Monday, July 31, 2006


"And the LORD spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan; Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places: And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it. And ye shall divide the land by lot for an inheritance among your families: and to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer ye shall give the less inheritance: every man's inheritance shall be in the place where his lot falleth; according to the tribes of your fathers ye shall inherit. But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell." Numbers 33:50-55.
If there is any philosophical movement that can be said to pursue meaning in existence and seek value for the existing individual, then that would undoubtedly have to be existentialism. Unlike other fields of philosophy, existentialism does not treat the individual as a concept and consequently values individual subjectivity over objectivity. As a result, it sees questions regarding the meaning of life and subjective experience as being of paramount importance, above all other scientific and philosophical pursuits. It is no wonder then that existentialism often is associated with anxiety, dread, awareness and freedom.
Existentialism emphasizes action, freedom, and decision as fundamental to human existence and being fundamentally opposed to the rationalist tradition and to positivism, it argues against definitions of human beings either as primarily rational, knowing beings for whom action can or ought to be regulated by rational principles, Instead, it tends to view human beings as subjects in an indifferent, objective, often ambiguous, and absurd universe in which meaning is not provided by the natural order, but rather can be created, however provisionally and unstably, by human beings' actions and interpretations.
In many ways, the recent conflict in the Lebanon, symmetrically known in cause and effect like fashion as Operation True Promise (Hezbollah) – Operation Just Reward (Israel) is nothing more than an existential paradigm gone horribly wrong. At the outset, the conflict seems simple: Hezbollah attacked Israel and Israel has retaliated. Debate has not centered, as it usually does around who is at fault, for it is widely accepted that Hezbollah had no business abducting Israeli soldiers or firing weapons into that country, but rather, whether Israeli’s Operation Just Reward, better translated in Greek as Operation «Καλά να πάθετε,» is a proportionate response. Many countries, Greece among them, have considered that the bombing of South Beirut, its airport, the Damascus road that is used by refugees fleeing the conflict and especially the civilian Christian towns of Jounieh and Amsheet, a response far out of proportion to the original attack.
To all this, Israel outlines its existential plight. Simply put, Hezbollah and entities like it deny that Israel has a right to exist. They have done so since the very creation of Israel, resulting in the invasion of Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973. Thus, Israel is entitled, in the words of its military officials to such “severe and harsh responses” as it sees fit to safeguard that existence and freedom. If, as existentialists Soren Kierkegaard and Nietzsche argued, individuals can create and apply their own fundamental values and beliefs, then assuredly that of Israel as an individual expression of a collective conscience must be the right to existence. Just how close to the core of existentialism this value lies, can be evidenced by its proximity to Kierkegaard’s assertion that “truth is subjectivity,” meaning that what is most important to an existing being are questions dealing with an individual’s existence. Greatness lies in having the strength to invent one’s own values and create the very terms under which these can be applied. Nietzsche termed this capacity the “will to power,” and those few who possessed the greatness to define the nature of their own existence were termed Übermenschen, supermen.
Israel certainly does possess the will to power. Its Middle Eastern policy is logically enough predicated upon its right to freely exist, a right that has become ideology not only through the experiences of successive Arab invasions but also the horrific holocaust of its people at the hands of deranged fiends who also purported to deny them their right to an existence. It is a right that Israel has imposed upon millions of dissenters, whether through the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, the construction of the West Bank Wall, the death of stone-throwing Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli soldiers and now, the destruction of Lebanon.
If one explores the tenets of existentialism further, it becomes apparent that whether or not Israel uses disproprtionate force or not in continuing to create its own terms and values for existence is irrelevant. One of the main tenents of existentialism according to existentialist in chief Jean-Paul Satre is that existence precedes essence. This is a reversal of the Aristotelian premise that essence precedes existence, where man is created to fulfil some telos and life consists of fulfilling that goal. Unlike tools that are created to fulfill a purpose, Sartrean existentialism argues man exists without purpose, finds himself in the world and defines the meaning of his existence. If indeed values are subjective, then Israel cannot be judged for seeking to exist, for by its own subjective values, it has acted correctly in causing the deaths of 300 Lebanese, wounding another 480 and pounding Lebanon into submission.
Further Israel adheres to another Satrean tenet, that of assuming responsibility for choices made. Thus, the individual consciousness is seen as responsible for all the choices it makes, regardless of the consequences. Sartre claimed that to deny such responsibility is to be in bad faith and he held that feelings such as angst and despair are arise by being in bad faith. Israel definitely does not seek to resile from responsibility for its actions, nor does it feel any angst or despair for acts that secure its raison d’etre. Instead, it threatens further action until such time as those who do not subscribe to its values finally adhere to them or at least, submit to the inevitability of their imposition.
In doing so, Israel, abounding it its own übermenschkeit, should perhaps consider the fate of one of its counterparts, Raskolnikov, the main protagonist of the novel, Crime and Punishment, written by an inspirer of existentialism, Dostoevsky. Raskolnikov believed that he too was an übermensch - that he could justifiably perform a despicable act—the killing of the pawn broker—if it led to him being able to do more good through the act. He constantly tried to reach and defy the boundaries of what he can or cannot doand he commonly interprets his depravity as an affirmation of himself as a transcendent conscience and a rejection of rationality and reason. Raskolnikov believed that he could transcend this moral boundary by killing the money lender, gaining her money, and using it to do good. He argued that had Isaac Newton or Johannes Kepler had to kill one or even a hundred men in order to enlighten humanity with their laws and ideas, it would be worth it. In Crime and Punsihment, Raskolnikov’s real punishment is not the labour camp he is condemned to, but the torment he endures throughout the novel. This torment manifests itself in his extreme paranoia, as well as his progressive realisation that he is not an übermensch after all, as he could not cope with what he had done.
Between the first Jewish state, whose establishment was guided not by subjective man-made values but by the God-given fiat appearing as a prelude to this article and the current State of Israel whose establishment was guided by the man-made and enforced righ to exist, untold suffering has been visited upon its people and their neighbours. Such violence, unceasing for the past 4,000 years, should be sufficient to even the most obtuse warmonger to indicate that like Raskolnikov, whose name literally means schism, that such a state of affairs is unsustainable and that if a city under seige does not succumb to outward pressure, it most certainly will succumb to the internal strains and contridictions imposed upon it by its narrowness of vision and split it apart. Surely then the solution for Israel lies in seeking rapproachment with its enemies: returning occupied land in exchange for a guarantee of security and recognition and the signing of mutual assistance pacts so that in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Yeah right. Try telling that to those who see us as the Dar al Harb, and recite the following sura: “He it is Who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may make it conqueror of all religion however much idolaters may be averse.” If you ask me, too much blood has been spilled for any sort of peace to extend beyond the realms of idealism. Both Israelis; and Arabs are perennially stuck in an Ezekiel prophecy, where “Destruction cometh; and they shall seek peace, and there shall be none.” And as always, the innocent will suffer.

First published in NKEE on 31 July 2006