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Lip Service to the Grieving

The indifference to the moral significance of the continued blood spilling and the insufferable human burden that it places on its victims leads to a situation where there is insufficient motivation to put an end to it.

"Firstly, allow me to express my condolences to the families and to send wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded," the deputy minister said Friday after the attack on Netzarim. Then he immediately went on to explain to the listeners his theory about the importance of the settlement and its contribution to the security of the state.

"First, I want to express my regret over the death of the three soldiers, two of them women," the MK said, and then continued with a reaction to the Histadrut's declaration of a general strike next week. "Before anything else, I want to extend my condolences to the bereaved families and to wish the wounded a speedy recovery," the mother of a soldier said on an Army Radio call-in program as she sent good wishes to her son. "Our hearts are with the grieving families, but life must go on," the young announcer said before playing the latest hit.

Life in Israel has grown cheap. In place of a society of mutual cohesiveness and genuine solidarity, we have alienation, and people merely pay lip service to the grief of others. This is an inevitable development: the worse the armed struggle with the Palestinians, the more Israel's citizens are concerned with their own well-being and repress the significance of the ever-increasing bereavement. This mechanism of self-defense is to be expected and is actually welcome, since people cannot live in fear all the time, in an atmosphere of constant mourning. That is why people develop mechanisms that help them cope with the oppressiveness and continue living routine lives.

This process has been fully brought home in the way the country has adapted to the intifada. The news of the first terror attacks had a tremendous impact and the waves of pain and identification reached all corners of the country. But the more terror attacks and victims there were, the more peoples' hearts hardened. The suffering and sorrow have become the private domain of the affected families; the general public makes do with formal, declarative gestures of empathy.

Today, the typical response to an attack is the immediate suspense during which everyone checks to what extent they have been personally affected, and then an immediate return to the normal agenda. The attacks that have a particularly high fatality rate cause wider ripples, but the attention paid them remains to a large extent external.

This pattern of behavior is considered a great blessing by the country's leaders and the senior officers of the IDF. They pay tribute to Israeli society's ability to withstand the unbridled Palestinian terror. According to information received from the territories, the Palestinian leadership is also amazed: The image of a society with a flimsy basis has been shattered and Israel is perceived as a society with internal robustness and readiness to face the price of the bloodletting brought upon it by the confrontation.

One of the keys to understanding the change in the country's reaction to the suffering caused by the Palestinian violence lies in its demography. Israel today is a country with 6.7 million people, with different spots and stripes. The intimacy and charm that characterized Israeli community until the 1970s has disappeared. That is why, unlike the War of Attrition of 1967-70 when the fallen were known to large sections of the population, the current war of attrition has hit diversified sectors, many of them relative strangers to the others. In this way, a distance has been created that nurtures the ability to stand firm but, at the same time, creates a taller barrier between the victims of terror and the rest of society.

Palestinian terror has programmed Israeli society into wishing for revenge and has made it indifferent to the price the other side is paying for its aggression. This acquired trait is applied also to the way in which the public responds to the suffering that the confrontation causes from within. The indifference to the moral significance of the continued blood spilling and the insufferable human burden that it places on its victims leads to a situation where there is insufficient motivation to put an end to it.