Israel and the ME: A History of Violence

My son, a movie fan, was asking me since the beginning of the summer if he can watch Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now'.

I remember having seen the movie in the eighties after I fled the Lebanese civil war but what I remember most about the movie is the persistent migraine he left me with. I was physically ill for nearly a week from having seen a group of human beings gone mad. I remember that while watching the movie, scenes from the movie alternated with scenes form the Lebanese civil war in my mind: sounds of canons, scenes of destruction, Napalm bombing, armoured vehicles in the streets, fear of people, neighbours turning against each other, armed men knocking at the door, fear of my mother, anxiety of my father, burning books, guerrilla, militia, fear of expressing one’s own views, summary executions, burned bodies, bloody bodies, half bodies, demise of humanity…

Another admirable movie that portrays the demise of humanity in the presence of excessive violence is David Cronenberg’s ‘History of violence’. It just happened that one week before watching Cronenberg’s movie I attended a conference on Neuroendocrinology and Behaviour. A researcher studying the role of violent behaviour in group formation and its regulation among Orang-Utans captive males explained to us that species rules force young males to leave the group at puberty and to form their own group or to enter another one if possible. This species specific feature is an important constraint on males because nearly half of them die when they leave the group and the transition from one group to another is life threatening because it involves making its own way in life through fighting and violence ! This is why child playing for young males in the species is often fight playing with peers and adult males which prepare them for later fighting. Most of the males follow these rules, however some males are on the extremes. Some, very rare, would stick to females, keeping low profile and imitating their child rearing behaviour thus helping them and renouncing their male privileges in exchange for being accepted in the same group and not forced into migration. Some other males go completely mad during their fight-play, they kill, they are forced out of the group sooner than usual and generally they end up not being able to form a group of their own or to enter another group thus becoming one of the most vulnerable. Cronenberg’s movie was about a man who leaves his criminal past and criminal family and group to have a respectable family of his own but he is later chased by his past which forces him to unleash his violence again in front of his stunned family !

The near metaphysical treatment of violence in Conrad’s novel 'Heart of darkness' becomes real and physical in Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse now’. The movie made me ill because I had the physical experience of such scenes. I guess also that any war veteran might have similar reactions, though not similar to mine because it is totally different if you are watching a war around you or if you are participating actively in this war. I think the latter, to any human conscience, should be a lot more difficult especially when your fighting involves doing harm to civilians. While army to army fight is still considered morally sound when you have to defend your people and your country, nothing can justify the killing or the mass killing of civilians.

Cronenberg’s movie is about the root of violence in us. Although, the movie does not make it explicit nor it makes a statement about the animal origins of violence, its treatment of the history of violence suggests strictly that. This is not to say that animals are bad and that Humanity is good but to say that we were forced into Good by learning to live together ever since we were social animals ! Darwin used to refrain from using a hierarchical vocabulary in his characterisation of species; moreover, in the ‘Descent of Man’ he clearly asserts that human morality evolved from previous features which can be found in animals, like sociability.

‘’ For Darwin, in order to become moral we first had to become social. “In order that primeval men, or the ape-like progenitors of man, should have become social,” Darwin reasoned, “they must have acquired the same instinctive feelings which impel other animals to live in a body.” As with all animal instincts, the “social instincts” of man were the result of variations bringing some benefit for survival. What we call “conscience” was also the result of natural selection. Darwin described it as a “feeling of dissatisfaction which invariably results . . . from any unsatisfied instinct.” Since the “ever-enduring social instincts” were more primitive and hence stronger than instincts developed later, the social instincts were the sources of our feelings of unease when some action of ours violated them. Such feelings of unease, Darwin explained, we now call “conscience.''

Darwin is not the only one to place the Other as a mirrored Self at the source of our moral sentiment, Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas and Christian philosophers like Charles Taylor and Paul Ricoeur have given a primary role to the Self being similar to the Other in the founding of human morality and idea of the Good. This is another way of saying that sociability is at the root of morality. Charles Taylor goes further, he asserts that the essence of Good is to be found in the social space, outside the individual ! Without this process of intersubjective identification, there is no conscience and there is no morality and killing becomes a matter of following rules and obeying animal instincts for survival.

