‘The victims were sleeping as the killer came in. The paramedics described children’s toys right next to pools of blood. It’s the worst single attack in Israel’s recent history.”
That’s Giulio Meotti, describing the slaughter last week of five members of the Fogel family on the West Bank. They were killed “while they were sleeping in their home on the Sabbath evening,” as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in denouncing the act of terrorism.
In truth, as horrific as it was, the attack was far from foreign to the lives of Israelis. As is the widespread lack of outrage internationally.
As Meotti tells me, “Those who profess to deplore violence on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian equation have remained relatively silent on the slaughtering of this Israeli family. No words of condemnation about the killing of these innocents have been heard from the human-rights groups, the same faction that is so quick to vilify Israel for defending itself from terrorist attacks, especially when Palestinian citizens lose their lives during a retaliatory foray by Israel. There is no other conclusion to draw: When the deaths of Jewish innocents go unmourned and unacknowledged, it is because Jewish lives do not count. Where’s the outrage? Why is the world silent about the beheading of a Jewish infant? The silence has been telling.”
Giulio Meotti, an Italian journalist, is the author of the haunting book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism, dedicated to making sure that these victims are known and not forgotten.
Meotti does a thorough, moving job of introducing the reader to the victims of Islamic, anti-Jewish terrorism. Some of those we meet are Americans. All of them were human. And none of them deserved their fate. Reading Meotti, you come to miss every single one of them, although you probably never physically met them. Meotti talked to me this week about these people who have become victims of what he calls the New Shoah, and what their lives tell us about our own. – KJL
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Is there really a new Shoah in Israel? If that’s so, why aren’t we doing more to stop it? All of us?
GIULIO MEOTTI: The Shoah was a unique evil in human history, and I had to be very careful not to make false comparisons. Through books, museums, memorials, and cinema, the Shoah has become a universal metaphor of victimization, invoked by everyone from AIDS sufferers to African-American activists (who define slavery as the “real Holocaust”) to pro-Arab propagandists portraying Palestinians as the inheritors of Nazi-era victimization. I’d prefer to avoid using the term “Shoah,” but I didn’t find any other term as accurate in describing what is happening in Israel under the hanging sword of terrorism.
Shoah is a word that, to me at least, links the generation of the Holocaust to the Israelis being killed today in their homeland. The book describes a very specific destructive process, a slow-motion 9/11 launched against civilians day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, attack after attack. We talk about 1,600 innocent dead, murdered in cold blood, targets of a planned genocidal program, the proportional equivalent to 85,000 American victims.
I spent six years tracking down and interviewing witnesses to terrorist atrocities — including people who survived attacks and family members of those who did not. I heard about scores of young people and children, women and elderly, incinerated on buses; cafés, pizzerias, and shopping centers turned into slaughterhouses; mothers and daughters killed in front of ice-cream shops; entire families exterminated in their own beds; infants executed with a blow to the base of the skull; teens tortured and their blood smeared on the walls of a cave; fruit markets blown to pieces; nightclubs annihilated along with dozens of students; seminarians murdered during their Biblical studies; husbands and wives killed in front of their children; brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren murdered together; children murdered in their mothers’ arms.
What has been happening in Israel is a destructive campaign completely neglected by foreign newspapers and television stations and by legal forums like the United Nations. Applying lessons from the Holocaust to the Arab-Israel conflict is a tricky business. But as Prof. Yehuda Bauer of Yad Vashem (the official Israeli Holocaust memorial) has argued, “Nazism, Stalinist Communism, and radical Islam are different from each other, but they also have a certain similarity: All three aim, or aimed, at exclusive control over the world, all three oppose or opposed all expressions of democracy, and all three attacked Jews.”
