Our minds balk in the face of biblical-scale catastrophes of the sort visited last week on the Iranian city of Bam. As the earthquake’s victim count rises into meaningless strings of digits — 20,000 dead, then 25,000, then 30,000 and still climbing — we become numb. What, precisely, is the meaning of “limitless”? How can the human mind grasp such numbers? How can one heart contain all that grief?
And so we seize on the little stories that encapsulate the bigger one, knowing that every life lost — or saved — contains an entire world: the infant found alive, cradled in her dead mother’s arms for three days; the 7-year-old boy found alive in the ruins and then suffocated by the mob rushing to extricate him. These represent the horror of a city obliterated. We measure our grief one life at a time.
It is impossible to know exactly how many additional lives were lost unnecessarily by the churlish refusal of the mullahs in Tehran to accept help from Israel. Alone among the nations of the world, Israel was deemed unfit to assist in the desperate hunt for survivors.
By singling out Israel as unworthy to join the human family in the most elementary act of decency, the Iranian regime demonstrated nothing but its own indecency. Sadly, its act of demonization will resonate among Muslim extremists elsewhere, further inflaming hatred of the Jewish state and guaranteeing that more mothers, both Jewish and Muslim, will continue weeping for children unnecessarily lost in future tragedies.
Beyond its appalling cruelty, there was a bitter irony in the Iranian decision. Israel’s search-and-rescue teams are more skilled than perhaps any in the world at finding survivors and extricating them from the rubble of collapsed buildings. Compounding the irony, those rescue skills have been honed through years of painful experience, forced on the Jewish state by armies of terrorist bombers, many of them dispatched by Iran.
Israel’s president, Moshe Katsav, had it right when he called on his nation’s citizens to overlook the regime’s slight and to find ways of assisting the survivors through donations to international organizations. The victims of the earthquake do not deserve to be punished for the indecency of their rulers.
American Jews and other friends of Israel should respond in the same manner, by digging deep and doing all they can to help. The best answer to inhumanity is a vigorous reassertion of humanity.