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Exploiting Bereavement

Down and Out in The Hague

by YOEL MARCUS

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so small, uncomfortable and red-faced as during the show of whining and whimpering organized by Israel at The Hague. Colorful posters displaying photographs of 935 terror victims; Zaka rescue team workers led by Yehuda Meshi Zahav wearing their "work clothes"; memorial candles; parents talking about the pain of bereavement; doctors describing the savage nature of the suicide bombers; the wreckage of a burnt-out bus with a bereaved mother standing next to it, distributing "one-way tickets"–these are just some of the sights.

At the Foreign Ministry, these demonstrations are seen as an appropriate "J’accuse" against those who dare to put us in the guilty seat. In practice, it is a display of wretchedness and woe designed to tug at the heartstrings of international public opinion–like beggars who show off the stump of an arm or leg to make the world feel sorry for them.

These sights create a lingering sense of discomfort, not least because Israel is thought of–not only in the Middle East, but all over the world–as a powerhouse. In keeping with that image, the last thing one would think Israel needed was pity. Just this week, Israel received two snazzy new F-16s capable of flying to anywhere from Libya to Timbuktu. When the rest of the shipment arrives, Israel, with all its problems, will be bigger and stronger than ever before. To see it playing "poor Samson," as Levi Eshkol liked to say, is just not credible.

At their demonstrations, the Palestinians could pull out photographs of more than 3,000 victims. As for playing on the emotions, they could easily flaunt their suffering. They could dwell on their destroyed homes and the torment they endure at army checkpoints. But instead of harping on their misfortunes, they have focused on Israel’s occupation policies and the security fence. They have appealed to the world’s sense of justice, while we seek the world’s pity.

The legal experts were divided over whether Israel should appear at the international court in The Hague. But the moment they decided not to, they should have carried that decision to the end. If Israel is not in the courtroom, it should not be standing outside playing the poor victim–first of all, because this won’t affect what goes on in the courtroom anyway, and second of all, because out on the street, the Palestinian argument is more convincing. Instead of moaning, they talk about occupation, about human rights, about the theft of their land. They don’t have to wave around pictures of their dead. The fence has dropped into their laps like a PR gift from heaven just as the anti-Semitic stigma of the Jewish thief is making a comeback in Europe.

Israel hasn’t made up its own mind yet about whether the thing going up is a fence or a wall. It depends where you’re standing. But whether you see barbed wire or eight-meter high concrete slabs, it is clear that this barrier symbolizes Israel’s slapdash mentality at its worst.

From Sharon’s anti-fence days until today, when he enthusiastically supports its completion, the government has never been handed a neatly-typed, bound copy of anything remotely resembling a master plan for the fence. Constructing it has been like playing with Lego blocks, adding sections as needed.

If the only reason for the fence were preventing terror, presumably it could just as well have been built on the Israeli side of the Green Line. But once it goes past the boundaries established by the British Mandate, Israel is unilaterally creating a new border which takes bites out of Palestinian Authority land. Israel’s slapdash policies have not taken into account how badly the route of this fence can tarnish Israel’s image. Call it a fence, or call it something else, but it is bound to become a symbol.

There is no power in the world that can stop a suicide bomber from entering Israel, and no weapon that can’t get around the fence, from the top or the bottom or the sides.

The Palestinians are fighting occupation and we want the world to stand by us as we pay the price for that occupation. Sooner or later, the fence will fall, just like the Berlin Wall.

The bereaved parents from Mitzpeh Aviv, shocked to see a photograph of their son, who was killed in a terrorist attack a year and a half ago, being waved around by a protester at The Hague as they sat watching TV, were right to protest to the Foreign Ministry. "You have made cynical use of our son’s memory and nationalized our sorrow," they wrote.

Exploiting bereavement and wallowing in self-pity is fitting for soap operas–not for the strongest country in the Middle East.

YOEL MARCUS writes for Ha’aretz, where this column originally appeared.