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The Impacts of Lasting OccupationLessons from Israeli Society$

Daniel Bar-Tal and Izhak Schnell

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199862184

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199862184.001.0001

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Is There a Controversy Concerning the Morality of the Occupation and Its Implications? 1

Is There a Controversy Concerning the Morality of the Occupation and Its Implications? 1

(p.61) Chapter 2 Is There a Controversy Concerning the Morality of the Occupation and Its Implications?1
The Impacts of Lasting Occupation

Marcelo Dascal

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the nature of the interrelations between morality and occupation. It leaves open the possibility that the implications of this are not a result of one-way causal relations, but perhaps of a two-way interaction. Dascal presents an open-ended, innovative, multi-perspective and multi-disciplinary approach that could pave the way to progress in finding a resolution to a conflict that has been described as “an ostensibly intractable ethno-national conflict”.

Keywords:   Morality, Human Rights, Occupation, Pragmatism, Colonization

Even conquerors who excelled in oppression, well beyond what Moshe Dayan is capable of doing, sat on thorns and scorpions in most conquered places until they were eradicated. Not to mention the total moral destruction prolonged occupation inflicts on the occupier. Even inevitable occupation is a corrupting occupation.

Amos Oz, Davar, August 22, 1967.


Arguably, the title question of this chapter might be read as a rhetorical question, that is, as a way of asserting that the answer is obvious and there can be no doubt about it. Thus interpreted, those who “ask” this question simply affirm emphatically that the answer is “No,” meaning that there is no room for controversy concerning the speaker’s judgment of the morality of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and its implications. When they ask the rhetorical question of the title, these speakers are not making a factual statement about the actual existence of disagreement or debate about the issue in question. They are, rather, ruling out the very possibility that their position on the topic is incorrect and therefore liable to controversy. Their reasons for this exclusion may differ, as do the kind of support and the content of the belief that their rhetorical question expresses. Whatever their reasons, however, they provide—from their point of view—sufficient evidence for assuring the indisputability of the belief they hold, hence its noncontroversial character.

For example, Palestinians living in the occupied territories may be absolutely convinced that the occupation and its implications are unquestionably immoral because of the inhuman suffering they cause them. Muslims living elsewhere may hold the same belief due to empathy and religious solidarity with their brothers and sisters in faith. Left-wing political activists may derive (p.62) their staunch belief in the immorality of the occupation from their allegiance to ideological principles. Orthodox Jewish settlers in the territories may draw their certainty of the morality of their occupying actions from religious obligations and a sense of mission, while nonreligious settlers may ground the same belief on security reasons. Some sectors of the Israeli Jewish population may condemn the immorality of the occupation due to its violation of basic human rights, while other segments may do so due to what they take to be the occupation’s role in the deterioration of morality in Israel. Regardless of how these groups ground their beliefs, and regardless of the fact that members of other groups hold opposite beliefs based on other reasons, the beliefs of each of them are—in the view of those who hold them—invulnerable to questioning.

Fortunately, the rhetorical interpretation of our title is not the only possible one. The title can also be read literally, that is, as a real interrogation about possible and factual controversies on the relationship between morality and occupation. As such, rather than limiting itself to repeating the assertion of an established, entrenched belief, the title can express an interest in the reasons supporting that assertion, in the evidence justifying the corresponding belief, in the counterarguments to one’s position that one should or might be prepared to face in order to defend one’s belief, and in opposing beliefs and their justifications, as well as alternatives to one’s own position as well as the opponent’s.

If read in this way, the title indicates that the main concern of the chapter is to elucidate the nature of the interrelation between morality and occupation. It also suggests that such an elucidation can benefit significantly from the identification and careful examination of controversies focusing on this interrelation. Moreover, it leaves open the possibility that the implications it mentions are not one-way causal relations, but perhaps two-way interactions. Furthermore, controversies reveal not only the strengths and weaknesses of the concepts and positions in confrontation, but also their complexity and flexibility, leading to a better understanding and exploration of what is at stake. This, in turn, allows for the emergence of hybrid concepts and alternatives resulting from the combination of elements from the polar positions. Together, the features briefly mentioned amount to an open-ended, innovative, multiperspective and multidisciplinary approach that might also pave the way for advancing toward a resolution to a conflict that has been described as “an ostensibly intractable ethno-national conflict” (Rouhana & Bar-Tal, 1998, p. 761). In the following sections, details of this approach will be presented and their implications discussed.

Although focusing on the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories as the case study for a critical analysis, and although drawing practical and (p.63) moral conclusions that suggest innovative approaches to the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict derived from that occupation, this chapter is more ambitious. The considerations here proposed and the conclusions that can be drawn from an analysis that takes them into account are broad enough in scope, in philosophical grounding, and in historical evidence to apply to a wide variety of conflicts and circumstances and eventually help their resolution.

Pragmatic and moral issues, as well as controversies between the contenders on virtually all such issues, are constitutive components of those political conflicts that lead to occupation. The attempt by the contenders to deal separately with the practical and moral aspects of the conflict, albeit in different ways, underlies the different kinds of justification for the occupation, as well as for the resolution of the conflict, by each side: whereas one of themusually the occupied sideemphasizes the moral damage and demands the full-fledged restoration of its rights as a sine qua non condition for settling the conflict, the otherusually the occupier sidetends to focus on a narrow range of its own moral rights and overlooks in general the significance of the moral issues in the conflict, particularly as regards the blatant flaws in its own moral behavior; instead, the occupier highlights the solution of the territorial and other pragmatic problems as the only fundamental requirements for the settlement of the conflict.2 The consequences of the occupation, for both sides, are not only pragmatic but also moral: they deepen and expand the animosities between the adversaries through their daily contact; they reinforce the most heinous features of the stereotypic perception of each other; and they reciprocally delegitimize their moral, intellectual, and cultural value as human beings. As a result, a double-standard morality emerges, which justifies humiliation and violence from each side vis-à-vis the other and renders the problematic relationship between them more difficultif at all possibleto overcome in the effort to resolve the conflict. Moreover, emphasizing the “pragmatic” approach at the expense of the overall moral issues prevents public debate of the latter and ultimately leads to a vicious circle of self-righteousness, which turns out to be counterproductive at the pragmatic level itself.

The “pragma-morality” here proposed, instead of dismissing the harmful factors mentioned above and keeping the pragmatic and moral components of a conflict separated, acknowledges their interdependence and seeks to create a framework wherein their interaction leads to a radical modification of the presumptions that each of them relies upon. Recent work in ethics, discussed in this chapter, suggests a model that takes into account the role of context in shaping a community’s moral presumptions. Lists of moral commandments or rights are thus no longer the absolute standards of morality to be followed. The “other,” therefore, can and must now be respected and appreciated not (p.64) only by reference to their universalistic virtues, but also their particularistic ones, without fear of slipping down to relativism. If this approach to morality is employed in the pragmatic setting of a negotiations table, coupled with a framework of argumentative debate that does not privilege either the dispute model, where the aim is victory, or the discussion model, where one side alone possesses the truth, but rather adopts a controversy model, where the contenders are aware of each other’s needs and presumptions, are willing to make reasonable concessions, and argue their cases with the sole aim of rationally persuading the opponent, then perhaps many of the violent and apparently unsolvable conflicts that plague the planet today will have a reliable pattern to follow toward their resolution. Hopefully, even the “intractable” Israeli-Palestinian conflict may move toward a solution.

Between pragmatic and moral considerations

Most of the Israeli, Palestinian, and international public discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is not easily recognizable as part of the ongoing psychological warfare between the parties and their allies deals in one way or another with the problem of finding a nonviolent way to end this prolonged conflict or at least reduce the violence of its outbursts. Although moral issues occasionally arise in this “conflict resolution” and “conflict management”–oriented discourse, they rarely constitute its focus. Presumably this is the case because the parties believe that their positions on moral matters are so divergent that it is impossible to bridge the gap between them. Furthermore, these moral issues tend to be perceived by both parties not only as not directly relevant to the pressing pragmatic issues (e.g., creating fruitful negotiation, determining the agenda, devising plans acceptable to both sides, identifying and overcoming unnecessary clashes that create tension, improving the living conditions of the population in the occupied areas), but even as diverting attention to controversial claims that, unlike urgent pragmatic questions, can be postponed due to their speculative and ultimately irresolvable nature (e.g., Can a just solution satisfying both sides be found? Is reconciliation possible after so much suffering caused to both populations?). As a result, a sharp dissociation between the pragmatic and moral aspects of the conflict is established and generally accepted, as if they were indeed entirely disconnected. In this section I will argue that this is a grave mistake, whose consequences can no longer be overlooked.

