Those believing in humanitarian values are experiencing emotional disturbance and are unable to reconcile their deeply held moral values with the immoral acts of Israel such as abusing, maiming, and killing Palestinians in Gaza. This disturbance is causing moral injury and depression among those witnessing atrocities committed by Tel Aviv every day.
Every person can experience moral injury when, in the face of human suffering, he is unable to do what he knows is right. The moral injury depends on the degree to which people blame themselves for failing to act per their morals. Injury is likely to be most severe when self-blame is tough and self-forgiveness obscure.
The costs, in addition to depression, can include embarrassment, nervousness, withdrawal from relationships, emotional shock, and paralysis. No wonder, then, that moral injury is the crushing of the human soul.
To observe pictures of faces distorted in pain, pictures of limbs bulging from beneath rubble, pictures of dead children in the arms of inconsolable parents, to see these pictures coming out of Gaza daily is to witness a continuing massacre. It is impossible for anyone not blinded by racism, tribalism, nationalism, or a longing for retribution to observe this use of indiscriminate violence to extinguish or dislodge people as anything but morally shameful.
The phrase never again, invented in the wake of World War II and the disclosure of the terrors committed by the Nazis, articulates a deep moral commitment to our fellow human beings. The Israeli soldiers are now betraying this commitment.
To see what the people of Gaza are suffering is to witness the kind of genocidal action we have said must never take place again. To watch this and be unable to stop it, to feel that we are not doing enough to stop it, or to feel complicit because our tax dollars fund it, is to incur moral injury.
Moral injury can create a belief that the world is a cruel place and that evil prevails no matter what we do. When this belief becomes persistent, the damage caused by moral injury rises to the level of culture.
When the emotional effects of moral injury shame, depression, withdrawal, emotional shock, and paralysis become common, our collective capacity to oppose injustice and state violence goes down. We risk becoming a public disinclined by feelings of shamefulness and helplessness to participate in the organized action needed to stop what we know is wrong.
Paralysis and procrastination do not of course characterize the whole world’s response to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. There has been a flow of protest marches, public statements opposing violence, and expressions of support for Palestinian rights. The paramount goal of this engagement is to end the violence as soon as possible. However, engagement is also required to keep moral injuries from becoming incapacitating.
To be morally injured is to lose faith in humanity. This is a slice of the injury caused by watching genocide. The best healing response is to connect with others to try to stop it. Succeed or fail, we must do this to keep faith in ourselves and in the possibility of making the world a better place.
If we can heal the moral injuries inflicted by the world we have inherited, we might someday create a different world, one in which our best values are not given up to support inconsistencies in wealth and power but are cultivated in the interests of peace and justice.
Not that every pursuit of peace and justice succeeds, but the pursuit goes on because people care about the well-being of others, and this capacity to care is an enduring part of who and what we are as social beings.