Last Saturday, shortly after midnight, Channel 2 broadcast footage of hundreds of Palestinians marching in a celebratory parade. The participants waved banners and jumped up and down in excitement as they applauded the latest news update: a suicide bomber had blown himself up outside a cafe in Jerusalem, murdering 11 innocent Israelis and wounding dozens of others.
There were no signs of remorse or regret, no dismay expressed at the loss of human life, nor any anguish voiced over the barbarity of the murderous act. Eleven innocent families had been torn apart, their loved ones taken from them in an instant of terror and death. And all the Palestinian marchers could do in response was cheer.
Less than 24 hours later, the television screen was filled with yet another harrowing sign of the times - Jewish parents standing beside an open grave, gazing in horror as the child they had cradled lovingly from birth was lowered into the ground. The haunting sounds of the kaddish could be heard, only this time it was being recited by the old on behalf of the young, rather than the other way around. Men and women in uniform broke down in tears as their 18- or 19-year-old comrades were laid to rest.
It has been suggested that soldiers should try not to weep at their colleagues' funerals because such scenes, when broadcast on television, might encourage the enemy to think that Israel has become weak and softhearted.
While I understand the logic, I thoroughly disagree with it. Some may view those tears as a sign of frailty, but to me they are a sign of strength, a sad but moving reminder that Israeli society values human life and considers its loss to be a tragedy and not a triumph. The flow of tears, perhaps more than anything else, underlines the profound difference between Israel and its enemies, between those who mourn death and those who rejoice in it.
Our enemies try to portray us as bloodthirsty killers who murder the innocent and revel in it. But they know as well as we do just how false that is. The IDF makes every possible effort to avoid civilian casualties when conducting anti-terror operations. Just last week, the defense minister apologized after the family of a wanted Hamas terrorist was mistakenly killed. By contrast, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has yet to issue any apologies for the Jewish blood he has intentionally spilled over the past 18 months.
Israeli society can be proud of its humanity and self-discipline, traits it has maintained despite unremitting Palestinian atrocities. We resort to our armed forces not because we want to, but because we have to. The death of Palestinians is greeted by Israel with neither glee nor amusement. You might see Israelis parading for peace, but you won't find them parading in praise of attacks on innocent civilians.
The Palestinians, however, have glorified death and destruction, lauding mass murderers as heroes and promising them entry into paradise. They have embraced senseless violence, and they have sought to provoke us into responding in kind. Ironically, in their attempt to dehumanize us, they have succeeded only in dehumanizing themselves.
Witness how they have deliberately infected their own children with the disease of hate, teaching their youth the "values" of cruelty and vindictiveness, breeding yet another generation to wage war, not peace.
Israel, though, has refused to yield to rage. With few exceptions, Israelis have thus far overcome their desire for revenge, demonstrating incredible restraint in the face of horrific Palestinian attacks. We have clung to our humanity and remained true to ourselves, and as long as we continue to do so, our enemies can never defeat us.
Israel, of course, must fight back. We must crush Palestinian terror and uproot it, sparing no effort to defend the country and its citizens. That is the army's task, and let us hope the government will finally empower our soldiers to fulfill it. But we, as citizens, face a different challenge - we must make sure not to surrender to the desire for vengeance. For if we do, we strip ourselves of our own humanity and hand Palestinian terrorists a terrible victory, one they do not deserve.
On Sunday night, Israel television broadcast an amateur video taken the previous evening in a Netanya hotel, while Palestinian gunmen were firing outside. In a particularly moving scene, a mother turned to her little children, who were crouching on the floor in trepidation. "Say Shema Yisrael," she implored them, invoking the age-old Jewish custom to reaffirm God's unity when confronting death. Gripped with fear, tears streaming down their little faces, the children proceeded to recite the ancient, holy verse.
Therein lies the real power of the Jewish people. For unlike our enemies, we teach our children to wield a far more noble, and powerful, weapon - that of faith. We teach them to respect human life, and to take it only when absolutely necessary.
The Palestinians may celebrate death, but we celebrate life. And that is what truly separates us from them.(The writer served as deputy director of communications and policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.)
©2002 - Jerusalem Post