Us members of Homo sapiens like to consider that we're the peak of the evolutionary mountain. We're proud of our big brains, our unique ability to use language and abstract thought, our technological accomplishments, and, yes, our supposed evolved morality.
Humanity has indeed made a lot of progress on the moral front. Slavery is condemned. So is racism. Women have equal rights in many, if not most countries. In democracies, everyone has an equal vote. Religious heresy doesn't lead to being burned at the stake.
And yet, life still is not valued as much as it should be. There are many examples of this, but what has captured my mind recently, and not in a positive way, is the horrific war between Israel and Hamas.
I readily agree with anyone who argues that war is always hellish, and this conflict is just more of the same. Still, there's something about the Israel-Hamas war that is especially disturbing to me. One reason is that the combatants are divided neatly by religion: Jews versus Muslims.
Supposedly religiosity makes us better people. I don't believe that. It's just a common assumption. Tonight I watched an episode of Bill Maher's HBO show. He interviewed Dr. Phil, who, as Maher said, is so well known as a television psychologist (I think that's what he is) he only has one name.
Dr. Phil argued that faith and family are key to a well-functioning society. Maher, being a confirmed childless bachelor and an atheist, disagreed with that assumption. So do I. Israel and Hamas are overflowing with faith and family. Yet they're engaged in a nasty war with each other.
Neither side is covering itself with moral glory. Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 of last year in a brutal terrorist fashion, killing 1,200 people. In response, Israel has invaded Gaza, the home base of Hamas, killing about 30,000 people there, about 70% of whom are estimated to be women and children.
I wrote about this yesterday in a post on my Salem Political Snark blog: "Israel is killing lots of innocent people in Gaza. Biden is letting this happen." Here's how it started.
I'm fed up. I'm angry. I'm outraged.
More than 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7, when Hamas attacked Israel. The real number is almost certainly higher, since thousands are buried under rubble.
Note that I said "people."
That's who they are, people just like you and me. Yes, they're mostly Palestinians. Yes, many are Hamas fighters. But 70% of the dead people in Gaza are estimated to be women and children.
How could this be? Because Israel has been bombing Gaza relentlessly with little concern for deaths of innocent people.
It's Old Testament warfare. Hamas killed 1,200 people in Israel. So Israel feels justified in killing thirty times as many people in Gaza, because, you know. the life of an Israeli is so much more valuable than the life of a Palestinian. At least, that's how Israel has been behaving.
On cable news, if I have to hear one more spokesperson for the Israeli military or government blab on about how, yes, a two thousand pound bomb was dropped in Gaza that killed dozens of innocent people along with a few Hamas fighters, and that's okay because Hamas started the war and hides among civilians, my brain is going to explode with more pent up rage at Israel than it already is filled with.
That's exactly what I heard today on CNN. The CNN anchor kept asking the Israeli why they didn't work harder at minimizing civilian deaths, since so many women and children have been killed in Gaza. He never answered. Because Israel's extreme right-wing government feels entitled.
Entitled to destroy almost all of the buildings and homes in Gaza. Entitled to treat all Palestinians as if they are Hamas fighters, which obviously they're not. Entitled to control Gaza after the war in defiance of international law. Entitled to reject a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict, since Israel wants to permanently occupy the territory it has claimed since the 1967 war, also in defiance of international law.
People are starving in Gaza. People are being operated on with no anesthesia. People lack a safe place to shelter, given that Israel keeps on bombing locations that Gaza residents were told to relocate to.
There's plenty of food, medical supplies, water, generators, water purification equipment, and other things needed by people in Gaza just a few miles away in Egypt and elsewhere But Israel won't let most of those supplies in, claiming that they might be used by Hamas.
Well, so what? This is an imperfect world. To save lives of innocent people in Gaza, much more humanitarian aid needs to be entering the country. If a small amount goes to Hamas, so be it. That's the price of compassion toward the afflicted: sometimes unworthy people benefit from it.
What's baffling is that people in Israel and Gaza mourn the death of a loved one equally. I don't mean the customs they follow, but the pain in their heart when life is taken too soon, too cruelly, too unnecessarily.
Life is precious to them. Individually, at least. If a Palestinian and an Israeli were both in London, and one had a heart attack and collapsed on the sidewalk, I have no doubt that either would eagerly jump to help the other.
Yet on a collective level, many Palestinians and Israelis are uncaring about what befalls people on the other side of the war. I've seen reports that Palestinians were dancing with joy after the October 7 attack by Hamas, and that Israelis have been partying at the Gaza border, celebrating how little humanitarian aid is making its way into Gaza while people suffer there.
Sure, it could be argued that other species do much the same thing.
I've watched nature shows on television where a male lion is tenderhearted toward its own offspring. However, if the cubs are the offspring of a different father, because the lioness strayed and had sex with a male from a different group of lions, the male lion will kill them.
I just don't find this very reassuring. It's one thing to act from instinct, as other species do. But we humans supposedly have the capacity to rise above our baser impulses and pursue a higher course of action.
War brings out the worst in us. It certainly is justified at times. Yet only as a last resort, and then it should be conducted with the greatest possible respect for civilian lives. Hamas started this war. Israel, though, is showing that respect for the lives of innocent people is lacking on both sides.
Hopefully one day war will become a distant memory, and humanity will truly value life. All lives.