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Israelis have turned away from compassion

From asylum seekers to Palestinians to Holocaust survivors, the lack of compassion is appallingly evident in the way Israeli society treats the disadvantaged.

An Israeli settler shouts at an African refugee during an anti-refugee demonstration in south Tel Aviv, December 31, 2012. (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli settler shouts at an African refugee during an anti-refugee demonstration in south Tel Aviv, December 31, 2012. (photo: Activestills)

In 1904, H.G. Wells published a short story entitled “The Country of the Blind.” It tells of a mountaineer whose failed attempt to climb a summit in Ecuador leads him to slide down into a valley cut off from the rest the world. The inhabitants of the valley are descendants of settlers who fled the Spanish conquests and found themselves stuck there after an earthquake. They managed to build a functioning society, despite the fact that the community was afflicted early on by a disease that caused all babies to be born blind.

In time, the inhabitants of the valley adjusted to life without sight, and when the mountaineer arrives hundreds of years later, they have no concept of what vision is, or that there is even such a thing as a fifth sense. The mountaineer’s attempts to explain sight to the villagers is futile; they believe it is simply his imagination. Eventually, the mountaineer resigns himself to the community’s way of life.

Well’s story forms a useful allegory when considering the kind of society we have built in Israel. Except, of course, that the critical faculty that has been bred out of us is compassion, rather than sight. In a recent piece for Haaretz, Professor Eva Illouz wrote of “the demise of Israeli compassion.” Drawing on her experiences of the death of her father in an Israeli hospital, Illouz illustrates what has led to the relentless militarization of Israeli society. “The permanent colonizing of the land that required making the army central to society, is what shaped the politics of the gaze, who we see and how we see,” Illouz explains.

In turn, Israeli militarism makes us unable to “see” others — that is, unable to recognize them as human, and all that being human entails: vulnerability, sensibility and complexity.

Illouz further states that with militarization comes “the habit of domination” — the hardening of a collective attitude in which exerting power over the weaker elements of society becomes the norm. It unpicks our ability to see others as equal to us and, consequently, as deserving of equal treatment.

And indeed, in every direction one looks in Israel, the lack of compassion is appallingly evident in the way the disadvantaged are treated. Palestinians are alternately locked up in their own homes, and have their houses pulled down around them. Palestinian children languish in Israeli military prisons. Poor families are evicted and their houses demolished to make way for luxurious apartment blocks. Holocaust survivors live in abject poverty. Asylum seekers who have fled genocide, torture and persecution are detained indefinitely and/or deported to their deaths (even news of those deaths is greeted with glee). Families living below the breadline are eroded by a faceless, nightmarish excuse for a welfare system where apathy, not accountability, dictates the terms. And, as Illouz and others have experienced, even the sick fail to inspire compassion in those whose job is to care for them.

Residents walk through the remains of their homes in the unrecognized village Dahmash, Israel, April 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Residents walk through the remains of their homes in the unrecognized Palestinian village Dahmash, central Israel, April 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This is the behavior of a government and society with hardened hearts and unseeing eyes. It is a blindness that has, as in Wells’ story, struck Israeli society from day one. Even Ari Shavit, in his otherwise problematic book ‘My Promised Land,” manages to identify its starting point, when he admits that his great-grandfather — one of the early colonizers of the land — “does not see because he is motivated by the need not to see.” From this beginning, compassion has increasingly withered with each successive generation. We have now, as Illouz puts it, arrived at “a society that overall has become used to not blinking when destroying life.”

* * *

There is a closing section to Wells’ “The Country of the Blind.” Having fallen in love with a girl in the valley, the mountaineer is told he must have his eyes removed if he wants to marry her, as the village doctor believes they are affecting his brain. He consents, but decides to escape on the morning of the operation.

Following the election results, commentators asked whether Israel had already made its choice. Israeli society voted away from both democracy and compassion. The choice we face is less clear than that of the mountaineer; nonetheless, there is a definite fork in the road. Do we choose compassion, to “see” others? Or do we choose to remain blind, groping our way further into the darkness because we refuse to believe there is another way?

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    1. Brian Jr

      This is a wonderful piece from truly compassionate woman. bravo!

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        If Israelis were as mean spirited as Ms. Roth would have us believe, explain to us how the Israeli people were found to be the 11th happiest on the earth? The United Nations General Assembly’s second World Happiness Report ranks countries based on several measures of well-being and analyzes the factors that contribute to that well-being. The important categories for measuring happiness:

        “were attributable to six key metrics: real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption and generosity.”