On the face of it, the pragmatic/moral dissociation seems to be justified as far as the occupation is concerned. An occupation is primarily an anomalous military, geographic, humanitarian, and political situation that requires, first (p.65) and foremost, appropriate practical measures in these domains for the restoration of normality. Though immediate moral needs must be taken into account in choosing and implementing such measures in the short run, in the long run it is strategic rather than moral principles that are considered to be decisive in tackling successfully the causes of the malady—causes that are themselves understood as essentially pragmatic, that is, as serving the parties’ or their mentors’ interests.

The interest-driven pragmatic-strategic approach has accompanied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from its beginning. Consider the Palestine Partition Plan approved by the UN General Assembly in November 1947. Although undoubtedly influenced by the effects of the recently ended World War II, especially by the moral consideration of the Holocaust and the Jewish survivors’ fate, the General Assembly translated these moral concerns into political, territorial, economic, and stability terms. Nevertheless, the translation proved to be insufficient in capturing the moral complexity of the problem that the General Assembly was trying to solve. According to the Palestinians and part of the Jewish Left, the rights of the Arab majority in Palestine were not given due weight; the foreseeable consequences of the inevitable military clashes between Jews and Arabs were not fully taken into account; and the long-term moral implications of the pragmatic decision adopted were overlooked and, rather than disappearing over time, are with us today. Indeed, the parties themselves relegated the moral dimension to a secondary level. On the political level, the Palestinians rejected the Partition Plan, arguing that it was unjust; the Jewish leadership accepted it, although in their view too it was unjust, and in May 1948 they declared the establishment of the State of Israel. The Palestinians, along with the Arab states, launched a military campaign against the newborn State of Israel, believing this would succeed in restoring their alleged rights to the whole land. In the course of the war Israel expanded the territory assigned to it by the Partition Plan, destroyed Palestinian villages, caused a large number of Palestinians to flee, prevented their return after the cease-fire, and submitted the remaining Palestinian population to military rule for several years. The occupation was thus launched two decades before the Six Day War. Ever since 1948, finding a solution to the practical and political problems concerned with the management of the occupation has monopolized the attention of the Israeli government, and that of the Palestinian leaders, and has taken up a large share of the public discourse. The moral issues were largely marginalized, and only recently have a number of Palestinians and Israelis begun to admit their mistake in not having realized earlier the harm caused to both sides by this distorted order of priorities and the urgent need to alter it.3

(p.66) Since the moral issues are at least as important for the Palestinians as the territorial ones, from 1949 to 1967 Israel avoided discussing both the former and the latter, sticking to the purely pragmatic territorial arrangements of the 1949 cease-fire and taking advantage of the fact that the Palestinians sternly refused to acknowledge their 1948 mistake. Israelis’ readiness to view the occupied territory as a negotiable asset in peace negotiations emerged only in the wake of the Six Day War. It became a main issue in the current conflict resolution agenda only after the Palestinians realized that, at the military level, they were not capable of defeating Israel. Two powerful pragmatic obstacles were nonetheless raised against the actual use of this asset. First, a long period elapsed before the two sides recognized each other and began to negotiate. Second, evacuation of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank occupied territories, erected with the approval of various Israeli governments, became over time virtually impossible. This major practical obstacle is sustained by an even stronger one, allegedly grounded in the moral dimension: the settlers’ religious conviction that the “Land of Israel,” especially Judaea and Samaria, is God’s legacy to the Jewish people and must be retained and colonized by believers as an unquestionable religious commandment. To this must be added, on both sides, the pragmatic-religious issue of the sacred city of Jerusalem and, on the Palestinian side, the moral issue of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. The Israelis see this right as equivalent to dismantling the Jewish state, whose existence is for the Jews an equally fundamental moral right. This combination of pragmatic and moral obstacles prevents or at least delays indefinitely the peaceful withdrawal of Israeli forces and the end of the occupation, which is crucial for the end of the conflict.

It is perhaps this discouraging conclusion that led the Zionist Left to endorse the dissociation of the moral and pragmatic factors as the only hope for a negotiated solution. After serious attempts to pursue a strand of the failed Taba official negotiations in Geneva (2000)—namely, the formulation by the Zionist Left together with their Palestinian counterparts of a shared narrative concerning the 1948 events that led to the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem—the hope of reaching an agreement on this crucial moral issue was abandoned. The Israeli leftists, as well as the Palestinian moderate pragmatists, opted for the dissociation model. They also admitted that it was wiser to set aside the two sides’ irreconcilable positions on the key moral issues at stake and focus on feasible pragmatic moves, trusting that the success of such moves would at long last override the moral dissent.4 In adopting this line, they were perhaps inspired by the success of the Egyptian-Israeli peace negotiations. Unfortunately, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not similar enough to the Israeli-Egyptian conflict for the latter to provide a model. The (p.67) Israeli-Egyptian conflict ultimately made room for a peace treaty by focusing exclusively on pragmatic territorial issuesexcept for Sadat’s moving rhetorical appeal, “No more bloodshed!,” which was certainly morally relevant for his listeners in the two countries that had suffered so much loss of life in several wars. However, the Israeli-Egyptian conflict was not primarily moral and could be successfully dealt with at the pragmatic level. This is hardly the case in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which the occupation of the West Bank involves intense daily hardship and personal confrontation.

There is a further reason for questioning the moral/pragmatic dissociation either as corresponding to the facts or as offering a path toward a solution to the conflict and overcoming the implications of the occupation. The occupation has become after so many years a form of colonization. As such, it affects not only the physical and social environments where it takes place, but alsoand quite deeplythe minds of the occupied as well as of the occupiers. Wherever morality is to be located, it is certainly part of our mental life. Throughout the world, although the most visible forms of political colonialism had generally disappeared by the end of the twentieth century, several of its consequences remain. Accordingly, postcolonial thought has focused on colonialism’s most subtle and damaging components, particularly what has come to be known as the colonization of the mind, and on how to achieve the mind’s “decolonization.”5

The metaphor of “colonization of the mind” highlights the following characteristics: (1) an external sourcethe “colonizer”intervenes in the mental sphere of a subject or a group of subjectsthe “colonized”; (2) this intervention affects central aspects of the mind’s structure, mode of operation, and contents; (3) its effects are prolonged and not easily eradicated; (4) there is a marked asymmetry of power between the parties involved; (5) the parties can be aware or unaware of their role of colonizer or colonized; and (6) both parties can participate in the process voluntarily or involuntarily. These characteristics are shared by various processes of mind colonization, regardless of whether or not they occur in sociopolitical situations that are literally categorized as colonial. Therefore, colonization of the mind may take place by means of social systems other than the colonial structure: for example, via the family, traditions, cultural practices, religion, science, language, fashion, ideology, political regimentation, the media, education, and other sources.

Consider education, for example. The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire has analyzed a typically mind-colonizing educational paradigm, which he suggestively dubbed the “banking” model. In this paradigm, a commodity (knowledge) is “deposited” by those who have it (the teachers) in the minds of those who don’t have it (the pupils); the task of both is basically passive: that (p.68) of the former to transmit “knowledge” and that of the latter to absorb it.6 The banking model displays the characteristic epistemic nature of mind colonization. What grants the colonizer (in this case the teacher) the right to intervene in the pupil’s mind, thereby colonizing it, is the fact that the former possesses knowledge and the latter lacks it. Likewise, moral authority rests on the alleged knowledge of the good by the parents, the preacher, the philosopher, or the ideologue.

In order for epistemic or moral authority to become an effective means of mind colonization, it must also obtain the support of power structures capable of transforming them into social authority and thereby ensuring its enforcement. These means range from displays of authority, through overrating some sources of epistemic or moral authority and devaluing others, up to appealing to overt and covert forms of discrimination, making use of socioeconomic reward or punishment, and sheer violent coercion. Needless to say, the Israeli occupation uses several of these means.

