Opinion |

A Humanitarian Crisis in Israel

Well-meaning citizens go out and protest the deportation of 30,000 asylum seekers from Israel, but when was there a meaningful demonstration for the children of Gaza?

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Palestinians hold flags as youths practice their parkour skills at the March of Return protests in the southern Gaza Strip, April 10, 2018.
Palestinians hold flags as youths practice their parkour skills at the March of Return protests in the southern Gaza Strip, April 10, 2018.Credit: SAID KHATIB/AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

How many Palestinians were killed last Friday? How many the previous Friday? How many were wounded? When statistics become the semblance of victory, the Israel Defense Forces can claim a tremendous achievement. “Only” 29 Palestinians were killed and about 1,300 were wounded. Not a single Israeli was killed, no Jewish community was evacuated, the border fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel remains in place, the snipers’ rifles did their job well and there was no need for tanks or cannons. This coming Friday there will once again be instructions to maintain purity of arms and military ethics, and not to deviate from the incidence of killing and wounding to which we have become accustomed.

In the third out of six planned weeks of the March of Return, the drama is gradually waning. Thirty thousand of approximately two million Gazans participated in it, and the major eruption which the army warned about has turned into a weekend show. The West Bank is still quiet and Arab countries haven’t reported thousands turning out for demonstrations.

The system is working; victory is assured. As long as there is the Israeli perception that the pre-demonstrations status quo is the desired aim, that the blockade must continue – not because it stops terror but because it represents Israel’s prestige and its ability to maintain “normalcy” in the Strip – the price is not high. Or to be more precise, there is no Israeli price tag.

But the price is huge, and it’s been collected in convenient payments over the years. For almost 11 years Israeli society has allowed two million Palestinians to exist on the brink of a humanitarian disaster. Correction: “There is no humanitarian crisis,” as Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott insists. There is medicine and food, and people aren’t dying of starvation, only from bullets.

Gaza isn’t Syria, nor is it Somalia. Gaza is suffocating with a plastic bag on its head, but we have left it a slit for breathing. Even if there is only terrible deprivation, the Israeli government is convincing itself that it’s not to blame – that Hamas is at fault.

Israel isn’t responsible for the slaughter in Syria or the humanitarian crisis affecting millions of its citizens, but at least parts of Israeli society are willing to show empathy for this suffering, even if it’s only expressed in tut-tutting.

Israelis volunteer in all kinds of remote corners of the world, clearing away ruins after earthquakes or sending medicine to the needy. But Gaza is not home to human beings who want to study, make a living and raise children; Gaza is home to rifles, says the government, explaining ethics to its citizens. Gaza is home to grenades, explosive devices, tunnels, Salafists and murderers. This is an enemy country whose inhabitants do not deserve an iota of empathy.

Well-meaning Israelis are willing to go out and protest the deportation of 30,000 asylum seekers, but when was there a meaningful demonstration for the children of Gaza? In Turkey, which is ruled by a tyranny and where any criticism against the regime can lead to severe punishment, citizens protested the military operations in Syria’s Afrin. There are demonstrations for reconciliation with the Kurds, who the government defines as a terrorist population. But Israeli society is imprisoned within itself, to the point that its humane values have rotted and crumbled.

The Israeli government no longer has to bother threatening anyone who dares to identify with the Gazans’ suffering. Our society has dug itself a stinking sewer and enjoys wading in it. We are shocked at revelations of corruption among our rulers, we know exactly how much money our leaders have put into their pockets and we want to see them hanged immediately. But the main clause is missing and will remain missing from the indictments. This is the clause regarding the destruction of society, the evaporation of humanity and the glorification of the sight of a sniper’s rifle. The Israeli government is guilty of creating a humanitarian crisis – not among the Palestinians, but in our own society.

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