Oblivious to the Man in Pajamas

Israel is full of unimportant citizens, in pajamas, with or without catheters, who stand helplessly at the sides of all kinds of roads, and no one notices them and no one stops.

Shoham Smith
Shoham Smith
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Shoham Smith
Shoham Smith

“Didn’t you realize that there was something completely screwed up here?” Thus, in patently unlegalistic language, the judge used the slang Hebrew phrase “dafuk” which means screwed up or sick as he addressed the policeman being tried on suspicion of abandoning a Palestinian prisoner on the side of a road. The prisoner eventually died. The incident took place in June 2008.

Judge Haim Liran’s question to the policeman, Assaf Yekutieli, was not a standard question. The judge’s use of such a term as “screwed up” in a legal context, seems to indicate that this was either a rhetorical question or an expression of despair and frustration. As if, at that particular moment at the conclusion of the presentation of the testimony and after hearing the details of the chilling event the humane judge gave vent to the feelings in his heart, that he still believes in mankind and is not able to grasp how it is possible to abandon someone on the side of a road, a “person in pajamas and with a catheter.” It is as if he now understands that in this kind of reality there was no choice but to use that term “screwed up,” even though the setting was a courtroom.

It is possible to learn quite a bit about one of the key features of that screwed-up reality from the brief, amazing and spontaneous response by Yekutieli to the judge’s question. “That is the million dollar question,” he answered, using a cliche from the world of television, and prizes and lotteries, which has become our dominant culture. Moral questions and questions relating to abandoning the life of a human being are presented in terms of some kind of wheel of fortune. That makes the self-awareness evident in Yekutieli’s response to “the million dollar question” all the more surprising and impressive to the point that it arouses a certain compassion and empathy .

“My eyes are not the same as your eyes,” he replied. “I dealt with foreign workers. We would take Africans with their smell, all of them with bare feet. I didn’t cry out when he shouted and when he [the Palestinian prisoner] was wearing pajamas. I was oblivious.”

Yekutieli is certainly apologetic. He has an interest in diminishing the seriousness of his acts. At the same time, it is difficult not to be impressed by his ability to see himself and the reality in which he acted, from the outside certainly when he admits that he was oblivious. Yekutieli identified both the disease and its causes. Indeed, a person who is required as part of his work to deal on a daily basis with difficult scenes, with poverty, and wretchedness and their implications for human beings, is forced to develop a thick skin. “I didn’t cry out,” the policeman said.

It is expressly out of the negation of the cries of both men that an authentic cry emerges, of a person protesting that he has been turned unintentionally into a trooper. The phrases, “I was oblivious,” and “something completely screwed up” are synonyms for the disease we have gotten used to living with, just as one gets accustomed to living with a chronic illness. The most exposed to it are those people who come into contact with human beings known by the term “population.” In the occupied territories, there is a population of this kind, and in the neighborhoods of foreign workers, and the housing projects in poor neighborhoods.

The case of Omar Abu Jariban, the Palestinian man left to die on the side of a West Bank road as shocking and extreme as that was is an expression of a familiar situation. Our country is full of unimportant citizens, in pajamas, with or without catheters, who stand helplessly at the sides of all kinds of roads, and no one notices them and no one stops.

The unimportant citizen who threw a firebomb at the home of his neighbors in south Tel Aviv is also a victim of this reality. The well-fed citizen who lives far from there, in a protected environment, with material comforts, has no right to judge him.

And if he does judge him, that is a sign that he too has become oblivious. Children who are born into this reality, are innately oblivious. This epidemic has many facets and it is merely continuing to spread. And no one is immune.



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