According to Judaism, in the beginning was the void - which is to say there was all, and then God said 'let there be light' and there was light and a world. God did not create light. He named it. God said the world and the world was.
The world reveals itself to us in language. Reality does not stand behind a transparent window and is called names. The names through which reality is mediated, and the nature of the mechanisms by which we absorb and know the world determine the kind of world we inhabit.
A woman who lived in America once told me how, as a five year-old girl, she suffered terrible abuse at the hands of her devout grandparents. They would stuff her with laxatives and lock her up in the closet for hours, until she had totally emptied her bowels. They would then take her out of the closet, wash and dress her up, and take her with them to church.
In English, the word purge has two meanings: to completely empty the bowels by defecation, and to purify. Perhaps the word that bears these two meanings is associated with Christian concepts whereby religious purging is linked with obliterating the body, refraining from it, perceiving it as a burden. But not all languages spoken in Christendom have the same word for both 'purifying' and 'bowel-emptying', just as these are two different terms in the Hebrew language.
This little girl's grandparents took the word purge literally. If defecation and purification are synonymous, one essence, one entity, the girl had to defecate and be purified, defecate in order to be purified.
The abuse perpetrated by this woman's grandparents took place because the world is revealed through language. In their specific language whereby 'bowel-emptying' and 'purifying' are two forms of one and the same word, linked and synonymous.
Had she been born in another country, to another language, would she have been subjected to the same experience?
Joining the army, abusing and oppressing the Palestinian people are not a world-choice suddenly offered at the age of 18. Children are born into a world revealed through language: a language replete with echoes and shadows and sub-meanings and connotations. They learn that 'weapons' and 'purity' can be joint terms. That to snipe at an eight-year old Palestinian - child means 'defending the homeland'. That when a Palestinian kills a Jew it is murder, and when a Jew kills a Palestinian it is killing.
That extra-judicial execution is deterrence. And that a Jew is always a victim, like an a-priori genetic mark, regardless of his actions. And that occupied territory is liberated territory, and that any Palestinian who harms a Jew - even as this Jew is an occupying soldier or an armed colonist actively threatening the Palestinian is invariably a terrorist, and if killed, well - after all he was armed, even if he was not. That there is no 'Green Line'. And that a people without land came to a land without a people, although a people was here, negated and excluded by killing and expulsion and dispossession and land-grabbing from then on. And that 'our hand' is forever held out in peace.
When he goes to the army, by law and social norm, whatever had been imbued in him from the very beginning will be stimulated: that there are different kinds of blood. That 'them' and 'us' is not the same thing. That 'we' want peace and are defending ourselves, whereas 'they' want to obliterate us, it is their nature. That they do not have proper names, only the name of their nation. That when they are enclosed and
denied studies and work and health and visits to Grandma, it is not the same as with 'us'. That 'they' started. That 'they' are 'they'.
Germany. November 1935. The law to defend German
blood and honor: by this law family ties between Jews and
non-Jews were forbidden; marriage of Jews and
Germans or related races was outlawed, and existing marriages
annulled. The law forbade sexual intercourse between Jews
and Germans or related races. Jews were forbidden to employ German
women under the age of forty-five in their households.
I wonder how being a soldier even in a state more decent than Israel, with a government more committed to justice, not using its army mainly to oppress, abuse and perpetrate ethnic-cleansing on a daily basis for years, since its inception how the actions of a person who bears arms even against 'the bad guys' can possibly be considered intrinsically positive, a metaphor of a value.
How is it at all conceivable that he who fires a tank shell, drops a bomb, demolishes a home, even if it belongs to 'the bad guys', represents a moral value by definition.
Is it conceivable, say, that an executioner serving a relatively legitimate law, who presses the button to execute the 'decidedly evil' whose guilt has been proven in fair trial, would be considered a symbol of all that is good.
If boys and girls were to grow up in Israel but not into Hebrew, with all its local resonance, in a language and a place where the word 'soldier' was not a synonym for the essence of goodness and perfectly good citizenship, where the word 'soldier' was a function and an activity rather than an inherent moral quality, not synonymous would they still play along and be the executors of an abusive regime, terrorizing another people with such ease, such willingness, such blessed natural feeling?
And perhaps the word 'soldier' with its strange double-entendre, namely the dissonance between the basically fresh, raw word 'soldier' and a soldier's actions no matter what they really are, just as it exists in Jewish-Israeli-Hebrew, serves the strange and disconcerting dissonance between the act of Occupation and those who maintain it. This dissonance is practiced especially by those who oppose this policy, as it were, and criticize it, yet continue to send their children to keep implementing it with a strange sort of ease.
in Nigeria, a woman suspected of adultery is
to be stoned to death. Thus, too, by law in Iran.
