So what have we done to them

by Nehemia Shtrasler, Ha’aretz, 20 December 2007

An old Jewish joke tells of a devoted mother who briefs her son before he sets out to battle: “Kill a Turk and rest,” she advises. But the son asks: “And what happens if in fact the Turk tries to kill me?” She opens her eyes wide in surprise: “Why would he want to kill you? What have you done to him?”

This is exactly the kind of self-righteousness that accompanies our attitude toward the Palestinians. It is evident in the reports on the television, radio and in the newspapers — which paint only a partial picture of the conflict. Because when considerations of ratings and just plain cowardice determine coverage, the information the public gets is biased. In this way an extremist public opinion is created, which believes that all of the justice is on our side only, because “what have we done to them?”

Last Wednesday, the media reported the severe rocket attack on Sderot. Twenty rockets landed on the city and Mayor Eli Moyal resigned on live radio. The broadcasts, on all three television channels, were dramatic. Reporters interviewed furious residents who demanded immediate and harsh military action in the Gaza Strip. One of the Qassams hit the home of Aliza Amar, and she was taken in moderate condition to Barzilai Medical center in Ashkelon.

It is clear that the situation in Sderot and the Gaza-envelope locales is very difficult and is deserving of comprehensive coverage. However, the story also has other angles — which the television channels are not presenting at all. None of the channels saw fit to remind its viewers that several days prior to the attack on Sderot, the Israel Defense Forces had begun an extensive action in Gaza, the second largest since the disengagement.

Last Tuesday, the day before the barrage on Sderot, three people were killed in Gaza by a tank shell fired into a house southeast of Khan Yunis. Two more were killed by a bomb dropped by a plane on their car and another “met his death” in the area of Beit Hanoun. According to the IDF, all of the dead were terror activists, members of the Islamic Jihad. A total of 13 people were killed in the action and 40 were arrested for interrogation.

The Islamic Jihad announced that it would take revenge and the following day the barrage of rockets landed on Sderot. The connection is clear. But it doesn’t film well. To talk about Arabs “avenging” their dead really does not serve the ratings. It is much easier and popular to show only one side of the story, the suffering of Sderot’s inhabitants. That way the story becomes simple: bad and irrational Arabs who are firing on us for no reason.

The discussion of the withdrawal from Gaza suffers from the same one-sided superficiality. We are told that we have withdrawn from Gaza and for some reason they are still shooting. But we pulled out of Gaza in the worst possible way. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon did not want to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and did not coordinate the withdrawal with him. He did not want to grant the moderate leader any achievements. Therefore he withdrew unilaterally. Is it any wonder then that Abbas was thrown out of Gaza by Hamas?

Immediately after the withdrawal, quiet was in fact maintained. But who remembers and who is prepared to remind us? Qassams were not fired and the truce was honored. But then Israel said that although it had indeed withdrawn from Gaza, in the West Bank it would continue to pursue Islamic Jihad activists. The IDF embarked on extensive assassination operations in the West Bank, and then the Jihad in Gaza declared that it would not abandon its people there and would retaliate where it could.

Thus the firing on Sderot was renewed, at a greater pace, and the IDF responded with assassinations in Gaza. From there the action-reprisal wheel spun and could not stop — including the latest daily incidents, which are leading to further escalation.

There is a lot of talk here about the withdrawal from Gaza, but nobody mentions that Gaza is surrounded and starved. The situation there has been degenerating ever since the withdrawal. Unemployment stands at 60 percent. Of 1.5 million Palestinians, 1.1 million are alive thanks to the food they receive from United Nations organizations — the highest proportion in the world. Israel recently reduced the transfer of goods, including food, and the supply of fuel to the Gaza Strip. All this is leading to extreme shortage, tremendous despair and a feeling that there is nothing to lose. It is clear that in a situation like this, hatred wins out and the desire to avenge is the only hope. But here, all they are talking about is the suffering of Sderot. Just like that Jewish mother — “What have we done to them?”

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