Of course, colonization of the mind does not always lead to acceptance and resignation by the colonized, although its rate of success has been surprisingly high throughout history. Frequently, the colonized react to the colonization of the mind by all-out rejection and resistance; this reaction is typical of the relatively recent decolonization movement. These two reactions are not the only ones, but they deserve special attention because, in spite of their contrast, they are widespread and equally instinctive or natural. Prima facie, the two reactions are radically opposed. The reaction of acceptance and resignation acknowledges the epistemic or moral superiority of the colonizer and adopts it as a principle of colonized belief formation. By contrast, the reaction of rejection and resistance denies the colonizer’s alleged superiority, argues that it is groundless because it is based on a biased comparison procedure, and therefore refuses to adopt the presumption of epistemic or moral inferiority of the colonized. The former assumes that adopting the colonizer’s conceptual framework is compatible with the preservation of the colonized identity. The latter stresses the incompatibility between these two attitudes, arguing that the adopted or adapted colonizer’s mind ultimately expels the original mind of the colonized and thereby obliterates the latter’s true or authentic identity. As far as the political consequences are concerned, the resigned acceptance reaction does not recognize that adopting the colonizer’s beliefs and forms of thinking is one of the ways that colonizers enhance their control over the behavior of the colonized. By contrast, the resistance reaction denounces it as a means of gaining control over the will of the colonized, thus becoming a powerful tool of oppression, which must be combated.

(p.69) Decolonization of the mind is not an easy task; it may require sustained effort whose success is far from guaranteed. Getting rid of the epistemic or moral authority implanted in one’s mind by the colonizer may take many years, because one is often unaware of the beliefs, principles, and modes of thinking and acting acquired in the process of colonization. The colonization of minds is, therefore, an “invasion” that takes over our thinking apparatus and may survive long after political, social, or physical colonization is overcome. Insofar as freedom—especially freedom of thought and of decision—is a fundamental characteristic of morality (cf. Raz, 1986), mind colonization is clearly a violation of a basic moral right that is essential, among other things, to active membership in a democratic society.

The moral harm caused by mind colonization affects both the occupied and the occupiers.7 The occupiers become believers in the beliefs they implant in the minds of the colonized—for example, the belief in their epistemic or moral superiority, the belief that truth and justice are always on their side, and the belief that this grants them a moral right to impose their beliefs on the colonized mind. Albert Memmi, who grew up in French-controlled Tunisia, describes vividly the mutual effects of colonization on both colonized and colonizer in his book The Colonized and the Colonizer, first published in French in 1957. He depicts the colonizer and colonized as living in the grip of a “colonial relationship” that chained them “into an implacable dependence, which molded their respective characters and dictated their culture” (Memmi, 1967, p. ix). Reaffirming his belief that colonialism is primarily an economic enterprise, with no “moral or cultural mission” whatsoever (Ibid., p. xii), he stresses, however, that the “colonial system” determines and controls the mental attitudes of both colonized and colonizer. Nevertheless, disenchanted by the postcolonial reality he had witnessed nearly 50 years later, he did not realize that the destructive viruses of “corruption, tyranny, use of force, restriction of intellectual growth, adherence to long-standing tradition, violence toward women, xenophobia, and the persecution of minorities” (Memmi, 2006, p. xi) had been implanted in the colonized minds by the colonizers; these traits amounted to prolonged moral damage that should not have been expected to disappear with the latter’s withdrawal.

Though the asymmetry of power of an occupation justifies attributing to the occupier most of the responsibility for the moral and mental effects of the occupation, one should not forget that the occupied side also has its share. This share is particularly important in the mind’s colonization, which is not merely a function of the power relationship. Colonized and occupied minds are not prevented from developing their own perception and interpretation of the occupation; their own narrative of the events that led to it; their (p.70) assessment of the consequences of actions performed by the occupied as well as by the occupiers; their evaluation of the two sides’ responsibilities in the past, present, and future; and their expectations. From a moral point of view, the occupied can still make use of the “balance of reason” in forming their moral judgments, rather than attributing all the guilt to the occupier.

As we shall see below, the capacity to see things from two perspectives rather than only one is a fundamental characteristic of moral life. Sometimes the pragmatic and the moral are the two complementary and necessary perspectives. Had he realized this, Memmi might perhaps have concluded that the harm of colonization or occupation cannot be limited to its pragmatic effects or motives. Rather, pragmatic and moral factors are intertwined, rather than dissociated, in a pragmatism that has moral implications and an “effective morality” that has practical consequences. Understanding and taking into account the nature of this pragma-moral interaction and the human need to cope with it may help to explain the derailments of a conflict management conception that overlooks the role of one or the other of its basic components.

Foundations of pragma-morality

The term “pragmatic,” which I have been employing so far in the broad sense of “practical” (i.e., doing rather than theorizing) as well as in the narrower sense of “realpolitik” (i.e., policy primarily concerned with material needs rather than with moral ideals), seems to imply a gap that dissociates what it refers to from morality. This gives the impression that pragma-morality is an oxymoron devoid of sense. In this section, I accept the burden of proof and intend to show that this is not the case. It will become apparentI trustthat the combination of the concepts “pragmatic” and “moral” is far from being an artificial conceptual hybridization; to the contrary, pragma-morality draws its sense and value from the shared roots of its two components. In this respect, the hyphenated term introduced here is somewhat redundant. However, it does have value: by highlighting what the components share, it enables one to realize what connects rather than disconnects the pragmatic and the moral and to see the importance of this connection for our topic. I restrict the discussion to those facets of the connection that seem to me particularly important for our concerns.

It should not be surprising to find some of the shared roots in Aristotle, especially in the interrelations between Nichomachean Ethics, Politics, and Rhetoric. The link between politics and ethics is clearly established in the first of these books, where Aristotle claims that the aim of both is the good and that politics is a special application of ethics. What he has in mind is spelled out (p.71) in Politics (Book I, Chap. 2), where he defines the polis as a community that, though originating in the urgent needs of life, has as its ultimate aim living well (in the moral sense). He further argues that a city is a community of families and villages whose end is a perfect and auto-sufficient life (Politics, Book III, Chap. 9), that is, accomplishing both its moral and subsistence purposes. The combination of the pragmatic and moral aims is further stressed by pointing out that the city is not merely a shared territory with the sole purposes of ensuring self-defense and promoting trade (Ibid.). Communities of gregarious animals, Aristotle says, are “natural societies” capable of meeting pragmatic needs; by contrast, only human cities can also fulfill moral needs and are, therefore, full-fledged societies. The difference stems from the characteristics of human language, which “exists for expressing, besides pain and pleasure, what is beneficial and what is harmful, as well as the just and the unjust” and grants man the “exclusive sense of good and evil, of just and unjust” (Politics, Book I, Chap. 2).

Language also gives humans the ability to run their collective and individual affairs rationally thanks to the capacity of deliberation it affords.8 Deliberation plays a key role in the three treatises mentioned above, where Aristotle applies this term to the debates that take place in a political assembly seeking to make a collective decision, to the special kind of rhetoric practiced in such debates, and to the internal debates that individuals have with themselves about the proper ethical or practical course of action to take in particular circumstances. Aristotle’s choice of this term is thus not casual, for it reflects essential traits shared by these three domains.9 The analogous deliberative processes share a rational procedure whose aim is to persuade others or oneself to choose the best option among those under discussion based on the evaluation of its pros and cons.10 The typical result of this evaluation, in spite of its reasonableness, is not reducible to precise measuring methods using uniform criteria. It produces, therefore, a variety of results when performed by different individuals in different contexts; consequently, it involves considerable uncertainty. Nevertheless, it is this kind of rationality and persuasionwhich Aristotle calls “calculative,” in contrast to the “demonstrative” rationality of sciencethat occurs in deliberative decision making in pragmatic as well as moral affairs, and a fortiori in situations involving pragma-morality.

