is a question that any child might have asked a parent in Nazi Germany and afterwards. It defines what modern Germany is, to this moment... Or to slave-owners in the United States or practitioners of Jim Crow or the depraved police officers who, as the Occupying Army in poor black communities in the United States, shot Michael Brown or Sandra Bland today. "Say her name!" is the chant of Black Lives Matter! activists, ringing out, demanding the truth, and having to disrupt the speeches of Presidential nominees to get them to focus (Bernie Sanders, despite some ineptness, has come a long way, but needs to go further here).
The bad feeling in the pit of one's stomach among both those who did the deed and the revulsion, when they learn about it, the look in the eyes, of children and great-great-grand children is a real thing. Listen to the powerful poem "I will not say" by Caroline Goodwin about her great-great grandfather, Governor John Evans of Colorado, instigator of the Sand Creek massacre, here...
In October, 2012, I went with a delegation from the Dorothy Cotton Institute to Tel Aviv Airport (we could not take literature on the Middle East since the Israeli airport agents might have excluded us, including Jews "whose right of return" is curtailed abruptly if we use our eyes...), and then saw, over and over again, in East Jerusalem and Occupied Palestine - the burning of thousand year old olive trees on which families depend for their livelihood, the throwing of shit and urine down on the bazaar by settler's children in Occupied Hebron, the courageous speaking out of Nadav, a former Israeli soldier, of "Breaking the Silence" in showing us the "Jews-only" Shahudah street...See "Janna's song" here.
A basic moral principle is to empathize with "others," to see others, in spite of all the social pressure, as human beings. Over a long historical epoch, it has been captured powerfully in the social contract tradition - making the state of nature in which we are all free and equal, as in the case of John Locke, a proponent of liberty and yet a slave-trader as secretary of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina of indigenous people, and secondarily, a profiteer off the Royal Africa Company, a revealing device. This great proponent of a public or common good for Englishmen, even day-laborers, curtailed, strangely, his state of nature in a fourth chapter putatively justifying slavery in the case of an unjust war (but slave-raiders/traders are the aggressors...), and it was left to J. Philmore, talking to sailors in 1760, to name rightly the Man-trade and Man-owners.
In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls' original position - that each of us can put ourselves in the shoes of the least advantaged; judge institutions by whether, among the possible, they most benefit the least advantaged - makes that core moral insight an apt theoretical device in moral and democratic theory. In the midst of Netanyahu's/Adelson's/Republicans/Schumer and Menendez's lying for more and even more destructive wars in the Middle East, to protect an increasingly destructive Occupation of Palestine and apartheid/ethnic cleansing, Gideon Levy's simple question from Haaretz on August 30 drives home, once again, its significance (h/t Michael Schwartz):
What Did You Do at Work Today, Dad?
Quite a few Israelis, whose number is rising alarmingly, may find it extremely difficult to answer the above question.
Aug 30, 2015 4:47 AM
An Israeli returns from a day’s work and his children ask him, “How was your day at work, Dad? What did you do today?” Most parents would give a light, nonchalant reply. But quite a few Israelis, whose number is rising alarmingly, may find it extremely difficult to answer. What will they say? How will they squirm? What excuse will they give and how will they get out of it, facing children who want to know and be proud of their parents?
What will the Arad municipal inspector tell his children, after standing last week at the entrance to the southern Israeli town and forcibly preventing asylum seekers who had just been freed from prison – after more than a year of detention without trial – from entering the town and finding shelter? How would the inspector describe that work to his children? Would he say, “I stood on the road and checked every car to make sure no black person was hiding in it”? “I pulled every black man out and sent him back to the desert”? I did it in the name of the law”?
A law forbidding entrance to a city because of the color of one’s skin has yet to be enacted in Israel. Security? That excuse, which always justifies everything, doesn’t hold water this time. “Did you carry out the mayor’s instructions?” “Yes.” “But Dad,” the child will ask, “will you carry out every illegal order you get from the mayor? Is that what you’re like? And what do you think of those who once treated the Jews like that?”
What will the Civil Administration inspector tell his children, after destroying – in blistering temperatures – the tents and tin shacks of 127 people, 80 of them children, who were left without a roof over their head in the Jordan Rift and near Ma’aleh Adumim last week? How will he explain his malicious behavior to his children? His wickedness? His inhumanity? Clearly, without these qualities, there is no way to carry out this filthy, heinous work – destroying shabby homes and abandoning their inhabitants in this terrible heat.
A Palestinian family whose home was demolished by the Civil Administration. What did the man responsible say to his own children that evening?
If the inspector tries to explain to his children that he was enforcing the law, the eldest child will ask, “Do you also treat the settlers like that? And where are those wretches, whose homes you’ve torn down, supposed to go? And what will become of Hudeifa, the 1-year-old baby, who has been crawling in the sand under the sun without shelter for two weeks already? Do you think about them, Dad, before you go to sleep?”
What did the Israel Prison Service guards who stood watch in the room of hunger striker Khader Adnan tell their children? Did they tell them they shackled him with his hand and leg to the bed, even when his consciousness clouded over? How did they not feel compassion for him, if only for a moment? Did they tell their kids about the pizzas and shawarmas they ate in his room, and the sunflower seeds they cracked in the face of a prisoner on his deathbed, the smell of the food driving him crazy?
And what did the doctors of Assaf Harofeh Hospital, who kept mum and enabled all that to go on, tell their children?
What do Israeli border inspectors tell their children when they come home from work? That for seven hours they interrogated a renowned U.S.-Palestinian author, one who had come to visit her family and set up playgrounds for children in the West Bank? Did they tell them that, after interrogating her, they expelled her solely because of her Palestinian origin? Did they say that they also expelled an elderly U.S.-Palestinian man, a native of Jerusalem, who hadn’t visited his homeland for 21 years, only because he landed at Ben-Gurion Airport?
What did the Binyamin Brigade commander Col. Yisrael Shomer tell his children the day he shot to death the teen Mohammad Kosba, whom he shot in the back as the boy fled? Did he say that because the boy threw a stone at his car, he deserved to die? That daddy killed a child because he can? That it’s OK to kill children, as long as they’re Palestinian? Did he tell them that Mohammad was the third son killed by Israel Defense Forces soldiers in his family?
Perhaps these questions are not being asked yet. Their day will come.