Happy Independence Day?

Ynet Photo: Avihu Shapira

Saw this in Ynet this morning, from an article covering Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations in Israel. Caption: “Tens of thousands visited IDF bases.”

My first thought: the famous picture of the Palestinian baby in a bomb vest that got some major play in the Jewish press some years back.

My second thought: those Jews who claim Palestinians harbor a “culture of death” should take a good long look at this picture.

My third thought: this recent picture of an Israeli preschool – another image that stopped me in my tracks.

I really don’t know what else to think…

13 thoughts on “Happy Independence Day?

  1. Eric Selinger

    “They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have
    come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They
    all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and
    some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty
    of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of
    their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their
    makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of
    their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.”
    –Ursula K. LeGuin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

  2. Rx4pabulum

    You see the beautiful baby, you think birth. You see the gun, you know death is awaiting a Palestinian. Is this the circle of life?

  3. Richard Kahn

    Chag Sameach!

    The article’s disturbing, but I haven’t really found Israelis to be militarized. There’s no culture of death. It’s the opposite, if anything. Israelis are so used to being surrounded with weapons and are so used to the fact that all of their children will serve that they sometimes don’t treat them with the seriousness that they deserve. These Israelis are not going to the bases and cheering at the death that the weaponry causes.

    I don’t know if the same can be said about Palestinians. I haven’t really spent as much time with Palestinians.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      I think it is fair to say that Israel has a heavily militarized culture. You as much as admit it yourself when you say “Israelis are so used to being surrounded by weapons.” The mere fact of this “normalcy” is the very definition of a militarized culture – and I believe it’s something that we should never take for granted.

  4. Rx4pabulum

    I believe that there is significant bloodlust inherent in Israeli actions towards the Palestinian people, but I guess it all depends on one’s angle of vision, or so Richard Kahn might have us think. There is hatred of the other that exists on both sides, and the sad truth is hate metastasizes. One side is armed and powerful, and the other is not.

  5. Simcha Daniel Burstyn

    Yes, you’re right, Rabbi. Israel’s obsession with its army is a bad thing. We have no children to spare, but somehow we keep sending them to defend us. In the course of that, we have made some bad choices.

    But the scale is really the question. And the “culture of death” thing.

    Regarding the scale – if the picture is only between the river and the sea, we’re Goliath, and we overdo it on a regular basis. And we have, no doubt, done our part in creating our mirror or shadow in Palestinian society. But if the scale is expanded, Israel is a tiny country. It’s about the size of the greater Chicago area, by population, maybe a little more. It could fit inside Illinois three or four times. And it DOES HAVE ENEMIES.

    But regarding the culture of death thing – we don’t aim those guns on people regularly. We teach our soldiers “purity of arms” (a horrible expression, but a noble concept – that a gun is made for one purpose and therefore must be treated with respect and never aimed except in danger nor fired except under a real threat).

    “Significant bloodlust”? Not really, or maybe on the part of a minority, just as it probably is among the Palestinians.

    What to think? That the photographer gave you a great opportunity to teach the Torah of teaching the null curriculum? That maybe we should take seriously the thought that maybe our culture influences others? But that’s not a reason not to celebrate Israeli Independence. We are making so many mistakes, but they are our own, for God’s sake…

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      Nice to hear from you and I hope all is well by you and your family.

      I appreciate your thoughtful comment – but I would only suggest that Palestinians are much more than the “mirror or shadow” of Israeli society. They are people who are living under a very real oppression.

      I am especially taken by you final comment, in which you say that you/Israel’s mistakes are your own. To me that is one of the poignant tragedies of Zionism – it was created to bring independence to the Jewish people, but in the end, I think the Jewish people are learning that independence is something of a myth. At it has turned out, there is really no such thing as “independence” – only interdependence. Israel’s mistakes may be her own, but they impact very directly on the Palestinian people. And until some semblance of justice can be brought bear upon these “mistakes,” I don’t believe anything resembling independence will ever be possible.

      In the end, that is why I have such ambivalence about celebrating Israeli Independence Day. As I wrote in an earlier post, “I’ve come to believe that for me, Yom Ha’atzmaut is more appropriately observed as an occasion for reckoning and honest soul searching.”

      1. Simcha Daniel Burstyn

        Thanks for the good wishes, Brant. I just returned from a week in Jerusalem and Bet Jalla with my students. We spent a day in Bet Jalla and Wallaje, so yes, I know what you mean. I think one of the biggest difficulties for everyone involved – mostly on both ends of the political spectrum, less so perhaps for those in the middle – is that after 43 years of no borders, no boundaries, for good and for bad, the prospect of a border which requires crossing at certain locations only, with permits etc., seems unbearable.

  6. Steve

    A toddler is playing with a gun on display at an open military base on Independence day. This picture could have been photographed anywhere around the world. Families go to military bases on patriotic types of national holidays. People aren’t thinking about killing. They are taking pride in their country and respecting those who risk theirvlives to protect their nation.

    There is no benign explanation for dressing a baby as a suicide bomber.

  7. Rx4pabulum

    Sometimes I have to wonder what world people think they live in. Are people not aware that there is an occupation taking place? One that is morally repugnant.I like Rabbi Brant Rosen’s blog and read it often. I know that Jews instinctively know that their sacred tradition and own tragic history requires them to speak out against all oppression committed in their midst. Yet some people find it very easy/ convenient t0 to blame the Palestinians for all their troubles and actually believe that Israel is acting in self- defense, but you have to know that’s not the whole truth.

  8. Vicky


    If people see a toddler playing as a gun as a normal expression of patriotism and pride, it’s because this is what they have grown accustomed to. We can get used to a lot of things. That doesn’t make them right. In fact, it’s the very ease with which we normalise such things that is so disturbing. I went to an Armed Forces Day in Britain last summer that had an army recruitment booth located in between a fairground ride and a bouncy castle. Fortunately I wasn’t the only one who saw something amiss about that, but there were plenty of people in attendance who could find nothing wrong with marketing the military to adolescents as something fun and exciting, all part of a nice day out.

    A gun is a weapon of death. It’s never benign. If you take pride in weapons, what you mean is you are taking pride in the amount of damage your country has inflicted on others. That’s not a good sign, ever.

  9. Julia

    These pictures are so disappointing. Actually the one that was the most disturbing to me was the last one -the bulletin board. Let your kid covort around automatic weapons or dress your unsuspecting toddler as a suicide bomber – but telling your child at at young age that lots of people hate him for merely existing as a Jew – that indicates and seeks to create a child who feels justified in hating other people because s/he has been taught that they hated him first…..

  10. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

    To their credit, there are many Israelis who are increasingly disturbed that their nation is increasingly moving toward the embrace of a “cult of death.”

    Here is a recent Ha’aretz editorial that responds sharply to a new Education Ministry program that would have Israeli junior high and high school students adopt memorial sites and soldiers’ graves:

    The Israeli education system has trouble imparting sufficient knowledge to its students in many subjects. Perhaps the heritage of heroism and sacrifice in battle is one of them, but it is doubtful that it is an essential topic. Battlefield heritage should be taught first and foremost in the Israel Defense Forces. Schools should concentrate on imparting knowledge and values, both national and universal. Adoration of the dead, heroic and exalted as they may have been, is a death cult and not the heritage of life.


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