Once upon a time, a man lived in an area with mosquitoes. No matter what the man did to contain the mosquitoes, the man was bitten. Frustrated by his inability to control the mosquitoes – and feeling humiliated because the mosquitoes were biting him – he sprayed the entire area around his house, killing hundreds of mosquitoes, many of which hadn’t even bitten him. He didn’t really care because they were mosquitoes. But he did justify himself to his neighbors, “Look, I don’t have anything against mosquitoes, as long as I can control them and they can’t hurt me. But what was I supposed to do when they keep biting me?”
This, in a nutshell, is how we Israelis – and our supporters around the world — view Gazans. We will be morally offended by “thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately by Hamas,” which do comparatively little damage to life and property – compared with what our missiles do to theirs. We will be morally defensive about the hundreds of our missles that do massive damage to civilian infrastructure and up to fifty times more civilian deaths – deaths mostly of refugees whom we forced out of their homes before we took their land, and whose lives we effectively control most of the time. We will yearn for a return to normality, in other words, a return to the immoral status quo of Gaza under our remote control. We will assume that they are attacking us because in their DNA (or their education or their religion) they are like mosquitoes, who live on our blood.
If we considered the Gazans human, we might accord them not only the right to defend themselves but also the right to protect their interests, their freedom of movement, their self-determination. We would talk about Gazan children not as “pawns in the hands of terrorists” or “nursed on hatred against Israel in their textbooks” but as normal children who have been living in a hell-hole mostly of our making. (Israel’s partner, Hamas, bears some – relatively little — of the responsibility.) We would accord them the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, while paying reparations for the lives we have ruined, the lands we have taken, and the country – Palestine — we have been wiping off the map for the last seventy-three years.
But we can’t do that. Because we Israelis are human, all-too human. And as humans, we will always exercise our power to get what we want. That’s just what humans do.
We Israelis bear no ill will to the Palestinian people — as long as they stay out of our way, don’t bite us, and let us call the shots. Hey, if we wanted we could spray the area completely and get rid of all the mosquitoes.
But that would be overkill. And immoral.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on May 16, 2021, on The Magnes Zionist, a website featuring commentary by Jewish studies and philosophy professor, Jerry Haber (a nom de plume). It was reproduced here with the consent of Professor Haber.