The Bells of Moral Ambiguity

There are certain questions that no number of PhDs nor years ensconced between the leaves of books can sate.

Today my best tutorial group was in pensive mode and as the post-presentation activity languished untouched, the following poured forth:

When is a genocide a genocide?

Why is Sabra and Shatila, as well as Srebrenica, not classed as a genocide?

What is the difference between a terrorist, a militant, a guerilla and a freedom fighter?

Why are the Palestinians classed as ‘terrorists’ and the Israelis not?

Why is one or two Israeli lives equivalent to hundreds of Palestinians?

Why is Deir Yassin not classed as a genocide or an act of terror?

What is the difference between an act of terror and a genocide?

And, asked with utmost sincerity:

Will you mark me down if I called Palestinians ‘terrorists’ in my essay?

The questions are so grave that my involuntary nervous tic of smirking was unavoidable.

How can we decide what makes a genocide and what makes a massacre?

How do you decide whether someone’s cause is more justified than that of another?

It is not possible to capture such issues within a definitive framework.

A framework – yes.

But rigid?


7 comments on “The Bells of Moral Ambiguity

  1. ricky christian
    December 11, 2009

    Please help my mom.. check , happy merry x’mas

  2. kinziblogs
    December 11, 2009

    These are good questions, and add the reluctance to call the slaughter of Armenians genocide, too.

    That question you get must be difficult. I intentionally mention to groups about the percentage of Jordanian Christians who are Palestinian in origin just to watch eyes get wide and to add another point of connection between humans. Sigh.

  3. Bob Patel
    December 17, 2009

    First- let us make it clear, Shatila and Sabra were not Israeli actions. They were perpetrated by Christian Arabs.

    Genocide is a deliberate and concerted attempt to wipe out an entire people and/or their culture. This is not what the Israelis are setting out to do. After all they have recognised the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and not to be too callous about it but if they wished to exterminate Palestinians, there would be far more efficient ways of going about these things. Genocide in this situation has a horrible whiff of Nazism about it, and I don’t like the insinuations.

    Israelis are not terrorists because they do not seek to deliberately kill civilians. Although civilians often do die, this is more a result of Palestianian tactics (i.e. guerilla warfare in dense populous areas, using human shields) than Israeli desire to target them. Observe American and British casualty rates in Afganistan/Iraq and they are broadly similar. Yet no one levels charges of terrorism at them, aside from if they are considered part of the extreme left wing.

    Hamas (and the PLO before them) however are a different story- hence the 8,000 rockets into Israel over the past few years and constant suicide bombs before the wall on the West Bank went up. They DO target civilians and are therefore rightfully classed as terrorists.

    I find it HIGHLY concerning that you are so biased towards the Palestinian side that you are willing to entertain the notion that the Israelis might be committing genocide. You are (apparently) a member of the teaching staff of an Arab-Israeli module at Durham University which means you should at least try to deal with the issue in an even-handed manner. At least try and consider the other side…

    • Layla
      December 18, 2009

      Thank you, Bob, for your comments.

      Let us be clear: everyone is entitled to their opinion, providing it is substantiated by facts.

      Which is why, while I am entitled to run amok with my right to freedom of speech within the confines of this blog, I would not introduce my own views to a classroom.

      Students should be free to explore their own ideas – any curtailment (which I, as a student, have experienced in prior universities) would be tantamount to censorship.

      To put it more bluntly, there is a time and place for personal opinions and the work place is not it.

      • Bob Patel
        December 21, 2009

        However, the facts clearly demonstrate that Israel are not attempting to commit genocide against the Palestinians. Indeed, I would challenge you to provide evidence (in international law particularly) that this is occurring.

        Further, to bring in Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila is particularly pernicious and a constant back-up point for those who seek to demonise rather than legitimately criticise Israel. Are you someone who does exactly this? I would query the literature that is being used if these are the “natural” conclusions that are come to. With academic freedom of speech comes a responsibility to convey a balanced approach so that people can make up their own mind. I don’t believe (and I have heard some evidence to back this up from people who take the course) that this is being done. Instead the course is being used to advance a fashionably anti-Zionist agenda, a view presumably held by those who run the course.

  4. Bob Patel
    December 17, 2009

    I should add- Deir Yassin was an action by the Irgun. Many (including Israelis) regarded the Irgun as terrorists, which is why they were disbanded as a paramilitary and forcibly incorporated into the the IDF by Ben Gurion after the Declaration of Independence. Deir Yassin is an inexcusable tragedy but should not be considered an act of genocide as it was not perpetrated by the Israeli state (which didn’t even exist), nor was it sanctioned by the Haganah, which were the official fighting force. Indeed, it was roundly condemned. Israel itself has made no attempt to commit genocide against Palestinians.

    On the other hand- Hamas frequently perpetrate terrorist attacks on the Jewish state and the run their (proxy) country.

  5. Layla
    December 21, 2009

    Thank you, Bob.

    I think there has been a misunderstanding, reading over your comments.

    The questions raised here were by the students, not myself. It follows, of course, that I responded with many of the responses you, yourself, have raised.

    Facts are facts, and you raise valid ones. Likewise, as I said, providing the students produce factual bases for their opinions, there is no such thing as a right or wrong answer. Nor is there room for ‘fashionable’ answers.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that there should be no propaganda in the classroom, so your last point is an interesting one.

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This entry was posted on December 11, 2009 by in Israel, Layla, Middle East, Palestine, Politics and tagged , , , , .
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