Sunday, September 23, 2007

23-Sep-07: Historical amnesia

The article below, written by Frimet Roth who is one of the two authors of this blog, appears in today's Haaretz.

The dangers of historical amnesia
Frimet Roth

It's been six years since 9/11, and Americans have been reexamining their attitudes toward the victims. Some believe enough energy has been expended on remembering. Last week, for instance, Time Magazine's Jeffrey Kluger asked "when is enough enough?" and noted with apparent agreement: "Some have suggested that we discontinue the moments of silence and solemn speeches and all the other [9/11] ceremonies."

I imagine remembering does grow tiresome after six long years. I say "imagine" because, as even Kluger conceded, "The families need no calendrical gimmick to feel their loss."

As a bereaved mother, I fall into that category. For us, every day is a fresh reminder.

But if Americans seem quick to forget, Israelis have no doubt been their mentors. Our historical amnesia is legion. Even in the midst of our own terrorism nightmare, aka the second intifada, Israel's eagerness to wash away any reminders of terror attacks was striking.

Journalists would proudly report within hours of a suicide bombing in a city center that traffic at the site was flowing normally again.

A recent television conversation between two respected Israeli journalists (one of whom had just won a journalism award) raised the issue of the Israeli media's treatment of the second intifada. They were both emphatic that news coverage of that period had failed; far too much time and newsprint had been devoted to those events, they maintained. Even in real time, the near daily slaughter of innocent Israelis was not worth a headline.

On the other side of the divide, forgetting is never an option. Haaretz published a picture recently of a Palestinian boy of seven or so standing in a pet shop, surrounded by photos that plastered all four walls. Not of cuddly kittens or adorable hamsters, but portraits of dozens of Palestinians who died in the conflict with Israel, most of them terrorists.

Along with their new pets, and their TV cartoons, Palestinian children are imbibing the culture of bloodshed.

All this forgetting has an impact on the fight against terrorism. It is enabling Israelis to sit by complacently as their vilified prime minister negotiates with his favorite "moderate" Palestinian, Mahmoud Abbas. Nobody seems concerned by recent reports that Abbas is viewing positively a reconciliation proposal from Hamas. It was first reported only in the Arabic press, but yesterday a senior Fatah official reiterated a "diluted" version of the option. If the impending international conference between Olmert and Abbas fails to achieve a breakthrough on the issue of creating a Palestinian state, the official warned, Fatah will resume its dialogue with Hamas.

Abbas has assured Israel he will definitely not seek any such reconciliation and will never welcome Hamas back into the government. But what's a white lie now and then between peace partners?

The Hamas that Abbas is courting anew is not merely unrepentant. It is also far better-equipped than the one we have known.

Earlier this month, another under-noted report in The New York Times revealed that Hamas has sent hundreds of its fighters abroad for military training, most to Iran. According to Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, the Israel Defense Forces' deputy chief of staff, said the largely ignored article, Hamas is constructing positions and fortifications, building tunnels for fighting and smuggling in explosives, antitank weapons and more sophisticated rockets through the Egyptian desert. It already possesses improved antitank missiles and mortars and Katyusha rockets with a range of 10.6 miles. Is anyone still deluded that Hamas has peace on its agenda? Is Abbas?

If the data released this month by the Central Bureau of Statistics is accurate, the above threats may not matter much to most Israelis. The CBS indicates that Israelis could soon rival Americans as shopaholics. Since 2002, as unemployment in Israel dropped from 10 to 9 percent to 7.5 percent, household spending on durable goods skyrocketed by 36 percent. The economy is booming, and the public is in its thrall.

This may be good news in the short term. But conspicuous consumption is the new opiate of the West. And the quiescence it generates is working in Olmert's favor. Before allowing him to race off and meet Abbas, a suitcase full of concessions in hand, Israelis need to wake up and raise their voices.

We need to remember our own forgotten victims. Israel's continued existence depends on it.

Frimet Roth is a freelance writer in Jerusalem. She and her husband founded and manage the Malki Foundation ( in their daughter's memory. Malki Roth was murdered in the Sbarro restaurant massacre in 2001. The foundation provides concrete support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.

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