For the balance of reason in deliberation to function reliably, even though not demonstratively, its mechanism as well as the reasons considered must be, as far as possible, unbiased (see Dascal, 2005a, pp. 29–32). In other words, they must come from competent and trustworthy sources. These can be our own cognitive resources, provided that our natural trust in their reliability is untainted by emotive interference, careless reasoning, faulty observation, (p.72) wrong methodological procedures, lack of competence, lack of attention, wishful thinking, self-deception, intentional bias, or other causes of epistemic distortion. Generally, however, our principal sources of information are our fellow humans. To be sure, they may be subject to failures like the ones that impair our own reliability. Just as each of us criticizes our own cognitive (and other) defects, we must be ready to criticize others. Yet, just as we naturally trust our abilities except in unusual circumstances, we also presume that most of the persons we interact with in normal circumstances are trustworthy unless there are good reasons to doubt this. In other words, as a rule, we accept others’ reliability as we do our own.11

Presumptions such as this are indispensable for social life in its moral as well as its pragmatic dimensions. In general, we are unaware of the dense texture of presumptions we rely upon in virtually all areas of life in which they contribute to guiding our behavior and creating justified expectations concerning the behavior of others. Consider, for instance, the behavior of drivers. In Israel and other countries, it is common to complain about their uncivilized, aggressive, and careless driving. To be sure, some of these complaints refer to the punishable violations of traffic laws. Most of them, however, refer to deviations from the way drivers are supposed to act, presuming they are aware that driving is essentially a cooperative activity. Similarly, communication’s cooperative nature presumes that speaker and addressee make the necessary effort to be understood and to understand each other. This presumption is the cornerstone of the ethics of communication, although the sole punishment for its disobedience is the failure of the communication. The legal system uses many presumptions of different kindsthe most famous of which is the presumption of innocence. Unlike laws, however, presumption-based inferences are not compelling, for every presumption comprises a “coda” warning its user that the conclusion drawn from it is reliable only if no (good) reasons override it. That is why the reliance on presumptions, though it allows us to expect a certain reasonable behavior from a driver, or a speech in a language that is understandable to the audience, should not surprise us too much if we face an unexpected road maneuver or choice of language. Furthermore, we should not be under the illusion that the pragmatic and the moral are always in harmony concerning the presumptions they generate. From a moral point of view, for example, in many societies there is a presumption of gender equality of rights (often legally based); pragmatically, however, the ruling presumption is often one of inequality. Needless to say, across societies and cultures, presumptions may vary considerably even in the moral sphere. Nevertheless, presumptions are extremely important precisely because of their flexibility, which guides without compelling, infers without deductively proving, and (p.73) thereby suggests reasonable though modifiable possible courses of action that take into account the variable environment in which our pragmatic behavior and moral thinking occur.12

The use everywhere of presumptions is one of the ways in which human variability and difference are tolerated, valued, and expressed in terms of a reasonableness whose “soft” rationality is stable enough for the needs of practical and moral life.13 In this respect, it is just one of the components of the readiness to receive and respect the other, however different, as a human being like usa readiness that is the basic condition for interhuman moral behavior as well as for cooperative pragmatic interaction. This readiness is explicitly formulated in an encompassing moral principle, the ubiquitous “golden rule,” which expresses the respect for the other in terms of the classical rules of conduct: “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you”; “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”14 Formulated this way, the principle might suggest an ego-centered point of view; but it can also be expressed so as to stress not the role of the ego but rather that of the other. This is the approach adopted by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the seventeenth-century German philosopher, who calls the principle the “other’s place.” It is worthwhile to quote his brief but pregnant text before stressing its contribution to our discussion:

The other’s place is the true point of view both in politics and in morals. Jesus Christ’s precept of putting oneself in the other’s place is not only good for the end our Lord speaks of, i.e., morals, in order to know our duty with respect to our neighbour, but also for politics, in order to know what designs our neighbour may harbour against us. One’s best access to these designs is obtained by putting oneself in his place, or when one pretends to be counsel and State minister of an enemy or suspect prince. This fiction stimulates our thoughts, and has served me more than once to guess with utmost precision what was concocted elsewhere. In all truth, it can happen that our neighbour is not so ill-meaning or even so clear-sighted as I suppose, but it is safest to assume the worst in political matters, i.e., when it is a question of taking precautions and being on the defensive; just as it is necessary to assume the best in moral affairs, i.e., when what is at stake is harming or offending the other….Thus, it may be said that the other’s place is an appropriate place, both in morals and in politics, to make us discover thoughts, which would otherwise not occur to us. In particular, that everything we would consider unjust, if we were in the other’s place, must seem to us suspect of injustice; and even that everything we would not desire if we were in that place must make us hold on and examine it more maturely. Thus, the sense of the principle is: do not do or refuse with ease what you would not like to be done or refused to you. Think more (p.74) maturely about it, after having put yourself in the other’s place, as that will provide you with the appropriate considerations for better knowing the consequences of your acts.15

Leibniz not only states in the first sentence the “true point of view” shared by morality and that most pragmatic of activities, politics. He also explains its rationale, modus operandi, and implications. The rationale is basically our epistemic weakness. Alone, limited to our individual perspectives, each one of us has a very limited capacity to obtain adequate knowledge of our complex universe, and we can hardly change our entrenched beliefs. Only by sharing our perspectives with those of other individuals can we improve our knowledge, either by getting rid of incorrect beliefs or by discovering and adding better ones. Hence, the difference between us and the other, and our capacity to put ourselves mentally in his or her place, play a decisive role in the epistemic enterprise. Our mental horizon is thereby challenged, purged of mistakes, and expanded, allowing us to “discover thoughts which would otherwise not occur to us.” The new path thus opened is not limited in scope; it applies to theoretical and epistemic as well as to practical and moral issues. What it teaches is simple: in the light of significant differences between what you think based on your own viewpoint and what you think based on others’ viewpoints, consider the possibility that your ideas, opinions, principles, or behavior are perhaps mistaken and should be carefully reexamined.

It is important to be aware of the fact that the whole process of using the moral-pragmatic principles of respecting the other and viewing things from the other’s viewpoint is, like the process of deliberation, heavily context-dependent. There are no fixed procedures that ensure the successful application of these principles. In this respect, they offer no recipes but, at best, heuristic suggestions. In both cases, the identification, interpretation, and relevance of the other’s circumstances are essential for successfully accessing the other’s place and making proper use of it. These operations may, however, fall prey to misidentification, misinterpretation, and irrelevance, as may any other context to which we resort. No set of rules for this purpose is available, other than relatively vague recommendations such as attentiveness to the other rather than to your own perception of the other, avoiding stereotypes and other prejudices, paying attention to differences without automatically rejecting them, and so on. In fact, the other too has no privileged self-access and often needs the context for self-identification and self-interpretation, individually or collectively and, in both cases, only approximately. Since pragma-morality’s principles are neither absolute nor detachable from the context of their use,16 should we reject it as a disguised form of relativism, question its (p.75) reliability, and look for a solid, absolutely reliable moral system, an anchor for handling the moral implications of the occupation? In the next section these questions are addressed.

Context-sensitive morality and the moral consequences of occupation

Many alternatives to the kind of morality outlined above reject its emphasis on the context sensitivity of moral principles, reasons, and judgments. Generally, they favor universalistic models in which unquestionable moral principles, rights, or values are systematically ordered and function as a sort of axiomatic ground for moral judgments and the resolution of moral conflicts. This “hard” rationality approach to moralitylet us call it “moral absolutism”seeks to combat its supposed nemesis, “moral relativism,” allegedly fostered by the acknowledgment of the context sensitivity of morality.

Opposition to the absolutist approach does not necessarily stress context sensitivity, but it does tend to attack directly the claim that a set of basic, unquestionable moral principles is a condition for moral thought. A case in point worth mentioning at least briefly for the reader to realize the complexity of the debate, especially concerning the role of context sensitivity, is “particularism,” an ethical theory currently in evidence. One of particularism’s definitions claims that “the possibility of moral thought and judgment does not depend on the provision of a suitable supply of moral principles” (Dancy, 2004, p. 7). It thus opposes “generalism,” defined as the doctrine according to which “the very possibility of moral thought and judgment depends on the provision of a suitable supply of moral principles” (Ibid.). Particularism is based on an analysis of the roles played by different types of moral reasons. This theory has been criticized, among other things, for incorrectly associating itself with “holism,” an ethical position that emphasizes the context sensitivity of moral reason, arguing that “a feature that is a reason in one case may be no reason at all, or an opposite reason in another” (Dancy, 2004, p. 73). McKeever and Ridge (2005), for example, contend that moral reason holism cannot be associated with particularism, which they characterize as defending a total opposition to the “codification of morality,” which is equivalent to the “search for a set of principles.”17 Another critic of particularism is Joseph Raz. Contrary to McKeever and Ridge, who defend holism, in his critique of Dancy’s version of particularism Raz (2006) is less concerned with holism than with particularism, the two theses held by Dancy. For Raz, the former is “less radical” than the latter, and in case it is true, this “makes no difference to wider issues” (Raz, 2006, p. 118). Particularism, on the other hand, although (p.76) criticized by Raz because of Dancy’s lack of arguments in its support, is “a more radical thesis” (Ibid.), which renders it more attractive: “One may be attracted by its rejection of absolute, nonoverridable moral principles, by its rejection of codifiable morality” (Ibid.). For him, “these are sound motives,” for it is clear that “morality cannot be codified, and many decisions call for contextually sensitive judgment” (Ibid.). Nevertheless, these motives “do not require particularism to vindicate them” (Raz, 2006, p. 118).

