Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Hurled into the Heart of Darkness: Moral Luck and the Hebrew Literature of the Intifada

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Hurled into the Heart of Darkness: Moral Luck and the Hebrew Literature of the Intifada

Article excerpt

In 1988, I was seventeen years old. My brother, a soldier in a combat paratrooper unit, was serving in the Occupied Territories. He was twenty years old. It was the period of the first Intifada, and after weeks of fighting, he had returned home to celebrate his birthday, which fell during Purim, the Jewish holiday when dressing up in masks and costumes is a religious tradition. Instead of celebrating, though, he sat in his room, played his guitar, and sang the following lines: "I'm disguised as Haman the villain, a red beret on my head." Haman the Agagite is the main antagonist in the book of Esther, which is read in synagogues during Purim. In the book of Esther, Haman appears as an evil man intent on destroying the Jewish people. In my brother's song, he referred to himself as Haman, and symbolized evil by his red beret, the specific part of his uniform indicating a paratrooper unit. In his song, the army uniform is transformed into the Purim costume of Haman, and he positions himself as an evil-doer.

What can we learn from these lines about the experience of Israeli soldiers during the Palestinian Intifada? To what extent do they have an ethical meaning? My brother's song sheds light on the grim feelings of someone hurled into a realm where he finds himself disguised as a villain. This feeling is found in many literary texts that focus on Israeli soldiers at checkpoints and during the two Intifadas, (1) where friction was at its utmost between soldiers and Palestinian civilians.

My paper proposes an ethical reading of literary works that describe the Intifada. I focus on four literary texts presenting different angles of this experience: Yitzhak Ben-Ner's Ta'atuon (Delusion, 1989) and Roy Polity's Arnavonei gagot (Roof rabbit, 2001), both deal with the first Intifada, and Liran Ron-Furer's Tismonet hamahsom (Checkpoint syndrome, 2003) and Asher Kravitz's A 'ani Mustafa Rabbinovitch (I, Mustafa Rabinovitch, 2004) are set in the 1990's and the second Intifada.

I examine the experiences of Israeli soldiers, the nature of the situation and the protagonist's choices and identity, in the light of the concept of moral luck, (2) which is generally defined as a state where a moral agent is assigned moral blame or praise for an action even though a significant part of what he does depends on factors beyond his control. Following Thomas Nagel's categories, I attempt to show that in these works, Israeli soldiers find themselves in a state of bad moral luck that is both circumstantial and constitutive. I discuss two main aspects of soldiers' experiences. The first is a state of feeling responsible, guilty, or confused for deeds committed and an ensuing state of personal disorientation and loss of identity; the second is being hurled into a situation that no one can handle morally or successfully. In my analysis, I focus on the circumstantial aspects of this experience stemming from the Occupation, as well as the constitutive aspects of the soldiers' personalities structured by the military socialization process.

I focus on four literary texts presenting different angles of this experience. Some of these have also been documented in soldiers' testimonies and in academic research investigating the effects of the Intifada on Israeli soldiers. (3) While I refer to these testimonies and research, the article is primarily an analysis of literary texts. Naturally, the literary mode often stresses things differently, and uses poetic and artistic styles and techniques. It is therefore worth noting that my study in general, and the application of moral luck in particular, are not intended to make a statement regarding the Israeli Occupation and Israeli soldiers, but only to examine specific, related aspects within a certain political and literary arena. Moreover, this analysis is not designed to defend or to justify the Israeli soldiers and their actions nor is it meant to judge their deeds. The theory of moral luck ascribes moral blame or responsibility that should not be removed. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.