There is nothing as senseless nowadays as death. Once people around here used to die for something. What are they dying for now?
We - my wife and I - have known Jamal for a long time. He had a garage in Tel Aviv - he had worked in the city for decades, and he fixed our car, too. It came to an end sometime last year. Served with expulsion orders, he went home to Deir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip.
This Friday, after being out of touch for a long time, he called and asked to speak to Dorit. We thought he needed help with something. But no, he just wanted to tell us his eldest son had been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. In Jamal's opinion, his son died for nothing. He had committed no crime.
I don't know, and I didn't try to find out. What's the point? In Jamal's eyes, his son will always be innocent, and the defense establishment will claim he was a "dangerous terrorist." Who's to say? And besides, it doesn't really matter anymore. The death machine works three shifts a day, cranking out victims, theirs and ours, and is there anyone out there who can actually tell them apart? Jamal phoned us up just to let us know. He wasn't asking for anything.
When Jamal still had his garage in Tel Aviv, a fire broke out in a nearby office building. Jamal risked his life running into that burning building. He saved many people. Jews. At the time, if I remember correctly, he received a citation from the police, which didn't do him any good when they were all chucked out, indiscriminately. I would imagine that Jamal's eldest son heard the story from his father, too, on occasion.
Earlier this week, I called Amiram Goldin, a resident of Mitzpe Aviv, in the Galilee's Segev district. I called to express my condolences on the death of his son, Omri, who was killed in the bus attack at the Meron junction. What could I say to Amiram, a man I've know for many years as a supporter of peace, a personal friend and an ideological partner. Omri was also spewed from that death machine, a machine that does its work automatically, blindly, stupidly. Amiram told me that Omri was a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces but also a soldier in the Israeli peace camp. He had followed his dad, and the terrorist murdered him.
The war being waged at this very moment is the cruelest war there is, because it is senseless. People have even stopped saying "may this be the last victim," because everyone knows that there will be plenty more. It's become a kind of routine. Despair and stupidity have reached such depths that all we are left with is vengeance: Murder for murder.
Who is talking these days about plans, strategy, peace, security? The name of the game is revenge. We act today not to deter or prevent, or even to punish, but solely to pay them back, to inflict pain. The Palestinians take revenge, we retaliate, and vice versa, "and God of retribution appears" (Psalms 94:1). They have lost hope that their murderous deeds can achieve anything, and we have lost hope, and we take comfort in blood revenge, like two tribes of savages.
A couple of days ago, I saw a public opinion survey showing majority support for the assassination of Salah Shehadeh, which involved the death of women and children. It's hard to believe, but this same majority clearly understood that assassinating Shehadeh would only increase terror and push up the casualty figures. They knew it, but they supported the operation anyway. In other words, who's counting? Who cares? The main thing is to teach them a lesson. Although we know very well they won't learn, and neither will we.
We are still trying to count, and to remember them as individuals, but with so many dead, it's hard to keep track. But we're making an effort, because to lose count is to lose one's humanity. You wish you could remember them all, but you can't. The memory of Jamal's son and Amiram's son will stay with us even after all the bodies are laid out, not necessarily in one long, long line, but in a heap. The kind you see during a cholera epidemic in Africa.
For those of us who are not Arafat, Sharon and Fuad, it is important for death to mean something. Because we cannot allow death that kind of dominion. When death has meaning, life around here will have value, too.
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