As far as the occupation is concerned, moral absolutism assumes the existence of an absolute, general moral standard by which the morality of the parties in conflict ought to be judged. In principle, were this standard available and universally agreed upon, and were it applied objectively to the parties’ actions, it might become a useful tool for discussing and overcoming some of the moral obstacles to the resolution of the conflict. It might, for example, permit at least some convergence rather than the habitual divergence concerning the opponents’ evaluations of each other’s claims or actions as justified, moral, or even true. Unfortunately, the divergence on such issues persists. Probably the reason is that what is at stake is not the absolute moral standard and its interpretation in each particular case, but rather the opponents’ mutual mistrust, lack of mutual respect, incapacity to regard things from the other’s point of view, lack of appropriate deliberative practices, lack of sensitivity to different presumptions, and disregard for the ever-present relevance of context.

Obviously, taking into account the above-mentioned factors would amount to accepting key tenets of the kind of morality that the defenders of moral absolutism reject because they believe it would fatally lead to moral relativism. This belief, however, stems from unjustified fear. It simply exaggerates the abysmal nature of the slippery slope that leads all the way down to moral relativism once one takes the first steps of admitting the context sensitivity of morality. Such exaggeration leads to preventive measures against the presumed danger. These measures range from public warnings by authoritative figures against any deviation from total obedience to the absolute moral norms, to their actual institutionalization—including codification and eventually punishment in case such norms are violated. Moral behavior thus becomes virtually a legal matter, to be controlled by the formal legal system rather than by the free and responsible judgment of autonomous citizens. None of these measures is justified. This should be clear from the fact that the slippery slope argument on which their requirement is based is valid only if between the heights of the plateau and the bottom of the abyss there is no tree, no rock, no salience whatsoever that could stop the slide. Yet, this is not the case. The polarization of absolute versus relative, in the case of morality as in many other cases, does not necessarily imply a strict dichotomy that does not admit any alternative between the poles. The (p.77) following example of a controversy closely related to the debate on the nature of morality under discussion demonstrates this.

The Strauss-Stern confrontation that took place in the mid-twentieth century concerns a basic issue in the philosophy of history. This debate is a variant of the absolutism versus relativism debate, which in this case deals with the alleged contradiction between the idea of ahistorical natural right and the historicist critique of ahistorical universalism. Leo Strauss defends the former and Alfred Stern the latter. The following quotations succinctly present the two poles of the dichotomy:

Historicism is an antithesis; in order to understand it, one has to know the thesis which it denies; namely, natural right, and its presupposition, the concept of a human nature or a human reason considered as unchangeable, eternal, identical throughout the ages, the nations, the civilizations, the social classes. (Stern, 1962, p. 139)

Natural right isn’t possible if all that men can know about it is that the question about the principles of justice allows for a variety of answers none of which can be proved as better than the others. Natural right is not possible if human thought, though imperfect, is unable to solve the problem of the principles of justice in a true way, hence in a universally valid way. (Strauss, 1953, p. 26)

In these statements, each of the protagonists defines his position as incompatible with and antithetical to that of his opponent. Furthermore, no third possibility is mentioned by either. Therefore, both seem to unquestionably accept the dichotomous nature of the issue, as well as its consequence: namely, that one has no option but to adopt one position or the other. Under these conditions, both try to exploit particularities of the dichotomous positions as arguments in their favor or against the adversary.

Strauss, for example, makes use of alleged self-defining features of historicism to demonstrate its absurd consequencesnamely, its self-defeating character:

Historicism claims that all human thoughts or beliefs are historical and therefore bound to die; but historicism itself is a human thought; therefore historicism can only have limited validity, or else it cannot be true. To assert the historicist thesis means to doubt it and, thus, to transcend it….Historicism thrives on the fact that it inconsistently exempts itself from its own verdict on all human thought. (Strauss, 1953, p. 26)

The same is the case in the slippery slope argument by which Strauss claims that historicism leads to nihilism (Ibid.). Both arguments underrate the value (p.78) of the opponent’s position, and hence of the opponent himself as unworthy of serious discussion. The dichotomy is thus tendentiously presented as unbalanced; rather than a difficult problem to be solved, it is in fact predecided in favor of the arguer’s party.

Stein, on the other hand, replies in a spirit of moderation, albeit without giving up the dichotomy that is the axis of the debate. He begins by conceding Strauss’ point that historicism’s claim to validity cannot be universal:

[L]et us rather admit that historicism cannot claim timeless validity without violating its very principle….By virtue of the categories at our disposal at this moment of history, human thoughts, belief and values appear historically conditioned….Since, besides the categories of our epoch, we have no others at our disposal …we must say that, in our epoch, historicism appears to be a well established theory. The fact that we cannot affirm the eternal, timeless, trans-historical validity of historicism does not exclude the possibility of its being valid for the present historical epoch which gave birth to it. (Stern, 1962, pp. 182–183)

He then points out that Strauss is in fact not arguing against his position, for the “extreme” historicism that Strauss attacks does not correspond to the version of “moderate” historicism that Stern actually defends. According to Stern, extreme historicism is merely a construct that opponents of historicism, like Strauss, designed for simplistically treating the issue dichotomously and thus easily winning the battle, rather than seriously engaging in resolving a thorny problem.

The moral absolutist position denies the context sensitivity of morality by depicting the latter as entailing “extreme relativism”an easy way to defeat a scarecrow, like many other extremist adversaries. Pragma-morality, however, is neither extreme relativism nor extreme absolutism. It acknowledges the indispensable role of context in moral judgments without reducing morality to complete contextual determination; it also recognizes the role of stable moral maxims and presumptions, albeit without reducing morality to a set of fixed principles. In this respect, this kind of morality is similar to the account of meaning that, though pointing out that only in the context of use can the meaning of a linguistic expression be adequately recognized, does not deny that such recognition relies also on the lexical, literal meaning of the expression. Such an account reduces meaning neither to pragmatics nor to semantics; it is neither extreme contextualism nor extreme literalism, but lies somewhere in the middle, as one of the variants to which the adjective “moderate” might qualify, as in “moderate contextualism” or “moderate literalism.”18

(p.79) Such an intermediate alternative account of alleged polarities demonstrates, as in the cases of morality, historicism, and meaning, as well as of other generally admitted and widely used polar oppositions, that dichotomies are attractive due to their simplicity and logical pedigree, but it shows that they are context-sensitive too. According to Plato, for whom dichotomies are the cornerstone of the theory of ideas, they correspond to the conceptual structure of reality, regardless of how they can be used. There is evidence, however, that in the context of controversies, for example, polar oppositions may be presented as dichotomies or not, depending on the choice that fits better the position of the arguer. In many cases, therefore, what is decisive is not the fact that an opposition is a “true dichotomy” in the logical sense or that the arguer decides to “dichotomize” or “de-dichotomize” it in his or her argumentative strategy, but both.19 Dichotomies and their various possible uses thus provide further evidence that the pragmatic-strategic and the logical-principled components of pragma-morality can and should work together in various ways precisely because of their context sensitivity, that is, without the risk of extreme relativism. As we will see below, context sensitivity and the other features of the kind of morality we have been elucidating play a crucial role in accounting for the moral consequences of the occupation.

A situation such as the occupation comprises a natural polarization of the adversaries as enemies. During the occupation in the course of the conflict, the polarization may be radicalized or softened, depending on the circumstances and the dichotomization or de-dichotomization strategies adopted by the parties. If the former occurs, for example, military actions may exacerbate the fear and revenge feelings that divide the opponents emotionally; the erection of checkpoints and barriers may trace this line physically; and the occupying authorities’ use of special regulations and identifying documents may legally and semiotically codify and enforce a strict separation between the parties.20 Since the compartmentalization of the occupied territories can hardly be foolproof, and since administrative, economic, or other interaction across the border is mandatory, the authorities must issue permits for this purpose. Such permits thus legitimize specific exceptions to the rule of strict separation. The pattern of a codified formal presumption emerges clearly in the thus softened version of that rule.

