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Monday, March 10, 2008

When words of consolation fall on deaf ears

It merited a modest mention in the Israeli media, and went unmentioned outside our borders... an IDF soldier in the Givati Brigade, 20 year old Staff Sgt. Liran Banai (Z"L), died Sunday morning of wounds he sustained during a routine patrol along the Gaza border last week.

He and his comrades had been driving along the Israeli side of the border near Kibbutz Eyn HaShloshah when a bomb was detonated directly under their vehicle.  As rescue workers arrived at the scene, the Palestinians across the border sprung a well planned ambush of sniper fire and mortars.  It was only at the risk of many lives that the dead and wounded were able to be evacuated from the scene.

The soldier who had been in the front seat beside Liran was killed instantly, and the soldiers in the rear sustained relatively light injuries.  But although Liran lost both of his legs in the blast, the doctor's kept him alive long after they probably would have given up on another patient.  In fact, by all rights, Liran probably shouldn't have been allowed to serve in a combat unit.  But I'll get to the reason for that in a moment.

Now, I'm no stranger to terrible funerals.  On Friday Zahava and I attended the incredibly difficult funeral of a 16 year old boy who was cut down at Merkaz HaRav.  We stood just a few feet from the small, tallit-wrapped body as the murdered boy's family poured out their grief at his loss... and expressed heartfelt gratitude for the gift of those 16 years they'd been allowed to share with him.  But for all their eloquence, and having received the small relief of saying a proper good-bye, each of those who got up to speak knew that their parting words were, quite literally, falling on deaf ears.

However, in the case of Liran Banai, the parent's he left behind could not eulogize him in a way that would be easily understood, nor easily share their pain with their friends and family.  They couldn't fully appreciate the words of comfort offered by Liran's sister (also a soldier) or by those who gathered to help them bury their only son.

[Update: Contrary to some news reports a helpful commenter has informed me that Liran is survived by a younger brother

You see, Liran's parents, Guy and Gila Banai are both deaf mutes whose primary conduits to the world were their son Liran and his surviving sister. 

[Update: While most news reports I read yesterday indicated that Liran's parents could neither hear nor speak, at least one commenter has seen an interview where his father was able to speak.]

While the unimaginable pain of losing a child can sometimes, in some small way, be made manageable through the eloquent expression of anguish... and the salve of neighborly compassion can perhaps help keep the very worst of the grief at bay... Liran Banai's parents remain isolated in a world of silent, perpetual grief.  I don't know how this couple's only son was allowed to be placed in harm's way.

May they somehow be comforted among the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem.

[Update: I have been informed that 'Deaf Mute' is considered derogatory.  I have to admit I don't keep up with all the latest terminology in this field, but I used the exact phrasology found in at least one of the news reports.  I would appreciate it if someone would let me know the more PC way to describe someone who can neither hear nor speak.

One last thought.  Yes, the parent's condition does matter to the depth of this tragedy.  It may be un-PC to say so, but nothing anyone can tell me will convince me otherwise. ]

Posted by David Bogner on March 10, 2008 | Permalink


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Tracked on Mar 10, 2008 5:09:09 AM


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David, is it possible that I saw Zehava on the TV, at the funeral?

Not only the fate of this young man and his family is horrible, also the fate of the tracker who was killed immediately. he was a Bedouin, and his family dared not publish his name for fear of retaliation by Israeli Arabs who hate Israel.

It is a bitter war we fight, and there are many questions without answers.

Posted by: Lila | Mar 10, 2008 2:16:54 AM

Two notes: Liran also has a 12 year old brother. Secondly, he was not required to join the IDF, given his parents' deafness. He volunteered (and for a combat unit!) against his parents wishes.

A tragedy all around.


Posted by: matlabfreak | Mar 10, 2008 7:11:00 AM

Excuse this off topic comment, but as someone who has worked with the deaf, the term deaf-mute is a very derogatory term. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaf-mute

Deaf is the correct term...especially since they do communicate.

Posted by: Safranit | Mar 10, 2008 7:39:53 AM

Certainly at least the father is not mute because I saw him on the TV news speaking (and crying) after the funeral. It was absolutely heart-rending.

And obviously this makes not the slightest difference to the tragedy of the death of this soldier HY'D.

Posted by: annie | Mar 10, 2008 8:05:54 AM

the Bedouin tracker was from an "unrecognised settlemsnt" which meant that at any time his house could be destroyed, his family's crops sprayed (along with the kids) and herds confiscated. Does the phrase "Hearts and Minds" come to mind?
We have seen too much killing, when will it end?

Posted by: asher | Mar 10, 2008 9:45:02 AM

Lila... Yes. Very likely as we were standing very near the body. If you saw the scene that Nadia Matar caused at the end of the funeral (screaming at Avi Dichter) you may have also seen me (among others) trying to get her to shut the hell up.

matlabfreak... My question was how was he allowed to serve in a combat unit, not why was he required to.

Safranit... It is the way I've seen it in the news. Please let me know what is preferable. I'd also like to know why deaf mute is now unacceptable since it seems to aptly describe the person's limitations.

annie... I respectfully disagree. There are no degrees of suffering when a parent loses a child. Both are beyond contemplation for anyone with kids. But when a parent (or both) have severe disabilities that they have had to overcome in life, a blow like this seems magnified to the outside observer. That was my point.

asher... I'm afraid to ask, but what, exactly, was your point?