        Did you read that generosity? Compassion and generosity go hand and hand. Yes the Israelis exceed at generosity, freedom to make life choices, have long life expectancies, a good GDP, freedom from corruption and other Israelis to count on.

        Most Arab countries and territories fail the criteria. The Palestinians came in at 113, being one of the sad sack territories in the world. I guess the Palestinians scored poorly on each of the six important categories, such as generosity, freedom from corruption or a real GDP. The Palestinians did beat Syria which came in at 148 of 156 countries.



        Reply to Comment
        • Yeah, Right

          Pedro X: “explain to us how the Israeli people were found to be the 11th happiest on the earth?”

          What A Surprise!

          The oppressor tends to be quite the happy-chappie since that is, axiomatically, much better than being “the oppressed”.

          Pedro X: “The Palestinians came in at 113, being one of the sad sack territories in the world.”

          Gosh! Funny that. Knock me over with a feather!

          I suppose it just goes to show: being “the oppressed” seriously sucks.

          Certainly it is, especially in contrast to being “the oppressor” – which is quite a cake-walk by comparison.

          I mean, get real: imagine a 19th-century epidemiologist ranking the “happiness” of the slave-owner against the “happiness” of the slave.

          The conclusion would be obvious: the slave-owner would be judged to be ecstatically-happy with his lot, while the slave would be shown as being seriously unhappy with how life is turning out for him.

          The conclusion to be reached from that would be, well, what, exactly?

          Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            Obviously Yeah has not read the happiness report. The most major factor in the study is social support. If you have social support you are more likely to be happy. If you lack social support you are more likely not to be happy. Israelis have social support from family and friends and from numerous social support groups. Israelis also receive positive support from Jews worldwide and also from many Christian groups. Israelis and friends of Israel also generously support programs helping other Israelis. For instance, in the Benjamin Region “The Heart of Benjamin Program” was established in 1998 to provide services to 33 communities in the region for families with mentally or physically disabled children. The program supports families in overcoming educational and social challenges. The program provides specialized attention and care they need while being surrounded with love and support from professionals and volunteers alike. The Girls Ofra School Program offers immigrant support services. The Kochav Yaakov Lunch Program ensures that no child goes hungry. The Bet Hagai Youth Village enables boys from broken homes to experience love and a supportive environment for the first time in their troubled lives. A Christian organization funds camps for disabled children in the region.

            The UN report on happiness points out that people with strong social support often show empathy and compassion and are generous. These traits show up in the neural connections of the brain reinforcing positive behavior which results in a sense of well being and happiness.

            Now look at Gaza. Al-monitor news site reports that women who give birth to disabled children and the disabled children are often marginalized. Husbands take second wives and the children are hidden. Al-monitor reported the case of a woman in Gaza who was granted permission to bring her disabled child to Israel for medical treatment. She abandoned the child because her husband would remarry if she did not. Divorced women in Gaza and the West Bank are often ostracized from society. Women pay a great price to escape abusive or loveless marriages. As Mohammed Othaman pointed out Gazan men can divorce women at will, while a woman who wants a divorce has to buy her way out of the marriage. Asma al_Ghoul seems to have endless stories about polygamy, divorce and abuse in the Gaza Strip. She has talked about arranged marriages of young men to older widows which marriages are extremely unhappy for both parties. Female children and women are subject to honor killing, not only in the West Bank and Gaza but also in Arab communities all over the mid east. In Gaza Hamas determines what women can do and where they can go. 98% of Palestinians live under direct rule by their Palestinian superiors and as a group they are not a happy bunch. It is inter communal and inter faction violence which rocks Palestinian society. It is Palestinian governments which deny the most basic freedoms of free speech and association. Palestinian mosques, schools, media and government teach their people to hate, hate Israelis. Palestinian identity is so tied up in hating and wanting to destroy Israel, they have failed to build a civil society which meets the needs of their people.

            Feelings of hatred and lack of social support entrench negative thoughts in neural networks in the brain and create feelings of being unwell and unhappy. This is why Palestinians score so low on the happiness index.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            PX: “The most major factor in the study is social support. If you have social support you are more likely to be happy.”

            Nobody ever laboured under the illusion that the tribe was anything other than tight-knit, Pedro.

            You only have to look at the $billions of goodies showered upon Israel at the behest of….. well, care to tell me who the driving force behind all that largesse is?

            After all, one of the most pointed criticisms of the Israel Lobby is that so much of its power comes from some Very Powerful Americans who are more than willing to put their tribal loyalty before their loyalty to their country.

            You can’t get much more of a source of “social support” than that i.e. the happy knowledge that $billions are sure to come your way every year because Members Of The Tribe are playing the world’s only superpower for a gullible fool.

