Mohammed Is Dead

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Mohammed Abu Khdeir, selfie, date unknown, published July 7, 2014.
Mohammed Abu Khdeir, selfie, date unknown, published July 7, 2014.

It seems hard to explain the state’s decision to withhold the name Mohammed from the list of most popular names in Israel, which it would have topped (“Psst! The most popular boy’s name in Israel in 5774 was really Mohammed,” Haaretz, Sept. 21).

In the same regard, it is hard to understand all the noise made by the tiny left. For beyond the list issued in honor of the Jewish High Holidays, courtesy of the Central Bureau of Statistics, which is usually no more than a curiosity item for the holiday issue, laws have been passed for years that deepen discrimination and racism, and erase the memory of the Palestinian tragedy. Not only is the distant memory fading – the one that has no expression in a schoolbook or in street names – so, too, is the ongoing, nearby disaster, which is basically our political present.

Something still has to echo from that summer. A pastoral memory, almost invented, its reality affixed perhaps in a different picture, threatens to pop up at any moment. In that picture, hundreds of living children evaporate in an instant from family homes, schools, alleys, markets and soccer matches on the beach. So it goes. The fantastic memory is also dimming, and it doesn’t matter how many biting and pathetic speeches Abu What’s-his-name delivers in the United Nations.

And of all things, the issue of erasing Arab names from the statistics makes exceptional waves compared to the daily apathy that allows (with High Court of Justice approval) the citizenship and Nakba laws, the absentee landlord law and acceptance committees for Jewish communities. That apathy also clears the way for the accepted norms of administrative detention, assassinations and war crimes that will never be investigated – and over the Green Line they are legal, according to the courts.

But the effort to erase the name Mohammed actually fits in quite well, as do the failure and the minor commotion that followed. Because we didn’t erase the children’s names, but rather the lives of the children themselves. And thus, on the occasion of the Days of Repentance, arose from the registers of the uninformed Israeli Interior Ministry, which has become so wretched over the years that it touches the heart.

The name Mohammed has reverberated in our collective mind for three months already, and this demon will pursue us without rest. It goes something like this: Once upon a time there was a child, Mohammed Abu Khdeir was his name, who was burned alive. Now, Mohammed is dead. And in erasing his name and his memory we will perpetuate erasing the name and the memory of all his brothers and cousins named Mohammed – both those who were just born and remain alive, and those who no longer are.

The writer, an attorney, is a doctoral candidate at Yale University.

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