The day after the Paris attacks, I asked an Israeli who emigrated from France if she was shocked and upset to see such destruction in the city where she once lived. To my surprise, she said no - and to my utter shock, went a step further. “They deserved it,” she said calmly.
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I immediately asked her why. Her reasoning: France and the rest of the European Union had just decided to label products from the West Bank. From her point of view, this was the French kicking Israel when she was down. Israel, was, after all, in the midst of a wave of bloody stabbing and car attacks, as barbaric and unjustified as what happened inside the Bataclan club or in Parisian cafes.
If the French weren’t interested in feeling Israel’s pain, she asked, why should she feel theirs? For many of her fellow French Jews now in Israel, among them the thousands who have recently left (including the Bataclan’s former owners) their bitterness was compounded by the feeling of having been France’s neglected canary in the coal mine. As they see it, France - and the world - paid little attention when Islamist violence was directed at them - from the Ilan Halimi killing to the murders in Toulouse to last January’s Hyper Cacher attack, which played second fiddle to the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre. While they were certainly not happy in any way over how events were playing out, there was a definite sense of “We told you so” - and vindication of their decision to move, despite the fact that life in Israel was far from a guarantee of security.
On the same day, my daughter’s elementary school teacher led a current events class, and they were all eager to discuss the events in Paris they had seen on the news non-stop for the past 24 hours. The teacher refused to address the topic until the very end of the session. It was “much more important” to talk about what had happened in Israel, with the murderous terror attack that claimed the lives Rabbi Yaacov Litman and his teenage son Netanel Litman on the same day Paris was hit. The whole world may be focused on France, the teacher explained to her sixth-graders, but Israelis needed to pay attention to these killings - because the rest of the world didn’t care about them.
Though most Israelis are officially and unofficially standing with France with published shows of support, from Tel Aviv vigils to Facebook profile pictures and hashtags to Israeli buildings lit up in red, white, and blue in solidarity with France, there is also an undeniable undercurrent of resentment in the air. Whether stated or hinted, there is a bitter feeling that while terror attacks in the heart of Paris inspire international outrage and mass identification - Israelis who lose their lives to violence on a daily basis have been relegated to the back pages of the newspapers. The feeling comes through loud and clear on my social media feed in both Hebrew and English. As one friend put it on Facebook, “Israelis are killed, and killed, and killed, and it feels like no one cares.”
Hers was the most heartfelt of the bunch. Others make their point more sharply - like these memes:
#Israelis have been attacked by #Muslims Since *1921 on almost daily basis, but go ahead and change your profile picture to the #French flag.By Ali P & Net*Year Edited
On one Israeli morning show, a social media analyst claimed in an interview that a full third of Israeli social media posts discussing the Paris attacks had an element of schadenfreude, and even more related what happened in Paris to local events.
It reached the top with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posting on his Facebook page “It's time for the world to condemn terrorism against Israel in the same manner that it condemns terrorism in France and anywhere else in the world.”
Later, on camera, he elaborated by saying “We are not to blame for the terrorism directed against us, just as the French are not to blame for the terrorism directed against them. It is the terrorists who are to blame for terrorism, not the territories, not the settlements and not any other thing. It is the desire to destroy us that perpetuates this conflict and drives the murderous aggression against us.”
Israeli commentators were quick to respond that European leaders aren’t buying into Netanyahu’s logic. On the evening news the same day Channel 2 correspondent Udi Segal scoffed: “The thought that Europe will somehow 'understand us' now after the Paris attacks and will now agree with Israeli policy in general and towards the West Bank specifically is a worthless expectation that is doomed to disappoint those who hold it.”
Israelis are, to be sure, not alone in feeling as if lives in the Middle East and Africa are somehow less precious than their counterparts in Europe, and are not the only ones sending the world on guilt trips for what looks like excessive reaction to Paris, as if Third World lives don’t matter. There have also been loud complaints that the massacre of university students in April in Garissa, Kenya didn’t get the same 24/7 worldwide attention, even though the act was no less horrific and the number of victims just as high, and that violence in Turkey, Iraq, and Lebanon gets the same treatment. The latter is especially notable since a terrible attack in Beirut took place just before Paris and received a comparatively miniscule amount.
But just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right. Every innocent life claimed by terrorism deserves to be marked and their grieving loved ones comforted, whether or not they would have mourned our own deaths sufficiently, no matter how much or how little media coverage they receive, whether or not we might feel a legitimate sting that lives lost in our own country haven’t warranted the same amount of attention.
Israelis - and everyone else - would do well to remember that tragedy and mourning are not some kind of international competitive sport. Terrible bloody events are not opportunities for one-upmanship or attempting to out-victim one another.
We in the Middle East and other regions threatened by terrorism go about our lives resilient and determined, grasping on to every precious bit of joy and normalcy we can, and defying those who would terrorize us, demonstrating by example that if we can do it, Europeans can do it, too. That strength is a gift that we can offer Parisians and it is a gift to ourselves as well. Responding to their devastation with understanding and generosity of spirit will serve us far better than unattractive bitterness or jealousy at the sympathy and attention they are receiving in their grief.