After Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Israel is going to commemorate Yom Hazikaron (Israel Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day) and Yom HaAtzma-ut (Israel Independence Day).
I deciced to write an essay from a personal perspective. I thought it was very urgent in this case, since there is lots of hypocrisy in the Israeli debate about the use of the term Holocaust vis a vis Iran.
It’s not because the prime ministers are not allowed to evoke the six millions against the new threats upon the Jewish people. Only the weak and the naïve say that.
It’s because a mini-Holocaust already took place, but the Israeli community steadfastly refused to name it that.
Only the new Shoah that was can help to understand the new Holocaust that well might be.
I spent six years tracking down and interviewing Israeli witnesses to terrorist atrocities – as well as people who survived attacks and family members of victims who did not. It was a labor of six years of relentless determination, loneliness and, dare I say it, obsessive moral commitment.
The fruit was the book “A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism”. I began the project knowing it was virtually impossible for survivors themselves to tell these stories. Their testimony is a kind of peripheral knowledge, kept locked neatly in the shadows.
But given the right circumstances, that knowledge could have been brought into the light. And with each witness and each testimony, the understanding of truth grew, as did the sense of the past existing within the present.
I created “A New Shoah” not as an archival reminder but rather the reliving of a smaller-scale Shoah – a Shoah not of millions of Jews killed merely because they were Jews living in Europe, but a new Shoah of two thousand Jews killed simply because they were Jews living in Israel.
It is an immense black hole that in fifteen years has swallowed up 1,557 innocent men, women and children and left more than 17,000 injured.
Does the reader want proportions? It would take the murder of 53,756 Americans and the wounding of 664,133 others to equal, in terms of percentage of population, the number of Israelis who have fallen victim to Arab terrorism in just the past decade and a half.
Some places were not hit as hard as others; none, though, was completely safe.
Jerusalem bore the brunt of the suicide bombings; Jewish communities inside Judea and Samaria came under daily attacks; rural settlements near the pre-1967 border suffered badly; coastal cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa, Hadera and Netanya were all bombed.
There were times when Ben Gurion Airport had more security guards than travelers. To the relatively few people who did come – I was one, arriving in 2003 to make a television documentary about the Intifada – the country presented a surreal spectacle.
There were few external signs of damage. Immediately after each terrorist attack, teams of specially trained volunteers and medics would gather the dead, tend to the wounded and literally scrape up human remains before putting them in plastic bags. Municipal crews would then quickly repair the structural damage.
It was only a matter of hours before life returned to “normal”, no matter how bloody the atrocity or how high the casualty count.
Israel's consuming need for normalcy was on unusually vivid display just a few weeks ago, during the tenth anniversary of the start of the Second Intifada. Surprisingly few articles or reports in the Israel media were devoted to the decade-long trauma and the Israeli victims.
The silence of Jewish writers was also disconcerting – as it has been for a long time now.
Why did I choose to adopt the word “Shoah”? The Holocaust is a unique evil in human history, and I had to be very careful in terms of making false comparisons.
What has happened to Israel under the hanging sword of terrorism is a very specific destructive process. The families and stories in the book are like a Greek chorus that gathers an inexorable hypnotic power – a hymn to life that rises above the experience – of death.
“Holocaust”, with its sacrificial connotations, was an inadmissible word. Shoah is a more opaque word that, to me at least, links the generation of the Holocaust to the Israelis killed in their homeland. “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 Jews were victimized and how they were alone, abandoned by the world – now just as then. Their testimonies, their tears, their emotions are more authentic than historical documents.
I knew I was going to pay a heavy price for such a book. Today, to speak the name of Israel in friendly tones, especially in journalistic and academic circles, is to risk facing a firestorm of condemnation. Doors are often closed to authors who refuse to use lies and hatred against Israel.
I decided to locate the Israeli victims at the center of two stories, different and extraordinary: the great story of their original societies – European, North African, Yemenite, Russian, American – and the little story they created in coming to Israel. The story of the pioneers, the story of doctors who healed Arabs before being killed, the story of soldiers and professors, secular and religious people – the humanity of a small country guilty of one unforgivable fault: surviving.
It’s not an “Israeli book”, since I challenged people to enter a new, unfamiliar world – a world where Zionist triumphalism is conjoined with an inherent vulnerability. An invincible people confesses its bewilderment while the world isolates it and deepens its wounds. It’s the infinite martyrdom of the Jewish people, who instead of mass shootings and gassings conducted by Nazis now confront a continuous drip murder administered by terrorists and soon Iran's atomic bomb.
The terrorists direct their explosives and guns and rockets not against military outposts or armed soldiers but against a pizzeria, a discotheque, a school bus, a restaurant, a hotel, a railway station – wherever there are Jewish civilians to exterminate.
Civilians like the father, mother, brother and grandfather of Menashe Gavish, who lost his loved ones in a night of terror in Elon Moreh.
Civilians such as 15 year old Malka Roth, who was simply having a pizza with a friend, Michal Raziel, on the way home, in Jerusalem.
Civilians like Gabi Ladowski, studying at the Mount Scopus’ university.
Civilians like Yanay Weiss, who was playing the guitar in a Tel Aviv café just beside the U.S. consulate. His death will be commemorated next week.
These families are a moral example to the whole world. I portrayed the beauty of their lives in order to make the unbearable bearable.
I offer this book, which is the labor of love and tears, as a memorial chant for the martyred Jews.
I tried to honor them by the words of Simone Weil, who wrote: “If, as is only too possible, we are to perish, let us see to it that we do not perish without having existed”.
One cannot write a book like this without being condemned to solitude. The more I involved myself, the lonelier I became. But in order to deliver such a book to the world, an author has to be very much in love with life.
And – even more so after being in the presence of those families and witnesses – I am.