The Price of Ignorance

Gideon Levy

A society that disregards loss of human life, caused by its own soldiers, is a tainted society. A society that conceals from its citizens vital information of this kind is undercutting their sense of judgment.


Monday, December 29, 2003

he suicide bomber at the Geha Junction, Shehad Hanani, was from Beit Furik, one of the most imprisoned villages in the territories that is surrounded by earth roadblocks on all sides. It's a place where women in labor and the sick have to risk walking through fields to get to the hospital in adjacent Nablus. At least one woman in labor, Rula Ashatiya, gave birth at the Beit Furik checkpoint and lost her infant. Few Israelis are capable of imagining what life is like in Beit Furik: the almost universal unemployment, poverty, endless siege and humiliations of life inside a prison. A young man like Hanani, who was 21, had no reason to get up in the morning other than to face another day of joblessness and humiliation.

However, Israelis have little interest in knowing the lay of the land from which terror springs. The Israeli media have next to nothing to say about life in Beit Furik. By the same token, few Israelis heard about the killing of the suicide bomber's relative, Fadi Hanani, 10 days ago in Nablus, just as they hadn't heard about all the killings of Palestinians in the past few months. Life in Beit Furik and the killing in Nablus do not justify a suicide bombing at a bus station, but whoever wants to fight terror must first and foremost improve life in Beit Furik.

Israel counted "81 days of quiet" without terrorist attacks. But there is no greater lie than this. The quiet was only here. During this "quiet," dozens of Palestinians were killed, and almost no one bothered to report it. That is how it becomes possible to speak of quiet and then claim that the Palestinians disturbed it. The fact that the media does not speak of Palestinian deaths does not mean that they did not happen. The eight Palestinians who were killed last week in one day at Rafah, for example, killing along the lines of a medium-sized terror attack, together with destruction that is to an extent unknown in Israel, weren't enough to generate any interest here last week. They barely got a mention. The international community dealt prominently with this frightening killing, and the United Nations secretary-general issued a special statement condemning them. There was only one place where the entire event was ignored - the country whose soldiers perpetrated the killing. The images of giant bulldozers and tanks demolishing more and more houses, and the scenes of the dead and 42 wounded, among them women and children, being taken to hospitals in Rafah were hardly shown in Israel.

The mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, for example, mentioned the killing in Rafah in a sub-headline to a very small item on an inside page that dealt with the minor injuries sustained by a settler couple in the Gaza Strip settlement of Nisanit as a result of a Qassam rocket. This is how the national agenda is determined. Such disgraceful coverage of such a lethal operation by the IDF might evoke other regimes, in which the public is shown only what the authorities want it to see.

This has nothing to do with media critique; it's about our image. A society that disregards loss of human life, caused by its own soldiers, is a tainted society. A society that conceals from its citizens vital information of this kind is undercutting their sense of judgment. The situation is further compounded when one examines the attitude of the Israeli society toward its victims: there aren't many societies that immerse themselves in bereavement so intensely. What we have, then, is a dual morality: we count only our own dead, all the rest don't exist.

Concealing information has another ramification: if we don't know, there is no one to ask why. The eight Palestinians were killed in Rafah during the destruction of the tunnels without the question being asked as to whether this mission was justified at any means, at any price.

This is a deliberate aim. It permits presenting the Palestinians as the only guilty party, and it falls on fertile ground. The majority of the public doesn't want to know what the IDF is really doing in the occupied territories. But the media, therefore, are in serious breach of their duty. Both those who support the occupation and those who are against it are entitled to get complete information about the price it exacts. The presentation of killing as such a marginal matter also sends a dangerous message to Israeli soldiers: there is nothing terrible about killing more and more Palestinians 

On Thursday, 15 passersby were wounded in the targeted killing of Islamic Jihad activist Makled Hamid in Gaza. Last week, three children, one of them five years old, were killed in Balata refugee camp, near Nablus. The week before, three children were killed on one Saturday in Jenin and in nearby Burkin. Two Palestinians were killed recently along the fence in Gaza, trying to enter Israel to find work. Six Palestinians were killed in Rafah in the previous tunnel operation in the middle of the month. Increasing numbers of children were shot to death near the Qalandiyah refugee camp. All of these cases rated barely a mention in the media. But behind each Palestinian victim is family and friends, and hatred springs up from their graves.

Ibrahim Abd el Kadr, from Qalandiyah, who a few months ago lost his eldest son, Fares, when the fourteen-and-a-half-year-old was shot in the head by soldiers, swore to take revenge. Is it so difficult to understand him?

There is, therefore, an Israeli price to the many concealed Palestinian dead. They are incentives to terrorism. Their exclusion from our agenda cannot make the results of their killing disappear as well. Would Hanani have carried out his killing operation at Geha Junction if he had grown up in humane conditions and if his relative had not been assassinated? That question should be very disturbing to us. In the meantime, though, it's not even on the agenda.


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