On January 3rd, 2006, eighteen-year old Nazreen Mahabad Fathi
was sentenced to death in an Iranian court for having stabbed
one of the three men who tried to rape her and her sixteen-year old
sister at a park in Tehran, in March 2005, when
she was seventeen years old. She is to be stoned to death.
Language does not interpret or mediate life to us. It is itself life. It is reality.
It reflects world views. It maintains them and constructs them.
In a 17th century French dictionary, Jew is defined as avaricious. A Jew as a Jew, in his essence as a Jew, is avaricious. That is what is said. That was how people thought, and that is why it is written. Revealed in language.
Is it the accumulating influence of intricate contexts woven into the tapestry of language 'purity of arms', 'manly' as indicating moral fiber, 'soldier' as the quintessential good? Are they all part and parcel of sending Jewish-Israeli youth off to perpetrate crimes with this self-righteous sense of mission, and to term this 'values', 'sacrifice', 'giving of oneself', 'fulfillment', 'civil duty'
Germany. April 1933. The law against
crowding in schools and institutions of
higher learning: "numerus clausus"
the quota of Jewish students
allowed to study at schools and universities.
By law, the number of Jewish students at
each institution of learning will be limited
to 1.5% of the student-body. This law affected
many Jewish students who attended schools
where the rate of Jews was high, especially in
universities where many Jews were studying
prior to the passing of this law. Thousands of
Jewish students were removed from institutions
of learning following the implementation of the
law. Enforcers of the law made sure it would
Perhaps the system is right in maintaining mandatory conscription. Thus everyone ends up tainted with crime: once afflicted, they would not look on from the outside, save for the rare few. This is how the mafia operates, too, and terror organizations, and other bodies that are agents of organized violence. In order to belong to them, one must carry out something that is not considered moral by universal criteria, and then having done what they have been required to do, robbed or starved or killed, depending upon the group's policy and its objectives they are already there, afflicted, no longer to be coerced into perpetuating the crime. With no fear of their revealing it or rebelling, they already belong. They are it.
After all, a regular professional army would fight wars much better than an army of mandatory conscripts. But then it would be impossible to sweep everyone, including mechanisms of control and criticism such as the press and the judiciary (members of which have all served in the army, too, and are necessarily afflicted by that which they have been sent to do in there, like everyone else) to perform acts so contrary to universal standards; to reinforce and maintain, generation after generation, such an immoral regime not even ruled by dictatorship.
That which we experience as a separate reality, independent of ourselves, is in fact a creation of the nervous system. Our very perception, our own experience of reality, is the way in which the organism is in touch with our environment. The way it explains, and acts upon reality through a sophisticated filtering and mediation system that has evolved and exists inside the brain, between stimulus and reaction. Language is the main form of coding and storage.
The figure above is a schematic perspective sketch of rails. The line that represents the more distant rail according to the rules of perspective, or the top line in this sketch, seems longer to the viewer than the nearer line. But if we measure them we shall learn that they are equal. Why? Perspective is constructed of the knowledge that the more distant objects are, the smaller their image projected on the retina. If, then, the real size of the lines were equal, the distant should be shorter. Thus, the equal length of the lines according to the rules of perspective shows that the more distant is actually the longer one.
The amazing thing, however, is that not only according to abstract principles the more distant line represents a wider rail, but that we actually see with our own senses the more distant line as the longer one despite their equal size. Just as we see not that which actually 'exists' in front of our eyes, but that which ought to be seen. In other words, we project upon reality the model of reality that exists within us, and seen it as it exists there in itself.
The perpetrators of the present evils are normal boys and girls. The kids next door. My schoolmates and their children. The sinister deed is not the exception to a rule, outside of humanity, but rather well inside it. Whoever shoots a child for throwing stones only because this child belongs to another people, whoever prevents a woman suffering from diabetes from reaching the hospital in a neighboring town because he was instructed that today this town is out of bounds for residents of her home town, whoever aims his weapon at a person whom someone has designated as target and squeezes the trigger, and arrests thirteen-year olds in the middle of the night, and smashes windows and walls of dwellings are normal people: the sons and daughters of my brothers and sisters and my own potential offspring. They are Everyman. Like others, they are born into the paths of culture and language and walk them mostly because they are and have been there. Thus they are taught that they are boys and girls and what to wear and how to think about things, and what is right and what is wrong. That is how they learn that the prototype for human is man, that spouse is husband, (in Hebrew: ba'al = owner, possessor), and that serving in the army is the natural order of things. Army service is not perceived as an action but as a state of being as natural as breathing, as being a whole person. To be a Jewish Israeli and to go to the army are one and the same, as it were, and cannot be otherwise.
