If there’s one Operation Protective Edge-oriented criticism of Israel I agree with, it’s that we’ve become a bit too inured to the suffering of others. I’m not talking about suffering over the Nakba or the security barrier or the various indignities we thrust upon people daily as part of an occupation or siege. It’s the death and destruction we rain down on them.
I know. It’s their fault. It’s all their fault. I’m not being sarcastic – it really is. It’s what happens when they do a rain dance with unguided rockets and large mortars aimed in our general direction: The skies open up with some of the most efficient tools of destruction known to man. They are fully aware that this will happen yet they still do it.
So we can and do blame the other side – and then in more than just effect we look away when the tally comes in. We rationalize it: They had it coming, they love death, they’re terrorists, they don’t care about their own so why should we. We dust off that old quote attributed to Golda Meir: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”
Yet we are hypocrites when we bring up that quote. We do not forgive the Arabs for killing our children, and rightly so. But at the same time, we barely seem to care when we kill theirs. It’s the other side, after all, that is to blame. And when we’re done shaking our heads at the other side’s dastardly barbarism, we simply move on to something else – for in this neighborhood there is so much head-shaking to do.
THE SIGNS of this hardening among us – even among otherwise decent, compassionate people – are evident in many readers’ letters sent to The Jerusalem Post in recent weeks. Here are excerpts from just a few.
“Kudos to the Post for providing its readers with two very large… advertisements on page three of today’s paper. By taking up so much space on one of the paper’s prime pages, you saved your readers from having to read more stories about the suffering of the poor Palestinians who were hurt by the IDF.”
“‘[A magazine columnist] reveals her true pro-Arab hand when she mourns how ‘too many innocent people have lost their lives.’” “[O]ne cannot help but wonder if anyone is busy studying the pictures of dead and mutilated children put out by Hamas. One in particular looks like Hamas punched the child to get a black eye, and then painted on some red blood.”
“I was shocked to read that [Education Minister Shai] Piron has directed educators to spend the first week of the new school year addressing the issue of racism and tolerance of ‘others.’ His motivational aims are unclear…” This hardening is also evident in our growing acceptance of the extremists among us.
There are lynches and attempted lynches or at the very least violence against minorities that could easily end up that way. What’s that you say? The other side lynches people, so what’s the big deal? At anti-war demonstrations there are the counter-rallies by those who believe that unless you think and act like them you have no right to air your views. (And they do this while waving the flag, as if this furling act somehow legitimizes their small-minded, hateful opinions.) What’s that you say? There’s no Peace Now on the other side, so why should there be one here? And then there’s Lehava, a group ostensibly aimed at preventing assimilation by seeking to convince Israeli Jews not to marry non-Jews (read: Arabs).
It was established by one Bentzi Gopstein.
Several years ago, at his daughter’s wedding, this Hebron settler proudly stated that there was not one Arab in attendance, not even a busboy.
“With us, it’s all about Jewish labor,” Gopstein told a Channel 2 reporter at the affair, which was attended by many of the wild-eyed nationalist punks who guard West Bank hilltops against the presence of the impure – which runs the gamut from Arabs to most anyone in uniform, even soldiers and cops who the previous day might have prevented their car from being stoned.
“Let’s say that if there were an Arab waiter here, he wouldn’t be serving the food,” he continued, with a smile that was at least one-third smirk.
So, the reporter asked, what would the Arab be doing? “He’d be looking,” Gopstein replied, shifting to full-smirk mode, “for the nearest hospital, I think.”
Most recently, Gopstein’s group made headlines with a loud, ugly protest outside the wedding of Morel Malka and Mahmoud Mansour. Mansour, as might be deduced from the name, is an Arab. As for Morel, she’s a Jewish convert to Islam, something that tends to get the attention of Lehava.
Six of the protesters were arrested and it was probably thanks to the police, who kept them far enough away from the wedding hall’s entrance and the arriving guests, that no one was hurt. They were kept away because Lehava is not at all shy about its real goal: the disappearance of non-Jews from the Land of Israel. After all, it campaigns just as avidly against Arabs moving into Jewish neighborhoods and other Arab activities perceived as a threat to “decent” Jews as it does against Arab men moving in on Jewish women.
It was probably this that drove President Reuven Rivlin, no Arab-lover he, to post on his official Facebook page: “There’s a red line between freedom of expression and protest, and incitement.
Mahmoud and Morel from Jaffa decided to get married and exercise their freedom in a democratic country. The voices of incitement against them are infuriating and worrying, regardless of my views or those of anyone else regarding the issue.”
What’s that you say? The other side wants us gone, so what’s wrong if we feel the same way about them? WE REMIND everyone ad nauseam how we’re the chosen people and the Middle East’s only democracy. War or not, we must remind ourselves that humanity and compassion are central tenets of Judaism and democratic thought. The least we can do is feel genuinely bad not only about the tragedies forced on us, but about the tragedies forced on others.
It’s time to admit what these decades of violent dispute have done to us (aside from filling our nation’s graves and depleting the national treasury).
We have to admit that we’ve become more than just inured or numbed; we’ve settled into a comfortable but dangerous nook of denial when the sight of dead people, especially children, should have us shaking our heads at the inhumanity of it all.
What’s at stake is the very soul of this country. We must remember – and force ourselves to remember, if necessary – that in protecting ourselves from outside threats, we run the risk of rotting ourselves out from within.