I also decided to adopt the word Shoah because today in Western democracies, the Holocaust’s memory is a special weapon in the hands of those who hate Israel and the West. In the last 15 years, hundreds and hundreds of Jews were killed because they were Jews, while the guardians of memory were busy in non-useful phony ceremonies. The very memory of the Shoah was betrayed. The book A New Shoah is a lament for the most tragic past, delivered in the present tense. I wanted to show the absolute character of Jewish tragedy. I wanted to show how the Israelis are victimized and how they are alone, abandoned by the world — now just as then.
LOPEZ: How is Hamas like the Nazis? Is it perhaps the only organization today for which the Nazi metaphor is appropriate?
MEOTTI: The Muslim Brotherhood’s guru, the Egyptian sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has ruled that even the unborn Israeli child in the womb is a legitimate target for death, because one day he will wear a uniform. This ruling has set in motion a mass hatred that has precedents only in Nazism. Only one nation on the planet is regarded as having no civilians; only one nation must recognize that its children risk being torn apart by nail bombs on buses. Terrorism came not in response to an intensification of the occupation but in response to Israel’s attempt to end it.
Rabbi Mordechai Elon once referred to one area of the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem as the burial area for the nation’s unborn victims (as opposed to the section for the nation’s great leaders). Eyal and Yael Shorek are buried there; Yael was nine months pregnant when she was killed. Next to them lie Gadi and Tzippi Shemesh, who were killed in downtown Jerusalem immediately after having a scan of their unborn twins. Four members of the Gavish family are buried next to one another in Elon Moreh, a settlement in the biblical West Bank. In Gaza, a terrorist squad opened fire on the car of Jewish settler Tali Hatuel, who died on the spot. Then her four daughters were murdered, each with a shot to the head at point-blank range. It was an execution. The attacks on the Park Hotel in Netanya and in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood in Jerusalem wiped out entire families. Ruti Peled and her granddaughter Sinai Keinan were murdered in Petah Tikva. Noa Alon and her granddaughter Gal Eizenman were killed at the French Hill intersection in Jerusalem. Five members of the Schijveschuurder family were killed in the bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem. Boaz Shabo lost his wife, Rachel, and their three children in a terrorist attack in Itamar, and he feels as if this is “a mini-holocaust.”
Hamas and Hezbollah, two of the terrorist organizations that seek the destruction of Israel, call the Jews “pigs,” “cancer,” “garbage,” “germs,” “parasites,” and “microbes.” Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad uses the expression “dead rats.” The Islamist terminology is the contemporary version of the Nazi “Schmattes,” the Yiddish word for “rags.” It’s very important for these groups to dehumanize the Israelis before killing them.
Hamas is committed not merely to the political goal of expelling Jews from the land of Israel but also to what it believes is a sacred religious goal of exterminating all Jews everywhere, behind every tree in creation. There is another metaphor, and that is the Russian pogroms. During the Cossack pogroms of 1648–49 whole families were wiped out. And that’s what is happening again in the new Shoah.
LOPEZ: Why do so many believe the Israelis are not the wronged party? It isn’t mere anti-Semitism, is it? Israel isn’t perfect, strategically or otherwise.
MEOTTI: There’s a river of oily, bloody money that feeds those who incite anti-Israeli riots, organize anti-Israeli boycotts, spread anti-Israeli lies in the guise of “objective journalism” and “academic research.” There are careers to be made on the betrayal of intellectual standards.
The process of Israel’s delegitimization, which began with the Soviets’ pathological assault on its legitimacy, has now come full circle. In Western Europe today, and even among many U.S. liberals, the old Soviet critique of “colonialist Zionism” has penetrated mainstream media and intellectual circles. Don’t forget that the Guardian, the leftist U.K. outlet, ran an editorial titled “Israel Has No Right to Exist.” It is also true, though, that Israeli diplomacy does nothing to explain abroad the real story of Israel. The Arabs’ propaganda is very active in rewriting history for their own convenience. The silence of Jewish writers is disconcerting — and has been for a long time now. In Europe and in the U.S., the public knows very well the story of the Jewish girl from Amsterdam, Anne Frank. But nobody knows the Ohayon children slaughtered in the dovish Israeli kibbutz of Metzer. They were the same age as Anne Frank when the terror squad broke into their home. They died in the arms of their mother, who was trying to protect them.
