Our Lack of Mourning Is Horrifying

Some things are noticed in their absence, like birdsong, or traffic, or tears.

On Wednesday, Dec 12, 2018, a baby died. The child, who was Israeli, was born prematurely after his mother was shot during a drive-by shooting in the West Bank.

The boy had been delivered by cesarean section at 30 weeks to save the life of his young mother Shira Ish-Ran. As many readers of this blog probably know, her husband Amichai was also wounded in the shooting, as well as seven other Israelis. The shooting happened outside the West Bank settlement of Ofra when a car carrying Palestinian gunmen opened fire at a bus stop where soldiers were waiting to hitch rides. Two of the other Israelis injured in the attack were 16-year-old girls.

My social media feed swelled in the aftermath with expressions of grief and solidarity from Jews all around the world.

I join them in their grief but find other emotions alternating with sadness.

There was a time when I could hear of an Israeli killed by Palestinians, usually a Jew, and respond with pure grief. Joining in acts of communal togetherness and grief and outrage afterward, although painful, also felt good- there could be feelings of connection and love to my fellow Jews as well.

No longer is my reaction that simple.

Although I abhor all violence and do grieve with those shot at that West Bank bus stop and their families and loved ones, what I have a hard time bearing, as 2018 closes, is the effusiveness of our collective Jewish grief over the death of one of our own and the relative silence one hears about those that we ourselves have murdered this year.

According to a recent count by the Associated Press which does not account for all deaths and injuries in the last months, at least 175 Palestinians have now been shot dead by the IDF at the Great Return March protests.  Of the 10,511 protesters treated at hospitals and field clinics in Gaza so far, at least 5,884 of those casualties were hit by live ammunition in the legs.

Of those shot dead, one figure puts the number of minors at fifty-six. Fifty-six children shot dead by the IDF. Where is the collective grief over this horrendous statistic

The fourteen-year-old killed by the IDF Friday will get no outpouring of grief like that of Ari Fuld or other precious people killed in this conflict. Is there a spectrum of human preciousness? Golda Meir’s famous dictum that we grieve killing more than being killed appears to be out of date.

Some notable Jewish organizations- IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace, Independent Jewish Voices, the Israel Policy Forum, and others, as well as public journalist/intellectuals like Peter Beinart or Gideon Levy, have been vocal and eloquent in providing both Zionist and non-Zionist critiques of the murder of Palestinian civilians by the IDF.

Nevertheless, the mourning we should hear does not materialize on a serious scale, and the shots of snipers keep on click-click-clicking away in the background while the mainstream Jewish world has little reaction, to our great shame.

“You don’t have to be a Jew to disapprove of murder,” sang Roger Waters once, years before his emergence as a critic of Israeli policies and proponent of BDS. Waters correctly diagnosed a core value of Judaism: a reverence for human dignity and an abhorrence of bloodshed.

Israel is moving away from such core values of Judaism and embracing values like fear and hatred of the stranger, revenge, militarism, arms dealing with brutal and tyrannical regimes, and faith in the power of human might and cunning alone. These are all values at odds with traditional Judaism. Amidst this frightening abandonment of any connection with Jewish ethics in favor of an increasing embrace of blood and soil ideology, the diaspora occasionally objects but is mostly quiet.

Why?

One factor is denial. Many of us have a conscious or unconscious belief we are only the victim, and cannot confront our guilt. On top of that, cultural discourse today assumes that the only righteous response to guilt is rage and the only justified posture towards the victim is unconditional sympathy. This predictably makes everyone wish to be a victim, not an aggressor.

Add to that Jewish anxiety over anti-Semitism and the paranoia that other people’s criticism of any of us, and especially the “Jewish state”, can lead at any moment to a violent denunciation of all of us, and it’s no surprise that the drive today is to decrease Israeli responsibility for anything as much as possible. The efforts to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism blur the distinction between “Jew” and “Israeli” even more, making the problem worse, not better.

This drive to avoid blame inspires many in the diaspora to ignore what Israel has done this past year, or to find ways to justify it through false claims that Hamas orchestrated the protests, or that more than a minority of protesters were violent or armed, or that they all intended to storm the security fence and go killing Jews.

What has actually happened is that tens of thousands have protested their situation in Gaza by gathering near the security fence that separates them from a country they believe they belong in.

Some have attacked the fence, most have not.

A number have been violent, most have not.

Israel has shot dead those who appeared to be rioting or storming the fence, an response which is both immoral and illegal under international law. They have also shot those merely protesting, as well as children, journalists, and doctors, which is plain murder by any reasonable definition.

The claim that some of the Palestinians intended to break through the fence and kill Jews (which no doubt some in fact did intend to do) does not justify summarily executing or maiming protesters or fence breakers. To think  otherwise is to transform Hillel’s dictum, “Do not do to others what you would not want to be done to you,” which he said was the essence of the Torah, into “do unto others what you suspect they might want to do to you.”

I do not believe the “greatest army in the world” has no other choice than to use live ammunition against rioters and protesters, nor do I believe that “the most moral army in the world” would. It should also be noted that killing all those people and maiming thousands has not stopped the protests. The people of Gaza, poor, miserable, trapped, have nothing else to do but throw themselves against the walls of their cage.

You would think that Jews would have some sympathy for a ghetto-ized people rebelling against an occupation, given our history in this very same land under the Roman occupation and the British. But apparently only Jews are allowed to rebel against occupiers in our history books- all others are terrorists.

Where have our grand human visions gone? Weren’t we Jews supposed to be dreamers? Where are the children of Abraham, who accepted upon himself the humanly impossible?

All of that will sound very precious coming from a Jew who does not live in Israel, though the reason I did not make aliyah is exactly that I could not fund the current violence against Palestinians with my tax dollars. Nevertheless, even if we cannot see an alternative to what is happening, how is it that we are not meeting, at the very least, for communal expressions of grief over the horror perpetrated in our name?

In Vancouver where I live one group. Independent Jewish Voices, gathered to grieve Palestinians shot dead by the IDF. Around a dozen people showed up (out of the 18,000 Jews in the city) and the meeting was pilloried in the community (my editor was told I should be fired for even reporting that the event had occurred).

This is why I feel more than grief when I read about the horrible suffering of those whose loved ones are killed in Palestinian attacks. I can’t help but notice the ratio between our grief when one of our innocents is killed, and our grief when it is one of “theirs.” Until that equation is equalized, Israel has no future I can feel hopeful about. 

 

About the Author
Matthew Gindin is a journalist and Jewish educator who writes regularly for the Forward and the Jewish Independent and has been published in the Canadian Jewish News, Religion Dispatches, and elsewhere. Formerly a Buddhist monk, Matthew focuses on contemplative and philosophical traditions across religious boundaries as well as social justice issues through a Jewish lens.
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