Why it's always Israel's fault

How close to a victim do you have to be to mourn him?  When thousands of people die in a flood in China or Bangladesh, Americans do not cry for them, though official condolences are sent.  When 200,000 Syrians die in a civil war, almost no one in America becomes hysterical.  Boko Haram’s abduction of 200 schoolgirls was noticed around the world -- for a moment.  The slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda was not called “genocide” so America would not appear callous and crude by failing to react to the butchery.  All these people were faceless and thus dehumanized so their loss did not have to arouse lingering sadness or calls for action.  As Stalin said, one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. 

Even when violence occurs closer to home here in America, it is the rarity of the event or its dastardly nature that elicits an emotional response.  Twenty-six kindergarten children here, eleven movie-goers there!  Those are the events that pull at our heartstrings, as we thank Whoever that it was not us.  But at least some gut-wrenching mourning for these American victims did indeed arise from the people thanks to identification with those killed and extensive mass media coverage.

            In Israel things are different because of the small town quality of the country.  When three youngsters were kidnapped and murdered in Judea in the summer of 2014, the entire nation convulsed.  The army quickly announced that it needed Israeli citizens who were familiar with the area around Hebron to volunteer for the search.  Some did so, leaving their homes and jobs for this intrinsically dangerous task.  The bodies of the boys were found and were buried together in a shared grave with eulogies from the graveside being broadcast live on ordinary news outlets.  At each home, the seven‑day mourning period was attended by politicians and complete strangers.  The boy’s faces were universally recognized within the country and remain so today.  The mothers, now tied together by the tragedy they shared, have been speaking all over both the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds for the cause of peace.  Money has been donated to memorialize the victims so that good deeds could be performed in their memory and so that worthy projects could be established in their names.  The victims will be remembered for many years and meetings will be held at the anniversary of their deaths for the next decade or longer.

There is practical value to Israel’s strong emotional reactions to the murder and maiming of its citizens.  Violence perpetrated against all Israelis is actually lessened over the long run by Israel’s extreme sensitivity to these sporadic losses.  Police and military forces take almost immediate and very directed action to locate the victims or bring in the perpetrators of the atrocity.  Occasionally, limited Arab attacks have resulted in full-scale conflicts within hours or days.  Israel’s last battles with Hezb’Allah in Lebanon resulted from the kidnapping of three soldiers.   Such rapid and sharp reactions prevent wars of attrition that can drag out over years. Attrition takes more lives and causes more pain than sharp but limited wars, known in Israel as “mowing the lawn.” 

Moreover, sharp reactions support feelings of cathartic revenge.  Revenge is underrated and denigrated in the post‑Christian Western world, but expected within unadulterated (or unmoderated) Muslim culture.  Properly maintained expectations for Muslims allow the Israelis to persist within the world of Muslim honor- and shame‑driven societies.  Quick reactions also permit Israelis to obtain some comfort in the deaths of their loved ones, because those left behind are able to say to themselves that many other lives were saved through their personal tragedies.  The deaths of the three Israeli teenagers led to the 2014 summer’s full-scale conflict with Hamas in Gaza who took full responsibility for the boys’ abductions.  By the time the conflict was over, the attack tunnels from Gaza into Israel had been discovered and destroyed so that much larger atrocities in the southern part of the country were averted.  One such tunnel opened into Israel within a few hundred yards of a kindergarten, so the three Israeli teenagers can take credit in their deaths for saving the lives of the kindergarten children.  This is not wishful thinking.  Anyone who denies this chain of causality is lying to themselves and others. 

            It is this unusual sensitivity to death that encourages others to blame Israel for the violence in the Middle East.  If the Israeli public were not washed in the personal histories of each deceased individual through the written media, as well as radio and television broadcasts, anger would subside much quicker and calls for proper measures to prevent future attacks would be muted sooner. 

Here is a quintessential example of a contrasting attitude: When Saeb Erekat, a representative of the Palestinian Authority, commented on the slaughter of the boys, he said something to the effect that ‘three people died and everyone gets so upset’!  Apparently, he believes that unless you gave birth to that now-dead individual, you have no reasonable need to mourn him.  Perhaps not even then!  Erekat is, of course, mostly mirroring the values of his society – Muslim and Leftist.  The worth of a single human life can be extoled, ignored or demeaned.  He chose the avenue of diminution, someplace between ignored and demeaned.  It is a matter of choice.  But his view has further implications.  If the deaths of three youngsters were unimportant, the deaths of any individual or any number of individuals are equally unimportant.   To Leftists humanity is ostensibly important, but an individual’s life, not so much or not at all, depending upon the sect of Leftist outlook from which one hails.  To a subgroup of Muslims, dying while taking the lives of the enemy is called martyrdom, an exalted act.  It is a great strategy for success in war, but not very good for the survival of the individual.

“Choosing life,” is more complicated, but a realistic alternative, as these three grieving mothers have shown. “Choosing life” is not defined as touting personal survival; it emanates rather from the veneration of individual worth. The choice between Erekat’s banal approach to death or that of the three mothers’ vital responses is so fundamentally important that they cannot fail to have different outcomes for humanity as a whole.

In contrast, the Jews seem quite driven to “choose life.”  It is a different culture, perhaps even a social‑religious obligation imposed upon them by the God of history.  When the Jews entered Israel, the Book of Joshua reports that in accordance with the dramatic commandment of Moses in Deuteronomy, half the Jews stood in front of Mt. Eval and half at the foot of Mt. Greizim where they were abjured to “choose life.”  To my knowledge, no other group of people has ever had to swear en masse to ‘choose life’.  How strange that must have been! 

But there have been negative consequences to this obsession with life.  It is perhaps through the force of that original commandment that the Jews have become the faulty party in all confrontations in Israel.   Long after the violent death of an individual, the public mourning goes on ad libitum.  Anti‑Semites know it is the Jews’ irritable over‑reactions to death that make them responsible for any current conflicts and all others to which they were party in the past or will be party to in the future.  The mechanism underpinning this belief is “Jews believe that Jewish lives are so much more important than other lives.”  Such people get tired of hearing about the Holocaust and may openly resent or deny it.  Every anti-Semite concerned with matters in the Middle East knows as well that the Jews’ sensitivity to loss interferes with a final solution to the problems there.  If the Jews would just have the sense to lie down and shut up, death could again take on its more limited, less emotional meaning and its effects in the political realm could be minimized to the point that it was again just a matter of business.  What in Netanyahu’s speech to Congress has most frightened worldly and important people was his insistence that he really and honestly and fervently meant “Never Again.”