The Strip of Slaughter

More than 100 years ago, the Kishinev pogroms shocked the world. Yet we have managed to forget the innocent dead of Gaza after less than two months.

B. Michael
B. Michael
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Palestinian women look at the shattered remains of a building complex in Beit Hanun, Gaza Strip on Aug. 29, 2014, that was destroyed by fighting between Palestinian militants and Israel.
Palestinian women look at the shattered remains of a building complex in Beit Hanun, Gaza Strip on Aug. 29, 2014, that was destroyed by fighting between Palestinian militants and Israel.Credit: AFP
B. Michael
B. Michael

Sunday marks 109 years since the “smaller” Kishinev Pogrom that took place in October 1905, exactly two and a half years after the first, better-known Kishinev Pogrom that shocked the world – from Theodor Herzl to Theodore Roosevelt, from Leo Tolstoy to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and from Maxim Gorky to Haim Nahman Bialik.

Every Israeli youth has been exposed to the term “Kishinev Pogrom,” and rightly so. It was a barbaric massacre, pure anti-Semitism. Even in recent years – a period dubbed an “age of ignorance” by Dr. Tsvia Walden – it would be difficult to find an Israeli student unfamiliar with “On the Slaughter” and “The City of Slaughter,” the pair of poems penned by Bialik bemoaning the pain, anger and torment he felt after the pogrom. The long, fiercely worded poems offer a piercing condemnation of the murderers in Kishinev and have remained part of the Jewish consciousness for generations. The memory will always be with us.

At the beginning of October, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released its latest (but not final) report about this summer’s war in Gaza.

In recent decades, I’ve been hard-pressed to find reasons to believe reports prepared by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit or other Israeli government organizations. Evasion, deception, public relations and even mendacity are all too common from such sources. Therefore, in my opinion, the UN reports are preferable. The UN sometimes makes mistakes, but I’ve yet to find them practicing deception.

According to the UN's latest figures, the number of Palestinian fatalities during the 50-day war was 2,189. Of those, 1,486 have already been identified as civilians, including 269 women and 513 children. A further 146 have yet to be identified, but so far 1,486 people were killed by our hands. For no reason.

And, lo and behold, two months haven’t even passed and these people have become invisible. Disappeared. A forgotten episode; their ashes dispersed in the wind. No one speaks of them. No one wonders about them. No one is investigating. They’ve all been hidden behind the lamest and most outrageous of excuses: “They were sheltering terrorists”; or “They were used as human shields by Hamas.” They are lame because they come from a state that houses its military command center (the Kirya) in the heart of a bustling city (Tel Aviv), a stone’s throw from a huge hospital (Ichilov).

By the way, during the first Kishinev Pogrom 49 Jews were cruelly murdered. More than 100 years have passed and this heinous act has not been forgotten. During the Gaza war, at least 1,486 civilians were killed. Two months pass and they’re forgotten, as if they never existed.

Seeing as how there is no Bialik to write for them or us, I’ve taken it upon myself to use some of his lines from “The City of Slaughter.” They seem fitting to me, both for the living and the dead:

“Your dead were vainly dead; and neither I nor you / Know why you died or wherefore, for whom, nor by what laws; / Your deaths are without reason; your lives are without cause ... For great is the anguish, great the shame on the brow; / But which of these is greater, son of man, say thou– / Or liefer keep thy silence, bear witness in My name / To the hour of My sorrow, the moment of My shame. And when thou cost return / Bring thou the blot of My disgrace upon thy people’s head, / And from My suffering do not part, / But set it like a stone within their heart!

What is thy business here, O son of man? / Rise, to the desert fee! / The cup of affliction thither bear with thee! / Talc thou thy soul, rend it in many a shred! / With impotent rage, thy heart deform! / Thy tear upon the barren boulders shed! / And send thy bitter cry into the storm!”

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