Friday, November 21, 2003

Larry Derfner has written a very troubling article in today's Jerusalem Post -- The wages of denial.

The problem is that the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israel has no effect on Jews at all.

This is not a failure of the Israeli or Jewish heart. A nation at war doesn't feel for the losses of the other side – maybe for a particular individual, a child whose face they've seen and whose story they've learned, but not for the enemy in general.

IN FACT, I credit Israelis for having much more human decency than their enemy – they may be indifferent to the news of the deaths of Palestinian innocents, but at least you won't find crowds of them dancing and cheering. But while I don't expect Palestinian suffering to touch Jewish hearts, I do expect it to at least register in Jewish minds. If we want to think wisely about Israel and the Jewish people, about where we stand and where we're going, one of the things we must keep uppermost in our minds is that Israel is inflicting mammoth suffering on 3.3 million Palestinians.

But of course we don't. Instead, Jews have developed an amazingly efficient denial mechanism that automatically prevents any word or picture that shows what we're doing to the Palestinians from ever getting into our brains. Our minds are open to receive and store information only about what the Arabs are doing to us.

We've willed ourselves into ignorance of our surroundings, so that when bombs go off and Jews get killed, in Israel and elsewhere, we can't understand it as anything other than incorrigible, eternal Jew-hatred that has no connection whatsoever to what Israel is doing in the territories – because we've blanked our minds on what Israel is doing in the territories. Therefore, when our military and intelligence leaders tell us there is a connection between what we do to the Arabs and what they do to us, it's a huge shock.

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon says we're being so harsh on the Palestinian population that they may never stop hating us, and we don't understand.

Were we being harsh?

What are these four ex-Shin Bet chiefs talking about? "Once and for all we have to admit that there is another side, and that they have feelings and they suffer, and that we are treating them in a disgraceful manner."

Yes, that's the only word I have for it. Disgraceful, says Avraham Shalom.

"To this day I don't understand why a tank that's driving on the streets of Ramallah also has to crush the cars parked on the sides," says Ya'acov Peri.

He continues with these painfully sharp remarks:

We don't see it, but everybody else in the world does, above all the Muslims. It's true that plenty of them hate all Jews no matter what we do – but why did this wave of Muslim violence against Diaspora Jews begin exactly when the intifada made its debut on the nightly news?

Just because those Muslims are anti-Semites doesn't mean that Israel isn't treating the Palestinians disgracefully, and anybody who doesn't see the connection between that disgraceful treatment and the savage actions of anti-Semites – whether in Jerusalem, Istanbul or Paris – is unconscious.

But unconscious is what we Jews have decided to become.

I think he is correct. It is so easy when one is suffering at the hands of another to be oblivious to the suffering that one is inflicting on that same other. When I first saw the photographs of the separation fence going almost entirely around Qalqilyah, on the West Bank, I was shocked.

I was once in Qalqilyah, over ten years ago, during the first intifada. Soldiers on the main road to the city wouldn't let us in, so we drove a short way from there and walked through the orchards surrounding the city until we got into it. You can't do that now. Now the only way to enter the city is to go through the checkpoint. I imagine that the farmers who live in the city are now entirely cut off from their orchards and fields.

I understand why Israelis want to build the fence/wall -- in the belief or hope that it will stop suicide bombers. But I think it will provide only the illusion of security, and make it even easier to ignore what Israelis are doing to Palestinians.

This is not to excuse anti-semitism, as I think I have made clear many times in this blog. I don't believe that anti-semitism is the Jews' "fault" -- I think, on the contrary, that anti-semitism is like a virus, and that when the body politic is weakened, it can flare up again. The conflict (let's be honest -- the war) between Israelis and Palestinians is real -- it's not a figment of the anti-semitic imagination, and real wars engender real hatreds. Let's just say that war makes it possible for many different viruses of hatred to flourish.

When I heard this morning about the bombings in Turkey, I was very disheartened. I can only imagine how the people of Istanbul feel now that their city has been devastated by two massive bombings within a week. But it did make me realize one thing. It is very easy as a Jew to fall into the illusion that we are uniquely singled out for attacks -- but it's not true. Thus I don't think there is a one-to-one relationship between Israeli actions against Palestinians and attacks upon Jews outside of Israel. On September 11, Al-Qaeda struck at power centers in the United States -- not at Israel. Jews and Israel are one target of Al-Qaeda -- but only within a complex web of associations that they make between the U.S., Europe, Israel, Arab regimes, etc.

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