The banality of evil redux

Apr 4, 2024
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories. 02nd Apr, 2024. A general view of the destruction in the vicinity of al-Shifa Hospital, following a two-week military operation by the Israeli army in Gaza City. Image: Omar Ishaq/dpa/Alamy Live News

Hannah Arendt’s BANALITY OF EVIL report on the Eichmann trial failed to adequately address a key question. How could the German people not have known and how could they have let the holocaust happen?

Arendt’s observation that the administrative industrialisation of evil led to its banality is most relevant today, but it is enhanced and magnified by the pervasive distribution of horrendous images by ubiquitous social media. What the mainstream Western media chooses not to show, or report, is readily available on Facebook, X and Instagram.

Israel’s disproportionate response in Gaza to the Hamas’ attack, the al-Shifa hospital massacre, images of children crushed beneath tanks, joyous Israeli troops looting houses and the outright lie that only a few innocent civilians were harmed in this destruction, are a farrago of evil from which we cannot escape, but which we choose to ignore.

The film, THE ZONE OF INTEREST explores Arendt’s observations at a more personal level. The film follows the ordinary lives of those living beside a concentration camp in 1943. Apart from the occasional distraction of unpleasant odours when the wind changed direction, life was, if not cultured, at least comfortable and proceeded largely unperturbed.

Likewise, today we scroll down our small screens, perhaps pausing for a moment in delicious horror, before moving onto the next comedy sketch or advertisement for luxury goods.

At this early stage of the 21st century there ought to be a difference in our response to evil, but there is not. The Gaza war crimes unfold simultaneously on millions of small screens and give a new meaning to the banality of evil.

Is this banality to be our fate? The questions for us are will we allow these war crimes to go un-noticed and, if not, what can we do about it?

Recognising the reality of the emergence of a rogue state that rivals North Korea in its contempt for international law is a first step. Individually we can refuse to buy products from Israel, we can protest, and in my case, write. But it’s barely enough.

If we are to breakout out of the walled garden zone of interest then it requires a strength of political willpower to unshackle Australia from its cowardly acquiescence to the policy directions set by the United States.

It is good that Australia supports the calls for a ceasefire made in the United Nations. True leadership would see Australia leading these calls for a ceasefire. That is how Australia could establish its credibility in Asia Pacific and the broader international community.

As a matter of priority, Australia should suspend all arms exports to Israel until it complies with the UN ceasefire resolutions. Australia policy aspires to be a leading weapons supplier. We must be careful what we wish for because the supply of weapons that enable war crimes to a military action that has all the characteristics of a genocide make Australia complicit in those actions. Failure to prevent, or suspend these sales, shows contempt for the United Nations and contempt for the international rules based order upon which Australia endlessly pontificates.

Australia could emulate South Africa, and refuse landing rights for flights coming from Israel or transiting Israel. This sends a message that Australia will not enable the commission of war crimes on a grand scale.

Australia is quick to follow the United States and place travel sanctions on selected Chinese and Russian individuals, but has not yet considered placing similar travel bans on those who are committing war crimes in Gaza. It’s an administrative action that could be initiated by Foreign Minister Wong, but she is missing in action.

Prime Minister Albanese wants full accountability for the killing of Australian aid worker “Zomi” Frankcom, but there is little evidence we want to hold anybody actually accountable. We meekly accept Netanyahu’s “unintentional strike” fig-leaf as an explanation for what was a targeted assassination of an aid convoy where its movements had been coordinated with the Israeli army. Albanese’s expression of outrage is a substitute for action.

Foreign Minister Wong acted quickly, without evidence, to suspend UNWRA funding, but she is conspicuously absent when it comes to taking real action to enforce UN resolutions involving Gaza.

I cannot speak for Hannah Arendt, but her understanding of the enabling factors underpinning fascism and the holocaust are today, suddenly, on all our phone screens. We cannot tell our children and grandchildren that we did not know. Hopefully we can tell them that we did something to stop it.

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