War Ethics In A War Zone (2)

Haim Watzman

In response to your last post, Gershom, we don’t disagree about most of the big issues. Of course soldiers, like national leaders and citizens, must make moral judgments, and must make them frequently. My point my previous post was that people in all these categories inevitably make these decisions with imperfect—often woefully imperfect—information. I admire Walzer’s effort to establish practical guidelines for how to conduct war and conflict justly and I largely agree with him.

But I think he is at times overly sanguine about people’s ability to make educated judgments in real time in situations of conflict. Indeed, he acknowledges the difficulty. At the beginning of Chapter 19 of Just and Unjust Wars (p. 304 in my paperback of the 4th edition), he writes:

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War Ethics: And When They Do Know the Consequences?

Haim, I agree that soldiers are often cogs in a machine, unable to evaluate the full consequences of their actions. That’s why Israelis are rightly angered by the “Sentry Syndrome” – the all-too-common outcome of investigations of military errors – ethical, tactical and strategic – in which lower ranks are blamed for the mistakes of their superiors.

Nonetheless, I think that in your last post you too easily placed Michael Walzer‘s Just and Unjust Wars in the category of the theoretical.

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South Jerusalem, Globalized

Despite my doubts about globalization and the leveling of culture, it seems that South Jerusalem franchises are popping up worldwide. Rather than suffering deep moral qualms, I’ve decided to relabel this phenomenon as “exporting the revolution.”

So – if you wanted to read my article on Israel in 2028, were it only available in Polish, you can do so here:

W Izraelu, w roku 2028, na rynku literackim króluje Ibrahim Abdullah Hapalit. Jego pierwsza powieść, “Synaj”, oparta jest na doświadczeniu z dzieciństwa – ucieczce z Darfuru, przez Egipt i synajską pustynię do ziemi obiecanej…

If, on the other hand, you’d like to see the Spanish version of my post on the mad Islamophobes who thought Dunkin’ Donuts was supporting international jihad, there’s a piece of it here:

Por lo tanto, [Daniel] Pipes, Michelle Malkin, [Pam] Geller y demás, presten atención:

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War Ethics In A War Zone

When I told my soldier son last weekend that I was preparing to lead a book club discussion on Michael Walzer‘s book Just and Unjust Wars, he shrugged. “What’s there to talk about?” he asked. “When you are protecting your country you do whatever you need to do to protect it.”

That may sound cynical and uncaring, but it accurately reflects the feeling of many soldiers who consider themselves to be moral, thinking, and caring human beings. From their perspective, they have a job to do: most immediately, to protect themselves and their buddies; beyond that to protect their families and country. They possess very little information about the big picture and, in action, must make split-second decisions with life-and-death implications based on their limited knowledge. Therefore, their default position must be to trust the decisions made by their commanders and superior officers.

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Our New Look — Bear With Us

We’ve been incredibly gratified by the response to our South Jerusalem blog since we launched it in March. We’re pleased by both the numbers of regular readers we’ve gained and by the quality of the comments and responses we’re getting. When we began, Gershom and I agreed that after three months we’d evaluate the blog … Read moreOur New Look — Bear With Us

Missing the Point: Mohammed Kacimi’s “Holy Land” at the Khan

Haim Watzman

“On both sides of a war, unity is reflexive, not intentional or premeditated. To disobey is to breach that elemental accord, to claim a moral separateness (or moral superiority), to challenge one’s fellows, perhaps even to intensify the dangers they face,” Michael Walzer writes in his seminal Just and Unjust Wars. Walzer refers in this passage to the moral dilemma faced by the enlisted man, but the same dilemma is not foreign to civilians. Wanting to be part of our society and in discourse with it is not only elemental but also commendable. Being moral alone on a desert island is no great accomplishment. We admire those who seek and succeed in living an ethical life in human company.

The new production of the Algerian-born French playwright Mohammed Kacimi’s Holy Land (Terre Sainte) at South Jerusalem’s Khan Theater brings us face to face with this dilemma. Unfortunately, while director Nola Chilton’s production is powerful and unflagging, and the five actors passionate, the play itself disappoints. In addressing the dilemma of war in art, it is facile to do no more than to say that war is hell. A writer taking up the subject needs to delve into the complex and difficult questions that war raises.

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Shrew Lit

Haim Watzman

At first glance, The Taming of the Shrew looks like the Shakespeare play most irrelevant to our times. I know, the butchery of Titus Andronicus is hard to swallow, but that play doesn’t end with a long speech about the virtues of hacking your enemies to pieces. Kate’s paean to wifely submission is certainly the most embarrassing classic English text that any actress today is ever called on to declaim.

No one knows why the Bard chose to write this play. He lived apart from his own wife, so he had no reason to seek revenge. But I have a theory. I have no documents or scholarly tradition to support it, but I can cite in my favor a writer’s intuition. Shakespeare was a writer, I’m a writer. QED Shakespeare and Watzman think alike.

In this play Shakespeare was protesting the female tyranny over literature. In his day, it was personified in Queen Elizabeth, which according to reliable sources such as the film Shakespeare in Love told him what plays to write and when. In our day, publishers cater to women because, they say, women purchase close to 70 percent of all books.

