My Word: Perpetually Purim

Just as the genocidal plot of the Persians of yesteryear failed, so too will the plans of the current Iranian leaders.

March 19, 2011 22:33
Victoria ship weapons smuggling

victoria ship weapons gallery10. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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‘They’re such cowards, Mum. What can be more cowardly than killing a kid in his bed?”

I can’t recommend having a discussion with a nine-year-old about the massacre of a family in their own home on a Friday night. It wasn’t easy to talk about it with my son, despite the fact that his whole life has been punctuated by news of murders, bombings, missile attacks and a war or two. Just days after our conversation he participated in an annual, countrywide Home Front emergency drill teaching schoolchildren what to do in the event of a rocket or terror attack. Earthquake response is apparently considered of only secondary importance.

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While the terrible tragedy in Japan rightly dominated world headlines, the slaughter of the Fogel family on March 11 was happening on our doorstep. The foreign media, as a matter of course, referred to them as residents of “the West Bank settlement of Itamar” – when they got around to mentioning them at all. I guess those reporters didn’t have to try to explain to their own children what had happened and why.

But these weren’t simply “settlers.” They were people. Israelis. Jews.

They had names: Ruth, Udi, Yoav, Elad and Hadas.

The parents were in their mid-30s. The boys were, well, just boys: 11 and four years old.

They all had dreams. Well, perhaps not Hadas – but that’s because she was only three months old. What can you even say about the murder of a baby so young that the message announcing her birth still decorates the front door? “She had a sweet smile”?

Did she smile at her murderers before they slashed and stabbed her? Or did she scream, picking up the fear of her father in whose lifeless arms she was discovered by her 12-year-old sister? Tamar now has to try to rebuild her life, along with her two remaining younger brothers.

I can think of no explanation or consolation to offer them.

ISRAEL DELIBERATED over the question of whether to publish photos from the scene of the bloodbath. The agonizing was in vain. As quickly as you could say “illegal settler,” the story was not who they were, but where they lived. The Palestinian narrative took it a step further and, despite the condemnation of the Palestinian Authority leadership, the word spread that it wasn’t a terror attack at all, but the act of an aggrieved foreign worker.

Well, it would be a first in Itamar. Fifteen members of the 1,000-strong community were murdered by terrorists before the five killed last week, including other children with their parents.

But as columnist Caroline Glick pointed out last week, none of them will star in a movie or quasi-documentary series like Channel 4’s The Promise which just finished in Britain. They don’t fit the story line. Settlers, after all, are meant to be perpetrators, not victims. Ditto Israelis. Ditto Jews.

While the family was being buried in Jerusalem, around the world Israel Apartheid Week was being marked (or celebrated) on scores of campuses.

The lethal stab wounds were inflicted by terrorists, but they didn’t come out of the blue. The murders were the inevitable result of a chain encircling the globe from the Palestinian street (and more importantly, its schools) to universities in Europe, North America and South Africa (where they should know better).

It started with delegitimization, carried on to dehumanization and ended up with demonization. And that led to the deaths.

That “the settlements” aren’t the core of the regional conflict should be obvious from the events now shaking the Arab world. Should be, but isn’t. That the settlers aren’t the only intended target should be even more clear after Israel Navy commandos last week managed to seize a huge quantity of weapons, including mortars and antiship missiles, being transported in the Victoria cargo ship. The idea of global jihad is a lesson the world seems intent on learning the hard way.

WHEN I HAD a few free hours during my recent lightning trip to London, I ended up at the Imperial War Museum.

As I passed through the exhibition halls, I realized I was seeing everything through Israeli eyes, and was obviously having a different experience from the other visitors. When an airraid siren warning sounded in a World War II exhibit, I suffered from flight-or-fight syndrome. My first instinct when I hear a siren is not to shuffle on past another glass case, but to take cover. In fact, having been in Sderot and other Gaza border communities exactly a week before, I was particularly sensitive.

I doubt most visitors are aware that there is a sovereign state where missiles still land regularly (but “only one or two a week,” as I was informed by my hosts, who routinely mentioned that there was a matter of seconds to seek shelter).

Feeling increasingly uncomfortable, I moved on to the museum’s Holocaust section. Big mistake. This was not a pull-yourself-together show, but a well-thought-out display of how anti-Semitism has played out through the centuries.

Thoroughly depressed, I progressed to an exhibition called “Crimes against Humanity: An Exploration of Genocide and Ethnic Violence.”

This is one of those popular efforts to give the Shoah a universal dimension, perhaps because it’s so hard to make sense of the Holocaust. The main exhibit is a 30- minute film which includes footage of Nazi atrocities as well as more recent images from Yugoslavia, Cambodia and Rwanda, among others.

Toward the end of the movie, a commentator states: “There are some 5,000, maybe 7,000, different peoples alive in the world today – peoples with different ethnic, linguistic, religious identities. There are less than 200 states. We cannot create a world in which every people has its own nationalist state. That is a recipe for unending conflict. Ethnic diversity is the norm in our current world and that’s why ethnic cooperation must be the way forward.”

There is a perturbing subtext to all these well-intentioned, feel-good attempts to create a family of nations that somehow won’t be dysfunctional and poisoned by sibling rivalry. It’s uncanny how so many people believe it’s legitimate for the Palestinians to seek a state of their own – alongside all the other Muslim, Arabic-speaking countries – while the one Jewish state is considered as the main ingredient of global conflict. If only the Jews would stop being different, we could all live in peace, the universalist message has it.

Despite the grim news, Israel is in a festive mood for Purim today.

It is one of those quintessentially Jewish holidays celebrating survival against the odds (and our extraordinarily long, strong communal memory). The answer is not for us to forget our identity – there will always be an Amalek, Haman or Hitler to remind us. The answer is to celebrate who we are, what we have been through and what we have nonetheless achieved.

Just as the genocidal plot of the Persians of yesteryear failed, so too will the plans of the current Iranian leaders. So eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall again refuse to die.

The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.

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