The occupation arena, however, includes informal—hence more context-sensitive—presumptions such as “Do not trust the enemy,” “Be tough with the enemy,” “It is safer to treat a suspected enemy as guilty than as innocent,” and so on. These and other moral presumptions, which are part of the pragma-morality texture of the occupation, are steadily packed and shipped to the other side of the Green Line, ready to adapt themselves and be seamlessly (p.80) embedded, with or without major changes, into a surrogate but familiar contextthe pragma-morality core of Israeli culture. It is this ceaseless transfer that, I submit, accounts for one of the most serious moral consequences of the occupation: the self-inflicted distortion of moral presumptions.

Let us suppose that the transferred presumption is “Do not trust the enemy” as it is used in the occupied areas. Obviously, this sentence is ambivalent, since each of the groups who use it refers to different enemies and to different ways of mistrusting and treating them. Israeli soldiers presumably refer to Palestinians, settlers to Palestinians and sometimes to Israeli soldiers, and Palestinians to Jews in general, and particularly to soldiers and settlers. The presumption may thus recommend mistrusting Palestinians, or Jews, or the Israeli army, or settlers, or specific subgroups of any of these. Once the formula is exported to Israel, it carries with it all these possible readings. For the sake of the argument, let us restrict them to two—Palestinians and Israeli-Jews. Buying the formula, an Israeli can take advantage of a Buy One/Get Two savings offer. The presumption’s guidance is to mistrust both Palestinians and Israeli-Jews. In the context of use, this can undoubtedly be disambiguated. Nevertheless, as general advice, it applies to these two broad categories of people without restriction. Furthermore, the preventive measures adopted against terrorist attacks in airports, restaurants, theaters, schools, and other public places, where everybody is checked (most of the time discriminating against “nonstandard”-looking or -sounding Israelis), as well as the constant reminders that one must be alert to suspicious objects, vehicles, persons, and so on, force us to be constantly tuned to our mistrust mental mode. No wonder that the various references of the absorbed ambivalent presumption merge, and mistrust becomes the basic presumption concerning virtually anyone in any context. This unified attitude toward the other replaces the traditional trust presumption. It is also reinforced by its adoption by government agencies and their advertisements, which keep reminding the citizens that they belong to an officially mistrusted population, which must be threatened in order for these citizens to fulfill their civil duties. The presumption thus becomes “Mistrust everybody” unless you have good reasons to trust them. Everyone is thus required either to feel surrounded by dangerous enemies or to be convinced that they are one of them. Having assimilated this presumption, Israelis are effortlessly put in the place of the other—of the Palestinians who have to live mistrusting even their kin as potential collaborators of the Israeli secret services.

Living in an environment where one is not presumed to trust and be trusted, but rather to mistrust and be mistrusted, no doubt implies a corrosive and exhausting shift to an attention- and energy-consuming pattern of (p.81) behavior. Morally, it implies much more than the use of additional physical and psychological resources. For it affects not only a single presumption but a whole family of presumptions. Indeed, it is a fundamental part of the texture of morality—that having to do with the presumption that we owe respect to each other—that is called into question and damaged. Mistrust is closely connected to denial, disrespect, humiliation, devaluation, invidiousness, misanthropy, guilt, and dehumanization—of the other as well as of oneself. It is not difficult to see how the entire fabric of morality is shattered by the demise of a key presumption that carries with it the demise of many others. In this sense, the occupation can be condemned as responsible for moral deterioration.

The transfer of moral presumptions may be more complex than simple copying, as in the case analyzed above. The context sensitivity of presumptions may require certain modifications for ensuring their adaptation to the new environment. There may even be cases in which the implanted presumption is rejected due to its incompatibility with other existing presumptions. One usual modification has to do with the “strength” of the presumption, that is, how difficult it is to dismiss its recommendation, and its “status,” that is, its importance relative to other presumptions. For instance, in traditional societies the presumption is that the elders’ experience grants high value to their advice on any issue. By contrast, in modern societies, this presumption may be overridden by the presumption that updated information should prevail in decision making.

A particularly relevant example of a clash of presumptions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict underlies the often used phrase “just peace” in discussions of the conditions for a solution. The question that naturally arises is, which of the two, justice or peace, is presumed to be morally more important than the other?—a key question for negotiating a solution acceptable to both sides. Avishai Margalit (2009, Chap. 3) addresses this question and argues that a “strong presumption of peace” overrides the presumption of justice in the attempts to reach a reasonable compromise. However, it seems to me that, although Margalit considers the presumption of justice mainly from a Palestinian viewpoint, he compares the relative strength and status of the two presumptions mostly from an Israeli perspective without attempting to consider the balance of reasons for each side.

This may well be a reason for the Palestinians’ probable refusal to accept Margalit’s proposal, not only in light of the fact that they have refused to give up what they view as the main component of a just solution (i.e., the right of return) or subordinate it to other conditions (e.g., all sorts of compensations, however enticing they may be), but also in light of the fact that they consider the Naqba, the traumatic event that generated the refugee problem, as their (p.82) collective identity-forming episode. The weakening of the presumption that justice is a necessary condition for a solution to the conflict and the subordination of its status to another aim, desirable as it may be, would therefore amount to challenging the validity of an even stronger presumption embodied in over sixty years of a painful identity development process. For this reason, Margalit’s suggestion seems to be as unacceptable to the Palestinians as the Uganda proposal was to the Zionist movement. Nevertheless, the proposal has the merit of opening a discussion on the validity of the thus-far-taken-for-granted crucial pragma-moral presumptions and their relative weights, both within each camp and across them. The moral controversies likely to arise as a sequel, though certainly tough, will at least refresh the debate by bringing to the fore long untouched taboos.

Whatever the route through which the moral presumptions are transferred and adopted or rejected by the Israeli or Palestinian citizenship, and whatever transformations they are subjected to on the way, the process of implantation and transmission follows a remarkably constant boomerang path. The morality that develops in the occupied side, largely influenced by the occupier’s presence and aims, bounces back to the occupier’s side; the fruits of colonization thus colonize back the minds of those who have planted them. Whatever original morality managed to remain in these minds during decades of occupation is doomed either to vanish or to be overridden by the superior power of presumptions so harshly tested in the boomerang trail.

Controversy, morality, and conflict resolution

In the Introduction to this chapter I proposed a literal reading of its title, according to which controversies are part of conflicts and play a decisive role in enabling their resolution. If this is correctand I will try to show that it isthe absence of substantial controversies on the moral aspects of occupation may be a major reason for the scarcity of progress in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is now time to conclude the chapter by returning to the claims made in the Introduction. Most of the chapter has dealt with the nature of morality, its relationship with pragmatic activity, and the moral consequences of the occupation. Here I discuss the role of controversies in conflict resolution on a more theoretical level while connecting this discussion with points touched on in the preceding sections. I hope that one of my aims, which is to promote actual controversy over the moral issues raised throughout the chapter, has already been discerned by the readers who have reached this concluding section.

(p.83) I have elaborated and applied, in the last two decades, a typology of debates or “polemic exchanges” that distinguishes between three ideal types, which I have technically called “discussion,” “dispute,” and “controversy” (cf., for example, Dascal, 1998). This typology has proved to be very effective, and I summarize it below to serve as our reference here.

A discussion is the idealized form of a scientific debate. Its aim is to determine which of the positions in confrontation is true, while the other is perforce mistaken; it is a procedure accepted by the (community of) discussants that is presumably capable of yielding an unquestionable decision, to whose truth winner and loser, qua rational debaters, are committed in advance; and the privileged argumentative move in this procedure is logical, mathematical, or experimental proof. A dispute, at the other pole, is the idealized form of a battle of wits. Its aim is victory over the adversary; no procedure capable of deciding the issue so as to fully and decisively convince the (community of) disputants is available; and no constraints limit the kinds of argumentative stratagems designed to lead to the desired victory, however momentary it may be. Several polarities underlie and support the dichotomization of the pair discussion/dispute, both on the theoretical level and in its use in actual debates: the truth (Discussion) versus my truth (Dispute), the issue can be decided (Disc.) versus the issue cannot be decided (Disp.), logic (Disc.) versus rhetoric (Disp.), rational (Disc.) versus irrational (Disp.), debate about content (Disc.) versus debate about attitude (Disp.), leads to opinion change (Disc.) versus does not lead to opinion change, and so on.

