This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
I like and admire Amira Hass. Her reporting is admirable and more. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, she has lived through and commented on the contemporary arc of Jewish history. From the Holocaust to the devastating violence of Israel’s occupation mark her reporting, along with Gideon Levy and others, as the epitome of Jewish conscience. Hass is giving her all at the end of Jewish ethical history.
In her recent writing on Gaza, Hass’s words are strong and moving. They are also increasingly disconnected. As I once did and perhaps still do, Hass lives in a Jewish ethical history that no longer exists. Rather than addressing current events, her words represent mourning for a world that will not be resurrected.
Hass’s particular mistake is clear. Contra her analysis, Israel’s invasion of Gaza isn’t hurting Israel. Rather, it’s paving the way for the future that most Israelis – and Jews – actually want and embrace. That future is low on ethics and high on power. As everywhere in the world.
Here are some of Hass’s moving words:
If victory is measured by the success at causing lifelong trauma to 1.8 million people (and not for the first time) waiting to be executed any moment – then the victory is yours.
These victories add up to our moral implosion, the ethical defeat of a society that now engages in no self-inspection, that wallows in self-pity over postponed airline flights and burnishes itself with the pride of the enlightened. This is a society that mourns, naturally, its more than 40 soldiers who were killed, but at the same time hardens its heart and mind in the face of all the suffering and moral courage and heroism of the people we are attacking. A society that does not understand the extent to which the balance of forces is against it.
“In all the suffering and death,” wrote a friend from Gaza, “there are so many expressions of tenderness and kindness. People are taking care of one another, comforting one another. Especially children who are searching for the best way to support their parents. I saw many children no older than 10 years old who are hugging, comforting their younger siblings, trying to distract them from the horror. So young and already the caretakers of someone else. I did not meet a single child who did not lose someone – a parent, grandmother, friend, aunt or neighbor. And I thought: If Hamas grew out of the generation of the first intifada, when the young people who threw stones were met with bullets, who will grow out of the generation that experienced the repeated massacres of the last seven years?”
Our moral defeat will haunt us for many years to come.
States don’t live on morality – even a Jewish state. If the state has enough power, a moral haunting may be experienced by a minority. Jews of Conscience in Israel and beyond are examples of this. But the majority of any state’s citizens want to get on with their lives and enjoy the benefits accrued through military victory and economic imperialism.
The very powers so concerned with Gaza attest to this lack of moral haunting. Whatever moral clauses invoked against Israeli power and on behalf of suffering Palestinians, where would Europe and America be without historical and contemporary empire?
What Hass wants is a return to a Jewish world and history that formed her. Though she knows this world was tainted, she still hopes that somehow the overall thrust of Jewish ethical history can pull us through. Hass is wrong. However one defines the Jewish condition, Jews like Hass continue to argue for a Jewish morality in the state of Israel that no longer exists.
Hass isn’t a religious Jews, even a closeted one as far as I know. But her sense of the Jewish ethical and the punishment for Jewish wrongdoing, even in an imagined Palestinian resistance that knows no bounds, is a kind of faith. As a Jew, Hass can’t give up on it. What Jewish and Israeli legs would she have to stand on if she threw in the ethical towel and admitted to her readers – and most of all to herself – that Jews and Jewish life have reached its end point?
Israel won’t be haunted by its transgressions. When the end of the Israeli-Palestinians disputations finally arrives all will be forgiven on the international front.
Moral outrage by the powers of the world is limited by their own moral transgressions. They, too, have been forgiven rather than haunted by their power.
Should Israel be any different in reality than in the Jewish imagination?