Skip to comments.Unacceptable. Unjust.
Posted on 03/30/2004 3:12:59 PM PST by anotherview
Extraordinary offering from Rabbi Danny Gordis
A couple of years ago, our office started using a new driver. The previous one, it turns out, couldn't make a living when the tourists abandoned the country, and left for the States. My secretary told me about Shlomo, the new driver, right before I was to get picked up for a drive to a meeting, and I didn't think much of the news.
I got in the cab, sat in the back, introduced myself to Shlomo (who appeared to be in his mid-fifties) and told him where I was going. We set out on our way, and as we made our way across the city, I noticed a photograph on the dashboard. A young woman, probably in her twenties.
An informal photo, in a Plexiglas frame glued to the dashboard. You don't often see things glued to the dashboards of luxury Mercedes cars, so I was curious. I leaned forward a little, and read the words at the bottom of the frame. "Limor, HYD." Limor -- May God Avenge Her Blood.
Now I was even more curious. This was clearly going to be a sensitive subject, but this is Israel, and subtlety has never been a strong suit of this society. So I just asked.
"Is that your daughter?"
"Limor. She was twenty-seven. And beautiful."
"She was killed at Moment Cafe."
I had no idea what to say. So for a moment, I said nothing, and then he continued.
"You know, they keep telling me that it will get easier with time. I'm still waiting."
He turned up the volume on the classical music station a bit, maybe to drown out the rest of the world. I don't know. He stared out the windshield, and I stared out the window, certain that anything I said would be absurdly trite. And, of course, I'd only met him a few minutes earlier. Even had I had anything to say, this probably wasn't the time.
We still have the same driver. Sometimes it's Shlomo who picks me up, but usually, it's Nir, his son, probably in his mid-twenties, too.
Between the two of them, they keep the cab running almost 24 hours a day, or so it seems. Because most of my trips to the airport are late at night, it's Nir I usually see. It's Nir who picks me up from the airport, too.
And each time we wind our way back into Jerusalem, he takes the same route to my house. A left at the Wolfson towers, up into the middle of Rechavia, following the narrow roads until the car is alongside Moment Cafe, now rebuilt, opened, better guarded, and full. There are sometimes faster ways to get to Bakk'a, days when the traffic in Rechavia is ridiculous. But he never varies his route. We always go by Moment. He never says anything, and I don't ask. Limor's picture is there, looking out at both of us, almost as if to remind us that we're really not in a hurry. So what if the traffic is a little thicker in Rechavia? The five minute difference isn't that significant, compared with everything he lives with and thinks about each time he looks at his dashboard.
It was Nir that I thought of when I first woke up on Monday morning. The radio had gone off at 6:15, and the news was prattling on. Helicopter. Missile. Killed. Sounded like a regular morning newscast.
Until I was awake enough to get the name. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Strange, but I thought of Nir. Before anyone else. And I wondered if he'd heard yet. I wondered how he'd feel knowing that we got the guy who killed his sister. I wonder if this provides any comfort whatsoever. I doubt it.
Certain things we don't have to wonder about. Like whether Yassin deserved to die. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw can lecture us about the killing being "unacceptable, unjust." I don't mind. For when I think about the British, I still think about the shores of Palestine closed to Jewish refugees from the Nazis, desperate and starving human beings being turned away, sometimes forced to return to the Europe from which they'd fled, sometimes sent to worse fates. As a Brit, Straw should, indeed, know a thing or two about "unacceptable, unjust."
"Unacceptable," I think, is a mild way of describing Yassin's resume. Yassin was crystal clear. This conflict is not about the territories. It's about the whole thing. There can be no "Zionist" entity in the Middle East, which is a Muslim part of the world. There can be no compromise, no negotiation. The Jews must go. Got to give him credit for clarity.
And for persistence. Under Yassin, Hamas was responsible, in the last few years, for 425 bombings, resulting in 377 deaths, and 2076 injured.
"Unjust"? The Sbarro Pizza parlor. The Dolphinarium, packed with teenagers. The Moment Cafe. The #37 bus. Cafe Hillel. The #19 bus. Many, many others. And now, the port at Ashdod, a strategic target that ultimately resulted in the cabinet decision to get rid of him and let Hamas know that we've had enough. And that we have no intention of leaving.
