During Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, over 1,700 people have been killed. For the Western media, no single death has been deemed worthy of a headline. The dead are counted in numbers. The identities of Palestinians have been most specific when it comes to the numbers of children, yet still to most of the world these remain nameless and faceless young people.
But on Friday the war suddenly focused sharply on a single face and name captured in photos revealing the youthful smile of an Israeli soldier: Lieutenant Hadar Goldin.
In a brutal and cynical act, Hamas had kidnapped the young soldier and in so doing, torn up an agreement for a humanitarian ceasefire — at least, that was the story Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama broadcast with outrage and indignation.
Washington must not “ever second-guess me again” on how to deal with Hamas, Netanyahu later demanded while scolding the U.S. ambassador, Dan Shapiro.
It turns out that Goldin was not kidnapped but was killed in battle, according to the IDF. That determination is itself somewhat mysterious. The IDF initially said it was the conclusion reached by a “special committee.”
Just as mysterious is this: “It is understood the army came to its conclusion after examining DNA evidence, reports the BBC’s Bethany Bell in Jerusalem. No body has been found.” Note that: DNA but no body.
Just in case Goldin’s story sounds familiar but you’re not sure why, remember what triggered this war: the “kidnapping” of three Israeli settlers who were reported as missing even when they were already presumed dead.
In a column today, Nahum Barnea writes:
The press conference convened at the Kirya Base in Tel Aviv on Saturday night was meant to be a victory conference. We have been saved: The operation has ended. Hamas has been destroyed. Our forces have returned home safely.
A crowded lineup of State of Israel flags was placed behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. The flags conveyed a sense of festivity. The two officials’ faces conveyed a sense of Tisha B’Av.
Netanyahu delayed his appearance by 20 minutes because of the comments made by the family members of kidnapped officer Hadar Goldin. The family demanded defiantly that the IDF avoid leaving the Strip as long as their son was in Hamas’ hands, dead or alive.
Netanyahu and Ya’alon did not accept the demand, but were forced to rewrite their speeches. From an announcement about a unilateral withdrawal of IDF forces from the Strip, Netanyahu moved to vague, unbinding sentences, such as “all options are on the table.” When the Americans say that about Iran, we know there are neither options nor a table, that it’s all talk. I doubt Netanyahu has any options.
It seems highly improbable that Netanyahu was in any doubt that Goldin had been killed and his body will never be recovered, but the IDF announcement to that effect did not come until after the “victory” speech. The timing of that announcement would appear to have fit into a political schedule rather than being determined by a sequence of discovery. Netanyahu was thereby spared from facing questions about why he had decided that Goldin’s body could be left behind.
The grief of Goldin’s family and friends cannot be any less profound than that shared by the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have lost family members.
And yet, when Israel grieves its losses, it doesn’t simply convey how much it cares for its own; it underlines the extent to which it attaches so little value to the lives of others.
For many and maybe most Israelis, non-Israeli non-Jewish life apparently isn’t worth much. Nor can much worth or credence be attached to the words of those Israelis who profess their grief at the loss of innocent life when in the very same breath they justify their own brutality.
These justifications always assert that Israel only kills in accordance with the dictates of necessity. Israel uses violence when left with no other choice.
But to claim that when killing a man designated as a “terrorist” it is sometimes unavoidable to sacrifice the lives of those around him is a bald-faced lie. I repeat: it is a lie. And it is a lie that has been repeated again and again over the last month as whole families have again and again been slaughtered.
If the same “terrorist” happened to be surrounded not by his family but he was in a crowded part of Jerusalem surrounded by Jewish Israelis, the calculus would be completely reversed.
The necessity of saving the lives of the Israelis would suddenly trump the necessity of killing the “terrorist.”
(And note: we now live in a word where the term terrorist simply means: someone whose right to life has been revoked and who can therefore be killed without any legal process. Every terrorist is marked for summary execution.)
This is what exposes the lie — a lie used just as often by Americans as it is by Israelis — of so-called “collateral damage”: No government ever has the audacity to refer to its own citizens as collateral damage. This is a designation reserved for lives, always non-white, that are regarded as being worth less.
These are people who get eliminated supposedly because they are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But in reality they are viewed by their killers as having lives that simply aren’t worth protecting.
Anyone who believes that the life of a Jew has greater intrinsic value than that of anyone else, is, I would say, a racist.
Some may believe that among the tribes of humanity the Jewish people are something akin to endangered species — that there is a Jewish imperative for survival that non-Jews cannot understand. Of course, your not Jewish, you can’t understand, erects a wall that even the most agile gentile cannot spring over.
Even though the Jewish fear of annihilation is authentically grounded in the memory of the Holocaust and centuries of antisemitism, this fear appears in recent decades to have metastasized and grown into a rage for survival, justifying murder.
All forms of survivalism are pathological in their refusal to embrace the universal reality of death: the fact that no one’s life is so precious that it cannot be lost or so durable that it will never end.
The stridency with which Israel has come to assert its right to exist and its right to defend itself, fuels a self-righteous passion in which Israelis believe they have a right to kill Palestinians. Such a right can only be claimed by a people who hold themselves in too high regard.
Around the world there are many endangered peoples and endangered cultures — neither Jewish Israelis, Jews in general, nor Jewish culture face such a threat of extinction. What they face is a fear of annihilation that for many forms the core of their identity.
Anyone, Jewish or not, whose life becomes molded by their fear of death ends up strangling the very thing they hold too tight. We can only embrace life by also facing our own mortality.