Barbaric Acts Kill Palestinian Sympathy


I know there are many Palestinians out there who are sickened and ashamed by what happened in Gaza to the remains of the six dead Israeli soldiers.

I don’t hold them responsible; I don’t associate them with those acts just because they are Palestinians or Arabs, not in any way.

In fact, I think it’s important now to remember Arabs like the Palestinian man who drowned in the Sea of Galilee a couple of years ago trying to save a drowning Israeli boy. I remember a Jaffa Arab who was killed in 1992, I think, trying to stop a wild man from Gaza who was slashing at Jewish children with a saber.

An old Iraqi Jewish woman in Ramat Gan once told me how her neighbor back in Baghdad, a rich Sunni Muslim, had sheltered her family and scores of other local Jews from a pogrom, and had told the rioters that if they wanted to kill the Jews in his house, they would have to kill him first. A lot of Jews who survived the 1929 pogrom in Hebron could have described the same kind of scenes.

There are some Arabs who have a humanity and courage that is rare to find in any society — including, by the way, among Jews. Then there are many Arabs, although I can’t guess what proportion, who are just ordinary decent people.

But there are some Arabs living in the Middle East who are, to say the least, indecent. They do things that Jews here or anywhere else don’t do, no matter the provocation — and Jews over the years have had their provocations, including some even worse than anything faced by the Palestinians.

There is no shortage of Israeli soldiers who have done despicable things to Palestinians — although less despicable, on the whole, than what soldiers in most, if not all, other armies have been known to do to their enemies.

The point is, we are living next to a society that is, for all its decent people and even its righteous gentiles, different from ours in a crucial way: some of its members are out and out monsters.

Their behavior is utterly demented, yet they’re perfectly sane. Worse, they’re not only tolerated, they’re cheered by many of their peers. And the decent members of Palestinian society seem powerless to stop them or prevent them from coming out again and again.

I’m an Israeli leftist who hates the occupation, and there are a lot of things the Palestinians do that I’m willing to put down to circumstances, to this long tragedy we’ve been living in. Zionists, after all, deliberately killed plenty of innocent Arab civilians in the ’30s and ’40s.

But there are no circumstances that mitigate this reveling in the body parts of the enemy, the grabbing and parading of Israeli bones and gore as trophies. That’s something that can’t be traced to politics, and there is no political solution for it.

Wherever this behavior comes from, it didn’t begin with the bone-snatching in Gaza’s Zeitoun neighborhood. In this intifada, it began with the crowd dancing on the blood of the two soldiers lynched in Ramallah. It resurfaced when two boys in Tekoa were bludgeoned literally to a pulp. It gets reprised every time a crowd of Palestinians gathers to celebrate another bus full of Israelis getting blown apart.

This prominent feature of the intifada has hollowed out any idealism I once had about “making up” with the Palestinians and becoming good neighbors. While there are so many I’ve met whom I would love to have as neighbors in my apartment building, and a great many more I haven’t met who are in no way monsters, as far as the Palestinian nation goes, I want a hard border between them and us, and separate national lives — because of what we were reminded of at Zeitoun, because Palestinian society allows that element to flourish.

I’m afraid that this deformed face of the intifada has withered the idealism of a lot of people on the Zionist left. I don’t think it’s made anybody a fan of the occupation, or changed their ideas about where the final borders should be, but it’s blighted the spirit of the peace movement. Speaking for myself, it’s deadened my heart toward the Palestinians.

As much as ever, I’m still filled with rage at Israelis who enjoy abusing and humiliating innocent people. I still have no tolerance for sadism. But my attitude has become sort of abstract, a matter of conscience alone, because while I still feel fury at the bullies, I no longer feel compassion for the victims.

If I knew that the civilians being treated viciously were not enthusiasts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, that they did not root for the violent deaths of Israeli children, then my heart would go out to them as before.

But since the intifada began, I know there’s a very strong chance that a given Palestinian goes around hoping that the suicide bombers will get through. So unless I know otherwise, I’ll believe in his human rights, but I can’t feel any sympathy for him. Too much candy has passed between Palestinian hands for that.

Sympathy for the Palestinians and shame over their repression were the animating emotions of the Israeli peace movement, but the eager barbarity of the intifada has removed much of that shame and about all of the sympathy. What remains for peaceniks is a hatred of injustice and brutality, and a yearning for security, but a numbed heart.

To all the brave and humane or even just decent Palestinians out there, I’m sorry. In no way am I blaming you. I just hope you won’t blame me, either.


Larry Derfner is the Tel Aviv correspondent for The Jewish Journal.

Craving Silence


My father passed away this morning.

As I grieve quietly on an Air Canada nonstop to Montreal, there’s a part of me that can’t help but dread the next seven days. My parents’ house will be inundated with visitors, many of whom will bend over backward trying to make me and my family feel better.

I don’t begrudge them. I’d do the same thing. In fact, eight months ago when my father’s identical twin brother passed away, I found myself caught up in that familiar whirlwind of chatty sympathy that often visits the solemn days of shiva.

