Philosophers–at least contemporary philosophers in the analytic tradition–love thought-experiments. I have no in-principle objection to the use of well-constructed thought-experiments, but on the whole find them mis- and overused in contemporary philosophy. (For a good discussion of what’s wrong with a lot of thought-experiments, I’d recommend reading the first chapter of Kathleen Wilkes’s Real People: Personal Identity without Thought-Experiments.) In any case, there’s something to be said for thinking about ethics and politics from an “ecological,” “in vivo,” or “naturalistic” perspective. And thanks to the wonders of You Tube, that’s now a possibility.
In that spirit, here’s an 8 minute, 42 second video of a street scene–prima facie, a crime, or series of them–in Wadi an-Nasara, near Hebron in the West Bank. It was filmed as part of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem’s “Camera Project.” Most of the relevant action takes place in the first four minutes of the video. Take a look if you’ve got a few minutes to spare. I’m curious what viewers regard as the right inference to make from what happens in the video.
Here are some candidate inferences, but feel free to supply your own in the combox.
(1) There’s no way to make any morally significant inferences from a video like this, depicting a single out-of-context event. Any inferences would be arbitrary and pointless.
(2) The only morally significant inference to draw is that bad things happen everywhere, including in Hebron.
(3) Nothing of great moral significance happens in this video. Kids act like kids, adults act like kids, and then the cops show up and stand around a bit. Nobody is hurt. Not exactly a man-bites-dog story.
(4) The video is yet more proof that we need to abolish the state, and with it, the state-based institutions of the police and the military. Events like those depicted in the video are distinctive to states. Abolish the relevant states and things would have turned out differently. Private security providers would done better.
(5a) The video is yet more proof of the evils of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. End the occupation, and events like this will stop happening.
(5b) Claim (5a) doesn’t go far enough. It’s all true, but it needs to be conjoined with a determinate plan of action, like BDS.
(6a) The video is yet more proof of the need for a specifically Palestinian state. In a Palestinian state, the settler thugs would have been apprehended, rather than being allowed to drive away.
(6b) Claim (6a) is true, and vindicates the Palestinians’ current drive toward statehood.
(7a) The video is yet more proof of the need for Israel to annex the West Bank and put the Palestinians in their place. The whole thing began when Palestinian youths threw stones at the settlers.
(7b) The video is yet more proof of the need for Israel to annex the West Bank and give the Palestinians some form of citizenship. Palestinians with de jure equality would have better access to justice than Palestinians without it.
(7c) Claim (7b) is true but doesn’t go far enough. What the video shows is that Palestinians and Israelis need a single ethnically integrated security force under the rule of law in a single state where both Palestinians and Israelis have equal rights, and where those rights are enforced under institutions that actively encourage equality.
(8) The video is cause for despair. It shows that the two sides are mired in perpetual conflict, and that nothing can change that. Prepare for more, and prepare for worse.
Go ahead. I’m still mulling over my answer.
P.S., Here’s some explanatory text from the original site to make the action in the video a bit more intelligible:
On 4 Dec. 2014 two settlers were driving near Wadi a-Nasara checkpoint when a Palestinian youth threw stones at them. They got out of the car and attempted pursuit. Footage by a B’Tselem camera volunteer shows that when the pursuit proved unsuccessful, they vandalized nearby Palestinian property. Police and soldiers who arrived at the scene did not detain the two and allowed them to leave unhindered. This incident is part of the reality of live [life] in Hebron, with the military and the police standing by as settlers take the law into their own hands.
December 2014Filmed by:
How about (7d)?
Claim (7c) is true but doesn’t go far enough. What the video shows is that Palestinians and Israelis need their three states/territories (Israel, Gaza, West Bank) to be united within a single, supranational entity that includes more states than just The Three (such as the EU), where both Palestinians and Israelis will have equal rights, and where those rights are enforced under a federal or confederal institution that actively encourages equality and that has to placate more than two sides when governing.
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I don’t think I’d go quite as far as that. I’m essentially “stuck” at a version of (7c) that applies to Israel and the West Bank. I think Gaza is a special case. I don’t think the Israelis can be expected to confederate with an entity like Hamas, whose charter is steeped in anti-Semitism and essentially calls for unremitting war against them. I also don’t think a supranational entity would either be accepted by the Israelis or work, except for Jerusalem (and even that’s a stretch). I see the attractions of the idea, however.
The interesting thing, though, is the role of the video in reaching any given conclusion. Part of the point of the post was to reveal how much work has to be done by background beliefs in order to extract a substantive conclusion from the video. The video by itself doesn’t prove much; it only “proves” something given whatever else you believe about the conflict, and in any given case, helps to bring out what those beliefs are. And I think that’s a generalizable fact. The attack on Charlie Hebdo doesn’t prove much of anything by itself, except in conjunction with a huge set of background beliefs. Part of the problem with our discourse is that when something happens, we focus on the event and forget to discuss the background beliefs. But the background beliefs are really where the action is. What happened a few weeks ago in Ottawa, Sydney, and Peshawar is already being forgotten as we process what happened in Paris (or Yemen?). We just add the half-forgotten outline of each event to our beliefs and move on.
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