Galya Gerstman

Just a Statistic?

These past few days my ADD has been completely out of control. I can’t concentrate on anything without an unwanted image suddenly appearing on the screen of my mind: a charred baby’s body, say, or a rape victim paraded through the streets, the seat of her pants filled with blood as she’s dragged by the hair. I try to blot these out. I tell myself, “How does it help the victims and the hostages for you to lose sleep? How does it help anyone for you to dwell on these atrocities?” I don’t know how to feel. I am a mixture of dumbfounded and horrified, riddled with seemingly unanswerable questions. How could this happen? How could any human being do such things to another? Use a hostage’s phone to call her mother so she can hear her daughter’s screams as she is gang-raped? Who does something like that? I will not call them militants. They were not fighting soldiers. They were butchering babies. Even the word “criminal” is tepid.

There is a long list of the things I can’t understand. My daughter posted, within a few hours of hearing of the attack on Southern Israel, a message of solidarity with it. But within minutes, she was inundated with vitriol and insults by people supporting Palestine and reviling Israel. She was so overwrought and cowed that she took her post down. I understand why Palestinian activists and supporters decry Israeli occupation, though this is Gaza we’re talking about and Israel hasn’t occupied Gaza since 2005. I, too, believe Palestinians need their own state, but one next to Israel. Not instead of Israel.

Hamas has never made any bones about its desire to annihilate Israel. It’s in its charter. And those who chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” that’s what they’re talking about. No Israel between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. I wonder where they think the Israelis will go. A lot of people see Israel as an artificial country made up of interlopers from Poland and Russia. They seem to have forgotten that Israel is the Jews’ ancestral homeland, as depicted in the Bible, a historical document whether one views it as sacred or not. The Romans fought the Jews and captured Jerusalem from them, destroyed their temple, leaving only a wall. Jesus, a Jew, walked the streets of Nazareth and the Galilee. The Jews were there. That, of course, doesn’t change the facts on the ground now, the existence of another people clamoring to get in. Yes, the Palestinians must be accommodated somewhere in the land, as many peace efforts have strived to accomplish. Maybe one day it will come to pass. But in the meantime I am mystified that some people, many people, can think it’s okay to burn babies and rape teenagers in order to help bring that about. How do acts of barbarism, how do acts of terror pave the road for that? Do they think the Israelis will be so beaten down, so mowed down, that they will just leave? Where to? My mother was born in Palestine, as was her father, as was his father and so on for some generations. Where should she go? Why should she go? Or do they just plan to kill them all?

And something else has been disturbing me: the silence of the people who don’t seem to care at all. Sure, I get that many don’t like to post. But the people who are silent now were often not silent when George Floyd was murdered. We all witnessed his anguishing death and we all understood the need to state that Black Lives Matter. Furthermore, I recall watching the body cam footage of Tyre Nichols being beaten, as he asked, “What did I do?” His voice was high-pitched, scared and tormented. He sounded like a boy, any of our boys. I think I recall he also cried for his mom. I wept. I have sons. I am a mother. Why did I watch that video, I berated myself. How does that help anyone? I kept thinking about his mother. I kept hearing him call for her. Yet now I think, why were these deaths more reprehensible than the deaths of the festival-goers in Israel? Why are so many ignoring these? Was it because the former were individual deaths, to which we could put a face and a name? Is it, as Stalin infamously said, that the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions a statistic? I wish I could believe that’s the reason. That what happened in Israel isn’t real to them. I wish I could believe that the people who are remaining silent now aren’t seeing the images I’ve been seeing, aren’t hearing the reports I’ve been hearing. Because otherwise, what must I conclude? That the same people who posted Black Lives Matter, who posted Ukrainian flags, who posted even recently about workers’ rights in the wave of strikes, don’t feel any sympathy for the murder of Jews? Or feel they will be seen by their cronies as non-PC for condemning the massacre of Israelis, be they in uniform or pyjamas, be they in tanks or in cribs?

Now I get why my father, a Holocaust survivor, insisted on recounting to my brothers and me over and over his horror stories. I couldn’t understand then why he wanted to relive his pain, why he wanted to dwell on it. But now I do. Now I get it. He wanted us to bear witness. He wanted us to know. This is why I keep clicking on images and videos, why I read articles on beaten Black men and slaughtered Jewish grandmothers. Because it’s cowardice to turn away. Because maybe I’m not helping anyone directly by reading about the bloodbaths, but at least I am bearing witness. At least I know. And this is why I keep talking to anyone who will listen about the images I’ve seen, the reports I’ve heard. This is why I write this. So you will know.

Well, now you know.

About the Author
Galya Gerstman is the author of the novel Daughters of Jerusalem, based on episodes from her grandmother’s life, to be released Winter 2023-4 by Pleasure Boat Studio Press. She is also the author of the novel Texting Olivia and has had articles published in Scary Mommy, Motherhood Later, and other sites. Galya taught French Literature at Tel Aviv University before relocating to Costa Rica to raise a family. She possesses a PhD in French Literature from Columbia University and a BA in Creative Writing from Barnard College.