Opinion |

Why Are We Israelis So Cruel to So Many?

With the African refugees, just as with the Palestinians, we are doing the opposite of 'what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.'

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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An asylum seeker with hands in chains at the protest in Herzliya, January 22, 2018.
An asylum seeker with hands in chains at the protest in Herzliya, January 22, 2018.Credit: Meged Gozani
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The disabled will receive a ridiculously small and humiliating increase in their allowances, after long months of a heroic struggle to raise public awareness of their plight. The bureaucrats are advancing their plans for deporting African refugees to a fate of life or death by tribulations.

To know and be horrified: From where has this Jewish cruelty sprung? It contradicts so much of what we thought about ourselves for generations. What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor (Hillel the Elder); and love thy neighbor as thyself (Leviticus). Whoever saves one life it is as if they saved an entire world (The popular version of the original from the Talmudic tractate Sanhedrin, in its universalistic phrasing: Anyone who sustains one life is praised as if they sustained an entire world).

In the self-image that we have woven for ourselves, these were our inalienable assets, and our teachers told us with pride that this was the entire Torah while standing on one foot – and this is who we are. Moral, good, caring, humane. In short: Jews.

We have sympathy for the disabled and their struggle. At long last, the people we see on television waging a battle are Jews. But if the officials from the treasury and our government feel comfortable continuing to abuse and humiliate them, it is because they know that in the end this human mass that is called the public is apathetic. Or it has adopted the Republican slogans of reducing the role of the state (as opposed to expanding its role beyond the Green Line), or it hopes that it will be spared this fate.

Opinion polls show that most Israeli Jews support deporting African refugees. This means that they happily buy the official justifications, that they are only seeking work and all the reports on the horrors they can expect when they land in Rwanda are lies spread by opponents of the deportation, who have an “agenda” (compared to the bureaucrats who represent scientific objectivism).

Journalist Gershom Gorenberg published an article last week in the Washington Post: “Israel is betraying its history by expelling African asylum-seekers.” Gorenberg spoke with Emanuel Yamani, a refugee from Eritrea, who says an Israeli official told him: “Soon we’ll deport all of you, and you’ll sit under a tree, open your mouth and wait for a banana to fall, like a monkey.”

When Yamani reminded the official that he was a human being and not a monkey, he says he was told: “Don’t you see yourselves, that you look like monkeys?”

A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority did not reply to a request from Gorenberg for a response.

Gorenberg wrote: “Every Israeli Jew knows about refugees. Some of your ancestors were refugees. Some were pushed out of Arab countries. Some managed to escape Europe before 1939. Some survived the Holocaust and had nowhere to go until Israel was established. Every Israeli Jew knows that many more would have survived if the Western world hadn’t shut its doors.” Every Palestinian also knows what refugees are, and more than knows: They themselves are displaced, refugees, children of a family of refugees or a second-class subject in their homeland. Israelis with a Russian, American, French and pure Israeli accent relate to them as those who live here due to our benevolence, in other words temporarily.

Gorenberg’s shock is authentic, but is out of place. The bitter truth is that as opposed to the headline of his article, Israel is not betraying its history – but is marching loyally in its footsteps. We always did and are still doing the opposite of “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”

The mass and systematic expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 and the destruction of their houses exposes preliminary planning and thought, not just the heat of war. History is also the present: Every day our bureaucrats and soldiers carry out some act of expulsion. What is reported in Hebrew in Haaretz passes as if it was never written, and it too is just a thousandth of a percent of the acts that the direct descendants of the Jewish refugees from Europe and Arab countries are always carrying out.

The cruelty is not found only in an active collaboration with the abuse and in the cruelty and in the process of expulsion itself. It is also found in the standing off to the side, silence and disregard. The cruelty is not innate, it is a form of practicing until you become accustomed. There is nothing easier than getting used to our becoming expellers – up to the point of complete denial – when we wrap it up in shrouds of “security” and later in apartments and villas and the promises by God to our forefather Abraham.

Deportation is not just putting them on trucks. It is also deteriorating the living conditions to such an extent that one aspires to escape from it all. We imprisoned two million Palestinians in Gaza? We have grown accustomed to it and also asked the Europeans to provide money to improve the prison conditions. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are thrown out of the houses they have lived in for 70 years for the benefit of settlers, and by order of the court?

We have practiced it, got accustomed to it and enjoyed it. We have sentenced tens of thousands of people in the West Bank to live without a supply of running water, electricity and building rights? We have done so with fervor and diligence. We have confiscated land from the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, and are not allocating them other land to build towns? With special joy did we did so and continue to do so.

The truth is that most Jewish Israelis do not care about cruelty against disabled Jews and African refugees, and there is no pressing reason anymore to wrap that truth in quotes from our sources. With the Palestinians we have practiced just the opposite of what those quotes preach. No God or European country has punished us, and so we have gotten used to the very bearable lightness of causing mass suffering.

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