We are all Rosemarie Fritzl

We don’t want to know what’s happening behind closed doors, on the other side of the wall, the crimes being committed as we turn away and ignore them. A post marking our golden wedding anniversary with the occupation.

There are things that we choose to ignore, but which we are obligated to know. (John Snape, CC 3.0/Wikipedia)
There are things that we choose to ignore, but which we are obligated to know. (John Snape, CC 3.0/Wikipedia)

Trigger warning: Crimes exposed
Trigger warning: Crimes not yet revealed.

Were Israeli society a human being, it would be Rosemarie Fritzl, an Austrian woman who for decades managed to ignore the nightmares taking place in her basement and would have continued to ignore them had she been not forced to reckon with them.

When Josef Fritzl, her husband and the father of her grandchildren, was caught in 2008 and his crimes revealed (there are not enough trigger warnings in the world to be able cite them all here), she claimed she knew nothing. The court believed her and excused her from testifying. Her daughter Elisabeth believed her too, but was furious with her. Jozef Fritzl had been convicted of rape once before, when the couple was quite young; had Rosemarie thrown him out of the house when he was first caught in the ‘60s, she would have saved Elisabeth the endless and unbelievable nightmare that awaited her.

I also believe Rosemarie, but in a limited way. Because I know that if she had had the slightest inclination to know, she would have known. It is much more comfortable to believe that Josef goes down to the cellar to quietly read a book and not … again, let’s not get into it. Even I prefer not to know. In reality the question isn’t whether Rosemarie knew but how much she knew, and how she coped with her doubts.

Every secret has an expiration date. In 24 years, Rosemarie must have noticed that there was a locked door or some other strange feature in the basement. Josef may have placed a sign at the entrance to the cellar: “Palestinian Authority Territory Area A ahead, No Entry to Israelis, Entry is illegal by Israeli law.” If that was indeed the case, it is easy to understand Rosemarie. It is important to obey authoritative instructions.

A sign forbidding Israeli Jews from entering Area A in the West Bank, which is under PA control. (photo: Tadmeet)
A sign forbidding Israeli Jews from entering Area A in the West Bank, which is under PA control. (photo: Tadmeet)

Perhaps Rosemarie still opened the door and found another door behind it, and so on and so forth to the eighth door, and of all places, there, at the last door, Alice got tired of Horrorland and retreated. Perhaps she quizzed her husband about all those doors. Perhaps in response he boasted about the additional security technologies which he had developed: tiny drones, sensors, endless fences, “Mistaravim” undercover units.

Maybe Rosemarie had even noticed that Joseph was taking food to the cellar, and figured out that there were people in there. Maybe she asked him about it. Maybe he explained to her that there were terrorists in there and then comforted her with a funny story about Palestinian hunger strikers. Rosemarie was so amused that she laughed to tears and through the tears she found it hard to see that she was married to Satan.

Forget Satan, she must have thought he was an angel. After all, he had picked up no fewer than three homeless children and supported them. If she knew who those “homeless children” really were, and where their three siblings were hidden, she would have gone crazy. It is better to believe in the impossible. Perhaps the 500-year-old olive tree really grew naturally in the middle of the traffic circle in the 93-year-old town of Herzliya. Even if the tree hadn’t grown there, it must have been bought from the farmer for good money. In any case, the IDF is sacred.

I believe in humanity. I love people. I believe that most people who are involved in terrible deeds or who support such deeds will recognize that these deeds are terrible if they have no choice, but the need for such a choice is huge, especially when the terrible deed has been going on for years, and especially if we’ve been too acquiescent. 

Totally insane mechanisms of denial and justification of the system are working to satisfy this need, to spare us the pain, the shame, the need to renounce our way of life. The State of Israel makes it easier for these mechanisms to be effective among us and ease our burden, just as Josef did everything in his power to make it easy for his Rosemarie to accept things.

Our mission as human beings is to identify these mechanisms and beat them because we are better and stronger than that. To hold millions of people under military rule for half a century is insane. It can be excused in a million ways, but at the end of the day it is Fritzl-like. The system makes sure to hide the cellar from us, to soften us up, excuse, blame others. The system works on our inner Rosemarie. We must respond to it in a different voice, and not a moment too soon, because time is running out.

After Fritzl’s crimes were exposed, Rosemarie lamented that her life had been destroyed. This is how we too would feel when the mask is removed from the occupation. Rosemarie now lives alone in public housing in Linz. We would not be so fortunate. We do not have public housing.

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Translated by Sol Salbe.

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