            That’s enough to make anyone feel invincible, and that feeling of invincibility is a very happy and heady feeling indeed.

            PX: “The UN report on happiness points out that people with strong social support often show empathy and compassion and are generous.”

            Well, there ya’ go. That’s precisely where the generalization falls down in the particular case of Israel.

            You know, the exception that proves the rule….

            After all, I see the word “often” in that sentence.
            You missed it, did you?

            Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            I wonder where my reply went. It is strange. I never know why 972mag censors or delays a post.

            Reply to Comment
        • Weiss

          Another member of “The Country of The Blind” always answers when his name is called…

          The epitome of this lack of “compassion ” and empathy.

          Just plain disgusting…

          Reply to Comment
      • Betty Anthony

        all this crap after reading how Israelis are sending aid to Nepal. Just more of the anti-Israeli crap that is out there. I am NOT Jewish and I don’t believe this nonsense at all. But them I am not an Islam sympathizer.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Remarkably comprehensive, realistic and articulate survey of the situation, by Max Fisher. The jig is up. Noam Scheizaf is quoted (“For years we have been hearing that Israel will either end the occupation or cease to be a democracy. Could it be that the Jewish public has made its choice?”). Israelis have already made their choice, Fisher concludes.


      Israel’s dark future
      Democracy in the Jewish state is doomed
      by Max Fisher on April 13, 2015

      Reply to Comment
      • Dutch Oven

        Brian. You must get paid by the posting since you posted the same one moments ago on another thread. Of course, it was not worth appearing even once.

        Reply to Comment
        • Weiss

          Care to comment on the article?

          Reply to Comment
    3. Pedro X

      No compassion you say. As we speak Israel is sending emergency aid to Nepal as it has done in emergencies in other regions. In 2011 without fanfare Israel provided aid to 100,000 refugees in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. When larger aid organizations took over delivery of food and other essentials, Israel did what it often has to do in Israel, provide trauma counseling and how to recognize mental issues. It trained residents of the camp to provide mental health services. In addition Israel has a record of helping nations like Kenya with training of medical specialists so they can provide their own people with advanced medical procedures. In Kenya Israelis have shared their water technology and provided small farmers with farming kits suitable for small plots of land coupled with Israeli drip irrigation systems.

      When Japan was hit by a tsunami in the Tohoku region IsraAid was there providing not only supplies but trauma counseling services. In Watari-cho the whole community had been destroyed and the the Israelis helped them to cope. Israelis taught Japanese teachers coping mechanisms for their children. The Israelis incorporated non-verbal communication such as art, music and drama, to permit Japanese survivors an opportunity to express themselves in completely a new way. The Israelis created support groups and techniques which the Japanese did not know. IsraAid expanded their programs to 8 Japanese cities since it was so successful in providing aid and comfort to survivors.

      In 2013 Israel sent a field hospital and 234 doctors, nurses and paramedics to the Philippines following a typhoon striking the country.

      No compassion you say. There are so many private and public agencies providing care and compassion to the Israeli public and other people beyond Israel’s borders. For instance, the Israeli nonprofit Save A Child’s Heart, which was founded in 2008 and is active in 44 countries, brings underprivileged children in need of heart surgery to Israel.

      No compassion you say, the Jaffa Institute, a private organization, provides multi social services designed to create a new reality for thousands of underprivileged Israeli children from Jaffa, South Tel Aviv and Bat Yam. From food and tutoring assistance to emotional counseling, from art therapies to preventative health care, the institute provides many of the necessary elements for a safe and secure childhood and to break the cycle of poverty and deprivation. Their current programming areas fall under educational enrichment, morning enrichment, nutrition and health, parental empowerment, and immigrant integration.

      No compassion you say, Shelter from the Storm: Bat Melech-Miklat provides free services to battered women and families. It provides apartments, financial and legal aid in order to allow a battered woman to get back on her feet and to defend herself in custody disputes.

      SHALVA provides services for families with disabled children so they and their families can lead fuller lives. Yad LaKashish helps senior citizens on the edge of poverty.

      No compassion you say. Following the Arab slaughter of the five Fogel family members in Itamar, an Arab driver rushed a pregnant Palestinian woman in breech labor to the Israeli community sitting Shiva for the Fogel family. The Israeli paramedics did not ask whether they should let the woman and baby die, but went straight to work and managed to save both the baby and the mother. United Hatazallah, a Jewish paramedic organization, is often the first responder to accidents. They treat patients whether they are Arab or Jew.

