Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why are these victims different from all others? מה נשתה הנפגע הזה

As I wrote nearly a year ago, while Israelis won’t touch the word “political” with a ten-foot pole, curiously they have no problem politicizing issues that should remain outside the political arena. Or perhaps I should say “co-opting” or “exploiting for cynical purposes”. I’m referring to the myriad non-profits (seven are listed here not including One Family; another five here) whose stated purpose is serving the surviving family members of Israelis who have been killed in terror attacks. I have two problems — or shall I say discomforts — with these organizations:

The first is that I notice that the vast majority of the children they serve (you see them on organized outings and weekends) appear to be Orthodox, which prompts me to ask: What? Non-Orthodox aren’t killed in terror attacks? Or is there something else going on?

The second is that, while my experience with loss and bereavement is fortunately and admittedly scant, I don’t understand why children who lose parents in a terror attack are in a category separate from those who, say, lose parents in a traffic collision, God forbid, or to the Versailles [wedding hall] collapse. Do the former’s needs differ from the latter’s? Or is it possible that the former is “sexier” in terms of keeping the fans of bigotry flamed and / or eliciting sympathy for what is termed the “pro-Israel cause”?

Out of curiosity, I wrote to two such organizations: One Family, and another whose name I can’t recall, as they never replied. I wrote: Do your services extend to Arab victims of terror, such as the victims of Eden Natan Zada in 2005? Or the families of those gunned down in the Cave of the Patriarchs mosque in 1994?

Yehuda Poch of One Family was kind enough to reply courteously: “Shalom Yam:
Our services extend to all victims of anti-Israel terror since September 2000.
That includes Druze, Beduin, Israeli Arabs, and foreign residents/citizens.
Eden Natan-Zada's attack, while horrible, was not an attack against Israel.”

To which I replied: "Interesting. So if one of Zada's victims happened to have been Jewish? And who determines who's Jewish? My friend is the child of an Arab father and Jewish mother. She could easily have been riding a bus in Shfar'am. How do you determine an individual's eligibility for your services?"

Poch’s reply: “Hi, Miriam: Eligibility for our services has nothing to do with the ethnicity of the victim – or of the attacker. It has to do with the nature of the attack. If the attack is an anti-Israel terror attack, then the victims are eligible for assistance.

For instance, an Arab bus driver driving a bus that was bombed would be classified as a victim of an anti-Israel terror attack, and would be eligible for our assistance (as in fact has happened in more than one instance).

If one of Zada's victims happened to have been Jewish, such as your friend's child, s/he would have been eligible for the same government assistance provided to all the Arab victims, if there was any. But they would not have been classified as victims of anti-Israel terror, either by the government or by us.”

Me: “How is ‘a terror act against Israel’ determined? If an Arab enters a mall and starts randomly shooting people, is it assumed to have a nationalistic motive? Who / which agency(s) determine whether a random act of violence is terror?”

Poch: “That decision is left up to the police and/or military authorities. In general, while a case such as you describe would almost automatically be ruled a terror attack, there are cases that are far less cut-and-dried.

For instance, a few years ago an eight-year-old was raped and murdered in Beit Shemesh, by an Arab. That case was never ruled a terror attack. There have been others.

There was even a case about four years ago of a Kassam attack in Sderot wherein a boy was killed in the explosion, and he was never ruled a victim of terror because he was ill and the authorities ruled that he died of a reaction of his illness.

There are cases that are contested, and cases that are not. We, as an organization, are limited to helping only those recognized as terror victims by the State authorities.”

Fair enough, and while Poch deserves credit for taking my queries seriously and responding to them thoughtfully, the two discomforts I have with these organizations remain*. If anyone has any insight thereto, I’d be pleased to hear it.

* No critique of Poch here; I did not address my discomforts with him.


  1. Yam, I can’t speak to the Orthodox/not concern because I really don’t have knowledge in that area, but I will say that an organization whose mission is to help victims of terror certainly has a right thereto. It is not our place to dictate or question the mission of such an organization. Their mission statement seems clear enough, from what you described (I haven’t read their missions statements, so I can’t speak of that, only of what you said in your article.)

    It’s like telling organizations that help AIDS patients that they should also help victims of other diseases. It’s not right to expect such an organization to help people with, say, cancer. Both are horrible. And unfortunately there is a need for too many organizations such as these. No shortage in this world of opportunities for Tikkun Olam, unfortunately.

  2. Karen, my question is rather whether the needs of children who lose a family member to terror differ from those who lose a family member to some other sudden tragedy, i.e., is an organization catering specifically to the former necessary? Or is it just a way to exploit terror for not-so-constructive ends?

  3. There are so many worthy person needs in the world, but needs alone are natural and need not always be satisfied by outside efforts; needs of persons which arise due to natural calamity, war or bad behavior by others should be satisfied by the general community - often that means the government. I am generally suspicious of new organizations which are created to raise funds for persons in special circumstances, first, because of the above reason and secondly, most often when more than one fund raising effort is begun for the same thing, the purpose being the satisfaction of the organizer. YYbYZhL

  4. Maybe different in some respects. I'm not a shrink. But if someone is killed in a terror attack, I could see a child having fear of crowds/buses/going to sleep at night (if they're killed at home, G-d forbid)... whatever the particular situation was. I think it is also very different when someone is purposely killed/injured vs. an accident or an illness. For instance, a victim of child abuse, by a parent or another adult, would have different issues than someone who was a victim of a car accident or illness. I don't believe these organizations are set up to exploit terror. I believe they are set up to help victims.

  5. Good point, YY. Karen, good points too. Thanks for commenting, guys. If I've caused one reader to question and not just accept "what is" as a given, I've accomplished my goal.