A dozen or so people gathered outside the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver Monday in a makeshift Yizkor service to commemorate the deaths of Palestinians killed by the Israel Defence Forces in recent weeks. (Click here for story.)
Each one of the people killed was, indeed, a full human being, with a full life, as Rabbi David Mivasair said of the Palestinian dead. And the loss of life is tragic. That is not something we will debate.
However, reports indicate that, of the 60 Gazans killed on May 14, for example, 53 were claimed as members by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Given the IDF’s strategy of deterrence, which includes graduated steps from warning shots, to shooting to injure and, as a last resort, shooting to kill, it is likely that those who died were among the most aggressive and dangerous among the protesters, some of whom were armed with pistols, firebombs and other weapons.
While there were peaceful protesters among the thousands who marched on the Israeli border, depictions of the rally as a primarily peaceful protest are wrong. In some interpretations, unarmed protesters were there merely as human shields for the violent participants, whose aim, in the words of a Hamas leader, was to infiltrate Israel and tear the hearts out of the Jews. Hamas social media channels presented maps to guide people from the border to adjacent Israeli towns, encouraging those who might break through the frontier to head for civilian locations and presumably fulfil the orders of Hamas.
The deliberate strategy of the Gazan leaders, it seems, is to sacrifice their own people’s lives for their PR value. Col. Richard Kemp, a British military official who has become a vocal defender of IDF strategies, said of Hamas: “This is the first government in history that has deliberately sought to compel its enemy to kill its own people.”
In a Daily Telegraph article re-printed in the National Post, he went on to state that, had the thousands of protesters breached the border and headed for those Israeli towns, the bloodshed would have been exponentially worse.
There is no question that the entire situation is a tragedy. And there is blame to go around. The narrative purveyed outside the JCC Monday and in much of the media commentary – that the Israeli military wantonly kills human beings – is as unfair and inhumane an assessment as the alternative extreme, which finds satisfaction in the loss of life.
As for Monday’s gathering, the combination of a Jewish religious ritual with a political agenda that arguably makes common cause with those seeking the destruction of the Jewish state is a dubious choice, but this is a free country and Judaism is a big tent.
To be clear, the people of Gaza are suffering, due in part to the Israeli blockade, in part due to the repressive kleptocracy of Hamas and in part to their own self-defeating actions, like burning down the main border entry point for supplies.
Palestinians receive more humanitarian aid per capita than any other people in the world. Where much of that money ends up, sadly, is in the mansions of Hamas and Fatah leaders and in pensions and rewards to terrorists and their families. This fact, of course, does not bring the dead back to life.
Palestinians, Jews and everyone who cares about human life are struggling with recent events. Each of us is confronting the multiple dimensions of the violence, which seems to be a repetition of seven decades (or more) of recurrent conflict. Respect for human life – on all sides – should be what we seek. Tallying up the dead like they are goals in a sports match does not demonstrate respect. Indeed, it may be precisely what Hamas wants us to do and, as such, may encourage them to put at risk even more Palestinian lives.