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Complexity as a Weapon of War
There’s no nuance that justifies what Israel is doing in Gaza.
Image: Gaza City, 2007.
Discussions of global war and violence often come with pleas for nuance, for context, and for historical literacy. That’s reasonable and even commendable. You can’t understand the present without understanding the past; it’s wise to try to learn as much as possible about the contours of conflicts in other countries and other cultures before weighing in. If you’re going to take part in public debate, it’s better to be informed than not.
It's also true, though, that a demand to appreciate complexity can be a kind of whataboutism or deflection. And unfortunately I think there’s a lot of that in the current very contentious discussions of the war in Gaza.
It’s true that Jewish people have a long history of persecution. It’s true that the intertwined histories of Jewish and Arab peoples in Israel/Palestine are messy and often violent. It’s true that antisemitism is a scourge, as is Islamophobia. It’s true that there is currently no clear path to peace. It’s true that Israel has legitimate security concerns and that Palestinians have legitimate grievances based on decades of oppression.
But it’s also true that some moral questions simply aren’t that difficult or complicated. There is nothing in Palestinian history that justifies Hamas’ horrific murders of civilians and children in Israel. And there is nothing in Israeli history, long term or immediate, which justifies the ongoing horrific murders of civilians and children in Gaza.
Israel and its defenders insist that there can be no ceasefire because it will give Hamas time to regroup. I’ve seen multiple people on social media insist that people calling for a ceasefire are obligated to come up with a better strategy to defeat Hamas than the mass slaughter of civilians in Gaza.
This is a deflection. An indiscriminate bombing campaign that has killed at this point around 10,000 people, thousands of them children (and no, there’s no reason to doubt those figures) is obviously, straightforwardly, irrefutably unconscionable. “We couldn’t think of any way to advance our goals that didn’t involve murdering children” is an unacceptable justification for Hamas, and it’s an unacceptable justification for Israel. You can’t claim that you are trying to protect lives in the future by killing and killing and killing and killing in the present. Or you can, of course. But the international community, and all people of good will, should condemn you for it.
You don’t need to resolve every issue, or right every wrong, or solve ever diplomatic problem, to say clearly that Hamas needs to return its hostages. Nor should you need a string of caveats or excuses to say that the Israeli bombing campaign is immoral and that it needs to stop now, this minute, before even more children are killed.
I don’t know how to put it more clearly. Some things are wrong. Hamas’ murder of Israeli civilians was one of them. Israel’s indiscriminate assault on Gaza is another. I wish we could all agree on that. But if we aren’t able to do so, it’s not because those who defend the carnage are more nuanced thinkers, or more comfortable with complexity. It’s because they’ve decided that certain people’s lives, and certain people’s children, are expendable, and have no moral weight. And again, to put it as mildly as possible, that is wrong.
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