What Must Palestinians Do for Israelis to Feel Their Pain?

The memory of Auschwitz has blunted Israelis' feelings for any other suffering – at least in feelings' political sense, that is, where shock is translated into political resistance.

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Mourners carry the body of 18-month-old Palestinian Ali Dawabsheh, who was killed after his family's house was set to fire in a suspected attack by Jewish extremists in Duma, West Bank, July 31, 2015.
Mourners carry the body of 18-month-old Palestinian Ali Dawabsheh, who was killed after his family's house was set to fire in a suspected attack by Jewish extremists in Duma, West Bank, July 31, 2015.Credit: Reuters

“The Nazi Holocaust is henceforth the absolute and radical reference point for the existence of every Jew,” wrote the French philosopher (and Lehi fighter) Robert Misrahi in the 1960s. Jean Améry, the Jewish intellectual who survived Auschwitz, agreed with him but distinguished between the victims and the other Jews – those who, when they talk about the Holocaust and its consequences, will always “sound like a blind man talking about color.”

Seventy years after the Holocaust, Jewish society is mostly trapped, in this respect, in the psychological impossibility: its access to the core of its existence is blocked.

Indeed, society was called on once again to be shocked by the intensity of recent events, and responded to the call. A baby was burned in his bed; a teenage girl was stabbed in the street. Conscience was sent to wake the words’ meaning from their banal slumber and David Grossman was enlisted, again, to write a headline in a newspaper.

The Jewish heart was again involved in the work of denunciation. At the same time, though, that same heart knows this is only the beginning. This isn’t the last Israeli teenager to be murdered out of hatred by her own kinsman, and it’s certainly not the last Palestinian baby to be burned by an Israeli.

What is the significance of the fact that society knows what’s expecting it? After all, if ignorance does not exempt it from punishment, what should be done to a society that knows what crimes are going to emerge from it?

The historic memory of the Holocaust was implanted as a personal memory in the depth of Israelis’ consciousness to such an extent that they cannot feel anything. They see the sights in Operation Cast Lead, Defensive Shield and the ones from last week – but cannot really feel. Not in the political sense, that is, where shock is translated into political resistance.

In a certain sense, we can’t blame the Jews. How can we complain about the descendants of Holocaust victims (direct or indirect)? One doesn’t need eyes to know that no feeling in the world can be equal in its intensity to “Auschwitz.”

But what does it mean? That until the Palestinians stand in front of Israel Defense Forces roadblocks dressed in striped pajamas, Israelis won’t be able to see them as victims? What measure of Palestinian pain do Israelis need in order to be able to feel it?

We can console ourselves that, according to historic dialectic, an Israeli renaissance will appear after the Israeli dark age. If only. But we mustn’t let hope blur our senses.

The future-sellers are trying to attach Yair Lapid’s face to that renaissance. But it’s enough to listen to Lapid’s words to understand that he cannot be the remedy to the Israeli disease – because he’s not only caught it, he’s spreading it.

The danger with Lapid isn’t that he’s objectifying God – that’s just a negligible trend. Anyone who has been listening to him lately and reading the things he says will realize that he has adopted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s incitement rhetoric, and that his incitement is no less blatant than Netanyahu’s toward Israel’s Arabs on Election Day.

It’s clear that Lapid wishes to wrest from Netanyahu’s hands the reins that deliberately liberate the masses’ evil instincts, without which fascism is impossible. But how can one believe that Lapid is interested in commanding the “war in Israeli society,” as he says, after he branded the brave combatants of Breaking the Silence as enemies?

This is an organization that, against all odds of the Jewish psyche since the Holocaust, is trying to give the nation its sight back – not by pretending to see the colors of the past, but to see the real hues of Israeli reality before it is all painted black.

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