Then came Cast Lead in Gaza
The occupation has turned into one long string of blood-curdling stories, but most don't ever come close enough for Israelis to hear the cry in the dark.
Had the Palestinians produced a film in which Israeli doctors threw a wounded Palestinian out of hospital, after which policemen dumped the injured man out of a patrol car to die in the dark, the prime minister would have denounced his subjects for inciting against their masters. Had an Israeli film director made a documentary about such behavior toward a Palestinian prisoner, whose medical care at Sheba Medical Center was unfunded, he would have been subjected to demonstrations by our local censorship organization, Im Tirtzu, while the culture minister would have advised him to make a film about the way Palestinian children are treated in our hospitals.
As is known, the latter film has already been made - Shlomi Eldar's "Precious Life." That film won many prizes, including one from the Israeli Film Academy, which waxed enthusiastic over the sensitivity of the outstanding reporter who made it. In essence, this was a good propaganda film. It beautifully documented the wonderful dedication of the doctors, who treat sick children from the Gaza Strip just as they treat sick children from Israel.
But Eldar didn't mention that for decades, Israel systematically prevented construction of a medical system in the occupied territories, nor did he mention that Israel bars the transfer of medical equipment to Gaza that would enable sick children to be treated there. The result is that treating patients from the occupied territories has become a highly profitable industry for Israeli hospitals. Payment is immediate and there are no discounts (in contrast, Israeli health maintenance organizations not only pay less, but are given plenty of time ). So who pays? Either donors or the Palestinian Authority, to which Israel periodically refuses, with colonialist thuggery, to deliver the tax money due it.
What does all this have to do with the mini-scandal reported by Chaim Levinson (Haaretz, February 20)? Israelis' shock at hearing this embarrassing story is almost as bad as the story itself. For that wounded Palestinian was thrown out of hospital, and a police patrol car, to die in the dark months before Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in December 2008.
In that operation, our wonderful boys did terrible things to a great many helpless men, women and children. Yet the crimes they committed have become part of the forgotten history of our wars. Nobody was charged with war crimes over them. Nor is there any point in discussing the differences between a soldier who fires a phosphorus shell at a house and a pilot who drops a bomb on a graduation ceremony for policemen, or between either of these and the policemen who threw a wounded prisoner out of a patrol car. The master forgets the troubles of the slave. The past swallows all atrocities.
Alongside Cast Lead, Sheba Medical Center has also played an ideological role in improving Israelis' image. It's not only Eldar's film that starred in this campaign. Prof. Daphna Birenbaum-Carmeli of the University of Haifa described the gauntlet that children from Gaza must run on their way to Sheba, as well as how the media blurs the connection between the siege on Gaza and the payment in full for these treatments: "This description paints a picture of a humanitarian gesture by a wealthy, progressive state, which saves the lives of children from a poor state ... A particularly cruel example is concealed in the statement by Sheba Medical Center's director: 'We want to establish a center for peace here, to reconnect our medical teams with those from Gaza, to name this center after the daughters of Dr. Abuelaish, who were killed in Cast Lead, and to loudly proclaim that there is life, and it must go on. Even if it isn't included in the Goldstone Report.'" The hospital director also had something to say about that report, which accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead.
But Israelis' self-image is built on disinterested kindness. Anything else is an "exception."
Here we return to the dumping of that injured Palestinian, and our primitive fixation on that isolated story. The occupied territories, both to the east and to the west, are drowning in our ignorance. The occupation has turned into one long string of blood-curdling stories, but most don't ever come close enough for Israelis to hear the cry in the dark.
The occupation is slowly losing the political framework built by its Israeli opponents and is sinking into a culture of bread and circuses. Our ignorance doesn't stem from any ban on reporting, but from curtailed reporting that flatters the consumer's self-image. An unconditional surrender to the colonialist right is enveloping us. Yet this story shocks us? Ah, because it, too, enables us to once again feel how sensitive we are - not merely cruel.