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 10, 2008 11:59:46 AM

I didn't see you but I saw Zehava. I even said out loud: that's Zehava. And everybody looked at me and went?????

I couldn't see much because I cried but you have a very beautiful wife.

Posted by: Lila | Mar 10, 2008 12:28:45 PM

Lila... Agreed

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 10, 2008 12:34:00 PM

without wanting to detract from the tragedy of 10 families (the 11th is a different question as to whether it's also a tragedy), my point with regard to Southern Bedouin is that so far(...) the Islamic movement has not seriously weakened (as in the North) their desire to serve in the IDF. Recent Israeli policies are doing that, though. If we don't want the next intifada to include those soldiers who guard our southern borders, we'd better see how they are treated once out of uniform.

Posted by: asher | Mar 10, 2008 3:04:34 PM

Many years ago in England I worked with Deaf and Deaf-Blind people. We called the deaf that were also mute _"Deaf without speech". The father in this sad situation was able to speak resonably coherently and be understood on the radio even though they did have an interpreter for him.

Posted by: Shelley Bloom | Mar 10, 2008 3:19:45 PM

asher... Your point is well taken that the IDF can and should do more to rebuild the trust it once had with the Bedouin volunteers... but your hint that the death of the terrorist was also a tragedy is beyond distasteful. This man made a conscious decision (after extensive preparation) to walk into a high school and murder as many children as he could. If the Government would allow me I would bring a vat of pig fat to the morgue and smear it all over his body in front of his family (a family that is celebrating him as a holy martyr) so that they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not going to paradise. There is quite simply no excuse for his actions... and even less excuse for his family (and the Palestinian community at large) to be celebrating this massacre.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 10, 2008 3:22:39 PM

Shelley Bloom... Sorry Shelly, our comments seem to have passed in the ether. Thank you for the clarification.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 10, 2008 3:24:03 PM

Since the first "D" in JDMDad is for "Deaf", I wanted to provide my comment on the Deaf-mute issue.

I didn't go to the Wikipedia link yet, because I want to give you my answer without being influenced by what other people say. I'll read it after I type this up.

One caveat... I only know from the perspective of Deaf life in the U.S., not Israel. Here, Deaf people don't like the term. It was sort of a crutch for the older term "Deaf and Dumb" which we like even less!

We are just Deaf. Some deaf people (such as me) speak, some don't. If we need to point that out in more detail, we'd say something like "Bob is deaf, he can talk with hearing people." And even that goes in various degrees. Some speak very well, some are hard to understand, and some can't be understood unless you know them and are used to their speech. (But all should be given a chance to try talking if they want to... a former girlfriend of mine was very upset when she was handed a pen and paper after trying to ask for something at a video store).

Okay, I'm probably going into too much detail, so the short answer again, at least here in the U.S., Deaf people don't like the term "Deaf mute."

Now I'll go read the Wiki article...

Wow, looks like I got the history wrong... I didn't know the phrase was used as far back as the Code of Hammurabi. Anyway, I'm not asking you to change your terminology, since you later showed your own confusion about the term, but hope this helps from my perspective.

JDMDad / Jewish Deaf Motorcycling Dad

Posted by: JDMDad | Mar 10, 2008 4:02:03 PM

12 years ago, when I was spending a year in Israel here, there was a terrible tragedy where a Jordanian soldier killed 7 eighth grade girls from Bet Shemesh, who were on a field trip to Naharayim. I went to visit each of the shiva homes, and at one home there were two deaf parents. Their only child, indeed their only link to the world was one of those eighth graders. I remember the Minister of Health coming on a shiva visit while I was there, and he couldn't convey anything. I spoke sign language at the time, but American Sign Language, so I wasn't of much help. I'll never forget how alone those parents seemed. Out of all the shiva houses, theirs was by far the saddest.

Posted by: Noa | Mar 10, 2008 5:00:57 PM

I don't mean for this to sound offensive at all, am simply curious as to why "mute" is considered derogatory but "deaf" is acceptable, since "mute" means someone who literally cannot use thir own voice to speak and "deaf" means someone who cannot hear sounds. I'd like to understand how the two adjectives evolved in such different ways.

Posted by: Lioness | Mar 10, 2008 9:07:45 PM

maybe "mute" rings like a contraction of "mutation" which I hasten to add it is NOT. Dave (balashon) could help here?

Posted by: asher | Mar 12, 2008 9:51:10 AM

I took part in the treatment of this soldier and you can read my account here

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Mar 13, 2008 12:56:08 AM

Trep. Of course the death is more tragic for these parents, given the hand they've already been dealt. I still find it odd that we try to make everyone equal in all ways, when the only way that counts (to me) is equal dignity.

Off-topic, re: "deaf-mute," I shouldn't worry. Compassion is obvious, as is contempt, no matter the phrase we use, and it is the compassion or contempt that is key, don't you think? I'd rather someone had compassion on "Mongoloids" then had contempt for "people with Down's Syndrome."

But maybe I'm getting old and out of sync; I admit it.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Mar 13, 2008 4:27:35 AM

Oops, sorry bad link. here

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Mar 13, 2008 8:28:15 AM

Can you supply a link to some of the media coverage on the Liran Banai story. Thank you for all the information on Liran and his family it has been extremely helpful.

Posted by: Cremation Guy | May 29, 2008 7:25:40 AM

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