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Reckoning Deaths in an Agitated World

What happened last week at the Israeli resort hotel in Taba was hideous: the random massacre of 30 or more vacationers.

Never, never can there be justification for the slaughter of non-combatant civilians.

The scale of the disaster at Taba, relative to Israel’s population of 6 million population, was huge. Those thirty dead represent, proportionally, a loss of life almost half as large as America’s benchmark 9/11.

* * *

Who attacked the Israeli hotel in Taba, and why, is presently a mystery. It is thought that the attack represented a retaliation by Al Qaeda against Israel’s current “Operation Days of Penitence.” “Operation Days of Penitence,” never mind the sensitive poetry of its title, is a punitive military action directed against faceless Palestinians in the densely populated Jabalya refugee camp of Gaza It was provoked by the killing of two Israeli children, ages 2 and 4, who were the unspecified victims of a rocket fired by Hamas into the Israeli border town of Sederot.

The rocket attack on Sederot (a) which killed the 2 Israeli children occurred on September 29. Israel’s retaliation (b) in the form of “Operation days of Penitence” began the following day and in the next days killed over 100 Palestinians. The bombing of Taba (c), which killed some thirty people, most of them Israelis, took place just a week after that. Given the character of the present Israeli government, it seems inevitable that it will insert a fresh contribution, some unimaginable (d), into the current cycle of retaliatory violence.

Sederot (a) was itself, of course, an inevitable next letter in the continuing series of alphabet books written in blood on whose composition Israel and Palestine have been collaborating for decades now.

* * *

“Operation Days of Penitience,” Israel’s answer to the 2 deaths at Siderot, had by October 8 brought death to 101 Palestinians, combatants and bystanders both. If we segregate 24 of that number, necessarily, because they were children, it will be seen that 12 times more children were killed in Gaza than were killed in Sederot. That is how a (b) follows on a given (a).

If the anguish of parents at the death of their children is universal as the acceptance of this principle is not and if the widely reported killings at Sederot was hideous, what can we say about the disregarded deaths of Palestinian children numbering 12 times more than the widely reported child deaths in Sederot? That some of them perhaps threw stones or taunted some of the 200 tanks and armored vehicles that broke into their slum, and they unfortunately deserved to die for that; and that the rest of them lived fated lives that brought them into a line of fire whose military justification overtook their chance of continuing their childhood?

Relative to Palestine’s population of 3 million, 24 deaths of any sort would represent the equivalent of three-quarters of a 9/11. That — worse by far this Palestinian experience of disaster numerically on the scale of 9/11 should have been composed entirely of children, is a fact that we can hardly look in the face.

Desolation and vengeance, vengeance and desolation: the two fat serpents of tragedy twine together in obscene kinship.

* * *

I saw a characteristic American dullness of mind and moral opacity displayed by John Edwards, John Kerry’s political partner, on the night of his recent debate with Vice President Cheney.

When the subject of the Mideast conflict came up, Edwards fittingly expressed horror at the recent killing of the two children of Sederot.

But not a single word did he have to say about the blind clatter of the Israeli military machine that thereupon seized Jabalya and took the lives of twelve times more children than had perished in Siderot.

Did the 24 slain children of Jabalya figure so much less in Edward’s mind than did the 2 slain children of Sederot because he was purely ignorant? Because he was an average muddled racist who couldn,t be bothered to fathom the agony of the distant Other? Or because he was a sheer opportunist serving the politics of the day?

JULES RABIN lives in Marshfield, Vermont. He can be reached at: jhrabin@sover.net

 

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