The disproportionate value of Israeli life

Israel’s history has constituted one steady reaffirmation of the inferior value of Arab life.

Israel Launches Airstrikes On Gaza Following Bus Attack
Operation 'Pillar of Defence' saw the killing of 162 Palestinians versus five Israelis, a ratio of 32:1 [GALLO/GETTY]

Following the conclusion of Operation “Pillar of Defence”, Israel’s latest bout of terror in Gaza, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote in Ha’aretz:

Since the first Qassam rocket fell on Israel in April 2001, 59 Israelis have been killed – and 4,717 Palestinians. The numbers don’t lie, as they say in less lethal fields, and this proportion is horrifying. It ought to disturb every Israeli.

Indeed, as any observer of regional casualty counts will be quite aware, Israel’s history has constituted one steady reaffirmation of the inferior value of Arab life.

Operation Pillar of Defence saw the elimination of 162 Palestinians versus five Israelis, a ratio of 32:1. Operation Cast Lead, the penultimate assault on Gaza in 2008-09, produced 400 Palestinian civilian deaths for each Israeli one.

At the end of November, UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights Richard Falk noted that, “[a]ccording to figures compiled by the Israeli human rights NGO, B’Tselem, between the ceasefire established in January 2009 and the outbreak of this recent cycle of violence, not a single Israeli has been killed, while Israeli violence was responsible for 271 Gazan deaths”.

As for the relative value of live Palestinians, Israel is known for bartering deals such as the exchange of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for a single Israeli soldier captured by Hamas.

In combination live-dead prisoner swaps, the disproportionate worth of Israeli bones was confirmed in 2008 when Israel acquired the remains of two soldiers in exchange for those of nearly 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters as well as five live prisoners, including prized possession Samir Kuntar.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s decree that there is “no such thing as a Palestinian people” is meanwhile a stellar example of the conceptual whittling down of Palestinian humanity that has excused homicidal repression of alleged sub-humans. To be sure, it is difficult to commit crimes against something that does not exist.

The luxury of psychological suffering

Conveniently, Israel has discovered a trick for inflating its own casualty figures in conflicts with the Palestinians and other varieties of Arab, thereby rendering resulting ratios less disproportionate in appearance.

Of the 770 Cast Lead casualties listed on the Israeli Foreign Ministry website, for example, four are fatalities and 584 are victims of “shock and anxiety syndrome”.

Were Palestinians permitted the luxury of psychological suffering, we might predict a soaring of casualty figures for Cast Lead – and perhaps for day-to-day existence itself – to somewhere in the vicinity of 1.7m, the population of the besieged coastal enclave.

The Lebanese might see a similar upgrade in a reassessment of the wanton Israeli bombardment of 2006, which killed approximately 1,200 in Lebanon, most of them civilians, while producing 43 Israeli civilian fatalities and 2,773 victims of “shock and anxiety”, according to Israel’s Health Ministry.

Off the top of my head I can think of more than a few candidates for an expanded Lebanese casualty list, such as a four-year-old girl I met shortly after the war in the south Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil. After spending 10 days of the conflict hiding in the basement with her extended family and then escaping to the north in a convoy of white flag-equipped vehicles – the last of which was taken out by the Israeli Air Force – the child had taken to panicking at commonplace noises.

The Israeli media and allied international outlets, however, prefer to showcase the unique psychological torment of residents of Sderot in southern Israel, where according to the Sderot Media Centre “[s]tudies have revealed that 70-94 percent of Sderot’s children suffer from PTSD”.

In a 2009 interview with the Islamophobic FrontPage Magazine, Sderot Media Centre’s Anav Silverman discusses the “shock and trauma” that characterise life in the western Negev:

[E]ach time the Tzeva Adom (Colour Red) siren is set off by a rocket – even if it is only once a week – it still sends residents into shock and disrupts any sense of normalcy.”

Of course, given the general ineffectiveness of rockets, the siren system is a good way to maintain heightened anxiety levels among Israeli citizens despite the negligible threat to their lives.

This Pavlovian conditioning is in turn partly to thank for the overwhelming popular support the state enjoys when slaughtering Palestinians.

Obama does Sderot

Distinguished non-Israeli supporters of slaughter include current US President Barack Obama, who while still a senator in 2008 paid a visit to Sderot to offer the following pledge:

The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens. And so I can assure you that if – I don’t even care if I was a politician. If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.

Three and a half months later, Israel set about protecting its citizens by breaking the ceasefire with Hamas in effect at the time and paving the way for more rockets directed at Obama’s hypothetical house. The ensuing “self-defence” exercise entailed the dispatching of far more destructive weapons into Palestinian houses and the achievement of the aforementioned 400:1 fatality ratio.

Given Israel’s monopoly on the self-defence category, sleeping Palestinian children needed not apply.

As for the monopoly on psychological suffering, Anav Silverman’s post-Cast Lead complaint hints at incipient dangerous trends:

It is a pretty ironic situation that as the Sderot Trauma Facilities are on the verge of closing down [due to government funding cuts]… Gaza receives millions of dollars worth of humanitarian aid from the international community.

Also pretty ironic is that, while Hamas’ crimes are quantitatively and qualitatively inferior to those committed by Israel, the former is branded with the terrorist label while the latter is annually showered with billions of US dollars to sustain bellicose endeavours rather than improve the health or wellbeing of the nation’s citizenry.

In other matters relating to psychology, a recent op-ed in Israel National News warns that Operation Pillar of Defence highlighted “the Palestinians’ ability to learn and implement” Israeli PSYOPs such as the sending of “morale-lowering text messages” to enemy cell phones.

According to the author of the article, the head of the Ariel Research Centre for Defence and Communication, the Palestinians are scheming to “play on Western and Israeli guilt – an age-old PSYOP technique” by disseminating “a barrage of visual images of destruction, homes, kindergartens, zoos etc” in Gaza.

No explanation is offered as to why the age-old and already well-documented Israeli technique of destroying such institutions has yet to induce guilt. Perhaps it has something to do with the unilateral human status with which Israeli life is endowed.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blogAl Akhbar English and many other publications.