Once contenders perceive the concepts of discussion and dispute as radically opposed on so many grounds, that is, as mutually exclusive and exhaustively covering all possible debates, they are compelled to view the particular debate in which they are engaged as either a discussion or a dispute; and this choice will determine their expectations, interpretations, and behavior in the debate. A contender may stick to his or her initial choice of category or, in the light of eventual violations by the adversary of his or her expectations or interpretations of the adversary’s moves, shift to the other pole and react accordingly. This flip-flop effect that admits no intermediate alternative is not unusual in the conduct of debates that are perceived as dichotomous. Besides the descriptive inadequacy of this dyadic scheme and the unnatural flip-flop effect it forces upon debaters, what prompted my search for at least one additional ideal type to add to the taxonomy was the encounter with a different approach to controversy in the work of G. W. Leibnizan approach virtually ignored by a tradition that highlighted instead his project of developing an algorithmic procedure for solving all controversies as if they are typical scientific discussions.21 His hitherto overlooked approach suggests instead a type (p.84) of controversy where the decision (either the determination of the truth or of the winner) is not the primary goal, but rather the construction or emergence of a solution through the dialectic cooperation of the debaters. This encounter with “another” Leibniz led me to the elaboration and utilization of a new ideal type of debate and to the transformation of an earlier dyadic taxonomy into a triadic one. I termed this new type “controversy.” What defines it is the set of substantial differences that distinguish it from both discussion and dispute. Its justification and value must be judged by its descriptive and explanatory power.

In a controversy, unlike in a dispute, the objective is not victory but rational persuasion; each contender does not assume a priori that the adversary is entirely wrong while he or she is entirely right, thus abandoning from the outset any hope of rationally persuading the other to change his or her mind. External intervention (e.g., by a tribunal) can dissolve the dispute, but it usually does not change the contenders’ belief in the correctness and justification of their positions. On the other hand, controversy differs from discussion in that, while it is based upon the possibility of rational persuasion, it does not assume that this can only be achieved if the contenders accept the unquestionable results of the application of a method they unconditionally accept. In controversy, the questioning of assumptions of all sorts is always permitted and even encouraged. This leads to a wide range of disagreements that can be quite radicalincluding doubts about the alleged certainty of the decision-making procedures. Hence, rational persuasion in controversy does not have the power of the dramatic revelation of the truth that it is supposed to have in discussion.

From the point of view of this chapter, the fundamental difference between controversy and its counterparts is that its nondichotomous parameters grant it a flexibility, an open-endedness, a challenging attitude vis-à-vis established beliefs and practices, a nondogmatic rationality, and a potential for innovationall of which, together, explain its relevance to dealing with conflicts appropriately and with justified expectations for their resolution. Needless to say, the properties of controversy just listed are particularly relevant for handling moral conflicts, provided that the controversies are not conducted dogmatically in a dichotomous framework such as that opposing extreme moral absolutism to extreme moral relativism. For it is those properties that are needed to fully take into account the context sensitivity of morality and take advantage of its benefits. Furthermore, of the three types of debate, controversy is the only one that really complies with the presumption of respecting the other. In dispute, where one only wishes to demonstrate that one’s view is the correct one, the opponent’s view is devoid of interest and does (p.85) not deserve much attention. In discussion, which of the contenders is correct is determined by a decision-making procedure that at best takes into account their relevant arguments but disregards their relevance as persons intellectually committed to clarifying the issues under discussion. It is in controversy, where the contenders engage in joint work through which each can contribute his or her knowledge to the resolution of the problem, that mutual learning, respect, and utilization of both contenders’ knowledge occurs. In conducting negotiations capable of advancing the resolution of conflicts, the controversy pattern provides the conditions of mutual respect needed for the development and application of the required moral attitudes of the participants (cf. Dascal, 2008b) and the shaping of shared interests and “we-intentions” to seriously engage in purposeful negotiations (cf. Dascal, 2003, chap. 5; Dascal, 2007, pp. 84–86).

Besides its direct use as an argumentative pattern where disagreement between opponents is debated and sometimes resolved, controversy’s pattern parallels similar patterns in psychological phenomena as well as in the evolution of conflicts. A psychological phenomenon close to controversy is deliberation (cf. above), which is an example of what may be called “inner debate” (cf. Dascal, 2005b). In the wake of the pioneering work of Festinger (1957), the phenomenon he called “cognitive dissonance” has been intensively investigated. According to him, cognitive dissonance occurs when there is a “nonfitting relation” among one’s cognitions. For example, one may be a convinced antiracist and yet withdraw one’s children from school as soon as Muslims enroll in it. Dissonance is thus an inconsistency within an individual’s set of cognitions in a given domain. One may thus say that whenever one deliberates, cognitive dissonance occurs, since deliberation consists in weighing the pros and cons for doing or believing something. Similarly, when different opinions held in a public debate are brought to our attention, we may face a situation of cognitive dissonance. Festinger does not conceive dissonance in formal terms and points out that he introduced the term “dissonance” rather than “inconsistency” because the former “has less of a logical connotation” (Ibid., p. 2); furthermore, he stresses that “follows from” should not be invariably interpreted as a strict logical relation (Ibid., p. 14). Logical inconsistency is but one of the possible sources of dissonance; others include a variety of contextual elements, such as motivation and desired consequences, cultural conventions, past experience, and so on. Assuming, however, that “an individual strives toward consistency within himself,” the theory claims that dissonance is “psychologically uncomfortable”; consequently, its presence motivates the individual to act in order “to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance” (Ibid., pp. 1–3).

(p.86) Research in cognitive dissonance has devoted particular attention to the kind of dissonance that arises after a decision between mutually exclusive options has been made. Experimental data (cf. Festinger, 1964) show that immediately after a decision has been made, a process of rationalization of the decision begins; the attractiveness of the nonchosen option is reduced and that of the chosen alternative is increased, thus reducing the dissonance between the two options. Obviously, the unfavorable elements must remain cognitively available after the decision; otherwise, they could not cause postdecision dissonance. Furthermore, even though the aim of the rationalization is to support the decision, it amounts to a new deliberative process regarding the issue at stake. Hence, it may be the case that once this process is initiated and the reasons are reevaluated, this may lead one to override the preceding decision rather than endorse it.22

Postdecision dissonance, therefore, is a rather surprising phenomenon, at least insofar as it does not conform to the intuitive belief that a decision “puts an end” to doubt and inner debate by adopting one of the alternatives and removing the others, along with their supporting arguments, from the decider’s cognitive horizon. Instead, the ubiquity of postdecision dissonance suggests that, as a rule, the predecision debate goes on beyond the decision point. Perhaps to preserve at least part of the intuitive belief in question, Festinger emphasizes the singularity of the moment in which a decision “is made.” This singularity, according to him, creates a discontinuity in the cognitive process between what precedes and what follows it. For this purpose, he posits a sharp distinction between predecision conflict and postdecision dissonance:

The person is in a conflict situation before making the decision. After having made the decision he is no longer in conflict; he has made his choice; he has, so to speak, resolved the conflict. He is no longer being pushed in two or more directions simultaneously. He is now committed to the chosen course of action. It is only here that dissonance exists, and the pressure to reduce this dissonance is not pushing the person in two directions simultaneously. (Festinger, 1957, p. 39)

This description suggests that the stage of cognitive deliberation resembles a fierce battle between opposing forces, each trying to win the deliberator’s acquiescence; by contrast, the stage of dissonance reduction after the choice is made is a rather quiet process of suppressing the remaining resistance by regrouping and redeploying the apparently victorious forces after the battle. It is as if the first stage is a dispute or perhaps a discussion, while the second is closer to a controversy. In spite of the difference, they seem to be stages of a continuous debate in which roughly the same issue constantly returns without (p.87) ever reaching a final solution.23 If this is indeed the case, it turns out that in our deliberative life we hardly ever cease to be engaged in nonstop debates,24 the “balance of reason” is in endless action, and decisions are ephemeral, always in the course of being reshaped, and never final.25

Finally, it is worth remembering that a large percentage of conflicts are recurrent. This means that the agreements, peace treaties, or other steps that allegedly resolved them had also merely a provisional effect and did not put an end to the conflict once and for all. The reopening of the supposedly resolved conflict, much like the postdecision cognitive dissonance, indicates that the main problem is not that of finding some miraculous formula that will finalize the conflict. It is, rather, that of initiating a process of improvement and maintenance of the achieved results without delay, that is, immediately after their achievement.26

Peacemaking in intractable conflicts must be acknowledged as what it really is: a very demanding and complex ongoing dialectic process. Whoever expects a prompt solution is the victim of an illusion; and whoever asks what is the use of promoting controversies in spite of their admitted inability to yield a perfect solution (i.e., capable of eliminating all controversies) to a conflict like the Palestinian-Israeli one is invited to put his or her proposal on the table. The continuing dialectical process suggested constitutes a permanent forum in which the contenders will be able to pursue the discussion of the always remaining or arising questionsincluding pragmatic as well as moral issuesnot yet resolved by whatever formula of agreement they have already reached. That this will help rather than hamper the slow process of overcoming ever more obstacles to peace seems to be a reasonable presumption supported by the history of controversies. In any case, it should be preferred to the doubtful presumption that a complexhence prolongedconflict can be satisfactorily, quickly, and completely resolved by a lasting pragmatic-strategic agreement that both sides will pragma-morally accept once and for all.

