In 1971 I worked in the Information Department of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, when it was headed by Aluf Hareven. One of my first tasks was to prepare a booklet about reunified Jerusalem. At this time people still talked about an “enlightened” occupation, and there were many stories about the great improvement in the quality of life in East Jerusalem. The booklet was meant to rebut criticism made abroad about the situation in the city under Israeli occupation, such as the claim that Christians were leaving it in droves.
I won’t list the issues covered in the booklet – matters of infrastructure and development, health, labour organisations, the holy places, etc. – but in the course of assembling the material I spent some time at the Central Bureau of Statistics and collected figures on the population in Jerusalem and the occupied territories. The person assigned to help me do this was a lady of fifty or so, an old-time Israeli with just a trace of a Russian accent. She reminded me slightly of my mother, and I felt quite comfortable working with her. Then something happened which changed my world view.
I should note that I was almost a new immigrant – I’d returned to my native land a short while earlier, after nearly 20 years in other countries. The Israel I’d left was small and poor, and the country I came back to, following the 1967 war, was a mini-empire. Having grown up in Mandatory Palestine, I was thrilled to be able to revisit the Old City, the Rockefeller Museum and Mount Scopus, and drive to the Dead Sea via the Judean Desert and Jericho… The reality of the situation had not yet penetrated my mind – namely, that the occupation was not really provisional, pending a peace agreement, and that the Israeli government had no intention of giving up the territories seized in the war.
Back to the Central Bureau of Statistics. I sat with the nice lady and copied figures. My focus was on Jerusalem, but while gathering data I noted figures on infant mortality, and saw that the rate among the Arab citizens of Israel (not the territories) was double that of the Jewish population. “Oho,” I said, dismayed. “That’s a very high rate!” And then the pleasant, cultured lady who reminded me of my mother, said calmly:
“That’s all right. Let them die…”
If she’d dumped a bucket of ice water on me she could not have shocked me more. I froze and a shiver went down my spine. I wanted to protest, to say to her, “How can you talk like this? These are babies!” but I couldn’t utter a word.
Something happened to me then. You might say that my eyes were suddenly opened. People like me, who grew up in enlightened, liberal, egalitarian, humanistic homes, did not easily perceive that a kind of cancer of the heart had spread through the population. It used to be called “rhinocerosisation” – after the play by Eugene Ionesco – but I see it as a contagious malignancy. Today it’s the permanent condition, the popular reality. Today the State of Israel assassinates people almost daily – it’s called “elimination” (Hisulim in Hebrew), but the act is definable as murder. If they really wanted to do justice, they would grab these people – after all, the IDF moves at will through the territories – and put them on trial. Instead, they assassinate them, usually from the air – they even boast about it. And since it’s difficult to target individuals precisely when killing them with airborne missiles, quite often others are killed and wounded, including women and children and casual bystanders. Then the Israelis say, “Ah well, it was unintentional… And if they’d won, wouldn’t they have killed us?”
The blood of young children is spilt here almost daily. Water running from my taps is measured and I pay for it, but nobody measures the blood of Palestinian children, the dead and the injured, the crippled and paralysed. I recall the words of that pleasant-seeming lady at the Central Bureau of Statistics, and feel the same chill in my back. Sometimes I dream of going up to the hilltop cemetery in Jerusalem, where my parents lie side by side, and scream: “Is this what you intended? Can you see what’s going on here?! How do we come out of it? How can we stop the horror?”
P.S. The booklet on Jerusalem was well-made and fairly honest. After it was printed, bound and packaged, it was decided to discard it, because it stated that the Muslim Waqf was responsible for the Temple Mount, aka Haram al-Sharif. “And what if tomorrow we decide to change this arrangement?” argued the staff of the Mideast Section of the Foreign Ministry. “It might be quoted against us!” – So the booklets were sent to the paper-mills in Hadera, where they were shredded.