If you want to kill a fellow creature you have to make it different from you, if you want to kill a fellow man, you have to dehumanise him. This is how the Nazis were able to kill Jews massively without being stopped by their conscience. Holocaust writer Primo Levi shows this process at work in his own scientific rigorous way and from his own experience. His book: ‘If it’s a man’ (Si c’est un homme, I read the French translation) is about the dehumanisation process in Nazis concentration camps.

The dehumanisation process has been in the ME for a long time, Israel is a colonial entity which considers natives as unequals and that's probably what attract towards it sympathy from the western world but that's what is becoming problematic for Israel. Because colonial entities exist only for a certain period and retract to their mother lands while israel is in the ME to stay and it has no other mother land. Moreover Israel is a colonial entity of a different kind, not only it singles out the natives but it refuses them a land, it does not, like other colonial entities integrate the natives in a class system, it simply rejects them ! This is at the root of the violence Israel inflicts regularly on palestinians and Lebanese ! Behind this violence, there is rejection, not only of the differences between the colonialists, the Jewish people, and the natives, palestinians and Lebanese but also of the simple fact that these people exist. Israel is denying them existence ! The irony is that at the time Israel is exterminating these people, it is claiming to the entire world that it is fighting for its existence ! Whatever the existence Israel wants for itself, it was and still a colonial existence submitting native people and denying them, not only basic rights and a dignified existence, but real existence !

I think among all colonial adventures, this is probably the most criminal, along with the European occupation and extermination of indigenous Americans ! Remember, the council of Valladolid was about to know if American indians have a soul, the council concluded to a yes but only on the premice that animals also have a soul in Christian faith ! And so, for Israel, Arabs, including Palestinians and Lebanese, are soulless ! Regarding the Other as Evil and as a 'terrorist' and as a 'soulless' person makes killing becomes easy. Have you seen aerial images of south Beyrouth ? Look at them. If, by looking at these images you can imagine that there are people inside the collapsed houses and buildings, would you think that these people have a life ? Would you think that these people have souls ? If Yes, then you have a conscience and if you have a conscience then the people who commited this destruction don't ! And if the epople who did all this destruction don't have a conscience, then they must have committed crimes, war crimes !

Chasing Hezbollah by destructing entire neighbourhoods and entire villages while knowing very well that this is a trial end error strategy and that the chances of success are very slim is a folly and a crime !

Israel is acting without conscience, not because this is a war, every war has its rules as to civilians life and infrastructure, but because it thinks that Arabs are inferior, they are worthless and soulless, submitted and dehumanised until none of them can stand to resist and protest ! This answers Israel's legendary use of excessive force to submit Arabs to its will while refusing to talk to them. It answers Gideon Levy’s moral questions recounted in his recent ‘Days of Darkness’ :

‘’Haim Ramon "doesn't understand" why there is still electricity in Baalbek; Eli Yishai proposes turning south Lebanon into a "sandbox"; Yoav Limor, a Channel 1 military correspondent, proposes an exhibition of Hezbollah corpses and the next day to conduct a parade of prisoners in their underwear, "to strengthen the home front's morale. It's not difficult to guess what we would think about an Arab TV station whose commentators would say something like that, but another few casualties or failures by the IDF, and Limor's proposal will be implemented. Is there any better sign of how we have lost our senses and our humanity? ‘’

This colonial fact answers also Jonathan Steele's account of the destruction the IAF is inflicting on Lebanon (The Guardian, August 4th):

‘’ Glued to the monitors that display live pictures from these irritating machines, Israel's targeteers behold a fearsome picture. Whether it touches their consciences I do not know, but what unfolds before them is a tableau of massive devastation. Forget, for a moment, the columns of cars with refugees streaming north. Ignore, if you will, the corpses rotting in the open. Just concentrate on the physical inventory - roads disfigured by bomb craters, towns made uninhabitable, shopping parades gutted, houses collapsed like souffles gone horribly wrong.’’

Levy's countrymen and women are killing and supporting the killings of Lebanese civilians, and before them of Palestinians, without conscience, because they never wanted to talk to Arabs and Palestinians as equals and human partners in peace.

