A funeral for the State of Israel
By Bradley Burston, 16:48 17.03.11
All this week I’ve resisted putting something terrible into words.
All this week I’ve been wondering why the Jerusalem burial ceremony for Ruth and Udi Fogel, their infant daughter Hadas and their two small sons Yoav and Elad, seemed so much like a funeral for the State of Israel itself.
What was the meaning of this funeral, and of the monstrous crime of slaughtering a lovely young family in its sleep? For the religious right, it seemed to be saying: This is what you can expect, now and forever, over and again, until the Messiah comes to put an end to this unbearable, unextinguished anguish.
For the rest of us, it seemed to be saying, if possible, something even worse:
This is exactly what you can expect. This is your future. An endless procession of killings and escalation and enmity and settlement and condemnation and heartbreak and no negotiations and a broken Jewish people and no compromise and more settlement and a shattered Judaism, until the day that a vote is taken and the Palestinians are more numerous than we, and the flag which is based on the prayer shawl and the Shield of David is pulled down for the last time.
For years now, and especially over the last decade, the adults on both sides have made children into legitimate targets. And now we, the adults on both sides, have made slain children into legitimate tools – for incitement, for escalation, for the production of more deaths of the innocent and the defenseless.
The length of this unbearable week, the Fogel family has been all but forgotten in the welter of uses that have been made of them, polemic, political, personal. No one felt this, nor expressed this, more powerfully than Motti Fogel, Udi’s younger brother, whose quiet words at the funeral struck chords deeper than did the agenda-ridden speechmaking of the high and mighty.
“All the slogans about Torah and settlement, the Land of Israel and the people of Israel are attempts to forget the simple and pain-torn fact: you are dead. You are dead, and no slogan will bring you back.
“You are not a symbol or a national event. Your life was a purpose in and of itself, and it should be forbidden for your terrible death to turn your life into some sort of tool.”
We are not the same people that we were before these murders. On both sides, the killing of children leaves terrible scars. The scars tempt us to feel the deaths of our own children and somehow process or deny or legitimize or excuse away the deaths on the side of our neighbor. Our enemy. Even worse, in some respects, than an eye for an eye, is the state to which we have descended – a blind eye for a blind eye.
If there is any meaning at all to this week and to this tragedy, it is this: No child is an enemy. No child.
If there is any hope in this, it may be in the words of a Palestinian shopkeeper in Nablus, the city a few miles north of the Fogels’ home in Itamar, a city Israelis have long feared as a center of some of the bitterest of their enemies.
“They were people who were at home, sleeping, in their place of safety,” the merchant said of the Fogels, out loud, on television. “Just like that – to come in and kill them with a knife? Where is your heart? Where is your sense of mercy? Where is your humanity? Where? This is simply – this man has no heart. He has nothing. Whoever did this is an animal.”
If there is any lesson in this, it is that the children of Itamar, of Nablus, of Jerusalem, of Rafah, of Tel Aviv, deserve better from us. We can choose to believe that the Gaza child throwing candies to celebrate the murders represents the will of the Palestinian people as a whole, just as Palestinians can decide that the Jewish child in the Sheikh Jarrah settlement who will on Sunday night sing Purim songs celebrating Baruch Goldstein, represents the will of the Jewish people as a whole.
Or we can choose to believe that all of us, Palestinian and Jew, are nothing more or less than human beings, loving, caring and, yes, mortally imperfect. And that most of us, on both sides, are people who, despite everything – despite their grief and their rage and their one-sided, blind-eye narrative and their truly unjust history and the guaranteed injustice of any possible solution – actually want the same thing: a future for their children in an independent country living alongside and at peace with the people who are now their enemy.
For every child. Both sides. For every child.