As an Orthodox Jew, I am particularly sensitive to the moral obligations at stake when a major Jewish publication purports to describe – and to defend – the violent acts of a state that calls itself Jewish, maintains a Jewish majority and an official Orthodox rabbinate, and, on top of that, enjoys crucial political support from a wide array of Jewish organizations.
Hence my deep disappointment with a recent editorial in the Jewish Week (“A Stab in Jewish Hearts,” October 13). Given the Jewish Week’s powerful reach into mainstream Jewish households – the paper has reported 100,000 weekly subscribers in the New York area (making it the single biggest-circulation Jewish periodical) and its on-line version boasts “about 150,000 visitors monthly” – its commentary on the growing violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories carries significant weight. Alas, the Jewish Week’s most recent summary of events, while ostensibly expressing sympathy for victims of “terror,” confounds its subject matter so completely that, in the end, it succeeds only in propagandizing for systematic violence, defending international crime, and embracing disinformation as an instrument of justice.
I’m sure the editorial wasn’t intended to do any of that: its author was justly worried about a recent spate of bloodshed of which Israelis have sometimes (though not usually) been the victims. So far, so reasonable. But if violence against Israeli civilians seems as novel to the Jewish Week, and therefore as newsworthy, as systematic brutality against Palestinians is evidently familiar, chronic and undeserving of comment, the Jewish Week’s resort to dishonest language in the way it describes the crisis serves no one’s legitimate needs. On the contrary, it betrays all those who have suffered in the conflict – both the Palestinians whose pain is decades-old, and the Israelis who are just now tasting the bitter fruit of their government’s illegal policies.
First there’s the matter of locale. Where did the “attacks” that so trouble the Jewish Week take place? To be sure, a small number occurred in Israel, but by far most of this Palestinian violence (some scattered stabbings aimed at soldiers and an occasional Israeli settler) happened in Palestinian territory, on land Israel has illegally occupied for close to 50 bloody years – a fact unanimously recognized by the 15-member International Court of Justice in 2004, but one a reader of the editorial would never guess. Had the victims of such attacks been Nazi soldiers and German colonists in occupied Poland during World War II, I’m sure the Jewish Week wouldn’t have been so coy about the venue of the encounters.
There is also a curious lack of proportion in the editorialist’s sympathies. Whoever wrote the piece worries that “in Israel…young children are unable to sleep at night and are fearful of going outside.” A genuine concern, no doubt; but it would carry more weight if the writer had bothered to notice that, as usual, Palestinian children have much more to fear than Israelis. Some 50 Palestinians have already been killed since the beginning of October, many of them children, not to mention more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians who have been wounded by soldiers’ live ammunition or rubber-coated bullets. Still others have fallen victim to the settler attacks that are commonplace all over the occupied West Bank. (The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recorded 324 attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians and their property last year, and this year’s figure will probably surpass it.) Amnesty International has already condemned some of the killings of Palestinians – one the shooting of a child – under “circumstances indicating the killings were unlawful, and possibly extrajudicial executions,” while noting the customary Israeli use of “excessive force on a massive scale, including extensive use of live ammunition against people who were not posing an imminent threat of death or serious injury.”
If some isolated knife thrusts have so frightened the entire Israeli population, it’s not hard to imagine what life is like for Palestinians, including children, who not only suffer the chronic violence of occupation but must now look forward to being executed by heavily armed soldiers, maimed by roving gangs of Jewish colonists, or shot, tear-gassed or tortured if they dare to protest. Yet none of this touched the Jewish Week’s editorial sympathies – a fact that suggests that propaganda, not human concern, motivated its choice of language.
To this one-sided acknowledgment of human suffering, the Jewish Week editorial adds a breathtakingly selective reading of international reactions to the violence. President Barack Obama, who gave daily political cover to Israel’s massacre in Gaza last summer, has done the same for the official terror campaign in the Occupied Territories by asserting that “Israel has a right to maintain basic law and order and protect its citizens from knife attacks, and violence on the streets” – never mentioning a Palestinian right to law (freedom from occupation), order (an end to the illegal settlements strangling the indigenous population) or safety from the massive violence that has claimed far more civilian lives than those lost in Israel. At the U.N., no sanctions have been imposed on Israel – consider, by contrast, the Security Council’s swift punishment of Iraq for its occupation of Kuwait in 1990 – while the European Union (which largely underwrites Israel’s occupation) has mouthed a few platitudes about violence on “both sides.”
Yet the Jewish Week will have it that “much of the world shrugs its shoulders at the murders of innocent [Israeli] civilians.” I can only wonder what Obama & Co. could have done to satisfy the editors. Applaud the way Israelis ran over 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra with a car, then beat him with sticks and metal pipes and left him bleeding on the pavement, critically wounded, for nearly half an hour? Repeat the IDF’s claim that everything was okay because the child had tried to stab Israelis near an illegal settlement – though video shows no evidence to support the accusation?
But the editorial really tips its hand when it parrots a suggestion from CAMERA – an outfit the Jewish Week itself calls a “pro-Israel media watchdog” – that another young Palestinian child, shot dead while he walked home from school, was killed “during a violent Palestinian riot when an IDF bullet ‘aimed at the foot of the riot leader ricocheted off the ground and hit the victim in the chest.’” Really? Reports from witnesses placed the boy over 200 feet from any “clashes,” and not a shred of evidence has been produced that the fatal bullet was aimed at “the riot leader” (whoever he was) or that it entered the child’s chest from below. But a spokesman for the illegal occupation forces, and a professional propaganda agency, have said it was so – and apparently that’s good enough for the Jewish Week.
“Do not fight terror; fight those who dictate it.” Those words, spoken at the graveside of a settler couple slain in occupied territory earlier this month, are quoted in the editorial. But the editors fail to recognize their significance. If the Jewish Week is really concerned about terror, it should be writing about the Israeli cabinet ministers, generals, administrators and officers of the occupying forces who daily carry out the theft of Palestinian property and systematically plan the terror campaigns designed to intimidate the land’s lawful owners. To pretend that the retaliations inevitably prompted by Israeli violence are the heart of the problem – in fact, the only problem – and that Jewish victims of retaliatory violence are the only real victims, does more than miss the point. It corrupts what should be a demand for justice and an expression of sympathy for those who suffer into a labored apologia for international crime.