Monday, January 24th | 22 Shevat 5782

March 16, 2011 11:28 am


avatar by Arik Elman

The West Bank settlement of Itamar. Photo: Menachem Brody

If it is impossible to make sense of a murder of a child, how are we supposed to process a slaughter in Itamar? Perpetrated with premeditation, planning and intent, executed up close and personal by people who clearly took a lot of pleasure in their work, it makes your brain shut out. There’s no great insight to be had, no epiphany, no understanding – just a primal rage born out of unspeakable grief, like a dark beast smashing against your moral principles and social conventions, demanding its own bloody satisfaction. To drown out this hollering cry of revenge, we indulge in rationalizations and debate political consequences, we speculate on the “whys” and the “hows”, we inquire about the Arab-Jewish relations in the area (-not good), and the quality of safety procedures (-adequate). Those debates all have their merits, as has the great divide between the Israeli Right and Left. They just seem so pointless when you look at the picture of a baby, pierced through again and again, hugging her dead father in a pool of blood that was their bed.

Pictures; ah, yes, the new big debate. Shocked by the almost-absolute indifference of the world media, the Israeli government had decided to endorse the dissemination of the photos of the dead. The reaction from one great American bullhorn of freedom? “The face of the child is masked; how can we be sure that the photos are genuine?” No such qualms were to be had with the clearly-Photoshopped pictures of Israeli atrocities in Lebanon and Gaza – there, the faces were available. And multiplied.

How can you explain the decision to ignore the Itamar massacre? Japan? Libya? The “paucity of a newsroom” that makes it impossible to cover more than one international event at once? But if this is so, why do we have more than 300 of those media vultures right here in Israel, all poised and ready to pounce at the first drop of blood? They even have their own union. And if the events in the Holy Land are so unimportant, why are we constantly brainwashed about the incredible importance of “solving the conflict”, preferably at the expense of the Jews? If you want to test those “explanations”, here’s a thought experiment – imagine the opposite. Imagine, if you please, that the Jews from Itamar, armed with knives, had entered an Arab house in Awarta. They’ve found a boy, four years old, sleeping. They kill him. They enter another room, find another boy, eleven, kill him. Then they go into the parents’ bedroom, find a man, a wife, and the baby, three months old. They stab them until there’s almost no drop of blood in their bodies. They leave. Two other boys survive.

You think this piece of news would be counted less important than the radiation leak in Japan? Or would it merit a “Breaking news” banner, a breathless life feed, a crop of fulminating editorials and a special session of the Security Council?

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When CNN had finally got around to cover this little squabble in the West Bank, the meticulous editors had inserted quotation marks around the words “terror attack”, prompting furious condemnation from Israeli authorities. The same point of view, however, was endorsed by the JTA’s Ron Kampeas, who was determined to stick to the facts and to presume the Palestinians innocent untill proven guilty (or even afterwards). Taking their cue from their betters, the “respectable” Palestinian media outlets had rapidly furnished their own versions of the murders.

If you insist on treating the massacre as a some kind of “CSI: West Bank”, then, of course, the quotation marks brigade is correct. That’s why it is important to contrast this clinical attitude with the almost complete certainty of the Israeli street, which also has no evidence – and no doubt whatsoever. After the horrors of the “Second Intifadah”, which was basically one long war crime committed by Palestinians, the opinion of the Israeli Jewish street of their future peaceful sovereign neighbors was aptly summed up in the Yedioth Ahronot post-massacre headline: “Human beasts”. The luxury of forensic detachment just doesn’t travel well. The closer you get to the actual smell of innocent blood, the less you can ignore it.

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