May 1, 2006

From Israel’s Terror Front

Letter From A Young Physician

By David Paulin

An emotional letter from a young Israeli physician who treated victims of the April 17th suicide bombing in Tel Aviv is remarkable for what it lacks: a sense of hatred. Dr. Ory Wiesel’s letter provides a viewpoint that the mainstream media either overlooks or reduces to pithy quotes and sound bites.

Dr. Ory Wiesel headed to his regular shift at a Tel Aviv emergency room with a mundane concern – to avoid being late. But hours after he arrived, he and other emergency-room workers were struggling to save scores of victims from the April 17th suicide bombing outside a falafel restaurant.

The New York Times reported the attack with a neatly crafted article below a succinct headline: “Suicide Bombing in Israel Kills 9; Hamas Approves.”

Bur for the story behind the story, there’s Dr. Wiesel. Not long after a traumatic 24-hour shift, he poured his emotions onto a computer keyboard. His heartfelt
letter of “impressions” has been circulating through e-mails and recently landed on the Augean Stables blog.

Dr. Wiesel connects to readers as he describes hours of frantic surgery, going from one patient to the next, with some dying beneath him. At least 50 people were injured in the attack just before 2 p.m.

Dr. Wiesel’s casual wording and grammatical slips give the letter a sense of authenticity and honesty; what one would expect if a friend dashed off a letter in a rush.

Writes Dr. Wiesel: “Exactly at 1340 we got the call that a suicide bomber hit a crowded Falafel Restaurant…As the 1st ambulance arrived we all rushed and started to work…I was treating the body guard of the restaurant, he stopped the terrorist with his own body, you can imagine in what state he was, we fought for him, but unfortunately he didn’t make it.”

Exploring a woman’s open abdomen to determine the source of her pain, he’s shocked at what he discovers: “A SCREW!!! It is unbelievable.”

What’s particularly remarkable about Dr. Wiesel’s letter, however, is what’s missing from it: Hatred.

The closest Dr. Wiesel comes to expressing anything remotely resembling hatred is when he recounts his thoughts the following day. Heading home, he buys a newspaper; and for the first time he sees family photographs of the victims, the “way they usually looked;” before they were “lying on my ER table, thanks to this devil (I don’t know of a different word that can describe him).”

That’s it. He calls the Palestinian suicide bomber, a 21-year-old college dropout named Sami Hammad, a “devil.” But like most Israelis, Dr. Wiesel never expresses hatred toward the Palestinian people; only those engaging in terrorism: Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaida.

Dr. Wiesel’s lack of hatred is impressive in light of what he’s just endured and because of what he surely knows; that most ordinary Palestinians may not be actively involved in terrorism, but they nonetheless admire “martyrs” such as Hammad - a reflection of what years of being saturated with hatred in schools and through mass media have done to Palestinian culture.

Dr. Wiesel’s letter contains another trait that is plentiful in healthy democracies: self-criticism. “I know that we are not saints as well,” admits the former soldier, referring to Israel’s military operations. But the Israel Defense Force, he adds, has always “tried to decrease the amount of innocent casualties to ZERO,” even canceling operations if needed. “We NEVER and will not EVER aim to hit the innocent!!!”

Building a healthy civil society and democracy depends on many traits, including self-criticism. But among too many Palestinians, the tendency is to blame others rather than to look inward to fix problems. I'm struck by how Palestinian workers regularly fume over temporary border closures and increased security checks following a terrorist attack.
But who do they blame? Certainly not the terrorists; they blame Israel.

Similarly, many Palestinians characterize Israel’s security fence as part of a plot to disenfranchise them. Few seem to acknowledge Israel’s need to be free of suicide bombings, which the wall has in fact reduced. Whether this lack of self-criticism is hard-wired into Arab culture or due to the region's lack of democracy is another question, one now being tested in Iraq.

What's undeniable, however, is the difficulty of reaching an accommodation with a person or culture gripped by hatred and lacking self-criticism; both flaws feed upon and strengthen one another. In contrast, Israel's culture has produced a free press full of varied viewpoints and self-criticism. By democratic standards, it's a measure of strength, although radical Islamists may think otherwise.

Dr. Wiesel registers one complaint; and that’s how the mainstream media covers the Israeli-Palestinians conflict - through a distorted narrative, he relates, in which “the ‘BIG’ and ‘EVIL’ Israeli army is against the poor Palestinian…but believe me - the things that I saw during those 6 hours in the ER/ OR/ family waiting rooms, is not something that the media should be filming, and if it would have been filmed, it would have left an impact 7 times much more then a tank driving in …Gaza.”

Until the “civilized world” eliminates terror groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaida, Dr. Wiesel observers, there can be “no visible solution” to the conflict. He concludes with an “optimistic” prayer - that blast victims “will be better soon, and hopefully the white dove signaling Peace will be flying again here in ISRAEL."

“You can FWD my mail to your friends, maybe by this way this war can be solved.”

All the best

Ory Wiesel


Richard Landes said...

thank you David. excellent essay that brings out the implications of Ory's essay. It bings to mind the experience of Brigitte Gabriel, who had something of a conversion experience when, escaping from civil-war ridden Lebanon in 1982 with her wounded mother, she saw, for the first time, a hospital where people got treated according to need, not status, religion, ethnicity, privilege.

that the media can't cover this clearly is a testament to its addiction to even-handedness: they can't praise israel, or criticize the palestinians without at the same time praising the palestinians, or criticizing israel. alas, the principle does not work in the other direction.

JMK2006 said...

Very good job at reading between the lines. An "ethics in journalism" lesson right there.

David Paulin said...

In response to the two previous posts by readers:

Richard: Thanks for those comments. Augean Stables is a terrific blog, incidentally. I wish I'd been able to take some classes from somebody like you back in college.

jmk2006: Thanks for those comments.