Imagine being in Sderot, Israel, and hearing Hamas rockets land near your home. You’re scared, you instantly take mental stock of your family members’ locations. Then you hear gunfire. Screaming. You recognize a scream. A few minutes later, you’re holding your daughter’s corpse. She’s still warm and will be for a while yet, but she is dead. A Hamas bullet severed her subclavian artery, and that was that. You pray out loud, essentially singing, to trade places with her. It doesn’t work. She is dead. You are alive. You want to die. You won’t.
Can you kill anyone to fix this? Who? Where are they? Do you bring your other children with you to do it? Or do you get a babysitter for your other kids so you can go try and kill them? Is your babysitter alive? If you can’t kill your child’s murderer specifically, is there someone else you could kill? Would it feel good then and there, like working out or taking a shit? If so, how long would it take the feeling to dissipate?
If someone killed my child in front of me, I suspect I’d do my best to kill them right back. I wouldn’t be in the right, but people would get it. That said, I’ve always opposed the death penalty because it makes mistakes and is racist in its implementation. In the United States, it has been demonstrated to repeatedly kill innocent people and is disproportionately used against black people. The state should be “better” at solving problems than a violently bereaved father, but in the case of the United States, it is very often not.
The Israeli government does not differ from the US government on this point. They’re quite similar — partners even — in many of the ways they police other countries and their own citizens.
I feel such abject futility in writing this as Israel’s military has stated its plan to commit effective genocide in Gaza. Its order for the residents of northern Gaza to evacuate is impossible to implement. Israel knows it, we know it. Children in Gaza, most born after Hamas took power, know it. These children are going to die shortly, joining their peers who have already been killed. Their limbs will be torn from their bodies. They will exsanguinate in the street. Children holding their younger siblings will be crushed by debris, and they will rot where they die.
I’m American, but I live in the UK, so I pay taxes to two countries that will explicitly aid and sanction this genocide. This genocide will be carried out with American and British weapons.
When I was nine, my kind, gregarious neighbor Barry died of leukemia. His family sat shiva and we joined them. I have visited and treasured this memory all my life, and when my own son died of brain cancer five years ago, I let it guide me in how we handled the days following Henry’s death. Barry’s memory was indeed a spectacular blessing.
When I was thirty, my friend Mahir’s father died, and afterward, Mahir generously walked my wife and I step by step through the Muslim rituals of mourning and burial, how he attended and washed and shrouded his father and then personally buried him in the earth. We were rapt. When our son died, we had a beautiful template of intimacy to follow due to the love of a Muslim son for his father.
I think I am saying that Jewish and Muslim ghosts guided me better during my time of greatest pain than today’s presidents and prime ministers and newspaper owners are guiding us today.
They profane the memory of those killed and those to be killed.
I do not anticipate these new ghosts being kind with them.