Politics & Policy

The Body-Count Cliché

Standing Strong: Israeli soldier in Hebron, June 2014 (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
The victim-loving Western media have a weakness for Palestinians.

Dear God save me, but it’s started again: the puerile body-counting and mindless moralizing that eventually worms its way into nearly every news report whenever fighting breaks out between a Palestinian faction and the Israel Defense Forces.

Here it is — I call it the dueling-body-count cliché — in yesterday’s Guardian. It is clear, says the author, “that Israeli life is deemed by the western media to be worth more than a Palestinian life.” There is “a hierarchy of death,” he contends. (White-skin privilege and all that.) His evidence? The numbers. “According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, 565 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces since January 2009, while 28 Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli security personnel have been killed. The asymmetry of this so-called conflict is reflected in the death toll . . .”

After reviewing the tallies, the MSM types, like this Guardianista, always arrive at the same conclusion: Israel is somehow taking unfair advantage, and the international community must immediately intervene to stop it. The usual term is “disproportionate response.” (It never seems to occur to them that by their logic, a cop trying to stop a rape would have to drop his handgun and radio and attempt to pry the rapist off the victim with his bare hands in order to even the contest.)

But here’s the heart of the problem — and, when Jews are concerned, it has ancient, ugly echoes: The media love victims, and the Jewish state is done with being a victim. Jews simply don’t go quietly to their deaths any more. They insist — arrogantly, selfishly, piggishly — on living. They do brutish things like create great hospitals and great civil-defense systems, and train great soldiers, all in this greedy quest for life.

The main reason the Israeli civilian casualties are always in the single digits is that Israel maintains a huge network of bomb shelters; folks know where to run for protection (though they have on average only 15 seconds to get there). Israel has developed an early-warning system and deployed many of its best minds to work on the paradigm-changing “Iron Dome” for in-air rocket interception.

Meanwhile, Palestinians, both Hamas and PA, have gone in the opposite direction. At a minimum, the Hamas government, the recipient of millions in foreign aid, could have set up a shelter system for its civilian population. Instead it has simply chosen not to because, as a Palestinian journalist I know puts it, “They don’t care.” Dead civilians are more useful than live ones.

This is a culture that celebrates and exploits civilian death. You know the brief: They strap suicide bombs on little children. They drill children in the glory of martyrdom, and financially reward mothers who give their children up to martyrdom. They name public buildings after the most successful “martyrs.”

Worst of all, every time there’s a full-blown shooting conflict the Hamas leadership ensures that there will be piles of dead Palestinian civilians at the end of every news day by locating military installations in schools, mosques, residential apartment buildings, even hospitals. This is a tactic of war, explicitly — but one that the MSM still refuse to see. We will win, Hamas Member of Parliament Fathi Hamad proclaimed on Al-Aqsa TV in 2008, “because we desire death like you desire life.” For the Palestinian people, Hamad bragged, death has become “an industry.”

Meanwhile, Israelis have spent the years since Hamad made this speech (though the essence of it is repeated virtually every day by some Hamasnik or another) becoming great in a number of arguably more useful industries: high tech, biotech, medicine — even, recently, design. They stubbornly hang on to life because they’ve made their tiny scrap of endlessly begrudged land as close to a paradise as you can get when you start with sand dunes. Israeli kids grow up to be good soldiers, instead of good martyrs, because they haven’t been told since toddler days that their greatest fun is to be had in heaven. They’re looking forward to the careers — and the sex — they’ll have once they get out of the army. Meanwhile, Palestinian teens fantasize about virgins waiting for them in heaven.

Surrounded by seething resentment and psychopathy, Israelis have made a pretty great life for themselves — and, for our victim-loving, achievement-hating media, that’s a problem.

—Stephanie Gutmann is the author of The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy.

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