Heroism at the Expense of the Children

Netanyahu's government has managed to combine complete disregard for the distress of residents of the south with exploitation of that distress for propaganda purposes.

Reuters

For anyone who still needs proof of the government’s complete bankruptcy, it can be found in the total abandonment, from both the security and the socioeconomic standpoint, of residents of communities near the Gaza Strip, and in the double standard that characterizes attitudes toward them.

The abandonment of residents of the south didn’t begin with this war or with this government. The embarrassing sight of the children of Sderot being shoved onto a bus en route to a camp organized by businessman Arkadi Gaydamak in 2006 – while the education, finance and social affairs ministries were still debating over whether or not the children should be evacuated from their houses, and never ended up deciding anything – is still seared in our memory.

Nevertheless, the present government has broken its predecessors’ records in the way it combines disregard of the south’s distress with exploitation of this same distress for propaganda purposes. Here, for instance, is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s embarrassing statement to the children of Sderot during a visit there last week: By standing strong, he told them, they will tell Hamas, “You won’t make us leave here.”

Two days later, television commentators obeyed their commander and, with shocking hypocrisy, denounced the families who were “deserting” kibbutzim and moshavim near Gaza, while columnists from the settler right accused the departing families of granting a victory to Hamas. Big heroes, all of them, at the expense of children who were born to the incessant sound of the warning sirens, to mortar attacks that come without warning and to terror tunnels emerging inside their communities. These are children who can’t imagine a world without an ongoing war, for whom existential fear is their daily bread. There is no basis for comparing this inhuman reality to the rockets and sirens in the center of the country.

Even the death of little Daniel Tragerman, whose parents had returned to their kibbutz because they were told they could, didn’t foment a change. Ministers began stammering confusedly about Operation “Hotel Guests” (naming operations is what this government does best), meaning the organized transfer of families from communities near the border to youth hostels. Why hostels rather than hotels in the center of the country, where an organized group of teachers and social workers could be deployed to enable these people, who have become refugees in their own country – at the expense of their own bank accounts – to lead normal lives insofar as possible?

The abandonment of these families doesn’t stem from impotence; it’s part of a system. It’s not just the lives of southern residents that are in danger; so are their houses and property, their agricultural crops and their jobs, their emotional and physical health. All of their work is now being destroyed, after years of systematic weakening and neglect under the government’s neo-liberal and hawkish policies.

Ostensibly, residents of the “Gaza envelope” aren’t any different from any other citizen who is suffering from the government’s neo-liberal policies and its abandonment of any responsibility for citizens. But those who live near the Gaza border suffer from an additional factor as well.

Right-wing governments have fragmented society into separate groups so that instead of seeing citizens, many people see a shallow and anachronistic image of “kibbutzniks.” It’s clear that Benjamin Netanyahu and fellow ministers like Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel don’t care about them. But one would expect the media to discern the true profile of members of this weakened group, most of whom are of Middle Eastern or South American origin, not some imaginary cardboard-cutout leftists.

The media reject this system. It must rebel against it, not be dragged along. Otherwise, it will be a party to the abandonment of residents of the Gaza border, to their portrayal as mere symbols of the suffering caused by the eternal war against the Jewish people, to alienation from them, and to the outrageous demand that they pay the full price by themselves.