Hillel Schenker

How many deaths will it take till they know…?

The most moving element of last night’s demonstration in Tel Aviv calling for an immediate cease-fire and a return to political negotiations, was a  vast series of memorial candles in the heart of Rabin Square, surrounded by photos of Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in Gaza who have died in the current round of fighting.   At the bottom of the photos and candles was a hand-painted sign which read:

1,043 Memorial Candles

43 Israelis

1,000 Palestinians

Their death is our failure

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It was very moving to see that 20,000 and 30,000 Israelis responded to the call to attend the funeral of the two lone soldiers without families in Israel – Sean Carmeli (21) and Max Steinberg (24), who died in the fighting in Gaza.   But wouldn’t all of us had preferred that Sean and Max could have lived fruitful and productive lives in Israel, as they dreamed of when they came on aliya from the U.S.?

After all, this was a war which could have been prevented, if the nine months of negotiations facilitated by American Secretary of State John Kerry between the Israelis and Palestinians had produced concrete results, and if the Israeli government had been ready to give the Palestinian reconciliation agreement a chance, an agreement based entirely on the Fatah principles of a readiness to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel based upon a two-state solution, an agreement signed by Hamas due to its weakness.

Every victim, Israeli and Palestinian, has a name and a photo

It was also very moving to see the photos of many of the Palestinian civilians, men, and particularly women and children, who have been killed in the course of the fighting.   One of the most disturbing phenomena in the past few days was the fact that when Israeli human rights organization B’tselem asked to run a public service announcement mentioning the names of some of the 150 Palestinian children killed in the fighting, the Israeli Broadcasting Authority refused, claiming that the announcement was “too controversial, too political”.   Since when are the names of children who have been killed in fighting a political issue?

An acknowledgement of the pain of both sides is an expression of common humanity, while an acknowledgement of only one’s own pain, and an ignoring of the other is an expression of narrow tribalism.

Among the signs at last night’s demonstration were: There must be another way; It won’t end until we talk; Revenge is not a political plan; Imagine (in English, Hebrew and Arabic); A leftist who loves Israel (a man carrying an Israeli flag); Leibowitz was right! (about the dangers of the occupation); Stop the war! Security and peace are not achieved via occupation, siege and bloodshed; Israel: Pay the price of peace;  Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies; and No More Deaths: Israeli-Palestinian peace now!

Social activist and organizer Yifat Solel, Chair of the Meretz Forum Against the Occupation, opened the formal part of the demonstration by declaring that it while it was “not easy to go outside these days, it’s impossible to stay at home when we see what is happening all around us”. Among the speakers were Sulaiman Khatib of Combatants for Peace, alongside his Israeli colleague Assaf Yakobovitz.   Sulaiman, who served 10 years in an Israeli jail for activities as a teenager during the first intifada, said that he had come all the way from Ramallah to say that “violence is not the way”.   Particularly moving was Ben Kfir from the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Family Circle Forum, who said that though his son was killed by Hamas, and he lives in the southern city of Ashdod which is suffering from Hamas rocket attacks, he had come to express his opposition to the war, and the need for an immediate cease-fire and a political resolution of the conflict.

Anti-democratic dangers in Europe and Israel

Moroccan-born Prof. Eva Illouz of the Hebrew University, who said she was used to speaking only in the halls of academia, gave powerful expression to her sense of confusion.    On the one hand, she was very concerned about overt expressions of anti-Semitism in Europe as a result of the current conflict, but she also drew worrisome parallels with some of the extremely disturbing phenomenon coming from the Israeli right.   And the fact is that the Israeli police asked the organizers of the the demonstration to move it from the original location of Habima Square to Rabin Square, because they felt they could better separate the right from the left and protect the demonstration there.   And the fact is that right wing demonstrators shouted “Death to Arabs!” “Death to leftists!”, and “Go to Gaza!”   “Who cares about dead Palestinian children!”   And they tried to physically attack the demonstrators when the crowd began to disperse.   And it should be clear, there is no symmetry here.   The left doesn’t attack the right. Only the right attacks the left.

Prof. Eva Illouz warned about the anti-democratic dangers from the Israeli right, which reminded her of similar dangers in Europe

Among the over 7,000 demonstrators, I ran into many people who I have known over the years.   But the large majority of the demonstrators were young people, which provides hope for the future.

The Song of Peace to raise the morale

Sitting alongside the memorial candles and photos was a young man playing the guitar, singing over and over again Shir L’shalom (The Song of Peace).   I couldn’t help recalling when I did my IDF basic training in the West Bank in the summer of 1970.   My young commander decided to make me in charge of the unit’s morale, and whenever we had a particularly hard training exercise, he asked me to lead singing as we marched.   At the time, the late General Rehavam Ze’evi was the head of the Central Command, and he had forbidden the singing of “The Song of Peace” in the West Bank, because he claimed it was “bad for the soldier’s morale, weakened their fighting spirit”, despite the fact that it was the number one song in the country, and sung by a military singing troupe.   Ze’evi’s nickname was “Ghandi”, not because he identified with non-violence – he was an extreme hawk, but rather because he was dark and looked Indian.   So to raise the morale, I would always sing “The Song of Peace”, and all the other soldiers would join me in the chorus – “So sing a song of peace/Don’t whisper a prayer/Sing of peace/With a loud shout!”.   Where would we be without hope for peace on the horizon?

And now once again we hear that a cease-fire proposal is being discussed.  On Saturday morning, after going to the Dizengoff Center pool, I listened as usual to 88 FM and its oldies program.   The d-jay was Revital Amit, and I recalled that I first heard her voice during the long cold nights on the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War, when I served in the Combat Engineering Corps.  That was when Army Radio decided for the first time to do 24 hour a day broadcasting, so that the soldiers on guard duty at night could have some music to keep them warm.

On this Saturday morning, which she opened by saying “A humanitarian Shabbat Shalom” (due to the eight hour humanitarian cease-fire that was declared) she decided to play the lyrical Peter, Paul and Mary version of Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”, which they sang together with Dylan and Joan Baez at the March on Washington in 1963. Yes, “How many ears must one man have/before he can hear people cry…How many years can a people exist/Before they’re allowed to be free…How many times must the cannonballs fly/Before they’re forever banned…How many deaths will it take till they know/That too many people have died…”


About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv