The Value of a (Jewish) Life

In the course of the last four days, eight Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip by Israeli military forces. Eight people. In comparison to last year’s death toll of over 1,400 during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, this seems like a miniscule number. But each death is its own event, at least it should be. Sadly, however, when the death is a Palestinian one, the event barely bleeps across the radar.

This is nothing new to the Palestinians. For years, the death of one Israeli makes way more of a splash than hundreds of Palestinians. By the looks of it, there are no indications that this disturbing trend is changing significantly. The question is why and the answer, it seems, is hauntingly clear.

The most immediate and visible force behind such bias is Israel. Perhaps Israel is the only country in the world that has maintained a 42-year old occupation and committed numerous and ongoing illegal measures against the occupied people and are still able to scream ‘murder.’ So, when Israel plays its "terrorism" card, almost all other considerations are eclipsed. It makes no difference that Palestinians have every right to resist the occupation and that in most instances, those killed by the Israeli army fall far short of any definition of a terrorist. The fact that Israel –” the beloved ally and "only democratic state" in the Middle East –” feels threatened by what it calls terrorists, this is enough for the entire world to swallow the fallacy whole.

The most glaring example of this lopsided philosophy is what happened in Gaza last year. The number of Israelis who died during Cast Lead –” civilians and combatants alike –”barely takes up the fingers of both hands. Palestinians, on the other hand, were killed in scores, whole families annihilated in a blink of an eye and hundreds of children and babies put to rest in tiny burial shrouds. Still, if it weren’t for people of consciences around the world –” supporters not necessarily of the Palestinian cause but of the human right to a dignified and free life –” no one would have batted an eyelid. Israel marketed its justification of terrorism from Gaza territory in the form of rockets not much larger than a New Year’s Eve firecracker and won the majority of the world over. If it were not for Justice Richard Goldstone and the glaring report he published on the operation in Gaza, which basically accused Israel (and armed Palestinian groups) of war crimes, Operation Cast Lead would have been swept under the carpet of western complicity, right next to all of Israel’s other crimes.

In comes factor two. While Goldstone called Israel out on many of its breaches of international and humanitarian law, it is highly unlikely that these charges will ever be translated into Israel standing trial before an international criminal court of justice. Why? Because if the United States is not openly biased towards Israel, it is working seriously behind the scenes so that Israel can never be truly accountable for the atrocities it commits.

When the Goldstone Report came out last September, the Palestinians’ initial reaction was to immediately jump on the bandwagon. Rarely do the Palestinians get such an opportunity as this. At last, here was a credible, reliable and experienced judge, a Jew and self-proclaimed Zionist at that, who saw with his own two eyes the devastating destruction Israel wreaked on the Gaza Strip during its 22-day invasion. So, when the Human Rights Council said it was to vote on the report in October, the Palestinians were all for it. That is, until the night before the vote when the Palestinian leadership surprisingly decided to delay discussion of the report until its March session, ostensibly to "rally more support" for it.

According to a new report published in the Palestinian press on the investigation commission that looked into the delay, President Mahmoud Abbas was pressured into delaying the vote by none other than the United States. Of course, the backlash from the people over the delay was too much for Abbas to handle and he later reneged on the decision and took the report to the UNHRC weeks later but only after the damage to his image was done. The point is, the United States leaves no stone unturned when it comes to protecting Israel, even from someone as venerable as Justice Goldstone issues an equally venerable report on Israel’s abhorrent acts in Gaza.

It is incredible, really. When an Israeli dies as a result of a suicide bombing or Qassam rocket, everyone knows. The victims become real people, with stories and families. Their innocence is exaggerated in the press to the point where the reader might feel they were a family member rather than a stranger. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are treated as numbers, statistics, and worst of all, as responsible for their own misery. If it weren’t for the suicide bombings, the separation wall would never have been built. If it weren’t for the rockets from Gaza, Israel would not have had to invade and if it weren’t for the Palestinians’ penchant for "losing opportunities" they would have had peace.

What seems to be missing in all of these equations is the fact that the Palestinians –” regardless of their miscalculations and internal fighting –” are still occupied and oppressed. Have they made mistakes in the past and continue to make them today? Yes, they do, including firing largely innocuous rockets into Israel for which the military reprisal is grossly disproportionate. Does this make them terrorists and hence Israel’s brutal pounding of their homes and territories, justified? Absolutely not.

Terrorism comes in all different shapes and forms. Expropriating land from its original owners to build illegal structures on occupied land is a form of terrorism. Bombing residential areas packed with innocent civilians is state-sponsored terrorism at its best. But the United States knows a thing or two about that. We all are reminded of how many US soldiers died in combat "fighting for freedom" in Afghanistan and Iraq. But who keeps count of the hundreds of thousands of Afghanis and Iraqis killed since the US invaded and occupied their countries after September 11? Exactly.