Now I will be on the other side. How will I react? What will I say when well-intentioned friends and relatives tell me things like, “He had a good life,” “At least he didn’t suffer” or “Be strong, brother”?

To tell you the truth, I don’t feel like being strong. I feel like being really weak and really nonchatty. I feel like crying quietly with my immediate family, and meditating on my father’s life. I feel like silence.

At the same time, though, I am conflicted. I have seen how noisy, boisterous shivas can serve to bring friends and families closer together. We love to talk. We need to talk, even when there is nothing to say. Talking validates the moment and

numbs our pain. It’s the comfort food of shiva.

Silence is scary. It just sits there like a heavy boulder. It’s stressful. It feels unproductive, like nothing is happening. It’s hard to see how silence can bring us closer, or make someone feel better.

On the surface, that makes perfect sense. How can silence help us catch up with the lives of distant relatives we haven’t seen in years? How can it help us bond and reconnect through humor and wit? And most of all, how can it help us reminisce on the life of the person we are mourning?

No, silence cannot do these things. So why do I still crave it? Why am I looking for a quiet hole to crawl into, a vacuum to settle in? Could it be that I desperately want to get close to my father at this very moment, and that only silence can connect me to him in that peaceful, quiet place where he is right now? Could it be that the deepest way to honor the dead is through the raw pain of silence?

I don’t have the answers, but I do know that my father’s shiva will be anything but silent. And I know that I will politely indulge all the visitors’ needs to pay their respects with words, words and more words. I am ready for that. I am actually pretty good at it. I’m used to having a big smile on my face, and giving things a positive spin. It makes for a happier life. It’s who I am.

But now that I am feeling so incredibly sad, I just don’t feel like being me. I just feel like crying and being alone with my father.

Maybe I will have to wait until everyone goes home and I go to bed, me and my silence, me and my father.

David Suissa is founder and editor of OLAM Magazine, and founder of Jews for Truth Now.

Have You But One Blessing?


It began with the first two human born into this world, the world’s first brothers.

In the course of time, Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the soil. Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock. The Lord paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering He paid no heed. Cain was much distressed and his face fell (Genesis 4:3-5).

How did Cain know? The offerings are placed upon the altar. As each is set aflame, the smoke rises. How can one possibly ascertain that God accepts one and rejects the other? No, here the Torah tells us something deeper — not how it really was, but how it appeared to Cain, the world’s first aggrieved brother. In my fantasy, Cain crosses the field to his brother. "Say Abel, show me how you did that." But alas, when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother, Abel, and killed him (Genesis 4:8). And so it began.

Sigmund Freud proposed that the dynamic of human personality is shaped in the Oedipal complex — the young boy’s adoration of his mother leading to conflict and ultimate identification with his father. The Torah, as well, locates the primal human drama within the family, but in a different relationship — in the struggle among brothers. The Torah itself is structured around a set of tense brother stories: Cain and Abel; Noah’s sons; Abraham and his brother’s son, Lot; Ishmael and Isaac; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers; Moses and Aaron. They struggle for position, power, priority, but most of all, they struggle for their father’s blessing.

When Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, he called his older son, Esau, and said to him, "My son."

Esau answered, "Here I am."

And Issac said, "I am old now, and I do not know how soon I may die. Take your gear, your quiver and bow, and go out into the open and hunt me some game. Then prepare a dish for me such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my innermost blessing before I die" (Genesis 27:1-2).

Esau, faithful but thick, is supplanted by his trickster brother, Jacob, who hides his smooth skin beneath his smooth words to seduce the father into granting him the family blessing. Esau returns with the hard-won venison and prepares his father’s dish, only to discover that his blessing has been taken.

When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst into wild and bitter sobbing and said to his father, "Bless me, too, Father!"

But Issac answered, "Your brother came with guile and took away your blessing."

And Esau said to his father, "Have you but one blessing, Father? Bless me too, Father!" And Esau wept aloud (Genesis 27:34-35, 38).

For the first time, we can feel sympathy for him. Crude, violent, impulsive, there is nevertheless something genuine and good in Esau’s ferocious loyalty to his father. And something moving in his vulnerability. So into his mouth is placed the Bible’s harshest critique of its own monotheism: Have you but one blessing, Father? Who told Father Isaac there was only one blessing to split between two sons? Must one God imply only one blessing, only one birthright, only one way, only one truth? Does God accept only one brother’s offering and reject the other’s? Is there room for only one brother in this land, in this world? If so, teaches the Torah, we are doomed to reiterate an endless cycle of fratricide, generation after generation.

The Messiah will not arrive, according to an old tradition, until Esau’s tears are exhausted. Redemption comes when Father Isaac and all his descendants find in the infinite heart of God a fitting blessing for Esau — a place for the other brother. Redemption comes when the ehad (oneness) of monotheism is read as the most inclusive of theologies. Only then will we fulfill the prayer of the Psalmist, "How good and how pleasant it is that brothers dwell together" (Psalms 133:1).