Center Field: A pornographic approach to violence

A response to the criticism over the Montreal Gazette Op-Ed “A moment of moral clarity

Jerusalem Post, July 27, 2008

How do you welcome a child murderer as a hero?” I asked in a recent Montreal Gazette op-ed, responding to Israel’s hostage exchange with Hizbullah. I noted that “depending on the tone, this question becomes an attempt to clarify, or an expression of outrage. Stated calmly, ‘How do you welcome a child murderer as a hero?’ can be a factual question – such as the one that faced Lebanese leaders this week as they proceeded to celebrate the freeing of Samir Kuntar from an Israeli prison, where he had been held since 1979 for murdering four-year-old Einat Haran, her father Danny Haran and a policeman. Stated angrily, ‘How do you welcome a child murderer as a hero?’ is the question Israelis are asking – and the rest of the civilized world should be asking, too.”

The article was titled “A moment of moral clarity.” I lamented decades of relativistic and self-flagellating propagandizing blinding Westerners from distinguishing between civilized and barbaric behavior whenever Westerners were in the right. Nevertheless, I insisted, the prisoner exchange illuminated the differences between the Lebanese and Palestinians who celebrated a child killer and the many Israelis who mourned the deaths of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

I concluded: “We want to side with the country that moves heaven and Earth to bring its boys home, to protect its citizens; not with the country of bloodthirsty mobs deifying cowards who smashed the skull of a four-year-old girl with a rifle butt on a lovely Mediterranean beach. We learn about a people by observing whom they love and whom they hate. Joy is fleeting and often triggered by base instincts. Sometimes collective anguish is a sign of moral strength, not national weakness.”

INEVITABLY, THE gravitational physics of the Middle East conflict kicked in and the article triggered a backlash. Shortly after the article appeared, the leading headline in the Gazette‘s “Letters to the Editor” section proclaimed “Troy overlooked the deaths in Lebanon.” The letter-writer said I ignored the hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian children Israel killed since 2000 “in contrast to the 123 Israeli children who have died since 2000. Clearly, Israel does not celebrate life and certainly does not share Canadian values as Troy would have us believe.” Another letter, headlined “Israel is also unjust,” blasted Israel’s “illegal occupation of Palestinian and Lebanese territories.”

These reactions proved my point. Rushing to indict Israel, the critics ignored the obscene spectacle of the Kuntar homecoming. They missed the essential moral difference illustrated by Israel’s heartbreaking “hostage” exchange. Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were reluctant citizen-soldiers, compelled to defend their country. Whatever violence they unleashed while serving – or whatever violence Israel unleashed after they were ambushed – never triggered any street festivals. Treating violence as a necessary last resort is very different than celebrating violence as proof of national self-worth. It would be immoral if Israelis refused to defend themselves, considering the assaults they endure. It would also be immoral if Israelis delighted in the deaths of any innocents, be they children or adults.

Yes, dead is dead. An individual is no better off being killed by an errant shell than being slaughtered in a targeted terrorist attack. But the rules of war distinguish between the two incidents, emphasizing not just the killers’ intentions but their reactions to the deaths.

We can and should debate how much Western soldiers, including Israelis, ignore the consequences of their actions. But there remains a huge moral gap between the ethical imbroglios of the Israeli soldier forced to fight and the canonization of violence that has overwhelmed Palestinian culture.

HERE THEN is the Palestinians’ great moral blind spot – and the chief sin of their uncritical fans. The Palestinian approach to violence has become increasingly pornographic – meaning focused on arousal. Initiating violence for effect rather than to defend oneself or advance strategic goals, seeking carnage to stimulate national pride, is a particularly twisted and sterile form of warfare. We have become too used to terrorism, too inured to its nihilistic nature. We risk losing our capacity for outrage as we observe and rate the constant attempts to choreograph just the right dance of death that will destroy the most, generate maximum news coverage, strike the greatest terror in Israeli hearts. Terrorists turns cafes into targets, and bulldozers – vehicles for building – into weapons of destruction not realizing the destructive force such actions unleash in their own society, and their own souls.

Addicted to the drama, lazily sticking to the established plot lines, reporters focus on how much these “operations” succeed or fail – the greater the damage the greater the success. But these journalistic narratives overlook what this pornographic approach to violence does to a people’s collective soul. We are who we worship. A society that deifies child killers and rampaging bulldozer operators, a culture of martyrdom that venerates the violent, is a nation destined to fail, not to build.

This addiction to terrorism has derailed the Palestinian national movement, poisoning what it touches. The Palestinian soul has been curdled by repeatedly toasting the brutality of a Samir Kuntar, the thuggishness of the bulldozing maniacs Husam Taysir Dwayat and Ghassan Abu Tir. The evidence is obvious but obscured by political correctness. Watching Gaza fritter away the opportunity the disengagement offered, seeing it develop into a hellacious slum rather than develop; observing the West Bank’s stagnation; witnessing the violence Hamas and Fatah forces unleash against each other – all illustrate the perils of this kind of pornography.

Alas, the false prophets of false equivalence, the cheerleaders for the cheerless, the mass enablers of Palestinian violence, would rather overlook the evidence. Instead, they do what they do best – bash Israel – targeting those who dare defend Israel in print and, most important, in uniform.

The writer, a professor of history at McGill University, is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His most recent book, Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, has just been published by Basic Books.

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