The Elastic Moral Principles Of Survivors

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Pablo Edronkin

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People living under authoritarian regimes or states of exception know all too well that moral, political and legal principles are elastic truths, flexible, used by the government to justify actions against its citizens; but this state of flexibility can be advantageous for surviving too.

The frequent military actions of the Israelis against their Palestine neighbours are often characterised by their violence and "disproportion," but for the people living in Israel under the umbrella of the rockets launched almost daily by militant groups and Palestine terrorists, the violent bombing raids, white phosphorous grenades, the cluster ammunition and crushing land offensives that the IDF launch from time to time in retaliation are like a soothing and refreshing balsam. There are even expressions of happiness in Israel when that happens and the apparently oddest aspect of all that is that it takes place within a society that was itself the victim of the Holocaust, a fact that should stop any idea of a violent counter attack. Israelis should be pacifists, right?

To suggest that these retaliatory actions take place in Gaza and the West Bank because Jews are like Nazis, that the IDF acts against Palestine like the SS did with the people in the Warsaw ghetto is, however, false. Those are expressions made by people that would love everyone to believe that Jews and Nazis are at the same level and in this way, dilute the horrific stain that the Holocaust means for any sort of anti-Semitic belief. The main reason for that comes from the fact that while Palestinians began shooting at Israel the very same day of its independence and have been attacking it right from that date and now the whole thing ash turned against them, Jews in Europe didn't start their row against the Nazis by attacking them. In fact, there are no recorded Jewish attacks on Christian society at all, not even in the Middle Ages, so, while the present situation in the Middle East is one in which each side hopes to destroy the other. does its best to do so and cruel acts are ripe, the Holocaust was a one-sided killing experience.

I do not intend to expand o the Middle East matter, but to use it as an example of how values and truths become flexible, elastic under special circumstances: Palestinians feel themselves as victims, yet have no trouble in shooting their rockets against kindergartens in Israeli towns, and Israelis applaud the use of cluster bombs in retaliation. Who started all this? Historic evidence invariably points to the Palestinians, whether they like it or not, but abuses are now so commonplace that it becomes difficult to judge the situation from outside.

If someone attempts to judge the situation in the Middle East based on the rules and habits of normal, peaceful times, the most probable judgement that comes out is likely to be wrong or useless. That's what happens, for example, when the UN passes a resolution demanding a ceasefire once the people there are busy shooting each other. In other words: The law ceases to have any sort of value for survivors under exceptional circumstances. No matter who you are, when you perceive that somebody is coming to kill you, you will either run away or try to kill your enemy, and resolutions, moral values and even the political ideas that caused the situation become mere thoughts that will have no value on the battlefield.

In the mind of an Israeli, norms concerning human rights and the morals of cultures and religions have less value than - ironically - the minds of those nations that were their former torturers. The reason is simple: Any Jewish person knows that his or her nation has been persecuted for thousands of years by the ancestors of the same people that now are speaking to them about morality and the respect for others. Those moral norms already existed before the Holocaust but proved no good for them either, so why bother? Reasons and moral righteousness did little to protect them before the gained what they now have: military power.

These mechanisms of the human mind are the same that justify extreme actions such as cannibalism for survival, killing in self defence, overthrowing governments, stealing in order to eat something and other actions that are normally considered bad and even when justifications become evident and stand right in front of us we find them very hard to accept.

Nations reach extreme situations at different point sin their history and authorities may then tolerate or even approve certain actions by part of people that under normal circumstances would be considered illegal and even criminal. For example, after the Black death episode back in the fourteenth century, even ecclesiastical authorities in Europe approved gambling, which became sort of fashionable after people found themselves unprotected by their leaders and the Church that obviously did nothing and could do nothing against the bubonic plague that wasn't even understood in those days. Normal people couldn't care less about sins and moral values that proved of no worth or utility to keep them alive, so they started doing things that were frowned upon. Authorities had no choice other than to accept that or face the fury of already fed-up individuals, and they even found a way to get some badly needed revenue for lack of tax money. For a while even the Church sponsored gambling houses, the precursors of today's casinos.

Someone with Christian values, seeing what happened back then and there would complain about the gambling behaviour of subjects and the permissiveness of authorities, much like those that try to judge Israeli actions today, based on laws that do not apply in the Middle East reality. From a distance, everything looks simple. Israeli citizens are as keen at not listening to lessons in morality from the rest of the world as were the post-plague Europeans regarding their religious and political authorities.

Understanding these social dynamics is very important within the study of urban survival techniques because it lets us out of the black and white dichotomy of absolute and rigid morals, and eases some decisions that any survivor has to take.

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