As I write these lines, the senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat is in critical condition and his family has been called to take their leave of him at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. As he fights for his life, in Israel there is a debate over what that life is worth to us. Not a lot, it turns out.
On the right wing of the political spectrum, it has been claimed that it’s crazy for Israel to be providing him medical treatment. On the left, it is said that it’s essential to maintain our moral advantage. We have learned how to debate morality without actually involving a smidgen of morality itself.
There is no moral advantage in treating a patient, and anyone who calculates such advantages is no longer speaking of morals anyway. Refusing to provide treatment in some cases constitutes a death sentence. Such a death sentence, which is not handed down by a judge, which is not in the statute books, is murder. There is no advantage gained from refraining from murder. And murder is precisely what people on the right are seeking at the moment.
This week journalist Kalman Liebeskind quoted from a column that he wrote three years ago, when Erekat also required medical treatment in Israel but ultimately only received it in the United States: “Anyone who invites in enemies such as Saeb Erekat is crazy,” Liebeskind wrote and demanded that we stop relating to “our war with the Palestinians” as if it were a soccer match.
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The argument is tempting. The conflict is indeed not a game, and gestures of humanity look out of place during wartime. But here it involves fiction masquerading as realism. Israel is not in a war with the Palestinian Authority. It’s in a controlled, managed and organized conflict in which, between one bloody eruption and the next, we have a wide-ranging network of connections that Liebeskind is not seeking to sever.
He owes his personal security to them. But when it comes to the life of a Palestinian, it’s always possible to pretend that we’re in the middle of a world war.
Lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich of Yamina and Knesset newbie Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who suddenly showed up in Kahol Lavan, showed a similar detachment from reality in arguing that we should condition medical treatment for Erekat on the return of Israelis being held in the Gaza Strip. They have no idea what they’re talking about.
The right-wing organization Im Tirtzu protested against Israeli medical treatment that Erekat is receiving at no charge. I am certain, however, that Erekat is paying for the care in full, as do Palestinian patients who are impoverished by the expense. It’s just another variation on the fabled claim that “we’re providing Gaza with electricity for free.” And that, in part, is the aim of this monstrous debate: Rebranding the Israeli occupation as a fairy tale. An occupying, generous people.
But back to Liebeskind. Not only does he resent Erekat, but also the family of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, whose daughter was a patient at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, whose granddaughter was treated at Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva and whose son-in-law was treated next door at Beilinson Hospital.
I had thought it was only God who visits the transgressions of the fathers on the sons and that we have been commanded by the Book of Deuteronomy that “every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” But who am I to teach Liebeskind Judaism? There are no surprises here. Collective punishment is the bread and butter of the occupation.
To quote from the Oath of the Hebrew Physician, “And you will aid the sick irrespective of whether they are converts or gentiles or citizens, whether they are ignominious or respected.” A large number of Palestinians have passed through the Qalandiyah checkpoint since those words were written. They’re not worth a lot today.
Treating the sick is a basic duty that we have witnessed slip away. It happened in Hebron, with the medic who left the Palestinian shot by Israeli soldier Elor Azaria to die. It happened at Umm al-Hiran in the Negev, where medics watched Yakub Abu al-Kiyan wallow in his own blood. It turned out that even that was too high a degree of morality for us.
Now the debate is over whether saving a life at all is legitimate. A few more years of occupation and we’ll see where we end up.