4 Dead Kids — Hard (Political) Truths & Soft (Human) Truths (Israel-Palestine)

israeli boys Muhammed abu Kbeir

The news out of Israel looks as bad as I think a lot of us have ever seen it, and while, truly, I don’t think I have a lot to say about the actual events themselves, I’ve been trying very hard to make sense of the arguments surrounding those events. From either side of the political divide, the arguments in question concern the causal roots undergirding the current round of violence. There are two kinds of arguments, and they are structurally identical. Both turn out to be apologetic. Both suggest something monstrous both about the conflict itself and about the people making the arguments on either side of the political divide. Setting aside for the moment that there are many such divides, I want to focus on two basic arguments.

[1] The first argument is to see in the ongoing and endemic occupation, i.e. the control and dispossession of Palestinian lives and lands, the root cause undergirding and contextualizing the kidnap-murder of three Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar. On the basis of this argument, the kidnap-murder can be seen as a justifiable act of resistance or at least a regrettable consequence of pent up Palestinian rage. [2] From the opposite side of the political spectrum, the second argument would be to see terrorism, acts of anti-Jewish violence as the root cause undergirding and contextualizing the current wave of anti-Arab incitement and violence, and the possible but increasingly probable kidnap-murder of Muhamed Hussein Abu Khdeir.

At the meta-level, there is something true about both arguments, But these arguments are too easy to make, as if ready-made. “The more occupation, the more terror.” “The more terror, the more occupation.” We can trace these arguments back to the Second Intifada, or back to 1967 or 1948, rolling back into historical time. But to what effect and to what end?

There’s a moral obscenity tainting both arguments around the edges. Setting history and politics to the side, I’m assuming here that no context can ever truly explain much less justify, morally and politically, that singular act that is the taking and murder of young people in cold blood. As causal-historical-political explanations, there is just enough of a kernel of truth in both claims about structural violence to show just how monstrous the current status quo is. Yet neither argument on its own contains any sufficient reserve with which to actually fix the situation or resolve the problems that drive it. Each argument on its own is too simple. Together, they reflect a terrible feedback with no way out.

There are hard truths and soft truths. The causal explanations represent truth claims, which insofar as they are true, represent hard political realities. But these hard political truths represent at best preliminary truths. First because each single truth-claim on its own is a partial truth that cannot comprehend the whole; but more fundamentally, because, even taken together, the hard political truths obscure the soft, human side to the conflict. On either side of the right-left divide, those who insist that one hard truth or both hard truths together constitute the final truth, they too are monsters, have become monstrous, without human heart and soul, subsumed entirely by context and “situation.” The ultimate truth is that the soft truth is also a hard truth, that when it comes to these kinds of acts there can only be human truths, moral ones, about human dignity and the anathema that is hatred based on a cause or a political claim.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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1 Response to 4 Dead Kids — Hard (Political) Truths & Soft (Human) Truths (Israel-Palestine)

  1. Brent Smyth says:

    If only we could resist the temptation to attach what we feel to an “absolute” before we put it in the context of our own personal experiences. We should all be encouraged to interpret this world for ourselves more often. Sadly, you need a reputation and accreditation before society will let you form a “truth”. At that point they just end up as generalizations to suit a cause and become memes that spread like wildfire. As Einstein said “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

    The truth could surely bubble up through diversity in this modern age of emerging decentralized communication. I guess all we can do is be positive about the future.

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