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August 27, 2014 12:05 pm

The Legacy of Daniel Tragerman, z”l

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

4-year-old Daniel Tragerman, of Kibbutz Sdot Negev, killed by a Hamas mortar shell Photo: family

The recent death from Hamas mortar fire of 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman was a tragic and transforming moment in Israel. Like the kidnapping and murder of three teen-age yeshiva students that triggered Operation Protective Edge (the lugubrious title of Israel’s current war with Hamas), it has roused Israelis to awareness of the evil depths of their enemies. The death of a beautiful boy transcended family tragedy to become a national loss. It instantly and sharply eroded public support for Prime Netanyahu’s tit-for-tat preference for conducting the war with Hamas. A protective edge that fails to protect is delusional.

The Tragerman family lived in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, the border kibbutz where five Israeli soldiers were killed in a tunnel attack from Gaza at the end of July. Daniel, playing inside a tent in the living room of his home, heard the sirens but froze with fear and did not have even three seconds to reach the family shelter before shrapnel from a mortar shell ended his life. Daniel’s parents, Gila and Doron Tragerman, revealed that they would not be returning to their kibbutz when shiva ended. His mother mourned: “We lost our sweet, amazing, beautiful, smart and talented boy.” “We are trying to get out of this awful hell,” said his father, “and we’re leaving Daniel behind.”

Adi Meiri, resident of the nearby Negev community of Sderot under rocket attacks from Gaza since 2001, explained that “the residents of southern Israel have had enough.” Writing in Israel Hayom (August 25), she recounted how “We came here seeking a good quality of life and we found it, albeit with a bit of defense-related noise.” Like generations of Zionist pioneers who preceded them, “we fell in love with the idyll” and built communities in the Land of Israel. But the unrelenting Hamas war against Israel changed everything. “You cannot feel the frustration we felt,” Ms. Meiri wrote, “after the IDF chief of staff told us to return to our homes, while the defense minister [Moshe Yaalon] – despite his security detail and armored cars – canceled his visit to the area because the situation was just too dangerous.”

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By now, 70% of the 40,000 residents of border communities, including nearly all members of Nahal Oz, have vacated their homes, turning their kibbutzim and moshavim into “virtual ghost towns.” Even in the Jewish state, a newly exiled kibbutz member noted sadly, “We’ve gone back to wandering.”

The result has been a massive decline in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s approval rating . From  82% soon after the war began, only 38% of Israelis support him seven weeks later, with an especially sharp reduction coming in the four days since Daniel Tragerman’s death. Two-thirds of Israelis polled now disapprove of the government’s handling of the plight of residents of Gaza border communities. Perhaps one of Daniel’s enduring legacies will be to have alerted Israelis of the necessity not only to fight just wars but to win them.

The day after Daniel’s funeral, which The New York Times barely mentioned in the concluding sentences of an article about an Israeli missile strike in Gaza, it devoted an entire article to a Palestinian teenager who claimed that Israeli soldiers had detained him for five days a month earlier. They even forced him to sleep blindfolded and handcuffed in his underwear. “My life was in danger,” asserted Ahmed, in “one of two lengthy interviews” conducted by Times reporter Fares Akram. Unlike Daniel Tragerman, Ahmed was alive to tell his story and Akram, as usual, was there to inflate it.

Times correspondents have yet to interview Israelis who have endured a seven-week fusillade of rocket fire from Hamas. “The difficulty of determining what actually happened” on “a battlefield surrounded by intense propaganda on both sides,” wrote Akram and Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, evidently impedes them from doing their job properly. They did note, however, that human rights groups in Gaza had not verified Ahmed’s story; and even the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights described it as “trivial.”

By contrast, the death of 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman was anything but trivial. It has become a transformative tragedy among Israelis who are abandoning their homes and communities because their government is not protecting them. Should the Times ever rouse itself to report their story, it will be a major breakthrough for the newspaper that increasingly demonstrates its commitment to printing only what fits its relentlessly anti-Zionist, anti-Israel narrative.

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author, most recently, of Jewish State Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy.

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