Sherri Mandell wrote a touching and necessary tribute to 26-year-old Dahlia Lemkus, who was stabbed to death Monday at a bus stop in the West Bank.
As a society encumbered by ongoing violence, we need more tributes like this, but not only for the Israeli victims — for the Palestinian victims as well.
Mandell wrote that the media practices obscurantism, that they don’t give details about the casualties here. By contrast, Mandell provided intimate facts about Lemkus — her hopes, her job, her daily routine — to show that Lemkus is not just a number or a statistic; she was a person whose untimely death will affect many around her. Mandell’s eloquent tribute forces us to face the catastrophic effects of this ongoing conflict.
The mainstream Israeli media, too, practices obscurantism: they rarely report on the deaths of innocent Palestinian victims. Moreover, we don’t hear their personal stories, the details that make them human.
Photos of Lemkus appeared on the front pages of all of Israel’s major Hebrew dailies yesterday. Yet, the Israeli public knows little if anything about Lubna al-Hanash, for example, a 21-year-old Palestinian who was shot to death by the military last year while she walked through the garden of a college near Hebron. The military claimed that the soldier who shot Lubna didn’t see her while he was shooting at stone throwers in the area.
We don’t know what Lubna’s dreams or hobbies were. We don’t know how many siblings she had or whether she was engaged.
The most extreme form of the Israeli media’s obscurantism occurred during last summer’s war. Reporters focused on numbers, not people, in Gaza. The Israel Broadcasting Authority went so far as to ban radio adverts by the human rights organization B’Tselem in which names of children killed in Gaza were read out. Thus, we don’t know much about Yasmin and Usamah al-Astal, aged 5 and 8 respectively, who were killed at their aunt’s house, where their parents sent them to escape the violence near their own. In fact, we know practically nothing about the hundreds of civilians killed in Gaza.
Because the media don’t treat the Palestinian victims as people, it’s easier for we as Israelis to dehumanize them. Because the Palestinian casualties are ignored in the media — and by extension the public discourse — we believe that only we suffer, that we are the only victims.
If we are ever to stop the violence that is claiming more and more people on both sides, we must acknowledge the human loss on the Palestinian side. We must acknowledge that each civilian casualty there, too, has a name and a face and dreams and a profession. Each casualty, there too, is a grave loss to society.
As the violence escalates, I call on the Israeli media to take the lead in recognizing the other side’s humanity. It may not change the situation in the near future, but it’s a start.