By Donniel Hartman
As I and the rest of Israeli society awakened this morning we heard the tragic news that our attempt to stop the flotilla to Gaza ended with extensive loss of life. I don’t know the facts, and I imagine it will take some time until the details surrounding the events are clarified. However, Israeli airwaves are already filled both with Monday morning quarterbacks who are certain that if only the opinion they had failed to put forth in advance was listened to, the outcome would have been better, and with those justifying the action as a legitimate expression of self defense in the face of enemies masquerading as peace activists.
At the same time the international community and press are already filled with almost unanimous condemnation of the “murder,” “massacre,” and “disproportionate force” used by Israeli commandos during the operation. Whether the commandos were fired upon, beaten, or stabbed is completely irrelevant to them.
It is as if each side’s spokesperson had their press releases and opinions prepared in advance, and each was simply waiting for the curtain to rise and the takeover to occur for their predetermined assessment of the facts to be promulgated.
As an Israeli and Jew who yearns for peace, for an end to bloodshed and hostilities, and who believes that the Israeli army must and in most cases does act in accordance with the highest standards of moral behavior, I am deeply saddened not only by the loss of life, but by the hateful rhetoric which will ensure that such loss of life will continue, by the rhetoric which will ensure that we will continuously politicize, radicalize, and insulate ourselves from each other, and from a rhetoric that guarantees the perpetuation of mutual vilification.
If it turns out that excessive force was used unjustly and without provocation, we Israelis need to take responsibility. One’s moral standards are not a badge of honor to be worn, but a criterion of aspiration in whose light one must constantly evaluate and criticize one’s behavior if necessary.
If on the other hand it turns out that the “peace activists” wantonly endangered the lives of Israelis and used excessive force in their “political demonstration,” it will be time for honest representatives to stand up and take responsibility for their moral failures.
Belonging to an armed force or to the peace camp neither condemns one by definition as an immoral being nor conversely grants one blanket immunity, given the proclaimed nobility guiding one’s actions.
Unfortunately, as always, it seems never to be about the facts; every side will spin a narrative which will ensure the perpetuation of the untenable status quo.
It is time for all those of decency to declare, “Enough.” It is time to begin a new conversation, one in which legitimate acts of self defense on Israel’s part are no longer labeled automatically as acts of aggression and war crimes. Nor should attempts to better the plight of Palestinians, including those affiliated with Hamas, be labeled by definition as anti-Israeli and political.
People of decency can disagree. Decent people can make mistakes. It is only, however, if we recognize that decency can be found on both sides that a different future will become possible.