The Magazine

Under Siege

How Israelis contend with an existential threat.

Feb 28, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 23 • By LEE HARRIS
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A New Shoah

Under Siege

Kobi Wolf / ZUMA Press / Newscom

The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism

by Giulio Meotti

Encounter, 428 pp., $27.95

In 1985, the French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann released a nine-hour documentary that recounted the individual stories of European Jews who fell victim to the Nazis. For his title, Lanzmann did not use the term that has become most commonly associated with the Nazi exterminations—the Holocaust—but instead, chose a single poignant word: Shoah, Hebrew for “calamity.”

In 2003, the Italian journalist Giulio Meotti traveled to Israel to document the latest calamity to befall the Jewish people. A New Shoah is the product of nearly six years of painstaking, often painful, research. A non-Jew deeply committed to the fate of Israel, Meotti interviewed hundreds of the many Israelis whose lives have been shattered by Islamic terrorists, talking to colleagues, relatives, and friends of those murdered by death squads and suicide bombers. His aim is to rescue the memory of those Israelis who have fallen victim to terror, to give them names and faces, and to listen to the stories that their loved ones tell about them, to discover what they had loved, and to recall what they had lived for. Meotti’s unflinching narrative is often as emotionally devastating as Lanzmann’s documentary, but it also harbors stories of human strength and heroic moral purpose, of hope overcoming despair, of the will to celebrate life even when assaulted by enemies who chant monotonously of death.

Israel, Meotti writes, has become “the first country ever to experience suicide terrorism on a mass scale .  .  . a black hole that in fifteen years swallowed up 1,557 people and left 17,000 injured.” In some cases victims were men and women who had survived the horrors of Auschwitz only to lose their lives to a Palestinian suicide bomber. Many victims were native-born Israelis who had never known another homeland. Some were like Eliyahu Asheri, the 18-year-old son of an Australian convert, who was kidnapped while walking home one day and died with a bullet through his head.

Jewish children have always been a favorite target for Islamic terrorism, ever since the first attacks on Israeli society. As representatives of the various terrorist organizations in the Middle East have said, Jewish children are the adults of tomorrow. .  .  . So far, 128 Jewish children have been killed, 9 of them less than a year old.

Meotti writes with a sense of mission. Why, he asks, has no one told the stories of these people? Few of the accounts of terrorism published since 9/11 have dealt with the one nation that had the longest continual experience of terrorism. For Meotti, this silence is particularly alarming given the fact that “throughout [Israel’s] history, a quick scrub has always been made of the blood of the Jews killed simply because they were Jews.” Meotti is similarly disturbed by the recrudescence of Jew hatred in contemporary Europe: “Anti-Semitism—and not only in the guise of anti-Zionism—is in vogue again at European universities, in labor unions, in newspapers, among the political and cultural elite. Shouts of ‘Death to Jews’ have filled the streets, and crocodile tears spilled for Jews killed during the Holocaust make it much easier to demonize the living ones in Israel.”

The scale of the Nazi genocide was staggering. Millions were murdered with modern efficiency, using assembly-line methods, carried out by faceless bureaucrats. But the impersonality of the death machinery was key to its genocidal effectiveness. In contrast, the terror attacks on Israelis rely on homemade bombs and Qassam rockets rigged in kitchens. The killers are often teenagers. But what these terrorists lack in organizational skills is more than made up for by their zeal. The Nazi apparatus was as bleak and joyless as it was inhuman: The morale of those who operated the extermination camps was low, and the suicide rate alarmingly high. Killing Jews was a dirty business, and no one became a popular hero for doing it. In contrast, successful terrorist attacks on Israelis are met with communal celebrations; those who kill Jews, especially in large numbers, are hailed as heroes and martyrs.

Meotti refers to Israel as a “metaphysical nation.” By this, he means that it is made up of people from a diversity of backgrounds, fused together in a common homeland. But it is also metaphysical in the higher sense of the word. At the heart of the Jewish tradition is a metaphysics of radical hope: The world is a good place, and by our efforts we can make it better. Meotti demonstrates that this life-affirming spirit remains alive in modern Israel, and A New Shoah is more than the story of victims of terrorism. It is a tribute to the power of determination and hope, and its final chapter is taken from a memorial plaque dedicated to teenaged victims of a massacre: “Choose life—we will not stop dancing.”

Lee Harris is the author, most recently, of The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt Against the Liberal Elite.

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