As Israelis, we’ve become accustomed to the banality of evil

In the future, a day will come and we will have to explain how was it is that we, the survivors of the people who went through a terrible Holocaust, are carrying out a softened small version of that disaster to the Palestinians, where were we when that was happening and what did we do.

The Palestine Project
5 min readJun 3

By Ram Cohen (Translated by Sol Salbe)

I had received a gift during one of my trips to the Majdanek death camp in Poland. The students had walked around with the guides who explained what they saw, and I ended up alone, all by myself. One of the students, Hadas Yaron [Shtisel] had entered the shoe hut and I waited for her to come out. Long minutes had passed, and I thought she might have got out and I didn’t notice. More time passed [usually students can’t stand the stench of the shoes in a muggy shack] and Hadas came out. I asked her: Dassi, what happened, how did you manage to hang on there? And she gave me an answer that has remained with me to this day: “Ram, how many people are there?” and her eyes glistened with tears. Hadas didn’t see the shoes that gave off a terrible stench, it didn’t interest her that she was suffocating inside, Hadas turned around and looked at the people who are no longer there. She went through and looked at the worn, tattered shoes crushed in closed metal cages and thought about the people the shoes belonged to and she could not break away from the shack. The essence of humanity.

I am telling this because something bad is happening to us. I feel it. The Palestinians are weakened and desperate, they are broken and oppressed, their ability to resist has been reduced, the IDF enters their cities every day and kills them. Some are simply executed by being shot in the back or head. Palestinians are arrested by the hundreds and imprisoned by the thousands. Lately our level of degeneracy has risen one more rung. We now admit that we also kill children who are executed with their fathers. From now on, every Palestinian fighter will know that if they resist the Occupation, his children’s blood be on his own head. Miar, 11, Ali, 8, Hajar, 4, Layan, 10, Tamim Muhammad Daoud, 5, Shadi, 17, Rami, 15, are the witnesses to death. And we are so bestialised that the fighter pilots talk about the exciting experience they had in the bombing and on one of the news sites posted their excited voices online.

Every day that passes I feel that we Israelis are losing it. We carry out a murderous policy towards the Palestinian people, to which no merciful heart and no honest conscience can remain indifferent. Somehow, we got accustomed to hearing on the news about another horror in the [Occupied] Territories, and three seconds later we move on. We have become accustomed to the cruelty and reverberating crimes, and it no longer matters what happens. It doesn’t matter whether wheat fields are set alight, olive trees uprooted, a communities gets removed from their pasture land, herds are starved, homes and schools are destroyed, bodies kept in refrigerators, the death of hunger strikers is ignored, cars and houses are torched, people are beaten and terrorised, there’s abuse and cruelty, children get shot with their parents [the day before yesterday we shot and seriously wounded Haitham alongside Muhammad Tamimi, his two-and-a-half-year-old son].

Somehow everything passes right by us, but a few seconds later, it fades away. We have become accustomed to the banality of evil. And this is perhaps the worst thing that happens to us. I am writing to you here and telling you: be careful!

Don’t get used to it because I feel the silence is widespread. We too, in the peace camp, the camp of reconciliation and humanity, we who advocate acceptance and tolerance, have also become enfeebled together with our Palestinian siblings. Don’t get used to it like it’s some sort of a falling rain that masks the noise of the injustices and crimes that are done to millions of people who are our neighbours. In the future, a day will come and we will have to explain how was it is that we, the survivors of the people who went through a terrible Holocaust, are carrying out a softened small version of that disaster to the Palestinians, where were we when that was happening and what did we do.

I recall the Brecht poem that Erela once sent when we were raising money for Haroun who was shot in the neck and died after a terrible agony. The poem was written in 1935 when Brecht realised what was going to happen but most of the public continued to hope that everything was temporary and nothing would happen.

Bertolt Brecht, ‘When evil-doing comes like falling rain’

When evil-doing comes like falling rain
Like one who brings an important
letter to the counter after
office hours: the counter is already closed.
Like one who seeks to warn the
city of an impending flood,
but speaks another language. They do not understand him.
Like a beggar who knocks for the
fifth time at the door where he has four times been given
something: the fifth time he is hungry.
Like one whose blood flows from
a wound and who awaits
the doctor: his blood goes on flowing.

So do we come forward and report that evil has been done us.

The first time it was reported that our friends were being
butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred
were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered
and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of
silence spread.

When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out
When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When
sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer
heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

[English version of Brecht’s poem from War Poetry in Live Journal]