Last update - 05:06 22/01/2009
Gaza doctor buries three daughters, visits 4th in Israeli hospital
By Vered Lee
Last update - 02:37 21/01/2009
Hear the other side
There's no doubt that the terrible tragedy of Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish, who told Israeli television viewers in fluent Hebrew that he lost three daughters and a niece to an Israeli tank shell during the fighting in Gaza, has managed to finally penetrate the layer of cast lead that has sealed the ears of the Israeli public since the Gaza operation began. He made the killing suddenly appear tangible, close, shocking and threatening.
It's Abu al-Aish's bad luck that he's "one of us" no less than "one of them." He's an educated and successful physician who was offered a job at a Canadian hospital after he worked and conducted research at Israel's Soroka and Sheba medical centers. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, he speaks Hebrew and is proficient in the codes that govern Israeli thinking and behavior. At a press conference in which he pleaded for an end to the Gaza war - and to war in general - he unconsciously appealed to the agitated mix of familial dedication and longing for a peaceful life, the enlightened Western format that constitutes the Israeli self-image.
Woe to Abu al-Aish; his efforts have come to nothing. While many television viewers who had previously followed only what had been presented to them as glorious military achievements shed a tear for his loss, a woman called Levana Stern - who was apparently granted blanket permission to speak abusively because of her status as mother of three soldiers - disrupted the press conference by shouting at the top of her voice: "I feel your pain, I'm totally with you, but who knows what was going on in your house!"
People standing next to her, who were emboldened by her outburst, protested the audacity of the hospital where he spoke to the press for giving a platform to a Palestinian while Israeli soldiers were fighting in Gaza. One woman even passionately called him a "piece of trash." In despair, Abu al-Aish muttered, "They don't want to hear the other side."
So much ink has been spilled on academic research about the voice of the other in post-colonial society, and so many conferences and articles have determined that Israeli society has long ago passed the melting-pot stage and is now a multicultural society that makes space for the voice of the other. Now Abu al-Aish has inadvertently revealed how false that is. The residents of Gaza don't exist at all in the Israeli consciousness, failing even to merit the status of "other." But because the Gaza doctor works in Israel and has many Israeli acquaintances, he was given a chance that thousands of others have not had: the chance to speak on prime time (though only after the blood of his daughters Bisan, Mayer and Aya was spilled in his home).
Abu Al-Aish is not alone. Over the past years, Sderot residents have repeatedly been accused of failing to act responsibly when they stay there with their young children ("Why don't they evacuate them?" people ask). Even many reporters share the unfounded sentiment that everyone who could have left Sderot did so long ago, and only the unfortunates who have nowhere to go are still there.
True, residents of the periphery are not a hated "other" like the Palestinians, but they too are faceless and voiceless. Now the residents of Sderot have become the beloved children for whose sake the war was waged, but they will pay dearly for that. Some opponents of the war see them as extreme right-wingers whose complaints are exaggerated, saying that no Israeli child was killed by a rocket during the war, while thousands were killed in Gaza. And some of the war's supporters refuse to understand that the ongoing suffering of Negev residents has made them angry, frustrated and full of hate - but that the historic friendly ties they used to have with Gazans and the mutual desire for normalization are just as authentic. Those supporters also have contempt for the demand of thousands of residents of the south, led by the "A Different Voice" group from Sderot, who urged the government to do all it can to reach an agreement rather than go to war.
The warped logic that prevails on the left as well as the right means that whoever has not fled from Gaza to Canada is an impoverished laggard at best, and a Hamas supporter at worst, and whoever has not moved from Sderot to Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard is an uneducated and irresponsible Likud voter who brought this bad situation upon himself. This is how the so-called "others" are used to defining the Israeli consensus - an opaque and hate-filled consensus that denies the complex reality in favor of intensifying frightened entrenchment.