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Jane Austen Explains Conversion to Judaism

Gershom Gorenberg

The Book of Ruth could have been written by Jane Austen, a friend said in her warm voice at our table on Shavuot night. She was right. The books of Esther and Ruth are the two biblical stories that feel closest to modern novels – books with clear plot lines, crafted to be read on their own, but packed with allusions to other literature. Esther is a wild, bawdy farce. If it was written by someone named Mordechai, I suspect that it was actually Mordechai Richler. In Ruth, the wars and dynastic struggles, the wrestling brothers and earthshaking revelations are somewhere over the horizon. Women are talking to women about their relationships, with each other and with men. But Jane Austen never managed to write anything this concise, this essential .

Ruth is also the Bible’s description of how someone comes to Judaism individually, and it has to do with those relationships between people.

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Journey to Wadi al-Shajneh: The Illusion of Quiet

Gershom Gorenberg

Dov, the guy who owns the hole-in-the-wall computer lab, explained to Elliott and me that the operating system was only in English; he didn’t have Arabic Windows. As for service, he said, that would be no problem, "as long as he brings it here."

Unfortunately, Muhammad Abu Arkub, to whom we were delivering the computer, has about as much chance as getting a permit to enter Jerusalem for a computer repair as he does of getting back his wife’s gold. Dov wasn’t being snide. He’s the old-fashioned gruff kind of guy who curses about everything and then puts in twice the work fixing your computer that he planned and charges no more, and would be embarrassed if you mentioned it. But the village of Wadi al-Shajneh, in the South Hebron Hills, is beyond where he does service calls. He was surprised when Elliott explained why we were buying the computer. "And you with a kipah ," he said. Not that he objected to what we were doing.

Elliott read about Muhammad in a Ha’aretz article by Gideon Levy, a few days after we went to Hebron to give a washing machine to Ghassan Burqan. If you read my previous post (Journey to Hebron: Nightmares and Hope ), you’ll remember that Ghassan had bought his own washing machine and was carrying it to his home in the Israeli-controlled side of Hebron when he was stopped by Border Police, beat up and arrested. The machine disappeared. In memory of our late friend Gerald Cromer, Elliott decided we should bring Ghassan a replacement.

Muhammad’s home was searched by soldiers who arrived at midnight. They said they were looking for weapons. The search lasted two hours. Muhammad, his wife Lubna, their two small daughters, and Muhammad’s younger brother Rami were all kept under guard in Rami’s home – a single-room shack built onto the side of Muhammad’s house. When the search was over, and the family rushed back into the main house, they found their computer and television smashed. And, they say, the jewelry box where Lubna kept her gold was gone.

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Ropes of Fate: Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s “Shadow Kill”

Haim Watzman

In the final scene of Adoor Gopalakrishnan‘s film Shadow Kill (Nizhalkuthu), a young man, dressed in black, sets out to perform his first hanging. The young man, Muthu, is the son of the hereditary executioner of the south Indian principality of Travancore. He is a Gandhian nationalist and pacifist who has made speeches in his village against the death penalty. Yet upon his father’s death, during the night before the execution, Muthu accepts the doom of his descent-even though he knows that the boy around whose neck he is about to place the noose is innocent.

Such an end implies that we have just seen (at the Cinema South Film Festival in Sderot, see my post Cinema of the South: Celebrating Sderot and Kerala) a film about how Muthu wrestles with his heritage, resists, and then accepts it. But in fact it is not Muthu but his father, Kaliyappan, who agonizes, from the story’s first scene to its penultimate one, about having killed an innocent man the last time he was called from his village to perform his office. Emulating his hero, Muthu buys a spinning wheel to spin out string, which is taken to the local jail to be made into rope. It’s Kaliyappan who, like the Greek fate-goddess Atropos, cuts the rope-the rope of his last hanging, whose ashes, burnt in ritual and prayer, are a balm that heals the sick and troubled.

In keeping with tradition, on the night prior to the execution, the king’s police officers ply Kaliyappan with liquor and keep him from sleeping (he must not sleep, because his victim is certainly not sleeping this night) by telling him stories. The story that finally helps keep the elderly executioner awake is about a romance between a young teenage girl and an orphan flutist. The girl asks the boy to teach her to play his instrument; when he leaves her to practice, the girl is attacked, raped, and killed by her brother-in-law, who has developed an uncontrollable passion for her. The flute found in her hands implicates the orphan boy; the girl’s family knows who the real murderer is but protects him.

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Cinema of the South: Celebrating Sderot and Kerala

Haim Watzman

Sderot was celebrating yesterday–it’s been celebrating all week, in fact. Who cares about the missiles coming over from Gaza when you can catch a good flick–lots of them? The Cinema South Festival, held in Sderot each year under the sponsorship of the film school at adjacent Sapir College, is one of the most stimulating, and heart-warming cultural events on Israel’s calendar.

The day’s only Red Alert happened just as we emerged from our rental car next to the housing project where my daughter, Mizmor (finishing up her first year in the animation program) lives. We scurried to safety–well, it’s all relative–under one of the building’s outdoor stairwells until, seconds later, we heard a distant boom.

After dropping off some home-cooked food in her apartment, we drove over to the Sderot Cinematecque. The festival was in full swing. “South” here doesn’t mean Alabama and Georgia-it means Israel’s poor, forgotten, and bombarded Negev region. Sapir students were quaffing beers and muching on sandwiches and sticky sweets while a Kerala band played songs that sent my wife Ilana-whose late father grew up in Bombay, after his family moved there from Baghdad-into dreamy nostalgia.

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