“… To be committed to justice we must believe that ethics matter, that it is vital to have a system of shared morality.” – Bell Hooks
“Out of nowhere many soldiers jumped out and ambushed Samir. They shot him first in the leg, yet he managed to run away towards the village. But how far can an injured child run? Twenty, maybe 30, meters? They could have easily arrested him, especially when he was injured, but instead they shot him in the back with live ammunition… To me this is premeditated murder.”
Palestinian life is cheap – something Samir already understood from his short 16 years of living under occupation. For the friends and family of Samir and the thousands of other Samirs murdered by the Israeli military and settlers over the last four decades, Palestinian life will still be cheap when the shooting stops, the Israeli military withdraws its ground forces from Gaza, and daily life under occupation returns to the norm of low-intensity systematic state terror.
The killings, breaking of bones, firing of tear gas canisters into enclosed spaces, and the daily humiliation of checkpoints, separate roads and separating walls will continue and will continue to be daily reminders to Palestinians that they are different; lesser; expendable.
From these experiences, Palestinians understand – like many of us on the receiving end of the Western world’s “civilizing mission” – that the West’s claim to moral superiority by championing universal human rights and the rule of law is a grotesque lie.
Over the years, Palestinians have seen how they can be murdered in the hundreds and thousands with impunity and in the full glare of the mass media. And while most of the non-Western world is stunned by the indiscriminate viciousness of the Israeli attack, headlines in Western media outlets proclaim “Hamas lays siege on Israel” and “Hamas terrorizes Israel”—as though the over one thousand lives of murdered Palestinians are completely irrelevant and devoid of value.
The devaluing of Palestinian life is in stark contrast to the concern for the dignity of the remains of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight M17, recently shot down over Ukraine. It is also reflected in the arguments of the Israeli propagandists, who imply that Western news media should stop covering the deaths of Palestinian civilians because it satisfies the strategic objective of the “Hamas terrorists.”
The scenes of carnage – Palestinian bodies littering the streets of Shujaiya; whole families packed into cars, desperately trying to flee the onslaught of Israeli rockets and naval bombardments; and a vicious scorched-earth ground operation in which whole communities are free-fire zones for Israelis, have still not been enough to generate much empathy for the lives of Palestinians for many in the U.S. A recent Gallop poll of opinion in the U.S. suggests that 71% of the respondents who claim to follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict closely say that Israeli actions in Gaza are justified.
And in Western capitals, the defenders of “universal” human rights proudly proclaim their unwavering support for Israel’s right of “defense” against a captured and largely defenseless people who are supposed to have special protections under international law.
The moral positions taken by many people in the West, especially in the U.S., confirms the existence of an ethical double-standard – one in which the actions of the Israeli state are framed as legitimate, reasonable and deserving of support, and one in which all acts of resistance on the part of the captured and oppressed Palestinians are seen as criminal, immoral and terroristic.
The ethical double-standards for non-Europeans versus Europeans – or those who are associated with white power and European civilization, like the Israeli state – are grounded in a generalized acceptance of the civilizational superiority of the West and the division of humanity between those “like us” and “others” who have different standards of human behavior.
This division has always been a fundamental component of white supremacist thought that justified the conquest, pillage and exploitation of most of the non-Western world. The violence of slavery, genocide of Native Americans and colonialism found its defenders among liberals and within the contradictory framework of Eurocentric, male-centered liberalism that divided humanity between those eligible for the full enjoyment of human rights – European male, capitalist property owners and eventually most people categorized as “white” irrespective of class and gender – and everyone else.
The “white man’s burden” “manifest destiny,” the “doctrine of discovery,” “American exceptionalism” – and their 21st century expression in humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect – these are all expressions of the arrogant pathology of the white supremacist worldview.