Jerusalem & Babylon / Don't forget your citizens
The false mustache is prickly. You smooth it down for the millionth time, push the door and enter the bar. Your target is in the corner, sitting at a table with three other men. Instantly you match their faces to the photographs in the file and take up a position at the other end of the room. After half an hour, your target gets up to leave. You finish your drink, pay the bill and walk out; you don?t have to run after him, you already know exactly where he?s going, and the rest of the team is already waiting in his room. You trail him as he walks along the waterfront. In your pocket are two syringes − one carrying pentothal, the other strychnine − both disguised as standard insulin. Behind you, someone steps out of a dark doorway, puts his hand on your shoulder and shakes you awake. You're in your bed in Jerusalem, you have never been a secret agent − but somewhere out there in the dark, someone is carrying out a dangerous mission, in your name and using your name.
The media raised two issues following Monday's press conference in Dubai: were the released photographs and assumed names and identities of the members of the team that assassinated Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh last month an indication that the operational secrecy was compromised, and how this will adversely effect Israel's diplomatic relations with the countries whose passports were used by Mabhouh's assassins, if indeed this was a Mossad operation. Very little attention though has been paid to the damage done to those citizens who have had their most personal belonging violated: their identity.
I know many Israelis who hold foreign passports, like me, especially those of us who emigrated from the United Kingdom, anxiously scanned the list of names, making sure we or our loved ones were not there, before heaving a sigh of relief. After, we joked about our names. Those of us with typical Jewish and Israeli names feel safe, others with less obviously Semitic ones are still worried. Who knows what their doppelgangers have been getting up to in faraway lands. The unlucky seven who belatedly realized that their identities had been stolen will never be able to land at a foreign airport again without trepidation.
No one has yet to take responsibility for Mabhouh's death, so instead of going into the ridiculous rigmarole of "according to foreign sources," let's put the Dubai operation to the side and discuss previous practice. Enough cases in the past have come to light in which the identities of Jews, most of whom were born outside of Israel, were used by Israeli secret agents. It is hard not to feel that there has been and still is a blatant disregard for the safety and privacy of those whose identities were used. I feel no mercy for Mabhouh, the vicious murderer of Ilan Sa-adon and Avi Sasportas, who at the time of his assassination was busy securing more arms and missiles that were to be used against Israeli citizens and civilians, as well as against his own Palestinian compatriots. But how can Israel claim to be a democracy fighting terror and dictatorships, and continue to promote aliyah from Western countries, when this is the way it supposedly treats its citizens? It's a cruel and merciless world out there, but there are some things that democracies just cannot do, it is simple as that.
Regrettably, this is all too reminiscent of the arrogant attitude Israel continues to exhibit toward the Jewish Diaspora. This has never been an easy relationship, but the siege mentality engendered by the Netanyahu-Lieberman government has posed a stark equation to the Jews of the world: either you are with us uncritically, or you're against us.
This was exactly the attitude on show this week when Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon boycotted the delegation of U.S. congress members because they were brought here by J Street, the Jewish American lobby which has the effrontery to support Israel while insisting that the occupation should come to an end as soon as possible. As if Ayalon has not caused enough damage to Israel's foreign relations as it is.It should be pointed out that, so far, the first organization to come to the assistance of those whose identities were used has been the British Embassy in Tel Aviv.
I would like to suggest a gesture on the part of the Israeli government, symbolic only, but important nonetheless. Sunday is the Seventh of Adar, the day in which according to tradition, Moses died at an unknown location on Mount Nevo. It is also the day selected by the Israel Defense Forces to annually commemorate the 192 soldiers who fell in their nation?s service, but whose places of burial remain unknown. Their families have no graves, but they at least have names and faces in old photographs. What is rarely mentioned is that there are also 40 graves of unknown soldiers, whose bodies were found on the battlefields of the War of Independence, but in the chaos of those first days of the state were not identified and remain anonymous to this day.
Unlike many other countries, Israel does not have a tomb of the unknown soldier. Jewish tradition mandates that every effort be made to identify each body and afford final comfort to the families. A lot of resources still go into this effort and thanks to advances in forensic science, some of the Independence War bodies have recently been identified and their surviving relatives now have a grave to visit. But the large majority of unknown soldiers will almost certainly remain so. They are the bodies of Holocaust survivors, fresh off the boat and without families, who were flung with scant preparation or weapons into the battles for Jerusalem, the Galilee and the Negev. Many Holocaust survivors still believe they have brothers in those graves. My grandfather, who lost all his family in Poland, sometimes wonders whether one of his brothers fell on the battlefields of 1948 and 1949, but he will never know. Recognition for their forgotten sacrifice is long overdue. Israel should start respecting its citizens' identity by remembering those who lost theirs to ensure its survival.