Monday, February 02, 2009

The Power of A Letter

A letter that was printed in the Israeli daily, Ma'ariv, has been circulating on the internet recently; on facebook, emails and blogs. The letter in question had apparently been written by an Israeli soldier, a reservist who was called up by the IDF and who consequently found himself in Gaza. The letter was purportedly left to the owners of a property held by the IDF in which the soldier spent an unspecified period of time during Operation Cast Lead.

The letter provoked some heated debate. Many doubted its veracity; some voiced their scepticism loudly, dubbing the letter shameless "propaganda," while others like myself were more passive and took the letter at face value. In the end, (and I suppose that it is a shame that more people don't know this,) the letter was proved to be a fake; a friend of mine who is currently serving in Golani stated quite clearly that no reserve soldiers actually entered Gaza and so this letter cannot have been authentic.

I still feel however that there is something very telling about this letter. While it transpires that it was not really written by an Israeli soldier who entered Gaza, I still find it deeply revealing of Israeli culture and Israelis' attitude to the Palestinian people. The "JBlogosphere," (a term coined for the worldwide network of jewish blogs,) seized upon this letter and quickly republished it. Arutz Sheva, a 'parallel' media outlet that leans very much to the right-wing, did too. All over the world, dedicated Zionists and Jews read this letter and felt connected to the letter's compassion for the Palestinian people. The letter is in no way apologetic for Israeli actions; it makes very clear that the writer believes that Israel's actions were just and neccessitated by Hamas' callous terrorism, but it nevertheless does reach out to the Palestinians, and attempts to empathise and sympathise with their pain.

What made this letter so believable is that its tone is very much in line with the norm in Israel. After terror attacks people often are polarised and given to repeating mindless mantras like "Kill all the Arabs," or "Carpet-bomb Gaza, that'll teach Hamas," but to be honest that is not the way most people think most of the time. The average Israeli, while proud of his country, also recognises the effect that this operation, and ones like it before, have had on the people "on the other side."

Yes, it is most likely that this letter is cleverly crafted propaganda, but that somebody who aligns themselves with the Israeli side of this conflict would so much as dream of writing a letter like this to people on the other side is already rather telling.

Any Palestinian who goes out of their way to make peace with Israelis is immediately dismissed as an apologist or is slurred and termed a "puppet" of the evil Zionists. Note how Hamas accuse Mahmoud Abbas (leader of Fatah and self-proclaimed Holocaust denier) of being exactly that.

The Israeli peace lobby, on the other hand, has a very real place in Israeli society. Dissenting voices are not demonised, they are respected, and ultimately have a very real (and, take note Hamas, *truly democratic*,) effect on the military's actions. Organisations such as B'Tselem, Yesh Din and Machsom Watch all place a tremendous amount of value on Palestinian human rights, often to the detriment of Jewish and Israeli human rights.

The reason why the letter touched so many people is because it was a perfect reflection of Israeli and Jewish attitudes to the people of our enemy. Though we might be engaged in a bloody war with Hamas (and even with a great number of other Palestinians, too) we never celebrate the spilling of blood, even of our enemies. Though Israel is locked in a painful war of attrition with Hamas, we do not wish our enemies dead; we would much rather that they prosper. There is very rarely an absolute proof for anything in this world, but while the so-called "civilised" countries in the West might well accuse us of war crimes, the best proof I can think of is that such atrocities are completely out of character with the genuine compassion that is so innate within the Jewish people.

This letter may well be propaganda, but for it to flourish it required another crucial ingredient; that it would be well received by Israelis and Jews around the world. The letter has spread around the world like wildfire, and it is no surprise to me why that is so. The point of this letter is one that resonates profoundly within Jews around the world. The point of the letter is that beyond the politics and the posturing, many of us Jews and Israelis are acutely uncomfortable with the effects of this (and any other) military operation on the people of "the other side." We are not apportioning blame, though we might make it exceedingly clear where we feel the blame lies for this needless and tragic loss of life, rather we are lamenting the hideous suffering that we have been compelled to impose upon another people.

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