Can We Worry Only About a Wounded Israeli Soldier, and Not the Victims in Gaza Too?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A Gazan protester carries an injured youth amid clashes with Israeli security forces during a demonstration near the Israeli border on Saturday.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Is it permissible to look in another direction? Is it even possible? The grave injury of Border Policeman Barel Hadaria Shmueli has swept Israel into an almost unprecedented display of concern and media coverage, combined with moral blindness. His distraught father rebukes the country’s leaders, somebody records the harsh conversations and sends them to others, someone else rushes to publicize and make a big deal of them; a careful score is kept and a denunciation issued for anyone who took too long to visit or didn’t visit at all; the IDF chief of staff and government ministers sneak into the hospital by the back door lest the family’s angry accusations against them be made public, while mass prayers continue outside.

There is a ranking system for the wounded, too, in terms of public interest, just like for the fallen and for captives – on the basis of their identity, their affiliations and politics. There is Hadar Goldin and Shmueli and there are other families. Shmueli is not the first, and won’t be the last, to be seriously wounded. The pain of his family and friends is altogether human and understandable. Less so for all the rest.

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Once again, at the Gaza border, things are turned upside down. The victim becomes the accused, the tyrant becomes the victim. Through the slit in the Gaza wall it is only permissible to shoot in one direction. Gunfire in the opposite direction is a crime for which the two million inhabitants of Gaza must be punished. Shmueli is a policeman and sniper who was brought to the fence to shoot protesters. By what moral criterion is it okay for an Israeli sniper to shoot protesters while a Palestinian is not permitted to shoot at those who are shooting at him?

The protesters are residents of the Gaza ghetto whose every protest is a protest for their liberty, their honor and their lives. No protest is more moral and just, even if Hamas is the one organizing it and even if they throw rocks and launch incendiary balloons. They are facing a well-equipped army whose commanders yesterday threatened to be even more aggressive, as Barel’s father is demanding. When other countries’ armies fire at protesters, Israelis cluck with disapproval: What evil regimes these are. But when our army does this, it is not only pure, it is the victim. The ”terrorist” dared to shoot the sniper who came to shoot him. How barbaric, what savages they are in Gaza, we need to smash them with everything we’ve got. Just ask the people praying in the Soroka Hospital parking lot.

At the time Shmueli was wounded, his comrades were firing live rounds that wounded dozens of protesters. Most were shot in their legs – hey, we have to leave something for the next protests – but Omar Abu Nil was shot in the head. It is hard to find out much about him; B’Tselem researchers in Gaza had to help find out his name. He is 13 years old. He was born into the ghetto and lived in Gaza City. At first it was reported that he was gravely wounded. Two days ago, B’Tselem was told that his condition had improved and was now moderate. He certainly didn’t endanger anyone’s life, he was certainly entitled to protest against the reality into which he was born and sentenced to live, perhaps forever.

If he recovers, nothing will be waiting for him in the Gaza ghetto. Without knowing anything about him, one can already say that he is doomed to live without a present and without a future. He could only dream about flying somewhere, about being someplace that is not Gaza. There are no mass prayers for his recovery, his father is not rebuking everyone he sees, and the Palestinian media are ignoring him too – there are so many more like him, after all.

In Gaza there are more than 300 bereaved families from the previous wave of protests, at least 36 families who lost children that were killed by this accursed wall, and thousands of families with a wounded or disabled family member from the 27,000 who were wounded, 88 of whom lost limbs.

No one thinks about them. No one talks about the boy Omar. Is it permitted in Israel to worry about him? Is it permitted to think that he is the main victim? Or are we all Shmueli, only Shmueli?

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