Sunday, July 25, 2004

The following article appeared in the latest issue of The Jerusalem Report:
In Israel, life is not what it used to be  
In recent weeks an exceptionally high number of children have died as a result of accidents or of outright negligence. One baby choked to death on a round piece of sausage, a little girl was bitten to death by a murderous dog, one baby died after his father left him in a car in the blazing sun, and several children were killed in traffic accidents. My  knowledge of psychology is very limited, but as someone who chose to make aliyah and to raise his children here, I allow myself to ask this question:could it be that these young victims of carelessness are in fact casualties of the    Arab-Israeli conflict? We have always been told that in our religion and in our state, life is cherished and has an all but absolute value. I seriously wonder if that is still true for Israel today. If there ever was such an unqualified respect for human life here, it seems to have become gravely eroded. This is largely a result of developments for which we are not at all or not totally to blame. Still, it is also partly the outcome of some unconsciously or deliberately made choices by our military, political and religious leaders. After September 11, 2001 most people in the world have become aware that  ( Islamist ) terror can strike any time, anywhere. In Israel, focus point of much of the terrorists' hatred and in spite of a trend towards individualism still an amalgam of close-knit communities, this awareness has sunk in much more than anywhere else.  So many men, women and children have been killed or injured while leading their daily lives that many of us either see “death as a way of life” ( the well-chosen title of a collection of articles by David Grossman ) or at least as a perfectly acceptable part of life, even if it strikes healthy men, women and children randomly and suddenly. During their army service, thousands of Israeli boys and girls are trained to take upon themselves enormous responsibilities, regarding both their fellow soldiers and the lives of people on the other side of the conflict’s dividing lines. Kids aged 18 or 19 decide whether a man – or sometimes even a woman or child – will stay alive and healthy or be wounded or killed. After reading a recent interview with some army snipers, I could not help being impressed with their skills, while at the same time thinking “Oh, my God, how are they supposed to differentiate between life within and without the military reality?” The casual way in which some politicians and security experts talk about the availability of military solutions for problems, both military and political, makes it easy for us to accept that the shortest way from a problem to its solution is the physical elimination of the problem. Thinking and talking in terms of “eliminating” or “liquidating” problems turn death into a very normal part of our daily routine. Daily reports of the liquidation of this terrorist, about the unintentional killing of that Palestinian child, or about the violent death of victims of Palestinian terror enhance our numbness to the very notion of death. Whereas in the past large numbers of prisoners and bodies of dead enemy fighters were exchanged for small numbers of living Israeli soldiers, today living soldiers were repeatedly endangered, or terrorists were released, so that body parts and bodies of soldiers could be buried. A proper burial for soldiers is very important, but one wonders if it is worth the lives of additional soldiers. Finally, more and more rabbis and other community leaders have attributed an unconditional value to every inch of the Land, a value that is interpreted by some to be higher than that of life itself. A prominent settler, Dr. Hagi Ben-Artzi has said:       “ The end of settlement in Gush Katif is the end of spiritual life. And when you reach the end of spiritual life, there is no more point to physical life.” In Israel these days, life has lost its absolute value, apparently having taken on a relative importance instead. Many Israelis take both life and death for granted. Such a casualness easily leads to negligence. Could it be that the accidental deaths of so many children in recent weeks is somehow related to the process that caused our society to gradually lose the original Jewish concept of human life as the supreme value? If so, the young accident victims are as much casualties of “the situation” as Afik Zahavi, the 3-year old who was killed in Sderot by a Qassam rocket.

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