Friday, January 18, 2008

A Tale of Two Deaths

Carlos Chavez was murdered this week, another foreigner who put himself in harm's way and became a casualty of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Of course, the other foreigner I refer to was Rachel Corrie, an idealistic young American student who chose to go to Gaza out of solidarity with the Palestinian people. The differences in the circumstances of their presence in the Middle East, and of their deaths, are noteworthy not only for what they teach us about the conflict itself, but what they teach us about the manipulation of public opinion.

Rachel Corrie of Washington State, as any observer of the issue is undoubtedly aware, has been canonized by the opponents of Israel into an amalgam of Mother Teresa and Joan of Arc. Of course, the fact that she was photographed burning a paper American flag in front of a group of Palestinian children isn't seen as anything detracting from her reputation (or that of the Palestinian children, who are quite used to indoctrination into hatred thanks to their own media). We really don't know much about the political leanings of Carlos Chavez of Quito Ecuador, except that he, unlike Ms Corrie and her memorial choir, thought it perfectly acceptable to spend time in a Jewish state planting potatoes on a communal farm.

Rachel Corrie died while trying to interfere with an Israel Defense Forces action against a house used for smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip. While accounts of the actual incident vary, there is no doubt that she deliberately placed herself in harm's way and was attempting to block the IDF from demolishing the structure. Carlos Chavez, it could be said, also placed himself in harm's way just by being in the state of Israel; he was shot in the back by a sniper while working in the fields near the border with Gaza. His murderer didn't know who he was; didn't care whether he was Jewish, Christian, Buddhist or atheist; didn't ask his opinion on the two-state solution, or settlements, or the so-called "right" of return. Chavez was targeted because he was in the state of Israel. Just like the 12 civilians in Sderot who were killed by Qassam missiles--(of which the raw materials are smuggled in through houses in Gaza like the one Rachel Corrie was trying to protect):

June 28, 2004 - Afik Ohion Zehavi, 4, killed when a rocket lands in his nursery school in Sderot.
June 28, 2004 - Mordechai Yosephus, 49, killed when a rocket lands in a kindergarten in Sderot.
Sept. 29, 2004 - Dorit Inso, 2, killed when two rockets hit her residence building.
Sept. 29, 2004 - Yuval Abeva, 4, killed when two rockets hit his residence building.
Jan. 15, 2005 - Ayala Haya Abukasis, 17, killed when a rocket hits Sderot.
July 15, 2005 - Dana Gelkowitz, 22, killed by a Qassam that strikes a home in Moshav Nativ Ha'asara.
March 28, 2006 - A Bedouin father and son, Salam Ziadin and Khalid, 16, killed when a Qassam rocket they find in the Nahal Oz area explodes.
Nov. 11, 2006 - Faina Slutzker, 57, killed when a rocket hits the street where she is walking near the home of Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
Nov. 21, 2006 - Yaakov Yaakobovich, 43, killed while at work in a Sderot poultry processing plant.
May 21, 2007 - Shir-el Friedman, 35, killed in Sderot when a rocket hits a car she is walking near.May 27, 2007 - Oshri Oz, 36, is killed in Sderot when a rocket hits the car he is driving.

Sderot is a civilian town; there are no Israeli army installations, no missiles are launched from the town. But it's a town full of Israelis, and that's reason enough for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to try to indiscriminately slaughter them.

The Consul General of Israel in San Francisco personally contacted Rachel Corrie's parents to express his country's regrets. As far as we know, nobody from Hamas or Islamic Jihad has contacted the family of Carlos Chavez to apologize (and what would they say? "We're sorry, we assumed he was a Jewish son of apes and pigs so therefore deserved a bullet in his chest; if we had known he was just a Christian infidel then we would have only winged him"?).

Rachel Corrie is the subject of adorational prose, theatre, websites, and even songs. But those in Israel, and those who support Israel, don't like to use tragic deaths for political "gotcha" points. They don't take photos of casualties who then stand up and walk away, and they don't claim that victims of their own mines were the result of attacks from the other side. They don't celebrate the deaths of their civilians as "martyrs" and they don't celebrate the deaths of civilians on the other side, either. So I don't think we're going to see any plays or songs about Carlos Chavez.

In America and Europe, Rachel Corrie's visage is prominently displayed at a variety of anti-Israel events. Of course, those exploiting her death in support of the elimination of Israel wouldn't have cared a whit about her had she been gunned down while planting potatoes at Ein Hashlosha, any more than they care about Carlos Chavez, or about Afik Zehavi and the others who died in Sderot. Because for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, being in Israel is enough of a reason to be killed; and for too many of those around the world who rally around Rachel Corrie's picture, it's enough of a reason not to care.