The first time I remember being really affected by the amount of death I have to deal with on a daily basis at my job was the day that a soldier was stabbed to death at a checkpoint, another soldier was crushed from the waist up in an APV accident at a base in the north, some 35 Iraqis were killed in a suicide bombing and another dozen people suffered the same fate when a Bangladeshi cyclist rode into a group of people gawking at a defused bomb. I was supposed to keep writing.
Later that day, on the bus to Jerusalem, I overheard the guy sitting next to me talking to his brother on the phone, and heard that the soldier at the checkpoint was his friend.
It's impossible not to take all these deaths personally. But getting stuck in fear is a bad idea if you work in news. I started working at Haaretz during the disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank, an excessively prepared-for circus that could have been a thousand times worse than it was. And then: three Israeli teenagers shot to death at a Gush Etzion hitchhike post, five more dead in a bombing at the entrance to a Netanya shopping mall that had been hit three times before, a whole slew of Qassam rockets and IAF missiles tossed back and forth over Gaza and the western Negev, 1,000 killed in a stampede in Iraq, another hundreds then hundreds then hundreds in suicide bombings in Baghdad, dozens killed by riots over a cartoon, a string of Palestinian kids killed by falling shells, another string of militants killed by more shells, a haredi father killing his son, an Ethiopian man killing his wife and then himself - all human and destroyed and faceless.
When the falafel stand in Tel Aviv was bombed a couple of weeks ago, I tried to stay detached. It had been hit before, I wouldn't go there, and 10 blocks could be really far if I let it. I heard there was an American teen wounded in the attack, and I tried to stay removed, even as every aspect of this attack kept hitting closer and closer to home.
But I couldn't stay detached, and I am not detached. Every fatality and every causalty, even when numbering among so many others, is an individual who within seconds had his or her life changed without any warning. This American teen, who has an Israeli parent, and looks like such a good, nice guy, a kid, is now going to wake up every morning - if he makes it - and after a split-second remember that he was the victim in a suicide bombing a couple days into a week-long trip visiting relatives in Israel and now everything is different. His story is everywhere on the internet, even though his parents have tried to keep the information among friends. He's not faceless. He is the wounded hero, whether he wants it or not.
Nine people were killed in that attack aside from the suicide bomber and eight more are still hospitalized, one other in serious condition. Newspapers showing images of the attack show the destroyed falafel stand, and then slip in a bunch of photos of the bomber - one that looks like a school photo, another of him dressed in black with a yellow headband, pointing a gun directly at the camera. There are images of his family crying, his mother's face wrecked and wrinkled, passing out photos of their martyr. Their hero.
The bomber chose to be this martyr, this hero, out of frustration and complete pessimism that anything better could come of his life. Out of occupation. Out of brainwash. This American teenager chose a shwarma, and ended up critically wounded, representing all Israelis, all Jews. The bomber was targeting Israelis, his oppressors - he wasn't out for this kid in particular, or for any of the nine particular people who died because of him - but that's who he got.
It didn't matter that neither this American Jew, nor any of the people who died, were his particular oppressors - to the bomber, all Jews in this land are oppressors, and it was up to him to fight. War is war. Innocent or guilty, fatalities and casualties are part of war. War is not supposed to be personal. But it is - every Israeli kid, every Palestinian kid, every American tourist, every soldier, every European peaceworker, everybody, everybody who is struck in war is an individual, a person. Each life worth an immense value, impossible to express. They become the hero, the individual who suffers on behalf of everyone else. There's the hero or martyr who chooses this fate out of frustration, desperation, or hate, and there's the hero who never wanted to be a hero or a martyr in the first place. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Who's the victim? Who's the hero? Who's the martyr? It's a lose-lose situation.