July 29, 2004
If the Situation Were Reversed
What would happen if a Palestinian terrorist were to detonate a bomb at the entrance to an apartment building in Israel and cause the death of an elderly man in a wheelchair, who would later be found buried under the rubble of the building? The country would be profoundly shocked. Everyone would talk about the sickening cruelty of the act and its perpetrators. The shock would be even greater if it then turned out that the dead man's wife had tried to dissuade the terrorist from blowing up the house, telling him that there were people inside, but to no avail. The tabloids would come out with the usual screaming headline: "Buried alive in his wheelchair." The terrorists would be branded "animals."
Last Monday, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) bulldozers in Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, demolished the home of Ibrahim Halfalla, a 75-year-old disabled man and father of seven, and buried him alive. Umm-Basel, his wife, says she tried to stop the driver of the heavy machine by shouting, but he paid her no heed. The IDF termed the act "a mistake that shouldn't have happened," and the incident was noted in passing in Israel. The country's largest-circulation paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, didn't bother to run the story at all. The blood libel in France -- a woman's tale of being subjected to an anti-Semitic attack, which later turned out to be fiction -- proved a great deal more upsetting to people. There we thought the assault was aimed against our people. But when the IDF bulldozes a disabled Palestinian to death? Not a story. Just like the killing, under the rubble of her home, of Noha Maqadama, a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy, before the eyes of her husband and children, in El Boureij refugee camp a few months earlier.
And what would happen if a Palestinian were to shoot an Israeli university lecturer and his son in front of his wife and their young son? That's what happened 10 days ago in the case of Dr. Salem Khaled, from Nablus, who called to the soldiers from the window of his house because he was a man of peace and the front door had jammed, so he couldn't get out. The soldiers shot him to death and then killed his 16-year-old son before the eyes of his mother and his 11-year-old brother. It's not hard to imagine how we would react to the story if the victims were ours.
But when we're implicated and the victims are Palestinians, we prefer to avert our eyes, not to know, not to take an interest and certainly not to be shocked. Palestinian victims -- and their numbers, as everyone knows, are far greater than ours -- don't even merit newspaper reports, not even when the chain of events is particularly brutal, as in the examples given. This is not an intellectual exercise but an attempt to demonstrate the concealment of information, the double morality and the hypocrisy. The indifference to these two very recent incidents proved again that in our eyes there is only one victim and all the others will never be considered victims.
If a European cabinet minister were to declare, "I don't want these long-nosed Jews to serve me in restaurants," all of Europe would be up in arms and this would be the minister's last comment as a minister. Three years ago, our former labor and social affairs minister, Shlomo Benizri, from Shas, stated: "I can't understand why slanty-eyed types should be the ones to serve me in restaurants." Nothing happened. We are allowed to be racists. And if a European government were to announce that Jews are not permitted to attend Christian schools? The Jewish world would rise up in protest. But when our Education Ministry announces that it will not permit Arabs to attend Jewish schools in Haifa, it's not considered racism. Only in Israel could this not be labeled racist. The heritage of Golda Meir -- it was she who said that after what the Nazis did to us, we can do whatever we want -- is now having a late and unfortunate revival.
What would happen if a certain country were to enact legislation forbidding members of a particular nation to become citizens there, no matter what the circumstances, including mixed couples who married and raised families? No country anywhere enacts laws like these nowadays, apart from Israel. If the Cabinet extends the validity of the new citizenship law today, Palestinians will not be able to undergo naturalization here, even if they are married to Israelis. We have the right, you see. And if the illegal Israeli immigrants in the United States were hunted down like animals in the dark of night, the way the Immigration Police do here, would we have a better understanding of the injustice we are doing to a community that wants nothing other than to work here?
What would we say if the parents of Israeli emigrants were separated from their children and deported, without having available any avenue of naturalization, no matter what the circumstances? And how would we classify a country that interrogates visitors about their political opinions as soon as they disembark from the plane at the airport and bars them from entering it the security authorities look askance at the opinions they express? What would happen if anti-Semites in France were to poison the drinking water of a Jewish neighborhood? Last week settlers poisoned a well at Atawana, in the southern Mount Hebron region, and the police are investigating.
And we still haven't said anything about a country that would imprison another nation, or about a regime that would prevent access to medical treatment for some of its subjects, according to its national identity, about roads that would be open only to the members of one nation or about an airport that would be closed to the other nation. All this is happening in Israel and is pulling from under us the moral ground that makes it possible for us to complain about racism and anti-Semitism abroad, even when they actually erupt.
Reprinted with permission of Haaretz © 2004.
Gideon Levy writes for Haaretz.