THE INSIGNIFICANCE OF “DISPROPORTIONATE” CASUALTIES
BY RACHEL LAVICTOIRE
I support Israel. I am a 19-year-old female, a Davis Academy Alum, a student at Washington University in St. Louis, an Atlantan, a Georgian, an American; and I am in full support of Israel and Operation Protective Edge. Now, a lot of people are talking about wars in terms of numbers: How many rockets have been fired? How many minutes have passed since the last siren was heard? How many injuries and casualties have both sides suffered? How much longer will people be living in fear?
These questions and others like them have been the backbone of the discussions about “disproportionality,” the fact that there have been far more Palestinian casualties than Israeli ones. But this statistic is deceiving and, frankly, insignificant. Logically, the “disproportionality” argument has been disputed most famously and eloquently by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and [Hamas] is using their civilians to protect their missiles.”
Netanyahu’s statement does a great job of explaining the incredible difference in the number of Palestinian and Israeli casualties, but, in my opinion, it would be better for us to simply stop thinking in terms of numbers. People are not numbers. People are people. They have dreams and families. They have stories.
The soldier who was the first Israeli casualty was Sergeant Eitan Barak. He was 20 years old, from Herzliya, and “went from being a rowdy, mischievous little boy to a loving brother and son, a top-notch cook, a brave and determined combat soldier and a man to admire.”
Days later, the count was already at ten. The tenth Israeli casualty was Staff Sergeant Max Steinberg from Woodland Hills, California. He went on a Birthright trip in 2012 and returned three months later to serve in the IDF. After working hard to learn Hebrew, he achieved his goal of joining the Golani Brigade and serving as a sharpshooter.
To scale, in the anthology of stories of the fallen soldiers, these two examples are mere fragments, words even. And unfortunately, the list goes on. As I sit here and write, the “count” is at 43. 43 soldiers have fallen. We can’t sit back and say that it’s “only 43” because we are talking about peoples’ lives, we’re not just talking about counting numbers. And this applies to both sides. I’m not here trying to say that we should weigh Israeli lives as more significant than Palestinian lives. This is why Israel has given aid to Gaza and has opened hospitals for injured Palestinian civilians: we don’t want people to die.
However, as the rockets and missiles continue to rain down from Gaza, we have an obligation not only to defend ourselves, but to fight back. A non-profit organization called StandWithUs ran a passport campaign asking people from all over the world to speak out against Hamas terrorism. The reaction was, and still is, unbelievable. Pictures have been sent in from the United States, Canada, and Australia; as well as from more unexpected places such as Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan. It’s clear that people everywhere are standing with Israel, and all for their own reasons. But, for now, I will speak only for the Jewish people by referring to our collective story, the one that brings us together and the one that serves as the pillar for our eternal community.
This week, we read parshat Devarim, which is the first book of Deuteronomy, the last book of the Torah. With Moses’ death upon him, he addresses the Israelites and recounts both their failures and successes over the past four decades, while under his leadership. He focuses, as I will, on the story of the twelve spies.
Weeks ago, we read parshat Shelach, the story of twelve spies and their journey into the Land of Canaan. After assessing the land, ten of the men reported back saying, “The people who inhabit the land are mighty…We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we” (Numbers 13:28-31). Caleb, however, spoke out and argued, “We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it” (13:30). In short, the Israelites ultimately sided with the majority and were outraged that G-d had led them to die in the Land of Canaan. Hearing their anger, G-d threatened to kill all of the Israelites, but settled on the decision to make them wander in the desert for forty years so that none of them, except Caleb and Joshua, would survive to see the Promised Land.
This story is the heart of Moses’ speech because of its intrinsic connection with the history of the Jewish people. We are a victorious people. I have spoken in previous pieces about perseverance, devotion, and community because they are the values that we hold so tightly.
Our approach now should be no different. Surely, we are up against not only a challenging opponent, but also a complicated situation. There is no clear answer. Unlike the Israelites in Canaan, our victory won’t be a brute military occupation. It’s just not that simple. But it’s important that we see this war for what it is, that we support the IDF and the effort it’s taken to protect each individual person, and that we continue to stand with Israel, “for we can indeed overcome it.”
Rachel LaVictoire (rlavictoire@wustl. edu) is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. She was recently named to the board of St. Louis Hillel.