The Sound of Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend.

Such is the sentiment in Israel this month. The constant threat of terror, the gloominess on the streets of Jerusalem, and the frustration that comes with seemingly bleak prospects of improvement, are trademarks of a story with which the Israeli people are all too familiar.

Just a few weeks ago, the murders of Rabbi Eitam and Naamah Henkin in front of their children’s eyes touched off the most recent spate of attacks. The holiday of Sukkot, zman simchateinu, was marred by bloodshed and fear, and in recent weeks the violence has only intensified. The number of days that have passed without news of attack can be counted on one hand. Stabbing, shooting, car-ramming, bomb attempts- you name it.

And yet the refrain heard on the streets, in schools, in family discussions, is consistently: It’s been worse. The Israeli people have faced numerous wars and two full-scale intifadas (and what we have seen this month is, despite Hamas’ stated wish, far from an intifada). Israel’s resilience in the face of a phenomenon unimaginable in any other developed, western nation is both admirable and frightening. Yes, people are scared. Public transit numbers have fallen, the main streets of Jerusalem are emptier, and people look over their shoulders when walking, often eyeing passersby with increased suspicion. But the overall attitude of the majority in Israel is, “We are not going anywhere. This is our land. You will not succeed.”

While Israel is responding in stride to the situation, the international community’s response has ranged from overt skewing of the news to total silence. The most frustrating thing is the imposed moral equivalency between terrorists and the democratic state responding to those terrorists.

But this is not a new phenomenon. Here is another story Israel has heard too many times: Hamas fires rockets at Israeli neighborhoods, but sends those rockets from densely populated areas or schools or hospitals. Israel is forced to respond in order to protect its own citizens, as any country would. Gazan citizens are unfortunately killed by the Israeli defense. Then, Hamas feeds the media with images of injured children, and boom! Israel is the aggressor, Israel is the attacker, Israel’s response is disproportionate. Alan Dershowitz has called this the “Dead Baby Strategy,” whereby Hamas gets away with war crimes and is nevertheless labeled the victim.

The current threat in Israel is similar. This time it is random stabbing attacks. There is no Iron Dome defense system for stabbings, no Red Alert with a ninety second warning period. This is terrorism in its purest form- random, indiscriminate, unpredictable. And yet, when Israel responds, the headlines read ‘Four Palestinians shot dead, the latest casualties in spiral of violence.’ This is unfair and only encourages more terrorism, as the attackers see that it is Israel who takes the blunt of the international criticism.

As a result, Israel’s enemies abroad have grown too stubborn to listen to legitimate argument. It is as if an entire generation of otherwise sane individuals is saying with regard to this conflict, “I have already made up my mind; don’t confuse me with the facts.” They idolize and sympathize with the narrative of the innocent Palestinian who is so victimized that he must resort to violence to be heard. This is a fallacy, and a dangerous one. There are legitimate criticisms of Israel and there are conversations to be had concerning the issues at the root of the conflict, but violence is never the answer.

The rhetoric in the media is astounding. Buzz words like “cycle of violence” enable underlying anti-Israel sentiment to seep into the mainstream of the international community, under the guise of political correctness. The uninformed masses hear the news, read the headlines, and come away with the impression that somehow this is ‘just another phase’ in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ‘those two are going at it again.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Where is the honest media reporting? Where is the unmitigated support from Israel’s allies abroad? There is a profound, deafening silence on the pro-Israel side of the spectrum, and the silence goes unbroken.

And make no mistake: this silence has a sound. It is heard in the pro-Palestine rallies and campaigns on college campuses and, most recently, this week in London. It is heard in the burning of a historical site, Joseph’s Tomb, by Palestinian Arabs (and the news headline that followed, “Joseph’s Tomb site catches fire in spate of Palestinian-Israeli violence”). It is heard in the disgraceful proposal delivered to UNESCO labeling the Western Wall as part of the Al-Aqsa mosque, and condemning Israeli security measures in recent weeks. And it is heard in the U.S. State Department’s annual Report on International Religious Freedom, which this year found another noticeable increase in European anti-Semitism.

While stabbings are not an existential threat to Israel, the sound of silence is. Left unchecked, silence spreads and begins to affect international politics. As the postmodernist world opinion shifts further and further in favor of ‘the little guy,’ Israel becomes increasingly isolated and vulnerable; vulnerable to reduction in foreign aid, vulnerable to weakened ties with allies, and vulnerable to a strengthened BDS movement.

It is time for Israel’s supporters to speak up and speak out, write letters, educate themselves and their peers. It is time to do whatever it takes to end the silence before it has permanent ramifications. The sound of silence is only becoming louder and louder.

About the Author
Corey Berman is a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He was raised in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and has attended the Frisch School, Brandeis University's Genesis high school program, and Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Jerusalem.