Very few Israelis that I know are terribly worried about the "justice" of the decision to kill him. If he didn't deserve to die, no one does.
And some people do deserve to die. No one I know shed any tears that he's gone. But no one I know went out into the street to fire assault rifles into the air in celebration. Or gave candy to children to mark the joy of the event. That, most of us know, would be "unacceptable."
Was killing Yassin smart? That's the only question. The morality of the killing is, to my mind, not an issue. And for the wisdom, who knows? Whether it ultimately weakens Hamas and makes it possible for the Palestinian Authority to take over when we pull out, as Sharon says he plans to, remains to be seen. What we've got in the meantime, is a stalemate of dread.
On their side, the Hamas leadership has gone underground. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Yassin's successor in the Gaza strip, is threatening unprecedented reprisals and ultimate "liberation of the homeland." The IDF, undoubtedly, is now aiming for him. One assumes that Rantisi knows there's not much point in his buying green bananas.
But Rantisi's threats have not gone unheeded in Israel's cities. People here believe him. There are security checkpoints virtually everywhere, and now, they're really checking. I had breakfast yesterday at Cafe Hillel, another reminder of Yassin. My secretary, actually, asked me to change the location. "Don't eat there this week," she pleaded. "It's not a good idea." But the point is that we're not leaving. That's exactly why Yassin had to go. So I didn't change the venue and went to Cafe Hillel.
The cafe, like Moment, is completely rebuilt, and is usually packed. It can be hard to find a table at breakfast. Not yesterday. There were six of us in the whole restaurant, plus the waitress, and the very alert guard outside the door. On the way to the cafe, walking to the cafe, I looked into the buses making their way down Emek Refa'im. Almost empty. Five or ten people on a bus, in rush hour.
When I finally got to the office, a colleague told me that on the way home on Wednesday, he was driving past one of the open air markets of Jerusalem, when an elderly women knocked on the window of his car. She had sacks of food from the market, she showed him, and she lived a few blocks away, too far for her to walk. But she was afraid to get on the bus. Would he drive her home?
A couple of days ago, the Editorial Page of HaAretz carried its daily political cartoon, this one of a Domino's Pizza guy (yup, Dominos and Office Depot have made it here) on a motorcycle, delivering a pizza to a family. Only the family is behind sandbags, barely willing to stretch out an arm to take the pizza. That pretty much summed it up.
But the cartoon missed one thing -- why we're in this mess. Yes, for the moment, things are a bit edgy, but we've been here before. What Israelis need to remember, and what the rest of the world needs to understand is why Yassin hated us. Simply because we're here. And why we had to get rid of him. Because he had pledged to keep killing us until we left. But we're not leaving. Where would we possibly go? Even if we agreed to go, where would we go? As if Europe wants us back.
Or as if it worked out very well last time we were there. Or as if the French have learned very much since 1943.
Last Sunday night, Elisheva and I went to a lecture by Aharon Applefeld, one of Israeli's preeminent novelists. Tali and Avi were out, so we left Micha by himself. He was lying on the living room coach, reading some enormous 700+ page book that he was determined to finish, and was fairly oblivious to our imminent departure. We told him that we had our cell phones if he needed us, and he should go to bed by 8:30. He barely looked up, but muttered, "OK." We knew he wouldn't go to bed on time, but we also couldn't exactly complain that a fifth grader wanted to stay up late because he was busy reading a novel.
Applefeld told his story. Of an idyllic eight years in a completely assimilated, wealthy, Jewish European home. Of his mother being shot by the Germans. Of him and his father being taken to a slave labor camp. And of his decision to flee the camp, because he knew he wouldn't survive it. And so, at the age of eight and a half, he found himself alone, in the forests of Europe, masquerading as a Christian, struggling to survive. He worked in the home of a prostitute, buying her groceries and cleaning her house, until one of her drunken clients called him a Jew. He fled. He worked for horse thieves, who would have him drop into the stables from the skylight, land in whatever he landed in and then open the door to the stable so they could steal the horses. He told of the nights he slept alone on the forest floor, of the days when he ate the moss off of trees. At the age of ten.
And I thought about Micha, exactly that age now. I wondered. If he were alone in the forest tomorrow, would he know to do that? Would he have the presence of mind to work for a prostitute, for horse thieves? Would he figure out that he could eat moss off of trees if he was starving? I doubted it. Which means we can't let that happen to him.