Culture wraps discourse in widely used clichιs. I intend to contribute to society, says the young rhinoceros with his ear stud and tight trousers, the top of his underwear in the latest of fashions, brandishing his stylish brand shoes, full of youthful valor and vigor, no worse nor better than his peers, and intends to apply for the crack recon unit because its the most 'in' one to belong to, the most manly, the 'mostest', in order to 'sacrifice for the cause of ', he says, flexing his muscles, readying himself for the uniform of the most highly aspired sense of belonging.
Is this the Israeli initiation rite? Maturity ritual? THE belonging?
India. Until around 1880, a widow was supposed
to incinerate herself on her deceased spouse's funeral
pyre. Whoever was unwilling to do so, was forced into
the flames. Mostly. In the name of the law.
A correspondence between a reserves soldier whom I shall designate as B. and a well-known figure of academe who has been quoted of late slandering and cursing the officer in charge of evacuating Jews who had invaded and occupied homes of Palestinians in Hebron, designated as A.
Honorable Professor A.,
You must have forgotten who defends your precious family living in the Occupied Territories. I a proud leftist vehemently opposed to the colonies have served 78 days in the reserves during the past eleven months, 28 of them in my present tour-of- duty in the Occupied Territories. I reported for duty not in agreement with government policy but in keeping with the law of a democratic state.
I have listened with increasing revulsion to your interview on Israel Radio's Second Network, and have only one thing to say to you: You said we do not live in a democracy. In a fascist regime, which is how you called the military, you would have long since found yourself shackled in some dank dungeon, but I am sure you are sitting in your air-conditioned home while I stand guard to protect you
Shame on you!
I served in paratrooper- and recon units for many years. From the age of 17 and a half until I turned 56 I defended you. Does this give you the right to expel me of my home?
We have a law providing for the dignity and liberty of man. A basic law that is not to be breached etc. Has such a law been passed regarding the latest expulsion?
Naturally that is neither the answer nor the question, but just for the record.
There is no connection between the fact that you served in the army (by law you did not volunteer) and the revolting opinions you voiced against people doing their lawful duty. I am no jurist and I do not know whether you have violated the law or not,
I think that your words were driven by churning emotions, and had you apologized for what you lashed out against people who "spend" their days and nights defending the country, you and your family, I would have felt for you. When you find it convenient to uphold the law you do, and enjoy its protection. But when it hurts you, you oppose it by resorting to improper means. Again, I am no jurist, I am a simple hard-working man (whose livelihood has been seriously affected by my reserves duty which has recently become much more time-consuming). The curses you hurled at the officers were directed at me as well as anyone in this country who wears a uniform.
You asked whether "a law has been passed" about the expulsion from Hebron. You and your family have chosen to live in an area governed by the military, for better or worse. I have personally protected colonists and participated in the demolition of Arabs' homes not of my own free choice, but obeying a military order issued by force of government laws. When army orders served your convenience while hurting Arabs (I know you do not consider them human, but never mind that ) you obeyed them. But when the military order hurts you yes, I know it does you refuse it
I do not agree with all the laws of our government, and at times I am ashamed of its actions. But if each individual will choose what law to obey we shall end up stateless.
No one keeps you here by force. If you are so unhappy here, you are cordially invited to get up and leave. But as long as you (and I) are here, we must obey the laws of the land.
According to Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), civil disobedience is a dead-moral must and a legitimate public option, a proper derivative of the commitment to essential democracy with values. The option of civil disobedience points to the essential contradiction between democracy - that is committed to liberty and the basic rights of the individual - and imperialism, that breaches these liberties and rights and is therefore not legitimate in a democratic society; all in spite of the fact that the majority of the public, through democratic procedures of decision-making, supports imperialism as an act of patriotism. When a contradiction then presents itself nonviolently between the essential-value dimension of democracy as a way of life and the procedural-technical dimension of democracy as a system of decision-making - the citizen of a democracy must opt for essence over procedure, break the rules of the game and be willing to pay the price.
