Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Sivan 5766 - June 14, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Fighting Words

On Friday, seven members of a Palestinian family picnicking on a beach (according to Palestinian reports) were killed by an explosion. The Palestinians reported that Israel was at fault (as they always do) but refused to show any evidence that this was so. Signs of any Israeli guilt should be easy to produce in the form of fragments of whatever Israeli ordnance caused the explosion. On the contrary: the Palestinians systematically destroyed all remnants of the event.

Israel's reaction was typical: Officials expressed regret for the loss of innocent life and sympathy for the bereaved. They did not take responsibility, but announced an investigation.

The Palestinian response was not typical but not out of character. Assuming Israeli blame, Hamas announced it was ending its self-declared 16-month truce.

The speed with which it made the announcement suggests that the decision to go on the offensive against us had been made in advance. The destruction of the evidence by the Palestinians indicates that the truth of who was to blame is not of interest to them.

It is not clear who is actually interested in the truth about what happened. It is clear that neither the family nor the beach was targeted by Israel. The Palestinians fire their rockets targeted at Israeli civilians from within non- combatant populations. According to the international rules of war, the Palestinian fighters who do not distinguish themselves from noncombatants by living apart and wearing uniforms and the like, are themselves are responsible in such circumstances if noncombatants are killed in an appropriate response to their aggressive attacks. Thus, even if it should turn out that it was an Israeli weapon that killed the family, the criminal terrorists who continue to fire Kassam rockets targeting Israeli civilians from within the noncombatant population are really responsible.

The Israeli response gave the initial impression that they felt guilty, and much damage is certainly done that will not be repaired by an announcement several days later — even if they find that it was Palestinian explosives that caused the deaths. It was suggested that the family was killed by a stray Kassam rocket, or by a landmine installed by Palestinians.

The attitude of Palestinians (and many other Arabs) to language is quite different from what people in the West are used to. Recall that nine months ago 21 Palestinians were killed in the middle of a mass celebration of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Palestinian sources immediately blamed Israel, even though it was later discovered that the explosions were caused by negligent Hamas handling of explosives.

The concept of speaking the truth as a standard of behavior is lacking in many communities in the Middle East. They regard speech as just another tool to get them what they want. They are prepared to say whatever is useful in achieving their goals. There is no special or independent value assigned to speaking the truth. Most of the time they do speak the truth because otherwise it would not be worth speaking altogether — that is, usually the truth gets them what they want. But they attach no value, and derive no satisfaction, from speaking truly.

From our perspective, the faculty of speech is one of the highest human abilities. Using it properly — by speaking truly, and for Torah and tefilloh — is of value, and abusing it is reprehensible and degrading. We could never look at our speech as merely a tool to achieve our goals without any reference to whether it is functioning properly or not.

This feeling of respect for the power and ability of speech is shared by other Western peoples. But we should not make the mistake of assuming that everyone in the world shares it.

Our military and diplomatic spokesman should counter the verbal attacks with vigorous verbal defenses, stressing the presumed innocence of IDF forces and immediately suggesting alternatives that in the end may turn out to be the most likely explanation, rather than offering unappreciated sympathy and apologies.

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