The all-clear was sounded as soon as the news came that the school bus was Palestinian.
Only the most perceptive viewers of Thursday's accident - in which nine children and one adult were killed when their bus collided with a truck north of Jerusalem - could make the distinction. But something in the manner of the coverage intimated at it immediately.
Then the reports and images started flowing in. The coverage was workmanlike overall, if faceless and depersonalized. It is not difficult to imagine how such a horrific accident would have been treated had the children been Jewish: with a lot more blood and tears. There is no disputing that, as the Talmud says, "Every person is partial to himself" - and to his own people, we might add. One can also excuse the ridiculous way the Jerusalem-Ramallah road by Aram, near the north side of the capital, suddenly became "beyond the Israeli border," in the language of reporters - the Green Line springs to life when it suits us.
But what came next cannot be excused. The Internet roiled - not with the usual anonymous comments, the last refuge of boors and perverts. This time they revealed their names and their Facebook photos, spewing forth nauseating, hate-permeated racism that seemed to exceed anything seen here previously.
"Relax, these are Palestinian children," Benny Dazanashvili wrote on Twitter. To which Tal Biton responded, "It seems these are Palestinians ... God willing." Itai Viltzig offered up a prayer: "I hope every day there is a bus like this." Dozens, if not hundreds, of Internet surfers said a prayer of thanks - for the terrible death by fire of young children on a school field trip - and the responses were featured on the web pages of the prime minister and the Israel Police and the Walla! web portal.
"They'll want money, because money is more important to them than the children who were killed," one person wrote. Others commented, "Can we send another truck?" and "I'd have sent a double semi-trailer to obliterate all those shits."
On the official Facebook page of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was actually quick to express his sorrow from faraway Cyprus over the accident, the comments are still visible like some mark of Cain on their authors and their host. From Yisrael Ohana: "I don't care; for my part every Palestinian child is a future suicide-bomber candidate. Tomer Ben Haim: "There is just one thing that anyone who attacks Judaism deserves." The only light came from Meira Baruch, who wrote: "I'm 63 years old. Only a few times in my life have I been ashamed to be a Jew. Today I am ashamed. How can anyone rejoice over the death of little children?"
No longer can all this be waved away with the argument that these were the responses of a handful of crazies that do not reflect the whole. Perhaps we should also give thanks for the democracy that allows these responses to be published, and to flood public awareness. But it must be recognized that the sentiment they express is common and that it runs deep in Israeli society.
Enemies, a hate story. In the past few years, anti-Arab hatred and racism have reached monstrous proportions and are no longer restricted to a negligible minority. Many people dare to express it, and many more agree with them. All the discriminatory, separatist laws of the past few years are an authentic expression of that hatred.
When Netanyahu's Israel demands that the Palestinian Authority stop the incitement against Israel, it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps it is difficult to measure precisely, but after 25 years of covering the Israeli occupation, and after innumerable meetings with ordinary Palestinians, I think I can safely say that the hate and racism on our side is not matched on the Palestinian side. I repeatedly find myself astounded by the fact that the majority of the thousands of Palestinians I have met over the years, all of them victims of the occupation, speak about their dream of living together in peace (while the majority of Israelis dream of "the separation" ). Yes, there are those who hate, those who carried out murderous attacks against Israelis - and only a few protested against it. But the Palestinian hatred is focused mainly on the Israeli occupation. During the Carmel forest fire of December 2010, the PA dispatched fire trucks to Israel, and apparently no one protested against it. It is doubtful that Palestinians rejoiced over the Israeli deaths then in the way that Israelis are rejoicing over the Palestinian deaths now.
But even if I am wrong, even if I am blind to the facts and the hatred is indeed mutual, nevertheless it is impossible to ignore what is happening to us: Palestinian children die in an accident, and many Israelis are happy about it - and are no longer even ashamed of it.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now