January 15, 2009
In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict
By A.B. Yehoshua
You remember that in recent years I called you occasionally to praise you for your articles and your writing about the wrongs done to the Palestinians in the administered territories, whether by the army or by the settlers. Physical wrongs, land expropriations, acts of abuse, perversions of justice and so on. I told you that it is very difficult to read what you write, because it weighs on our conscience, but that the work you are doing and the voice you are sounding are extremely important. I was also concerned about your physical safety, knowing that you risked your life by visiting such hostile places.
I did not ask you why you did not visit Israeli hospitals in order to tell the painful stories of Israeli citizens who were hurt in terrorist attacks. I accepted your position that there are plenty of other journalists doing this and that you had taken on the crucial mission of telling the story of the afflictions of the other side, our enemies today and our neighbors tomorrow. Accordingly, it is from this position of respect that I find it necessary to respond to your recent articles on the war in which we are engaged today, so that you will be able to preserve the moral validity of your distinctive voice for the future. A few years ago, when the Hatuel family – a mother and her four children, of blessed memory – were killed on the way to one of the settlements in Gush Katif, I believed that this terrible death pained you as it did all of us but that like many of us you said in your heart: Why should these Israelis endanger their children by living provocatively, hopelessly, dangerously and immorally in Gush Katif? By what right do 8,000 Jews expropriate a sizable area in the densely overcrowded Gaza Strip in order to build blossoming villages before the eyes of hundreds of thousands of refugees living in such abysmal conditions? You were angry, as I was, at the parents and at those who sent them. And even though I believe that like all of us you felt the pain of the children who were killed, you did not brand the leaders of Hamas “war criminals” as you did the Israeli leaders, and you did not demand the establishment of an international tribunal to try them.
When I asked you after the disengagement from Gaza, Gideon, explain to me why they are firing missiles at us, you replied that they want us to open the crossings. I asked you whether you truly believe that if they fire missiles the crossings will be opened, or the opposite. And whether you truly believe that it is right and just to open crossings into Israel for those who declare openly and sincerely that they want to destroy our country. I did not get an answer from you. And even though the crossings were in fact opened many times, and were closed in the wake of the missile attacks, regrettably I still did not see you standing firmly behind a moral position which says: Now, people of Gaza, after you expelled the Israeli occupation from your land, and justly so, you must hold your fire.
The doleful thought sometimes crosses my mind that it is not the children of Gaza or of Israel that you are pining for, but only for your own private conscience. Because if you are truly concerned about the death of our children and theirs, you would understand the present war – not in order to uproot Hamas from Gaza but to induce its followers to understand, and regrettably in the only way they understand in the meantime, that they must stop the firing unilaterally, stop hoarding missiles for a bitter and hopeless war to destroy Israel, and above all for the sake of their children in the future, so they will not die in another pointless adventure.
After all, now, for the first time in Palestinian history, after the Ottoman, British, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli conquests, part of the Palestinians has gained a first and I hope not a last piece of land on which they are to maintain a full and independent government. And if they start building, developing and pursuing social endeavors, even according to Islamic religious law, they will prove to the whole world, and especially to us, that the moment we terminate the occupation they will be ready to live in peace with their surroundings, free to do as they wish, but also responsible for their deeds.
There is something absurd in the comparison you draw about the number of those killed. When you ask how it can be that they killed three of our children and we cause the killing of a hundred and fifty, the inference one can draw is that if they were to kill a hundred of our children (for example, by the Qassam rockets that struck schools and kindergartens in Israel that happened to be empty), we would be justified in also killing a hundred of their children.
In other words, it is not the killing itself that troubles you but the number. On the face of it, one could answer you cynically by saying that when there will be two hundred million Jews in the Middle East it will be permissible to think in moral terms about comparing the number of victims on each side. But that is, of course, a debased argument. After all, you, Gideon, who live among the people, know very well that we are not bent on killing Palestinian children to avenge the killing of our children. All we are trying to do is get their leaders to stop this senseless and wicked aggression, and it is only because of the tragic and deliberate mingling between Hamas fighters and the civilian population that children, too, are unfortunately being killed. The fact is that since the disengagement, Hamas has fired only at civilians. Even in this war, to my astonishment, I see that they are not aiming at the army concentrations along the border but time and again at civilian communities.
Please, preserve the moral authority and concern that you possessed, and your distinctive voice. We will need them again in the future, which promises further ordeals on the road to peace. In the meantime, it would be best for us all – we and the Palestinians and the rest of the world – to follow the simple moral imperative of Kantian philosophy: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
In friendship always,
The writer is an Israeli author. His latest novel, “Friendly Fire,” was published in recent months.