(p.91) References

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(1.) I wish to thank Amnon Knoll for the strong interest he has shown in this text since its inception. He located relevant material, provided information I was not aware of, corrected some of my mistakes, made numerous suggestions, and was incredibly generous with the time he spent discussing the key ideas with me. I am also grateful to Varda’s courageous sharing with me the moral criticism of occupation as expressed in this chapter.

(2.) As examples of both, the separation of moral and pragmatic issues as well as of their joint consideration, albeit with each contender emphasizing one of them, see Gans, 2008, sections 3.1 and 4.1.

(p.88) (3.) This does not mean, of course, that the vast majority of Palestinians did not soon realize and stress the moral significance of the 1948 events they called the Naqba (“catastrophy”).

(4.) The report of one of the participants in the Geneva talks clearly points in this direction: “The remaining points of disagreement after the Taba negotiations had to do with the 1948 ‘narrative,’ namely, with who was responsible for the creation of the refugee problem and, consequently, with what will be the nature of the agreement and its title …the two sides learned from the failure of the official negotiations that attempted to reach an agreement on a shared narrative about what happened in the 1948 war. The Geneva initiative entrusts this task to the civil societies, supported by the two governments. There was no serious disagreement on this matter. The decision included also the issue of Israel’s apology for its part in the creation of the refugee problem” (Klein 2006, 66). “Entrusting civil society with this issue is better than the attempt made in the official talks to reach a shared narrative, for no formal decision can change the public perception in both sides. Changing the perception is a long-term matter and, if it comes about at all, it will be as the result of complex long-term reconciliation processes” (Ibid, 68).

(5.) For further details and discussion of colonization and decolonization of minds, see Chinweizu (1987), Memmi (1967, 2006), Bodei (2002), Freire (2004), Dascal (2009a).

(6.) “Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the ‘banking’ concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits….In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing….The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence. The students, alienated like the slave in the Hegelian dialectic, accept their ignorance as justifying the teacher’s existencebut, unlike the slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher” Freire (2004: 72).

(7.) “It is worth knowingeven if it is hard to swallowthat an occupying people, even if an unwilling one, is occupied from the inside by the occupation and its friends: the people’s qualities undergo change, its character is distorted, its values make room for other values.” Abraham Burg, Speaker of the Knesset, in a special session commemorating the 53th anniversary of the Israeli parliament, February 28, 2002.

(8.) Aristotle considered the notion of deliberation sufficiently important on its own to write a special treatise devoted to it, Peri Symboul í as. This work is listed in Diogenes Laertius’ catalog but has not yet been reconstructed.

(p.89) (9.) Stuart Hampshire, who elaborates the Aristotelian notion of deliberation as the cornerstone of his moral theory, puts to use the external-internal debate analogy in this vivid passage: “The picture of the mind that gives substance to the notion of practical reason is a picture of a council chamber, in which the agent’s contrary interests are represented around the table, each speaking for itself. The chairman, who represents the will, weighs the arguments and the intensity of the feeling conveyed by the arguments, and then issues an order to be acted on. The order is a decision and an intention, to be followed by its execution. This policy is the outcome of the debate in the council chamber” (Hampshire 1991: 51).

(10.) On this model of deliberation, see Dascal (2005a).

(11.) The obvious exceptions to this rule are cases in which either one is over-critical of oneself, over-appreciative of others, or vice-versa.

(12.) Interest in presumptions and their role in cognition, jurisprudence, social relations, and other domains, as well as in the history of this until recently rather overlooked concept, is steadily growing. A very useful recent work devoted to presumptions as a tool of “tentative cognition” is Rescher (2006). I myself have been attracted by Leibniz’s emphasis on the fundamental importance of this concept, which he views as paradigmatic of the “soft” rationality we need in addition to the familiar logic-mathematic “hard” rationality (cf. the subject indexes of Leibniz (2006) and of Dascal (Ed.) (2008)). In the following quotation Leibniz characterizes presumption as one of the types of “probable argumentation” and stresses that most moral reasoning is presumptive: “Probable argumentation comes from either the nature of things or from people’s opinions. The former is, in turn, either presumption or conjecture. It is a presumption if the proposed statement follows from what is surely true, without any requirement other than the negative one, namely that no impediment [for its truth] obtains. Therefore we will always have to declare ourselves in favor of he who has the presumption unless someone else demonstrates the contrary. Such are most moral reasonings” (Leibniz 2006, 86–87).

(13.) On the pragmatics of variability, the valuation of difference, and tolerance, see, respectively, Lloyd (2007), Dascal (2009b), Dascal (2005c), and Dascal (2008b).

(14.) The New Testament versions are in Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12.

(15.) Leibniz (2006: 164–165). The translation of the complete manuscript, which includes also legal remarks, along with my introductory comments and notes, is on pages 163–166. For further discussion of this and related Leibnizian texts, see Dascal (1993: 401–404, 1995), de Gaudemar (2008), Laerke (2010: 310–3145), and Zauderer-Naaman (2008).

(16.) For a typology of the different ways in which context interacts with semantic meaning in linguistic communication, see Dascal (2003, Chapter 8).

(17.) McKeever and Ridge point out that even Kant, famous for his principle-based ethics and codification of morality, admits several cases of context sensitivity (p.90) of moral reasons. This showsthey arguethat holism of reasons is compatible with both context sensitivity and principle-morality and, therefore, is inconsistent with particularism. Still, McKeever and Ridge believe that particularism is an interesting challenge for traditional moral philosophy to face.

(18.) On this still raging debate in linguistics and the philosophy of language, see Dascal (2003, Chapters 25–26), Recanati (2004), Borg (2004).

(19.) These concepts are defined as follows: “DICHOTOMIZATION: radicalizing a polarity by emphasizing the incompatibility of the poles and the inexistence of intermediate alternatives, by stressing the obvious character of the dichotomy as well as of the pole that ought to be preferred. DE-DICHOTOMIZATION: showing that the opposition between the poles can be constructed as less logically binding than a contradiction, thus allowing for intermediate alternatives; actually developing or exemplifying such alternatives” (Dascal 2008a, 34–35).

(20.) There may also be other reasons for the occupied or the occupier side to enhance the polarization, i.e., to adopt a dichotomization strategy. Barghouti (2005), for example, argues that in the situation of occupation there is a fundamental moral reason for this choice of strategy: the preservation of Palestinian identity.

(21.) For details of Leibniz’s hitherto overlooked approach, see the Introductory Essay of Leibniz (2006).

(22.) This may be due, for instance, to some mistake made in the pre-deliberation phase, such as a miscalculation of the weight of some negative reason or simply forgetting to put it in the negative plate of the balance of reason.

(23.) Most of the controversies I have studied rarely end with a definitive, unquestionable “solution”which is why I employ the term “resolution” when referring to the typical conclusion mode of controversies. This does not mean that they are mere dialectical exercises, for the serious and well-intentioned effort to rationally persuade an opponent yields a substantial “cognitive gain,” e.g., the clarification of the controversial issues, which in turn may lead to innovative steps toward their resolution.

(24.) Presumably more akin to controversies than either discussions or disputes precisely because of their never ending character as well as of the uncertainty of the decision.

(25.) Although they mention cognitive dissonance as a central psychological predicament of occupiers that they attempt to overcome through a series of well-known psychic maneuvers, Rosler et al. (2009) do not devote special attention to the persistence of dissonance at the post-decisional stage, which suggests that the psychic devices in question have at best an ephemeral provisional effect and that the moral and psychological effects of the occupation cannot be definitively removed from our minds.

(26.) The establishment of a procedure for such a follow up should be part of the achieved results.