In the days since Yassin's death, since the palpable sense of dread has pervaded every nook and cranny of life here, I've thought of Applefeld at ten. Of Micha at ten. And then I thought of Abdallah Quran, the ten year old boy from the Balata refugee camp who was given, apparently unbeknownst to him, a bomb to carry across a checkpoint. A ten year old who tries to make a living for his family after school by transporting packages across the checkpoint, he had no idea who put the bag on his cart. The explosive had a remote control apparatus. Someone who gave him the bomb was going to use a cell phone to set it off. And presumably blow Abdallah to high heaven, too.
And people compare the two sides of this conflict?
That incident didn't make it to much of the international press. But when Hussam Abdo, the sixteen year old who tried to walk an explosive belt through a checkpoint two days ago, got caught by soldiers, there happened to be a camera crew on hand. And the whole thing was filmed. Turns out, Hussam was given 100 shekel to carry the explosive and blow it up. He was also promised 70 virgins in heaven, he said.
The good news, I first thought, was that the Palestinian community was outraged. Tamam Abdo, his mother, said to the press, "It is forbidden to send him to fight. He is young, he is small, he should be in school.
Someone pressured him." Finally. But then, I read the rest of the interview. "If he was over 18, I wouldn't feel so angry ... then it is his decision,'' she said. Ah, another beautiful humanist sentiment. Or her neighbor, Sadia Abdel Rahman -- "We have to carry out serious attacks. This is not a children's game. This is an embarrassment."
I guess we all get embarrassed by different things. When Israel sent an F-16 in July 2002 to drop a one ton bomb on the home of Salah Shehadeh, then the military chief of Hamas in Gaza, we got him. Israelis were pleased about that. But a one ton bomb is an enormously powerful weapon, and in killing Shehadeh, we killed fourteen other people, including nine children. Israelis were outraged, and mortified. Shehadeh, like Yassin, deserved to die. But Israeli society was in an uproar. Not like that, people said, on the left and on the right. We can't begin to be like them. That's the whole idea of living here; that's an important part of having a country to call our own. If we're not going to be different, even better, what's the point?
Eventually, the government apologized. And the IDF changed its policy.
So last September 6, when the IDF decided to get Yassin, we sent an F-16 again, but this time, with a quarter-ton bomb. The bomb worked perfectly, and the pilot hit his target. But the building was only damaged, and Yassin was scarcely wounded. And what was the reaction of the typical Israeli? Satisfaction. We'd learned something. We missed, true, but at least we were different.
I'm struck by the fact that very little coverage of the killing of Yassin has made any mention of the missed attempt on his life in September. It's because, I think, the reason that we missed reveals a dimension of this conflict that most of the world doesn't want to see. It upends the moral equivalence that the international press broadcasts.
It suggests that some people in this conflict still do think about what's "acceptable" and "just." It reminds the world that there's more than one people in this region that has needed to be liberated. We're just days away from Passover. Already the stores are filling with Passover products. Israelis are cleaning. Buying. Inviting. And remembering. Remembering Pesach two years ago, and the bloodbath called the Park Hotel. And remembering that Hamas, and Yassin, did that one, too.
Will this Pesach be quieter? Hard to know. One hopes so. Prays, in fact. But no matter what happens, there will be a certain satisfaction, even if a sad one, in knowing that people who blow up our Seder can't do so with impunity. That's the difference between life now and life when Aharon Applefeld foraged for his food in the forest. Appelfeld grew up in the world in which people could shoot his mother and send him to die, and there was no one to fend for him.
That's what's changed. That's the bottom line. I can't imagine a decent human being feeling joy at the death of another. Not joy, no. But satisfaction? Yes. Because there has to be a price to pay for the wholesale murder of Jews. There simply must be. Anything else, Mr. Straw needs to understand, is what's truly "unacceptable."
(c) 2004 Daniel Gordis
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I don't susbscribe to Rabbi Gordis' list. I don't know his views in general and posting this should not be meant to say that I somehow support Rabbi Gordis. This is the first piece of his I've read. It was forwarded to me and I thought it did a wonderful job of describing, in a first person account, what many Israelis have had to deal with the last three and a half years. This article, anyway, is highly recommended reading.
Probably not shopping at Target, either...
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