‘Vantage point ethics’ and ‘radical’ politics

A response to Labor 4A Just Palestine APHEDA Middle East trip final report

I have a difficulty with the slapping of labels like ‘radicals’ on Palestinians.

As Australians, we must:
A) rid ourselves of ‘vantage point’ ethics and
B) own up towards our own radicalism in creating the Palestinian problem.

A) ‘Vantage Point Ethics’ is to sit in safe, comfortable Australia (or America) and call some or all Palestinians ‘radical’.
The trouble with privileged, Vantage Point Ethics is that it is entirely hypothetical. It starts with: “If I were in your situation, I would not be a radical/I would seek a non-violent/democratic solution to my problems etc, etc…”

A 21st century Englishman or Australian pronouncing moral judgments on a person who stole a loaf of bread in Dickensian London is, in effect, saying: “If I was in your shoes, I would starve but not steal.” Do we have any way of knowing for sure whether we would?

True, I don’t strap on and then detonate a suicide bomb to redress my grievances. But then I am an Australian who tucks his children to sleep every night, secure in the knowledge that a bulldozer won’t tear his house down or a helicopter gunship blow his family up as it sleeps. My city builds a $2.2 billion tunnel so I can travel 6 km without having to bother about a single traffic light.

We must consider that Palestinians spend their entire day waiting at a series of checkpoints where foreigners point rifles at them and subject them to horrendous abuse and humiliation.

I don’t know my state of mind had I to endure that level of humiliation daily for 15 years or had I been shot at with/by live bullets, high-velocity bullets, dum-dum (mushrooming bullets), rubber-coated metal bullets, combat helicopters, tanks, missiles, tear gas and sniper with telescopic rifles (all internationally banned against civilians) each time I protested a land annexation or house demolition.

We have never faced such extreme oppression.

Would we have kept our sanity? Would we have become suicide bombers?

We can never know for sure. No Australian or American knows (even the modern day aboriginal or Red Indian doesn’t have to go through checkpoints).

So why are we so liberal with our judgments? The Israeli novelist David Grossman famously wrote in 2002: …”if you oppress a people for 35 years and humiliate its leaders, and harass its population, and do not give them a glimmer of hope, the members of this people will try to assert themselves in any way possible..”

The “If-I-was-a-Palestinian-I-would-not-become-a-suicide-bomber” statements have the same hypothetical validity/absurdity as the statement: “I would not, as a peasant in 1789, have stormed the Bastille,” or “I would not, as a worker in 1917, have taken up arms against the Tsarist regime.” Ditto with the apartheid regime at the height of apartheid. But that non-violence is precisely what is demanded of the Palestinians by many educated Australians including our Prime Minister and all his colleagues. The same, and often worse, was the case with the previous Liberal government. Whatever happened to our ‘fair-go’ Australian values and our Anzac fight against occupation?

We are not willing to accept that Palestinians, often in the prime of their lives, become suicide bombers out of a deep sense of desperation – desperation caused by a brutal and humiliating occupation which has deprived them of their humanity and any hope for a brighter future. That doesn’t mean anyone should support the killing of Israeli civilians or rejoice over their gruesome deaths as is implied.

Second, given the fact that conscripts make up most of the IDF, it is hard for a Palestinian to make the distinction between an Israeli soldier and civilian. The face of German occupation, for the Frenchman, was the German in combat uniform but not the German hausfrau or kinder who was back in Germany. Not so the Palestinian. His life is controlled and manipulated by the everyday Israeli, man, woman and, yes, child. The Israeli soldier – male and female, adult and teenager – who abuses a Palestinian at a West Bank checkpoint or fires a bullet at a protestor – is, after work, a ‘normal’ civilian walking the streets and frequenting the cafes. According to Avigail Abarbanel, children too indulge in a cruel game called “Palestinian spotting and tormenting’. She says she herself joined in it to be ‘one with the crowd’. Often the tormentors of the Palestinians are gun-toting ‘civilian’ settlers.

B) How would a Palestinian react to being called ‘radical’ by Australians whose government, under Doc Evatt, had robbed him of 78% of his land, supported the brutal occupation of the remainder, remained silent or voted/abstained against UN strictures on those who had committed war crime after war crime (Cast Lead being only the latest in an un-ending series) and enforced ten-year inhumane siege against his people?

Imagine a world conscience and legal system which was asleep right through the abduction, torture and enslavement of a girl and wide awake and crying “Foul!” only when she, in desperation, shot her abductor. Palestinians rightly believe the West has a conscience which operates selectively. Australia is facing a huge moral crisis – as great as when Gough Whitlam colluded with Indonesia in enslaving the East Timorese. We have to say enough is enough. We need fearless and humane voices like yours. I deeply and honestly admire your dedication and sense of justice. I hope and pray that your voice will be heard one day by our prime minister and the rank and file of your party.

Australia is otherwise a great country. We give so much to World Vision and other charities. What made us commit such a crime on a poor, defenceless community? I am sure this baffles and pains you as it does all of us. We need your help to get Canberra to end its role in this human tragedy.

Best regards and in solidarity
David Abuquerque

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