The “civilized” world should be ashamed for leaving the Israelis alone, during the Second Intifada, to be killed in cafés, buses, supermarkets. How will it answer when the Iranian ayatollahs threaten to burn half of the Jewish state with the atomic bomb? These Israeli victims don’t fit in the secular-humanist mentality that is mainstream today in the cultural industry. No book, no movie, no CNN documentary has been dedicated to their memories. It’s as if these slaughtered Israelis never really existed. The old Nazi slogan, “The Jews are our misfortune,” is amplified again, in slightly modified form. When Europeans cited Israel as “the greatest threat to world peace,” they meant: “The Jewish state is our misfortune.” That’s why they so easily accepted the idea that Israeli kids and Holocaust survivors have been killed by “desperate” suicide bombers.
LOPEZ: With the situation as grave as you portray it, why do Jews stay in Israel? You talk about the Americans who have died there. Why go there? You’d think God would understand . . .
MEOTTI: Israel is not just another country. The Zionist project was based on the historical necessity, to use a Marxist phrase, of creating a safe haven for European Jews as a reaction to 19th-century anti-Semitism. But the price for freedom and independence was very high. The truth is that the attempted genocide of the Jewish people has continued for the past 63 years. Since the day of Israel’s birth, originally sanctioned by the United Nations, its Jewish inhabitants have faced the constant threat of annihilation. The 20,000 Israeli dead over this period are the proportional equivalent to more than a million American victims. For six decades, citizens of the Jewish state have endured mandatory military service for every young man and woman, with men forced to continue reserve duty into their middle age, in order to protect their families and their future. If you visit any Tel Aviv shopping mall today, the security guards will search you and your bags. Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, is now building “the largest underground hospital in the world.” And the state is continuing the distribution of gas masks. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is building a labyrinth of underground tunnels and rooms where the Jewish leadership would guide the country in case of nuclear attack. But despite the war for survival, Israel thrives. The economy is booming, the democracy is very solid, immigration is growing, the demography is the strongest among the democracies.
About the Americans killed, I was always impressed by a specific story. Sarah Blaustein had a comfortable life in Staten Island with an income in the top 2 percent in America. She left everything there to come to Israel, where she was killed on the road to the tomb of Rachel, the wife of Jacob, who gave birth to two of the patriarch’s twelve sons, Joseph and Benjamin, the ones most dear to their father and to the Jewish people. A sense of sadness and deep amazement pervades you about people like Sarah Blaustein.
LOPEZ: Your book is faces and names. Gripping emotionally. Why was that important for you? To give current events faces and names?
MEOTTI: It was very important to present the story of Israel with real stories beyond politics and statistics. Stories with names and faces and ideals and hopes. Who were the Israelis killed? What about their dreams? Why did they come to Israel? I wanted to show just how monstrously determined so many of Israel’s enemies are to kill Jews — but I also wanted to show the spirit of the survivors. These families are an ethical example to the world. I portrayed the beauty of their lives in order to make the unbearable bearable.
LOPEZ: Tell me about the children.
