Originally published in Tikkun Daily
Nahum Barnea, perhaps the greatest political writer in Israel today, is composing a five-part series looking back at Israel's recent Gaza operation. His first installment, "Bitter Tears of Victory," is remarkable.
While the entire piece is worth reading, one moment of dialogue stands out as a stark representation of the tensions and oppositional forces at play within Israel today. This dialogue is between Barnea and an Israeli pilot (represented as A.), a reservist, who flew many sorties over Gaza during the 50-day operation.
After discussing Israel's attempts to minimize civilian casualties, and the pilot's anger at those who claim Israeli pilots disregarded civilian lives, the following moment takes place. The dialogue below occurs just after the pilot expresses that he is at peace with the efforts he saw military personnel take to limit civilian casualties:
Nonetheless, I say, many children and women were killed.
“When you chop wood, chips fly,” A. says.
"Do you know who said that before you?" I ask.
“No,” he says.
He is shocked. “Delete that, delete that I said that,” the pilot asks.
I didn’t delete it. These pilots are wonderful people, but there is a limit to what I can do for the sake of their image.
It is a remarkable moment, the simultaneous acceptance of 'collateral damage' amongst Palestinians, and the horror that the metaphor used to represent such acceptance is one made famous by Stalin.
That horror is both a mirror into which most Israelis prefer not to gaze and a window most Israelis want blocked by opaque curtains, something which could equally be said regarding the United States and its drone campaign.
One thing Barnea may have gotten wrong is his attribution. In truth, the "chop wood" quote is a Russian proverb which appears to have been used by Stalin's right-hand man, Nikolay Ezhov, though its force remains.
What Barnea got right is his representation of a difficult dichotomy in Israel: systemic efforts to minimize Palestinian civilian deaths during war coupled with the systemic disregard for Palestinian life that permeates so much of Israeli society.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, recently published by Oneworld Publications.