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Even to the Most Enlightened Zionist Leftists, the Palestinians Are Invisible

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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FILE Photo: Oshrat Kotler during a conference on education in Jerusalem, April 1, 2014.
FILE Photo: Oshrat Kotler during a conference on education in Jerusalem, April 1, 2014. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Oshrat Kotler is an editor and anchor of the Channel 13 news magazine. She is considered principled, assertive and courageous. She comes by this description honestly, especially in comparison to most of her colleagues on television. On Thursday, she participated in a panel on the silencing of free speech at the Haaretz Democracy Conference.

What happened on stage was like a Hollywood movie. As she praised her editors and bosses for their strong position against silencing free speech, it was reported that she had been put on extended leave. Kotler squirmed and tried to deny it, but by the time she left the stage it turned out the report was true. We may assume that there was a direct connection between her leave and her remark: “We send the kids to the army, to the territories, and we get back ‘animals.’ This is the result of the occupation.”

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Kotler has drawn the boundaries of Zionist leftist protest in Israel. They are despairingly narrow and selfish. The bad old expression “we shoot and weep” has turned into the even worse “We shoot and weep only for ourselves.” Even protest that exacts the type of heavy personal price that Kotler is paying has always remained in the comfort zone and is no less ultranationalist and racist than the right’s positions. Even to the most enlightened, the Palestinians are invisible, they don’t exist, they are subhuman. The fact that even this protest is silenced only shows what is left of freedom of expression, scraps of liberty, on television as in the state itself.

Kotler was shocked by the video of soldiers in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion abusing two Palestinian detainees, father and son. The first feeling it should have evoked was empathy for the pain of these ill-fated people. But not in Kotler, nor in the vast majority of Israelis. Kotler said she ached for the soldiers’ parents, who did not raise them for this; and she saw the soldiers’ eyes, which were blurred on TV, and her heart went out to them.

There was just one thing Kotler didn’t see: the real victims. Soldiers abuse a man and his son who are blindfolded and in restraints, and the opinionated anchor, the voice of courageous protest, is shocked. At what? At the fate of the abusers. Their parents, their eyes. We send children and we get animals back. How unfortunate we are. We’ll never forgive the Palestinians for forcing us to abuse their fathers and sons. Once again, the abuser as victim, his parents as a pedagogic poem that was destroyed. Who else was in the jeep? No one.

We’ll say it: Ziad and Mahmoud Shalaldeh were on the floor of the jeep. They are the only victims in this story. The father is a garbage collector, the son is a shepherd, 13 people living in a tent. Anjud, 17, lives on the floor of the tent. She has cerebral palsy. Ziad and Mahmoud ran into a man from their village who is wanted for murder, and are suspected of hiding him. They will spend years in prison. The solders beat them in revenge and forced the son to watch his father being kicked and punched. Both were hospitalized in serious condition. They couldn’t stand, they couldn’t speak. The father suffers from internal bleeding. Their family is prohibited from visiting them and knows very little about their condition.

And after all that, the soldiers’ doleful eyes are what we cherish most. The only thing. Their parents are the ones who touch us. Only they. And Kotler is still the best of the best. She at least cares about someone. She isn’t an automaton and hasn’t become inured like almost all of them. On YouTube her clips appear, titled: “Oshrat Kotler Weeps,” Oshrat Kotler Shouts,” “Oshrat Kotler Goes Crazy,” Oshrat Kotler Apologizes.”

At the Haaretz conference she choked back tears over her dying father. He is a Likudnik, an Israel Air Force veteran who weeps whenever IAF planes fly overhead. Thanks to him, she said, she is a journalist. Because of him she’s brave. In his honor she came to the Haaretz conference and didn’t heed her loved ones who told her not to come and to “keep quiet for a change.” And once again she spoke of the soldiers and their parents. And the real victim? He is once again an orphan, mute, cast into darkness on the floor of the jeep, helpless, bleeding, without arousing any compassion, any human feeling. He is a Palestinian.

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