MEOTTI: Just think about the Beslan terror attack in 2004, when Chechen terrorists killed dozens of kids in the little Ossetian school. The same attack has happened in Israel many times: Maalot, Avivim, Kiryat Shmona . . . and I can go on with this list of massacres. In 1997, a group of Israeli girls were on a field trip to the “Island of Peace,” along the border with Jordan. This is where, decades earlier, a dream had come true for two Russian-born Jews who wanted to harness the water to produce electricity, and unite Arabs and Jews in a shared project. The girls had come to the top of the hill where a turret stood, with a large Jordanian flag waving in the wind. Seven of them were killed by a Jordanian soldier, who has just been praised as a “hero” by a minister in Amman. Yehuda Shoham was just five months old when he was struck in the head by a rock while his parents were driving home to the Israeli settlement of Shiloh, the biblical city. In the elegant Jerusalem street of Ben Yehuda, many kids were killed at the beginning of the Intifada. Danielle Shefi, five years old, was killed near Hebron while she was playing in her parents’ bedroom. Avia Malka was nine months old when she was killed by a grenade in the coastal city of Netanya. Ethiopian children were killed by rockets in Sderot, labeled as “the most bombed city in the world.” In Taba, al-Qaeda destroyed an entire Jewish family, the Nivs, because the Israelis have rendered the city “impure” by their presence. The worst attack took place in the Tel Aviv promenade one evening in 2001. Dozens of Russian-born high-school students were waiting to get into the disco for an evening of dancing, relaxation, and friendship. Twenty dead. The witnesses described a Dante-esque scene in which survivors waded through large pools of blood, navigating around arms and legs. If you go there and see the place you understand the real story of Israel, the real effects of what has been called the “Zionicide.”
LOPEZ: Is Israel’s story the story of the victims of terrorism?
MEOTTI: Israel is the story of a special miracle, the Jewish survival and rebirth, the story of making the desert bloom amidst many difficulties. Despite the endless conflict and ceaseless hostility, Israel is a vibrant democracy, a high-tech powerhouse, a magnet to immigrants around the globe. The psychological need for normalization is so great that it overwhelms the clear failures in the peace process, the continuing terrorism, and unabated Arab hatred. Sixty-three years after its creation, Israel is still fighting for its very survival. Punished with missiles raining from north and south, threatened with destruction by an Iran aiming to acquire nuclear weapons, and pressed upon by friend and foe, Israel, it seems, is never to have a moment’s peace. My book tells this hard story.
LOPEZ: How is Israel a “metaphysical nation”?
MEOTTI: In Israel you hear dozens of different languages, you see different skin colors and physical characteristics, you share time with very liberal people and very religious ones. Israeli society remains stubbornly split, divided along religious, political, and social lines. The challenges are immense and, to an outside observer, might very well seem insurmountable. So what is the common element of the Israeli adventure? It is the metaphysical dimension of the survival despite all the historical rules. The Jews should have been destroyed in the Shoah, and the remnant of them should have been assimilated in a secularized society. Israel is the living exception. Israel is thriving.
Judaism is now the religion of 13 million people, one million more than before the Shoah. Israel is the miracle of a nearly three-thousand-year emotive and intellectual capacity for survival amid the greatest problems. Judaism found its strength and its interactions with history by building a civilization of liberty that said no to Greek hegemony, no to the ancient Romans, no to Christian conversion, no to conversion to Islam, and, later, no to totalitarianism. Israel is Spinoza, Freud, Einstein, Schönberg, Mahler, but it’s also a great modern army, a great scientific adventure, a great moral law, a great democracy, a great biblical heritage. It’s a unique experiment. In one single day in Israel you can see the protests of African immigrants, pacifists who want to safeguard the Palestinian olive harvest, the announcement of some scientific or technological invention, gays insisting on having a parade and the ultra-Orthodox heatedly opposing them, a kite contest in Herzliya, and a film festival in Beersheba. Meanwhile missiles fall on Sderot, in Gaza the army kills a Hamas operative, and young Israelis get to know one another in a bomb shelter.
Israel is a beacon of hope for humanity.
LOPEZ: What message do you wish you could give to European leaders? About Israel? About Islamists within their own borders?
MEOTTI: Stop cultivating anti-Semitism and the isolation of Israel. I don’t have anything to say to the Islamists, people who tear apart Jewish infants and teach their followers to kill the “nonbelievers.”
LOPEZ: And what would you say to the U.S?
MEOTTI: To President Obama: Don’t abandon the only real American ally in the Middle East. The belief that the democracies can sacrifice tiny Israel in order to placate Islamism is profoundly dangerous.
LOPEZ: You’re not Jewish. Why do you care so much about Israel?
