By LIAT COLLINSPublished: JANUARY 18, 2009 00:24Advertisement
I'm having trouble sleeping at nights. It's not my conscience as an Israeli who has openly supported Operation Cast Lead from even before its belated start. It's because I worry about friends in Sderot and Ashkelon - and relatives in England and Toronto.
The UK and Canada might not be in rocket range (at least not for Hamas/Hizbullah missiles), but the war in Gaza is reaching them. And from what I've seen, the threat will remain long after the firing dies down.
Searching for news photos the other day, I came across some disturbing images. I'm not immune to the pictures from Gaza of little blood-soaked children - the type of photos which come with a warning to editors: "Contains graphic content." Distressing as these are, however, it is not these that keep me awake.
I blame coffee - Starbucks Coffee, that is. It's the fashionable thing to do. An AP photo of pro-Palestinian protesters smashing the window of a Starbucks store in London on January 10 was the first image to make me do a double take. (A few days later, I found similar pictures of a Starbucks outlet under attack in Beirut.) The photo was foreign to me not only as an Israeli but as someone born and brought up in Britain. A veteran of scores of demonstrations in London during the late '70s, when I spent almost every Sunday afternoon rallying in support of Soviet Jewry, I had never come across such violence. The masked protesters hurling what looks like police barriers through the shop window rang no bells from my days as an adolescent demonstrator. They did ring warning alarms. They were reminiscent not of my youth but of pictures from a much darker period in history when Jewish-owned shops were targeted by Hitler's Nazis.
The other image which is disturbing both visually and emotionally is that of small children carrying "blood-stained" dolls to protest Israel's actions in Gaza. These pictures are more haunting than the children in the original images whose memories they are trying to preserve. Adult protesters demonstrating hatred by hitting out at Jewish-owned property are not a good sign of the present situation. Children being raised with this level of vitriol is a desperately bad omen for the future.
It is, of course, part of the same phenomenon of exploiting children to further war that we have been witnessing in Gaza itself. To put in words a cartoon doing the rounds on the Web: We do everything to protect our kids; Hamas is using kids to protect them. The illustration shows an Israeli soldier protecting a stroller from a Palestinian who is firing from behind one.
Parents all over Israel have been heeding the advice of child psychologists and trying to make sure their children are not exposed to war footage on TV and are - as far as possible - kept not only physically safe but emotionally healthy. In contrast, Hamas and its supporters have mobilized even toddlers in their war effort: not only using them as tiny human shields in the Strip, but also ensuring that those not under physical threat are as traumatized as possible. I remember agonized conversations with other mothers about allowing our sons to play with toy guns. We still struggle to explain that war is sometimes necessary but never good. It's hard to identify with a mother who gives a little girl a shroud-wrapped doll and deliberately inculcates a life-long hatred of "the enemy." It's the sort of education that seems doomed to literally blow up in all our faces. From carrying a martyred "toy" to donning an explosive belt is a small step, even for small feet.
LATELY I find myself thinking of Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (the celebrity pro-Palestinian actors and entertainers rallying in London last week have a rich tradition of anti-Semitism behind them). While the world obsesses over the (undisputed) suffering of Gaza's children, I can't but wonder where is the similar outpouring of sympathy for the children who have spent years in the shadow of Kassams and Katyushas. "Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions...?" I ask. "If you prick us, do we not bleed?"
Of course we do. And I have always liked to think that human blood was the same no matter in whose veins it flowed. Now, I realize that not only is Palestinian blood apparently worth more than Jewish blood - at least when it comes to photos - but it also has inherently different properties. Unfortunately, like most Israelis who have lived through a few wars and a couple of intifadas, young people I knew have been killed. As far as I know, when Jewish kids die, their hearts stop beating and their blood stops flowing (and a bit of their parents dies with them). Look at the photos circulating on the Web and in even respectable news agencies and you might notice that when Palestinian children die, bright red blood continues to soak out through white sheets. Either they are being buried alive or someone has added a few special effects to make sure their image will live on. Incidentally, when a Muslim dies, the body is usually washed and wrapped in a shroud, but martyrs are buried unbathed in the clothes they were wearing. Evidently, anyone who dies in Gaza at the moment is immediately considered a martyr.
But blood libels are also a part of our heritage.
And that is why, while friends and relatives abroad fret for my safety here in Israel, I continue to fear for their welfare.
A Post editorial on January 9 deservedly praised the Jews who have rallied in favor of Israel across Europe and the US - often despite bitterly cold weather and the very real threat of attack. This is not just a matter of solidarity, like the demonstrations in which I took part calling on the then-Soviet Union to "Let my people go!"
The Diaspora and Israel are intricately bound together: Even Jewish blood is thicker than water. Anti-Semitic attacks have risen so much since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead late last month that the Israeli Foreign Ministry has released a statement expressing its concern. I was not the only one woken up by Starbucks.
There have been attacks on synagogues (where we do not stockpile missiles) and cemeteries (where we don't foster a culture of never-ending hatred and martyrdom). Business and academic boycotts have been launched. Jews have been physically and verbally assaulted.
I can't decide whether it makes my blood boil or freezes it in my veins. The heat is on, and it's chilling. A world so easily tempted to support the Palestinian side - no matter how many attacks it has perpetrated on Israelis in the past few years - is on its way to discovering that global jihad does not stop in the Middle East.
The sound of Jewish-owned shop windows being broken, after all, marked the beginning - not the end - of World War II.
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