      And if you want to talk about compassion remember Israel opened humanitarian corridors and agreed to cease fires to get food, medicines and other essentials to the people in Gaza while Hamas continued to bombard Israel with missiles and mortars.

      Reply to Comment
      • philip

        Those who spout propaganda about Israel’s ‘compassion’ are either wilfully blind or complete fools !
        WE, the people of the World, saw what you – Israel, did last Summer…and no amount of propaganda nor self-righteous delusional bullshit will EVER blind us to the fact that Israel Is A War Criminal !
        The World is turning against Israel…and the reason is, because Israel, by it’s own actions, has shown nothing but contempt for life ( non-Jewish, that is) and an arrogant contempt for International Law. To all right-thinking people, this state is abhorrent ! It has stolen land, bombed indiscriminately, dropped white phosphorous on a captive population..destroyed ancient olive groves, demolished peoples homes…strategically planted settlements on stolen land – since it’s inception ! …and it thinks the World cannot see its disgusting arrogant psychosis…?

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Phillip the Gaza Assessment report by five American generals says that Israeli was in full compliance with international law in the Gaza war and Hamas was completely offside and fully responsible for the deaths in Gaza. Hamas planned an desired civilian deaths in Gaza to garner support from the death loving Palestinian society as PSR surveys show.

          Please educate yourself and read:


          Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            Pedro wishes us all to read the “Gaza Assessment report” which was commissioned by jinsa.org.

            He fails to mention that jinsa stands for “Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs”, so it is not likely to be a non-partisan report, nor are those 5 US Generals producing this report out of the goodness of their heart i.e. they have been commissioned BY an Israel Lobby organization to produce a report tailored FOR the Israel Lobby.

            But, sure, I also urge everyone to read it, and judge for themselves how low ex-military men will stoop in the service of a lobby group.

            Here, just one example:
            Page 16: “It [Israel] also expanded the operation to Gaza with preemptive attacks, including roughly 40 airstrikes, against tunnels Israel believed Hamas would use to kidnap Israelis in towns near the Gaza Strip.”

            That seems pretty clear-cut: the IDF started the tit-for-tat military exchange that became the 2014 Gaza “war”.

            Page 17:
            “June 13-29: More than 45 rockets fired from Gaza at Israel.
            June 14-15: IDF strikes 10 rocket launchers and tunnels and other military sites in Strip”

            Gosh! In the space of one page we find that cause-and-effect has done a complete back-flip! Those IDF airstrikes are no longer “pre-emptive”, but are now a reaction to rocket fire from Gaza!

            How odd, because just the page before it is admitted that the IDF bombing campaign came first, as “pre-emption” to any Hamas rocket-fire.

            I’ll spare everyone else any further examples, though that report is replete with similar internal-contradictions.

            I will simply repeat the obvious: ex-military men who then go on to work for a lobby group (any lobby group, be it Ratheon, or the Brookings Institute, or jinsa) is Working For That Lobby Group.

            And nobody gets a cushy job at a lobby group by writing reports that don’t promote the interests of that lobby group.

            After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            Oh, heck, here’s another beauty from that report that I just have to share.

            “A ceasefire was finally agreed in June 2008, only to be broken when Hamas resumed rocket launches in response to an IDF attack on a tunnel it believed Hamas would use again to abduct Israeli soldiers.”

            Got that?

            There was a ceasefire, and during that ceasefire the IDF launched an “attack on a tunnel”.

            But that initial IDF attack – I’ll repeat, that IDF attack – into the Gaza Strip (btw, an attack that killed five Hamas militia) wasn’t a violation of the ceasefire.

            The ceasefire was “only broken” when Hamas responded to that IDF attack into the Gaza Strip because – du-oh! – everyone knows that an IDF attack into the Gaza Strip is not a violation of a ceasefire.

            Err, why not, exactly?

            Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            Another report of influential American military legal experts has stated that Israel’s targeting in Gaza was in compliance with international law. The Jerusalem Post reports:

            “the unmistakable conclusion of the report is to support the IDF’s approach almost across the board in the principles it brought to targeting during the war”


            Reply to Comment
          • Richard Lightbown

            From JPost: “Two leading experts on the law of armed conflict have concluded that IDF targeting complies with international law even where it was “contentious,” and that IDF positions “on targeting largely track those of the US military.”

            Well targeting hospitals, and in fact destroying hospitals (as the UN has reported) is certainly contentious. How do your X-spurts explain that one away, ‘cos I can’t find their excuses in the JPost report.

            Reply to Comment
      • Weiss

        You mean like the aid that was NEVER sent to impoverished and decimated Gaza after 2200 people were annihilated in the latest bloodbath ?

