mother
looking straight into the camera leaves the average compassionate
viewer--myself included--a bit choked up. Over the past few years, I have,
however, become a critical consumer of Israeli news, and therefore can see
through the perpetuation of the image that Israel and its Jewish majority
are the victims and how, regardless of what happens, we are presented as
the moral players in this conflict. Therefore, this kind of reportage,
where the huge death toll in Gaza is elided and Jewish suffering is
underscored, no longer shocks me.

What did manage to unnerve me in the broadcast was one short sentence made
by a reporter who covered the entry of a humanitarian aid convoy into the
Gaza Strip on Friday.

My mother and I--like other Israeli viewers--learned that 170 trucks
supplied with basic foodstuff donated by the Turkish government entered
Gaza through the Carmi crossing. That the report had nothing to say about
the context of this food shipment did not surprise me. Nor was I surprised
that no mention was made of the fact that 80 percent of Gaza's inhabitants
are unable to support themselves and are therefore dependent on
humanitarian assistance--and this figure is increasing daily. Indeed,
nothing was said about the severe food crisis in Gaza, which manifests
itself in shortages of flour, rice, sugar, dairy products, milk and canned
foods, or about the total lack of fuel for heating houses and buildings
during these cold winter months, the absence of cooking gas, and the
shortage of running water. The viewer has no way of knowing that the
Palestinian health system is barely functioning or that some 250,000 people
in central and northern Gaza are now living without any electricity at all
due to the damage caused by the air strikes.

While the fact that this information was missing from the report did not
surprise me, I found myself completely taken aback by the way in which the
reporter justified the convoy's entrance into Gaza. Explaining to those
viewers who might be wondering why Israel allows humanitarian assistance to
the other side during times of war, he declared that if a full-blown
humanitarian catastrophe were to explode among the Palestinian civilian
population, the international community would pressure Israel to stop the

There is something extremely cynical about how Israel explains its use of
humanitarian assistance, and yet such unadulterated explanations actually
help uncover an important facet of postmodern warfare. Not unlike raising
animals for slaughter on a farm, the Israeli government maintains that it
is providing Palestinians with assistance so that it can have a free hand
in attacking them. And just as Israel provides basic foodstuff to
Palestinians while it continues shooting them, it informs Palestinians--by
phone, no less--that they must evacuate their homes before F-16 fighter
jets begin bombing them.

One notices, then, that in addition to its remote-control, computer
game-like qualities, postmodern warfare is also characterized by a bizarre
new moral element. It is as if the masters of wars realized that since
current wars rarely take place between two armies and are often carried out
in the midst of civilian populations, a new just war theory is needed. So
these masters of war gathered together philosophers and intellectuals to
develop a moral theory for postmodern wars, and today, as Gaza is being
destroyed, we can see quite plainly how the new theory is being transformed
into praxis.



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