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Are Israeli lives worthier than those of Nigerians? An economic vs moral response

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By; Khomotso Ntuli


In appreciating the outrage over the abducted Nigerian girls and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, one finds himself wondering how different the countries and the world responded to the issue and how Israel and the Israeli Defence Force responded to the missing Israeli boys.

Talk Radio 702’s Aubrey Masango recently had this issue as the topic on his show, Talk at Nine where he asked the question about whether Israeli lives are more important that Nigerian lives to which a number of callers responded by saying all lives are equal. This is true but one would suggest that it is not the whole story.

It was interesting to read an article in Christian Science Monitor where Max Schindler looked at the Facebook revenge campaign against Hamas, the Islamist group that wields a lot of influence in the Gaza Strip. The Facebook page attracted 36 000 people who joined the group in two days. A Hartez article by Ruth Perl Baharir noted the condemnation of the campaign by the Justice minister Tzipi Livni who “condemned the online calls for revenge and in an interview for Channel 2 said she will discuss pursuing legal action against those involved with the Attorney General.”

It would do us well to first appreciate the fact that it was not the first time that Israeli nationals and Jews elsewhere have responded in this manner. Does it not happen elsewhere? It does, the difference here is that the repercussions are usually not the same. In the short space of time that the three Israeli teenage boys were missing, some houses were bombed and the boys were found, even though they were found dead. This was a speedy response for the lives of Israelis. One would further argue that more Israelis appreciated this than those registering their concerns.


The #BringBackOurGirls campaign against the abduction of 200 girls which “began in late April as a Nigerian rallying cry intended to spur immediate action from the inept government.” As can be seen in an article in The Week by Ben Scott has been running for more than 2 months. Whether or not it has been successful depends on the kind of lens one wishes to view it with. Have the girls returned? No. Found? No.

Just to be clear on the two campaigns, one is against the abduction of three teenage boys who have been found and the other is against 200 teenage girls who have not been found. Common between the two is that those held responsible are both Islamist groups fighting those who govern the abductees. Noting the response time in the two counties, one is led to ask the question that makes the title of this article, whether Israeli lives are worthier or more important than those of Nigerians.  A politically incorrect answer would be a yes. Unfortunate as it may be. More important than the yes or no is the basis of the answer, to which one would suggest has a lot to do with a state’s capacity and show of it thereof to protect its citizens.

If we go from the premise that says a state’s primary duty is to protect its citizens and ensure that they live comfortably, then we may find it justifiable not to fault Israel. Before the backlash, it would be well to acknowledge that, this of course has to be within the limits of morality and international law, even though these usually come as a hindrance for a number of countries.

Israel has been for a while called an apartheid state even though organisations like the United Nations, countries referred to as “world power” and other international bodies have struggled to curb the ongoing atrocities against Palestinians. The chief mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (USA) has in a number of cases found itself conflicted in responding and keeping some of the Israeli demands in check. Why? The answer to this partly has to do with Israel’s economic influence world over, which is appreciated by many to the chagrin of a lot more people. One would suggest that it is this influence that has seen them able to do a number of things on the international arena, sometimes with impunity.

The world’s appreciation of Israeli intelligence is one issue that is crucial not to take for granted, and Israeli nationals know this well and how it benefits much of the world in addition to Israel’s scientific, military, and economic muscle. It is of course not the state that is primarily responsible for all the above mentioned but the actual Israeli nation which is empowered by a state that is clear on its role and duty to its citizens. The government as a reciprocal beneficiary of the contributions of its people knows well that it has a duty to ensure that their people trusts them to protect them.

That the strong sense of racial solidarity that is seen among Jews world over is partly attributed to harsh treatments that they have experienced from different parts of the world and nations, is an issue that is acknowledged by much of the world. As a very small nation in size, it obviously does matter what anyone does to their fellow countrymen. Is this to say bigger nations like Nigeria don’t care about their citizens? Not at all. Is it to say Nigerian intelligence and it’s show of the capacity to protect its citizens is challenged because of their response or lack thereof? Yes. What may be interesting for some is President Jonathan’s acquisition of the service of a “Washington PR firm to help fix the Jonathan government’s lagging reputation in the aftermath of the crisis.” This was at the cost of $1.2 million.

Some may well look at the moral nature of the abductions and appeal to the moral sentiments of Boko Haram, which ironically happens to claim that it is doing this in the name of Allah, even though it is questionable whether the moral domain has been the force wielding much influence in world affairs. The use of force by religious groups to achieve the aims of their beliefs is an issue that one will probably forever struggle with.

Important here however is to note that much of the strides that have been made against what may be referred to as immoral acts have been done when the perpetrators were given an incentive to do away with them. The demise of Apartheid South Africa is a typical example that shows how decades of appealing to Britain and the National party had to wait for the imminent military invasion of South Africa and the disinvestments that were in full swing at the time when the safe thing to do was present the negotiations as those based on moral principles.

Concluding this article would require that one state his agreement with the fact that moral principles are important in individual, social, national and international affairs, but it would be tragic not to appreciate the bigger incentive that “perpetrator’s” need to be presented with to let go of their privilege. This is not a comment on whether Hamas or Israel is justified to use the means they see necessary to fight their political battle but history has taught us that incentive usually straddles on force and economic incentive. The continuous show of force between Palestine and Israel probably speaks to this.

Khomotso Ntuli is the facilitator of Bush Dialogues and can be reached at mmodemi@gmail.com

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