Our Deaths Don't Count For More

Gil Troy has responded in these pages to my recent comments that I genuinely don’t care if the Israeli-caused deaths of Palestinian civilians of the past more than a decade were intentional or not, because bottom line: People are dead. A whole lot of civilians, many of them children. And if these deaths weren’t intentional, the only options left are indifference or incompetence.

Full disclosure: Gil is an old friend of an old friend. If memory serves, he and I attended a wedding together in Tel Aviv, and I remember other opportunities (entirely pleasant ones, in fact!) at which we met when he would come to Israel for a visit. I can’t tell from the anger in his post if he remembers this fact, but so it goes.

More to the point however, and regardless of any past evenings out, in his post Troy indulges in precisely the kind of knee-jerk rejection of fact and false accusation against which I spend so much of my writing life protesting.

First, he accuses me of mockery, and I have to assure you that I find none of the violence, or the emotions of either side, worthy of mocking. He appears to also accuse me of malice and obtuseness, which, as someone who has lived under threat from Hamas terrorists and Iraqi Scuds, I can assure you, I do not feel. I have family and loved ones in Tel Aviv and beyond and my worry for them is as sincere as Troy appears to presume it is not.

He and I clearly have a different understanding of the disaster that was the September 2000 Camp David summit; in looking for the truth out of that event, I depend on the reporting of Robert Malley, an American diplomat who was there, and not on the political pronouncements of Ehud Barak, who had every reason to spin the truth in his favor in an effort to win an election (in spite of the fact that in so spinning, he misled his entire nation).

I also recall that in the second intifada, the Israeli military fired an estimated 1.3 million bullets into Palestinian crowds (and yes, they were very angry crowds) before the Palestinians themselves resorted to arms.

As to the terrible things that have been said about Jews and Israel, I could counter with the fact that Israeli Jews have been known, on pretty frequent occasion, to chant such things as “Death to the Arabs” (immediately following the singing of Israel’s national anthem) and “Slaughter the Arabs” (while marching en masse through the Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter), not to mention calling for all of Gaza to be flattened and/or returned to the Middle Ages. (Such cases tend to be treated as the rantings of bad apples or outliers by most Israeli and Diaspora Jews, whereas the vile hatred spewed toward us is treated as an indelible part of a foreign culture. I might point out that, either way, unlike any Palestinians who might hate me, my country is actually in a position to flatten all of Gaza).

Here’s the thing: After a quarter of a century of living the conflict, studying the conflict, reporting on and writing about the conflict, it has been my impression that everyone on earth knows that Israel and the Israelis suffer from horrible violence, much of it in the form of war crimes (the suicide bombings on which I once reported, for instance, as well as the firing of rockets into Israeli residential areas).

What the world—including far, far too many Israeli and Diaspora Jews—manages to not consider is that allowing the deaths (by intent, indifference, or incompetence) of massive numbers of Palestinian civilians is no more acceptable than Israel’s own suffering, and that blaming “the Palestinians”—as if they were a monolith, each shop-keep, mother, and toddler as culpable as every member of Hamas manning a rocket launcher—is not only not helpful, it is a symptom of the problem that has allowed for decades of wholly illegal collective punishment.

My loyalty to my people, my attachment to them and my fears for their future, not to mention my basic intelligence and ability to read, are often dismissed out of hand, and I suppose that Troy has every right to join the bandwagon.

But I’m frankly not the point. The point is that whether or not Israel (or Troy) likes it to have it brought to the world’s attention, Israel is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians. And as an Israeli, as a Jew, as a person for whom the future of the Zionist dream is actually a matter of real and quite personal importance, I think it matters that very few people find our enemy’s deaths as important as our own.