A query directed at Yeshaayahu Leibowitz in 1985, and his answer:
Dear Professor Leibowitz,
I would like to ask if, in your opinion, one may violate the law in a democratic state for the sake of a value, a certain cause (I ask this following an article by the Professor published in Haaretz daily, "Through Nationalism to Bestiality" on 5.10.85).
My query touches especially upon well-known violators of the law refusers of the War in Lebanon on the one hand, and activists of Gush Emunim (Jewish colonizing movement in the West Bank and Gaza) on the other is there a difference between them? I'd be glad to receive references to relevant reading material.
Thanking you in advance,
To Sh., greetings,
The answer to your question about the duty to obey the law of the land has already been given in the article you cited in Haaretz, which you know and refer to. Only divine law (mitzvoth) must be obeyed, absolutely. The state and its lawful government are human institutions that exist and are maintained to fulfill human interests and needs, for the welfare of the individual and the nation. Their importance to both is enormous, and therefore the wise, conscientious citizen would not belittle them. But at the end of the day, the state is nothing but a tool, an instrument and a means for both, not a value and a goal in itself. Even in a democracy, the state's right and authority to demand total commitment of its citizens is limited, restricting their moral duty to obey its laws. This duty is subject to the criticism of man's supreme values. Thus you find in all peoples and cultures cases in which the best of citizens have broken the laws of the land at times even in violent rebellion. For example, all the Prophets of Israel were 'traitors' to their evil state and its lawful monarchs. Anyone arguing for absolute obedience to the edicts of a lawful government actually makes the same claims as did Adolph Eichmann to justify his deeds.
As for the comparison between the Lebanon War refusers and Gush Emunim activists the former violate the law out of humaneness, whereas the latter do not break any of its laws but rather act on its behalf out of bestiality.
In the film "The Gold Rush" by Charlie Chaplin, his mate nearly starving sees and imagines Chaplin as a turkey and chases him in order to try and eat him.
Interest and passion determine how a person reads reality, kneading it to fit his/her needs, according to his/he own imagination, shaping the reality which he/she 'will see'.
Would you by law force a widow into the flames against her will? By force of
Germany's law, as a conscript in the German army, would you have shot a Jew? Beaten a Jew?
You are proud of having lawfully demolished a Palestinian home and pass indirect judgment on a potential refuser who abhors such law. Is this what you are proud of? That you demolished a Palestinian's home, destroyed the other's world, just because you were ordered to do so?
And if you were ordered to shoot him, would you? Did you? And what if you were ordered to shoot his ten-year old daughter, would you then? It is the law, isn't it? Is it the value of democracy which you hold sacred, to obey the army no matter what policy it represents and what it does?
Is obeying the law - just because it exists more committing and more demanding than the actual lives of the people you crushed? Who were crushed by your obedience? How many children did that "Arab" have, do you know?
You say you did not choose your actions, you upheld the law. Yes, you did choose. You chose to uphold the law. That is what you chose. Regardless of what that law is. You chose to protect colonists as they robbed others of their life, so you say. As they, by living where they did, rob the life of another people. Those are the people you safeguarded. By law. And if they had raped, would you safeguard them to rape successfully and securely? What is the great difference?
Warped is the society whose hero you are. 'Shooting and weeping', crushing and proud, robbing and righteous. Warped is a society whose member like you - can say, this is what I did and I feel good about it. A member from whose words one may conclude that unlike others who would 'dodge' demolishing a Palestinian home, who would 'dodge' securing colonists as they rob Palestinian land and uproot trees and cause Palestinians to be locked in ghettos and barred from Jews-only roads by law unlike them, you obeyed. Unlike those who 'dodge' serving policy regardless of what it is, you proudly crushed livelihood and possessions, you starved and stole and call yourself a worthy individual. You call your choices moral. More than the familiar racist to whom you address your words.
How many rooms were in that house you demolished?
Had you said, even though I was ordered to demolish a home, I did not. Even though
I was ordered to safeguard the criminals while they acted, I refused. Had you said you did not want to take part in imprisoning another people just because it is another people. Had you said
On March 28, 2003, Friday at noon, Adi Dagan and I were
at the Qalandiya Checkpoint. Palestinian children from
the refugee camp nearby were on the hill and they threw stones at a barren
field which was then still called 'Atarot Airfield' near the checkpoint.
Israeli soldiers opened fire at them as they ran away.
Fourteen-year old Omar Matar was hit by a live bullet in his
neck, right in front of us. He lay dying for a week. Then he died.
Aya Kaniuk. Translated by Tal Haran