MEOTTI: It’s a good question for all the Western peoples. What is Israel? Will Israel survive? What will happen to the democracies if Israel falls? These are the questions that today most affect the debate. If you are a Christian in the Middle East there is only one country where you would want to live. That is Israel, the only Middle Eastern country where Christians are growing in number and existential condition. The national rebirth in its original homeland of a people threatened with extinction for three thousand years should represent, especially in the eyes of our civilization, a marvelous story, a promise of redemption for all humanity — all the more so since this people’s arid and tiny land is in the middle of a region that violently contests its existence. In Rosh Pinna in the Galilee, or in Zikhron Ya’akov, cultured German immigrants discarded all their old habits and, surrounded by stones and marshes, sustained themselves with a piece of bread and an apple. In their homes, however, they had microscopes and test tubes for learning how to conquer illnesses, and in the evenings they held concerts and read European literature together. The Bible was always present in their lives. You don’t have to be Jewish to understand that.
LOPEZ: What are you thinking as you watch the unrest in so much of the Arab world?
MEOTTI: I’m very suspicious about what is going on in the Arab world, especially in Egypt. Hosni Mubarak was not an ideal leader, and he was immersed in corruption, but he was also the last obstacle to the Islamist tsunami. Mubarak put Egypt in the Western orbit. He was pro-U.S. against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini; he signed a 30-year peace pact with Israel; he survived six assassination plots; he provided Israel with gas at a cheap price; and he was the only leader of a major Arab state, apart from Jordan’s King Hussein, to attend the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin. The image of Mubarak reaching out to Leah Rabin will forever remain. What will be the future of Egypt? The “cold peace” with Israel is already at risk, as is the fate of Egypt’s Christian minorities. We are heading toward very hard times for the West.
LOPEZ: What did you learn about pain during the course of writing this book?
MEOTTI: The idea — also reaffirmed by Pope Benedict XVI — of human rationality as a form of likeness with the Creator is born from Judaism, which lends it a progressive character, given that creation aims to a point on the horizon where one finds absolute good, even if no one knows what that is. Reading the stories in my book you learn about the happy ending to this story. There is a moral duty of building the world with God and of going forward, of doing better, of working hard in order to create a better world. This is how I can explain the mystery of Israeli families who decided to dedicate themselves to doing good to Arabs and Jews alike after the killing of their relatives. In that sense, Israel has already won against terrorism.
LOPEZ: About grief?
MEOTTI: A different kind of grief. Proud, confident, powerful, stoic. Just an example: When the International Court of Justice in The Hague condemned Israel’s security barrier, Israelis marched through the Dutch city to the triangular plaza near the courthouse, holding posters of their relatives who had fallen victim. Parked there was the bombed-out shell of the No. 19 bus in which eleven people were killed in Jerusalem. The Israeli paramedics read out the names of the dead. Widows read letters about their dead husbands. A father brought a bullet to The Hague. He had found it under a pile of toys in the corner of the bedroom where his two sons huddled with their mother while a terrorist shot all three to death.
LOPEZ: About evil?
MEOTTI: During the intifada, when in Jerusalem a bus exploded almost daily, people went on living their lives — going to the movies, to school, to the supermarket, even if every corner of the city had been blown up and almost everyone had a family member or a dear friend who had been killed or wounded. But what keeps the Jewish people together, what makes it live and renders it also capable of relating to others, is a moral choice. The choice of life over evil and death.
LOPEZ: About love?
MEOTTI: Judaism believes in a happy conclusion to creation, represented by the coming of the Messiah. It’s amazing to see how much love, faith, hope, and sense of freedom the families wounded by terrorism are still able to show to the world. Many of the people in the book had new families after losing their spouse and children in the attacks. The survivors were able to rebuild; they married again and had more babies. These are real moral heroes, normal people shedding light in a world that is becoming darker. Israel is a lighthouse of life, and life is the most endangered value of our times.