As I wrote in a recent article, I might write several articles in a near future about the brilliant book The Power of Inclusive Exclusion (see previous article) about the structure of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The following text is an excerpt of the chapter wrote by Eyal Weizman, entitled Thanato-tactics that attempt to deconstruct the logic of the targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders by the Israeli Army. Not only those assassinations can be interpreted as an intrusion into Palestinian politics by uprooting politicians and leaders that Israel disapprove, but Weizman illustrates how this policy is being accepted and encouraged as a “lesser evil”. The following excerpt is thus an exploration of what this notion of lesser evil is hiding, and via Hannah Arendt, attempts to generalizes the effects of this same notion.
This question is definitely an important one for architects. Indeed, and without using the same moralistic terminology of “evil”, architects are often confronted to this dilemma when offered to achieve a project hosting a program that directly confronts their ethics: It could be this obnoxious competition organized by the New York Times for “a [US/Mexico] fence with more beauty“; but it could also be a prison or even an office building or a showroom. One would maybe blame me for associating those architect’s considerations when Weizman and Arendt are evoking society under nazism; however, the logic of the “lesser evil” is fundamentally based on the minimization of one’s role in the mechanisms of oppression, and that being said, one should not underestimate the role that architects’ play in the economico-biopolitical society we live in.
Here is Eyal Weizman’s text:
In regard to the humanitarian agents, Israel’s system of domination has learned to use the work of Palestinian, international, and Israeli organizations to fill the void left by a dysfunctional Palestinian Authority and to manage life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In spite of the fundamental moral differences between these groups, the logic of the lesser evil allows for moments of cooperation between organizations whose state aims are widely different. Indeed, the urgent and important criticism that peace organizations often level at the IDF to he effect that it is dehumanizing its enemies masks another, more dangerous process by which the military incorporates into its operation the logic of, and even seeks to cooperate with, the very humanitarian and human rights organizations that oppose it. Israeli theorist Ariella Azoulay has claimed that although it has brought the Occupied Territories to the verge of hunger, the Israeli government tries to control the flow of traffic, money, and aid in such a way as to prevent the situation reaching a point of total collapse because of the international intervention, possibly under a UN mandate, that might follow.
It is in this “pragmatic” approach that the principle of the “lesser evil” justifies and naturalizes crimes and other forms of injustice and masks political responsibilities. By accepting the necessity to choose the “lesser evil”, oppositional and advocacy groups accept the validity of the systems that have imposed these choices, blocking possible ways to struggle against and refute the logic and validity of the governmental rationality that grounds them. Writing about the collaboration and cooperation of ordinary Germans with the Nazi regime, mainly by those employed in the Civil Service (but also by the Jewish councils set up by the Nazis), Hannah Arendt explained that “acceptance of lesser evils [has been] consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such,” to the degree that “those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil.” She further claimed that even for the practical consequences, it is always better if enough people refuse to participate in criminal state behavior, rather than engage in moderating it.
Against all those who stayed in Germany to make things better from withing, against all acts of collaboration, especially those undertaken for the sake of the moderation of harm, against the argument that the “lesser evil” of collaboration with the brutal regimes is acceptable if it might prevent or divert greater evils, she called for individual disobedience and collective disorder. Participation, she insisted, communicates consent. Moreover, it hands support to the oppressor. When nothing else is possible, to do nothing is the last effective form of resistance, and the practical consequences of refusal are nearly always better if enough people refuse. In her essay “The Eggs Speak Up”, a sarcastic reference to Stalin’s dictum that “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs”, Arendt pleaded for “a radical negation of the whole concept of lesser evil in politics.”
Weizman Eyal, Thanato-tactics in The Power of Inclusive Exclusion – Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories by Adir Ophir, Michal Givoni & Sari Hanafi. Cambridge: Zone Books, 2009.