        What a disgusting person…

        Reply to Comment
    4. philip

      Israel, I’d knock that shit off if I was you !

      Reply to Comment
    5. Dutch Oven

      Can we talk about the caption beneath the first photo?

      Forget that we don’t know anything regarding the context in which the photo was taken

      What is the Jewish man called a settler? We have no idea where he lives (photo was taken in Tel Aviv)

      More blatant anti-Semitsm.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        I think you’ve spent too much time under blankets smelling farts, Dutch Oven.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The latest technique ==> a brazen, bizarre inversion of the truth, so that a settler bully whose uniform is missing only a brown shirt and is screaming at a defenseless black man gets called a victim of antisemitism. No shame in their game.

        Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, Right

        DO: “What is the Jewish man called a settler?”

        Quite apart from the atrocious English, I would assume that this Jewish man is called a settler because that’s less provocative than calling him a colonist.

        DO: “We have no idea where he lives (photo was taken in Tel Aviv)”

        We know more than that the photo was taken in Tel Aviv.
        We also know that the photo was uploaded to activestills.org.

        So if you want to know why that man is called a settler then you can ask the person who posted that photo to that web site.

        Here, I’ll even give you the contact site: http://activestills.org/contact.php

        DO: “More blatant anti-Semitsm.”

        You might want to explain the “logic” that underlies that claim, Dutchie, because I’ll be honest and say that it seems like a very illogical leap of logic to go from “the label says he is a settler” to “the label is anti-Semitic”.

        How so, exactly?

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The technique: Brazen inversion of the truth. So that a settler bully, whose uniform is missing only a brown shirt and who is shouting at a defenseless black man, gets called…a victim of anti-Semitism. No shame. A skinhead with a skullcap on is still a skinhead.

        Reply to Comment
        • Dutch Oven

          It’s a photo of a Jewish man looking at an African. He is not,shouting and the African does not need defense

          And it is anti-Semetic to label a Jewish man in Tel Aviv as a settler. That you don’t see this means your problem is way beyond the occupation of the West Bank

          Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            “And it is anti-Semetic to label a Jewish man in Tel Aviv as a settler”

            You still haven’t explained the “logic” of that argument, Dutchie.

            All you have done is hung a label on that photo in order to end debate.

            Please, explain it to me: if I went up to a Jewish man in Tel Aviv and asked “excuse me, you wouldn’t happen to be a settler, by any chance?” how, exactly, would that question be “anti-Semitic”?

            Reply to Comment
      • Weiss

        The extremists seek to identify their desires with “all Jews” both to force support and to hide behind them with accusations of antisemitism.

        This manipulation is fundamentally dishonest, and is therefore a form of antisemitism itself.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Weiss

      What an incredibly beautiful article!

      We truly are at a Fork in the Road.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Yeah, Right

      PX: “I wonder where my reply went. It is strange. I never know why 972mag censors or delays a post.”

      *chortle* Introspection was never, ever going to be your strong suite, Pedro.

      It’d be over there, along with that thing called compassion.

      You know, in the bin over there…..

      Reply to Comment
    8. Yeah, Right

      DO: “Can we talk about the caption beneath the first photo?”

      Sure, go ahead.

      DO: “Forget that we don’t know anything regarding the context in which the photo was taken”

      No, let’s not forget that, because we do know something of the context.

      The photo was taken on New Year’s Eve, 2012, in southern Tel Aviv, and the photographer was there because MK Micheal Ben-Ari had organized an anti-refugee demonstration.

      That photojournalist is Oren Ziv, and amongst his many photos of that demonstration and its aftermath he took that photo.

      Here, if you want to see more:

      DO: “What is the Jewish man called a settler? We have no idea where he lives (photo was taken in Tel Aviv)”

      No, we don’t know where that man lives, and it is a legitimate question.

      But Oren Ziv is the man who took that photo and then uploaded it to activestills.

      So why don’t you ask him?

      After all, we have no idea how Oren Ziv came to that conclusion: maybe he asked the man after taking that photo, or maybe he has *another* photo of that man stepping out of a bus to attend Ben-Ari’s demonstration and that bus was festooned with “Settlers 4 Ben-Ari” stickers.

      You are right: we don’t know why Oren Ziv concluded that this man is a settler.

      But you are wrong to then conclude that this means that man **isn’t** a settler.

      DO: “More blatant anti-Semitsm”

      No. More over-reach by you, I’d suggest. The accusation of “anti-Semitism” is a serious one, dude. So don’t toss it around like a talisman, because doing that robs it of any meaning.

      Reply to Comment
      • Dutch Oven

        I understand your point.

        Reply to Comment
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