The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil,
but because of the people who don't do anything about it
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The `Banality of Evil` Must Not Take Root Here
August 18, 2010
Within the space of several hours, I received two emails with the same subject heading, requesting signatures for an online petition against the destruction of Bedouin houses by the Israeli army. One was from an aunt in Boston and the other from my father in New York. My father’s email included a question, “Is this really happening? This sounds so terrible, but you never know if you can trust the media.” While I am often sceptical of the media as well, I responded that, unfortunately, this time, the story was true.
On July 26, the Israeli government razed the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib to the ground. One thousand five hundred soldiers were present to bulldoze 45 homes, leaving 300 villagers homeless and destitute. These Bedouins are among the almost 9,000 people that live in villages which are unrecognized by Israel, and who are refused access to services including water and electricity. The destruction of their crops and homes is part of an attempt to clear the area for a Jewish National Fund forest and ultimately make room for Jewish settlers. This is the third time the village has been destroyed in three weeks. Twice the villagers have begun rebuilding, and twice the army has re-demolished their tremulous construction.
The email petition that I received was sent out by the Jewish Alliance for Change, an organization of American Jews who stated that they were joining with Jewish and Arabs living inside Israel to stand up against the demolition of the Al-Arakib village. The text of the petition states that the authors understand the concerns and intentions of the Israeli government, but they say that this tactic goes against the spirit of Judaism and the principles they hope that Israel would embody. “This tiny blow on behalf of the Jewish body is an assault on the Jewish soul. It gives the lie to the values for which Israel purports to stand – and its contribution to a comprehensive solution of the underlying problem is minuscule.”
It is probably not well known that the Israeli army does, in fact, have a statement of principles. Its code of conduct states, `The IDF and its soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every human being is of value regardless of his or her origin, religion, nationality, gender, status or position.` But the kind of thorough militarization of a population like that which takes place here cannot coexist with these values. Either you raise children to believe in equality and justice, or you train them to think that might is right and some populations are dispensable. Israel is, unfortunately, actively pursing the latter route. The government is training its youth from an early age to equate power with violence, confidence with the ability to dominate, right to exist with right to extinguish the existence of another.
One of the most horrific aspects of the story of the Negev razing was reported by Max Blumenthal who travelled to the village with Ta’ayush, an Israeli organization that promotes cooperation among Palestinians and Jews in opposition to the occupation (
These actions indicate a kind of warping of reality that is taking place here. The jovial abuse of the rights of others, enjoyment in the infliction of suffering, was evidenced yet again in the recent report of a young Israeli army woman who posted pictures of herself smiling in front of Palestinian prisoners, hands-bound and blindfolded, on Facebook. When criticized, she responded that she could not see any reason why this would be inappropriate.
In 1963, Hannah Arendt, a German Jewish political theorist, wrote of the “banality of evil” – the condition in which evil actions become so normal that they begin to go unnoticed. One need not be a malicious person to participate in implementing an unjust regime. But after some time, one’s perception of oneself and others becomes altered and the limits of morality and the boundaries around what is appropriate begin to blur. Physically serving this system, which is built on the destruction of another population, begins to shape one, morally and mentally. Justifications take the place of principles and a casual frivolity eclipses integrity.
That these events have incurred an international response is hopeful. The receipt of several emails in a few hours on the topic, from family not otherwise engaged with this region or conflict, points to the fact that when the information around daily life in Israel and Palestine reaches the outside, its absurdity is easily identifiable. There is a need for those abroad to continue to take hold of the twisting of reality here, and expose the banal injustices which occur daily. There is a need for grassroots activism to spread information, encourage solidarity and mobilize international civil society to be a force in world politics. But there is also a final point that must be made:
House demolitions of Bedouins inside Israel and Palestinians in the occupied territories have become almost regular events. But Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD), insists that we cannot lose sight of the fact that, while rebuilding the destroyed houses is a nice thing to do, these issues are not humanitarian; they are political. He tells a story about an interaction that occurred one day, following a demolition. ICAHD volunteers arrived at the scene with boxes of food and shoes. In trying to hand out the shoes, they were refused. “But look at your children’s feet,” said one volunteer. “They’re red from the cold.” As Halper notes, the intention was good, but an Israeli trying to explain to a Palestinian mother that her children’s feet were cold appeared insulting and patronizing at best. Finally, out of exasperation with the volunteer’s obtuseness, one of the Palestinian women declared, “Victims of war are not like victims of earthquakes. Our problem isn’t that we are poor and can’t care for ourselves. It’s that we’ve just been thrown out of our houses by an occupation force, by the Israeli army. That is the source of our suffering.” (See Aid, Diplomacy, and the Facts on the Ground: The Case of Palestine)
Leah Hunt-Hendrix is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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