Intentions are objective by the culpability of their omission

In any particular political event, a skeptic can take up the position that you do not know the intention behind the event, and therefore you cannot ascribe the meaning to it that you have. For instance, if Israel decides to build on top of one of the few villages depopulated during the Nakba that remains standing, the skeptic can say that you don’t know that an anti-Palestinian motivation is behind the real estate project, and therefore your interpretation of the event is simply your own, and not any more valid than the interpretation of the developer who may simply not be motivated by the historical context of the land.

However, the intention to erase the village, to desecrate the rights of the owners of the houses from which they were stolen, remains there in the action even if these ideas never cross the mind of the developer. They intentions are there not by their presence, but by the moral judgement that accompanies their absence. For example, if a CEO could have known that his accountant was breaking the law, but chose to avoid going through the books to remain inculpable for the fraudulent accounts, he or she can still be held guilty under British common law. The CEO knew enough that s/he could have found out, and chose not to explore the possibility that there may have been something wrong.

No one in Israel simply does not know of the Nakba. Their society is in a constant upheaval about the “Arab question” – everyone knows that Arabs were displaced during the “War of Independence”, and the situation of the refugees is constantly reminded to them in the form of security threats and terrorist attacks. Therefore, if Israelis do not “know” about the Nakba, this not-knowing is a product of active denial, of choosing not to look into the questions of complexity in their own history. They can not-know about the refugees who want to return to their homes only if they implicitly know the refugees are there, and actively surpress any desires to find out more about the situation of the refugees.

The Israeli who does not know about the Nakba is not only like the CEO who avoids looking at the accounts, s/he is also like the person with anosognosia – the person who claims to be missing a limb but in fact possesses the limb. In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau Ponty explains why the person suffering from anosognosia can only maintain ignorance of the presence of the limb they claim not to possess because they are implicitly aware of it – and therefore avoid situations in which the presence of the limb would become obvious and would challenge their idea of themselves as missing the limb. The anosognosia analogy is particularly pertinent when talking about the Israeli who claims not to be motivated by the need to erase the remaining Palestinian villages, because it captures the psychoanalytic form of the absence of knowledge about the Nakba. Only because the Israeli is profoundly aware of the Nakba, and of all its contemporary implications, can they so effectively avoid noticing it in their day to day life, and can they avoid having the thought cross their mind when they go about a construction project which will erase one of the last standing villages.

While we might not consider anosognosia a moral problem (although, perhaps we might if it means the person becomes particularly un-useful in their society), we should consider the actively reproduced ignorance of the Nakba a moral problem – because the duties we have towards each other to live not only peacefully but respectfully are thwarted by the denial of this historical injustice. The fact that we can ascribe a moral character to this implicit activity allows us to recognize the objective presence of the intention to erase the history of the Nakba – its objective existence is not physical or mental, but normative – we can say that its propriety is a social fact about the situation, and therefore objective, while the question of its presence in the mind of any particular person is a subjective fact. Intentions, understood normatively, therefore exceed an individualistic analysis and exist properly only on the social, inter-subjective and historical plane.

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