The brutal murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, which seems to have been perpetrated by Jews, caught most of Israeli society by surprise. With hardly enough time to grieve for the deaths of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrah and Gil-Ad Shaer, news of a young Arab having been burned alive in the Jerusalem Forest has shifted the attention to this hideous act.
This murder, along with preceding demonstrations by Jews in the streets of Jerusalem calling for revenge and justice, seems unprecedented in its nature. While it’s true Israel has known worse and more horrifying acts of terrorism when compared to the murder of the teenagers, this time the Israeli public’s perceptions were different.
If in the past, victims of Arab violence were deemed “peace victims,” today the public cannot see them as such because it completely lost its faith in the peace process. Back then, when peace was believed to be just around the corner, any “hits” along the way were considered to be worth the effort of long-lasting peace that would end the violence once and for all.
But today, Oslo is dead.
In addition, the past few years have been – relatively speaking – quiet and peaceful. Acts of terrorism from Judea and Samaria have been few and far between.
The government has made many concessions to the Palestinians: removal of checkpoints, economic gestures, strengthened ties with the PA and its security forces and so forth.
With no answer to anything that is happening, Haaretz published an editorial blaming the Right for inciting violence and issued a call to stop Israeli society from becoming too extreme – of course, by educating the Israeli public in the values of Haaretz’s editors.
But the murder of 16-year-old Abu Khdeir is not similar in nature to the murder spree of Baruch Goldstein or the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Instead, this murder is a direct consequence of lack of leadership in Israeli society and the lack of new, inspiring ideas to drive us forward.
In this leadership void, citizens feel they have been left alone to deal with the hard reality we live in.
When you are alone and you don’t have faith in your institutions, such as the army, the police, the judicial branch and the media (with politicians attracting yhe most contempt) – taking matters into your own hands is but a small step away.
Easy perhaps to write in hindsight, but consider the protests that followed the incident involving David Admov, the Nahal Brigade soldier. Thousands of soldiers and citizens uploaded photos of themselves to Facebook showing support for the soldier and taking a stand against the rules of engagement dictated by the IDF.
With recent reports affirming the three teenagers’ deaths, again citizens and soldiers took to Facebook to express their desire for protest and revenge. Demonstrations in the streets, mostly by young people who expressed anger and frustration, chanting superficial and gross remarks such as “death to the Arabs,” were soon to come. The eclipse came in the form of an actual murder.
We do not yet know the murderers’ identities (and of course, as of now they are still only suspects) but my guess is that these are somewhat “faceless” citizens of our society. People not belonging to any specific sector or ideological group. Being young, it’s easy for them to be attracted to radical – while at the same time superficial – ideas. Hastiness, anger, hate and collectivism are probably the driving forces behind their actions.
But these low values and ideas can be easily managed and redirected – if you have someone at the top who is in charge. If we had leadership that knew what to say and more importantly, what to do, an incident like this could never have happened.
It is the lack of purpose, ideals and leadership that leaves the stage to the mindless young, who are quick to pull the trigger and commit senseless acts of brutality.
Government’s most important role is to protect the rights of its individual citizens. That is what legitimizes the state’s monopoly on the use of physical force.
When the citizens do not feel protected, that legitimacy is breeched.
Consider the following:
• Israeli citizens see the routine mass release of prisoners from jail in what seems like a surreal cycle of illogic conduct by the government.
• The city of Sderot has understood long ago that in fact it is not the Israeli government that guarantees its safety, but only the terrorist organization Hamas, tragically, that decides whether residents of Sderot will have a day free of missiles or not.
• Arab uprisings inside the Green Line are met with clueless government policies.
• Devastating arson every summer is just something the Israeli public has become accustomed to.
• Stonings, stabbings, fire-bombings and the occasional shooting are a burden Israelis are simply expected to cope with.
It is to this sort of reality residents of this country wake up every day; feelings of betrayal, broken promises, senseless acts of violence, insecurity channeled by the government and the disparity created by unfolding events of the Middle East, influencing our culture and frightening us all at once.
Unless real leadership arises from this chaos, leadership that can inspire new ideas and rally people to the cause, that will give tough answers in times of crisis and offer serious solutions, the distress and violence we see on the streets today will only increase, on both sides, taking the history of Jews and Arabs to a new and even darker place than before.