Jawaher Abu Rahma, the Monument

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the human being has disappeared and been replaced by a structure.

Alon Idan
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Alon Idan

Jawaher Abu Rahma is dead. She was 37 years old, a young woman. Most Israeli citizens were not saddened by her death; they had to suspend their sorrow until the cause of her death was discovered.

For them, the question was simple: Did Jawaher Abu Rahma die from a tear gas grenade fired by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, or from leukemia? Lurking behind the question is the political structure of the region. When examined through a political lens, the question becomes: Did she die because of the occupation or was her death unconnected to it?

To answer that question, the political equivalent of contractors and laborers immediately went into action. Medical documents were analyzed in Machiavellian ways, partial witness accounts were presented, biased information was publicized. These are familiar, almost cliched, activities, which are carried out after every tragic incident entailing angles that can potentially be denied or enhanced in some way.

One thing is already self-evident: Neither side will be able to prove to the other that it is right. In other words, a magnificent, rigid, indestructible rhetorical and bureaucratic structure - a monument - has been built.

The monument, the tear gas or cancer question, is killing Jawaher Abu Rahma a second time. Or at least, it is killing the memory of her. How? By becoming Jawaher Abu Rahma. The moment she turned into a question, into a political monument, into tear gas or cancer, she ceased to exist as a human being. A 37-year-old woman died and instantly turned into a statue.

What exactly does that statue, that political structure, look like in the minds of Israelis? From now on, when the name Jawaher Abu Rahma is heard, the following association will come to mind: "That's the one they said died of tear gas, but in the end we discovered that it was actually cancer." To put it more abstractly: "They said it was this, but it was actually that." And simpler still: "They said, but actually." In one word: "But." Jawaher Abu Rahma is a "but." "But" is the raw form of the conflict, its structure.

So here are the results of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The human being has disappeared and been replaced by a structure. People die and in their place comes "but." With the appearance of the "but" - that is, with the disappearance of the human being - permission has been granted for denial, or at least for the suspension of emotion. Emotions are now considered luxuries, something liable to weaken the structure, to undermine its foundations.

Jawaher Abu Rahma has, in effect, lost the right to be mourned. A woman of 37 died and there is no sorrow. There is, of course, the artificial sorrow that can be found in the statements of the IDF Spokesman's Office and whose job is to enable continued activity without pangs of conscience. But true sorrow - the kind for which emotion is required and which living creatures are supposed to experience when one of their kind dies young - is no longer our lot.

The political structure that was originally meant to serve human beings now stands and breathes on its own. It no longer needs human beings, except as raw material sacrificed to it. In that way the structure grows, becomes more sophisticated, becomes the thing itself. Any emotion that threatens to penetrate it is denied, repressed, becomes illegitimate. The structure insists on strengthening in form only, and at the same time insists on consistently being emptied of content, primarily emotional content. Once there were human beings who quarreled; now there is a "conflict." And human beings who worship it.



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