Keeping Murdered Israeli Children in Our Hearts
By: Frimet Roth
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, May 12, 2005
Not since the Holocaust have so many innocent Jewish children been murdered as in the last four and a half years. Not a handful or a few dozen, but hundreds of precious children, targeted by an enemy who saw in their murders nothing but an effective political tactic.
Once a year on Israel's official Day of Remembrance, the Jewish people accord these children a moment or two of attention. At other times, it seems to me, little thought is given to them and to their deaths. The parents and siblings they left behind—left to grapple for eternity with the daily, grinding pain of loss—get even less.
Some would argue that this is natural and normal. Would I prefer for everyone to pause once every day to remember them? Perhaps that would be asking too much. But there are reasons to think more often of those children, holding no rocks in their hands, having no explosives strapped to their waists, harboring only kindness in their hearts.
This is a particularly appropriate time to do so with Palestinian and Western pressure mounting daily for Israel to release even more Palestinian prisoners.
The advocates of prisoner releases like to equate the situation here with South Africa and Ireland. They too "had blown each other up for years" as we have, was the way Amit Leshem, of Jerusalem's Van Leer Institute, put it. Once released those terrorists embarked on peaceful, productive paths, he wrote recently.
Then there are the expectations of the Palestinian people who demand that Abu Mazen deliver the goods—meaning that every last prisoner goes free, or else. Israel, it is maintained, must bolster Abu Mazen's regime with a full release or else face the overthrow of Abu Mazen and an end to the current calm.
But let's back up just a bit. There are crucial differences between our situation and those of South Africa and Ireland. In this region, we are not "blowing each other up." One side is doing all the blowing up, while the other side takes steps to protect its cities, buses and restaurants. The South African and Irish prisoners exited the prison gates into civilian, peaceful, unarmed environments. The Palestinian prisoners we release march straight into the arms of their terrorist compatriots who have been re-grouping and re-arming during the current lull. The statistics about past Palestinian prisoner releases are depressing: no fewer than 60 percent of them committed fresh terror acts after their release. Few have expressed even the slightest remorse over their past.
In a television documentary aired recently, jailed Palestinian minors, some of them murderers, grinned and gloated while recounting their terrorist deeds. The closest I heard them come to a change of heart was in some comments about lost opportunities to complete their education and acquire a profession. They were shown playing soccer and board games, and attending math and Arabic lessons in prison. The man who murdered my daughter died while massacring his 15 victims. Thus I have been spared the torture of seeing him living it up in an Israeli jail.
In a recent Sunday New York Times Magazine article called "Interregnum,” James Bennett reports on his conversations with ordinary Palestinians. They all agreed with the view that, these days, an optimist "is someone who believes that calm will prevail for a few years, before the next intifada begins." There is a consensus, he found, that "the Palestinians will once again be ruled by their hearts, not their heads." The logic in this choice did not escape Bennett: "Palestinians have good cause to believe it (violence) is working… It has resulted in something… that all the negotiating …never achieved." This is a perfectly logical conclusion in light of the sequence of events: four years of Palestinian terror attacks followed by Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and mass prisoner releases.
In February, my husband, Arnold, represented Israel at an international conference of terror victims. A New York Times reporter at the event, Glenn Collins, wrote that "the families of the victims of the 2001 terror attacks have been a powerful force in Washington and New York." He cited numerous contributions they have made through their "vocal persistence and moral suasion" in government reactions to the Sept. 11 attacks, in subsequent intelligence actions, in memorial plan decisions for the World Trade Center site and in their joining international victims of terror for support and "to discredit global terrorism itself." (As far as I know, the only local coverage was a short Associated Press report reprinted in the Jerusalem Post.)
The opinions of Israeli victims are generally not heard. We have never been consulted regarding the planned terror-victims memorial site in Jerusalem, a project that has been stalled since its first mention by the municipality three years ago. On the rare occasions when we have raised our voices, for example at International Court of Justice hearings in The Hague in February 2003, we have come in for media criticism and even ridicule.
We Israelis live nearly-normally with the continued threat of terror attacks on our doorsteps. We are simultaneously anxious to reach diplomatic agreements with the Palestinian Authority. Many Israelis think we can only meet these challenges by first forgetting the tragic magnitude of our losses. Prime Minister Sharon is among them. In an optimistic speech shortly after Abu Mazen's victory at the polls, he declared: "We must forget our pain."
Must we? I believe that in order to achieve a lasting peace we must, on the contrary, remember our pain. When Sharon considers concessions to the Palestinians, as he has and will doubtless continue to, he must conjure up images of our innocent fallen. When he signs the next Palestinian prisoner release list he ought to remember one or two names of the hundreds of murdered Jewish children of the past four and a half years. Only if he does will the decisions he takes be grounded in reality. Only then can we be assured he is acting with our best interests uppermost in his mind.
Nobody wants peace and calm here more than the parents who know what losing a child is like. It is the continued grief and remembering that will spur us to strive to achieve that goal.
Frimet Roth writes from Jerusalem.
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