They came to Beyrouth in 1982 to break the Palestinian resistance but they didn’t succeed and when they were forced to talk to Arafat to implement Oslo, they didn’t want to talk to him. You just have to read about the racially charged atmosphere at Camp David in 2000 between Barak and Arafat. Finally they didn’t talk to Arafat, they probably poisoned him. Now they don’t want to talk to Hamas and Hezbollah, these are ‘terrorists’, ‘subhumans’ and the fact that they are elected by a majority of people makes the Israeli stance untenable because they are considering also the people who elected Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘subhumans’. They are not talking to them, they are bombing the hell out of them and out of their homes, their villages, their orchards, their cities and their lives for generations to come !

The US is behaving all the same, there is even cross fertilisation in ideas and procedures between Israel and the US in this dirty colonial occupation of the ME. They don’t want to talk to Iran, they don’t want to talk to Hezbollah and Hamas, they don’t want to talk to Syria ! This way it is easy to support the destruction of Lebanon and the death of thousands of Lebanese civilians, it is easy to make Guantanamo possible, it is easy to make AbuGhraib possible, because all these people are 'subhumans' and it is well known that subhumans don't suffer !

It is easy to kill when the Other is not like us. We kill animals to eat them but recent human-animals cohabitation as companions, and not as master and slave, have given rise to a trend making it criminal for some people to kill animals. You can be with or against such an attitude but it stems from a process of self identification with the animal in which we attribute to the animal emotions and thoughts we have and share with him, thus raising our similarities with the animal. In ‘Heart of Darkness’, the book that inspired ‘Apocalypse Now’, violence erupts naturally from the fact that colonisers don’t consider natives as their equals and in ‘History of violence’, violence erupts when the main character makes it clear to his former group that he is not anymore like them, he is fundamentally different now from what he was before when he was with them, a family man respected in his new city. So he is not bound by rules internal to the group. Even the false sense of superior respectability that Israel is showing towards Palestinians and Lebanese, as a state respected by the community of nations versus groups not recognised by the community of nations, can unleash excessive violence because it makes the other 'inferior' and 'worhtless' ! You just have to replay or find the first UN session about the crisis in Lebanon and to see with which contempt Israel’s ambassador addressed his Lebanese counterpart ! Israel extends this sense of superior 'respectability' to its allies and supporters while accusing the others of harboring terrorism. The first Canadian family of seven to die in Lebanon from israel,s air strikes was from Côtes-des-neiges district, Montreal, Canada. The Jewish councillor of the district refused to observe a minute of silence at the council meeting. Montreal's mayor, presiding over a multiethnic city, marched with Bnai Brith to support Israel while Lebanese civilians were dying but did not march with Lebanese to ask for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon ! The day Lebanese marched in Montreal in protest of Israel's agression on Lebanon, hte committe israel-Québec paid for a whole page in many local journals accusing the politicians who supported the march of supporting Hezbollah, a 'terrorist' organisation !

And the non-sense goes on...

As long as we keep on with this new characterisation of the world as Good versus Evil, as ‘respectable’ versus ‘terrorist’, as giving a sense of entitlement to some like the US and Israel have while refusing it to others, there will be new highs in violence from USrael and there will be no peace and there can be no diplomacy, talks, wars or menace that can counter this violence !


Sophia said...

Richard said...
Israel has shot itself in the foot this time. Amazingly, it still doesn't seem to have realised that. Perhaps when it does, it will be too late. Maybe gangerine will have set in and Israel may lose a very important limb, as it were.

And, though it gives me no great pleasure to say so, that probably will prove to be a good thing as far as a lot of people are concerned.

8:46 AM

Sophia said...
Thanks Richard for the comment. I agree with you and I think that the gangerine is already eating the state of Israel and its society ! It is called destruction from the inside ! This is the only way Israel will be affected, only from the inside. It couldn't be affected from the outside, it is too powerful !
But too much power without morality is a danger on the people who hold it !

P.S.Richard, I had problems with blogger and your comment and mine disappeared from the comment section so I am republishing them in one window.

Sophia said...

Finally I realised that both your comment and my answer to it were actually posted on another post. I am leaving the duplicates where they are anyway !

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Hi Sophie,

Just read your cheering mesg.

I’m tired...
Will send you an e-mail tomorrow.

Plus I’m sure you, CE, M. Bachir and P. Tristam-Candide will keep the flame alive in the coming days.

Sophia said...

I undrerstand. I am tired also and I am facing some deadlines in my work but I will try to keep on as much as I can !

Since March 29th 2006