Following the murder of Sheli Dadon in Afula just over two weeks ago, and the police announcement that significant progress had been made in its investigation – an inflamed crowd in a demonstration in Afula, organized by Sheli’s family in her memory, and in favor of security for Israel’s Jewish citizens and against the release by Israel of Palestinian terrorists “with blood on their hands,” yelled “mavet la’aravim” – death to the Arabs.
That the murderer was an Arab was deduced from the police statement that progress had been made in the investigation, but that the motive for the murder was not yet known, though both nationalist and criminal motives were being investigated. If nationalist motives were being examined, the murderer( s) could be nothing other than Arab.
All too frequently inflamed crowds shamelessly yell “death to the Arabs,” against the background of a terrorist act, or just as a matter of course, as frequently occurs in Beitar Jerusalem football games, when Arab players are members of the opposite team. The shamelessly racist Jerusalem team has always been “Arab free,” and only for a brief period toward the end of Arkadi Gaydamak’s ownership of the Jerusalem football team did the enraged Russian maverick hire two Muslim players from Chechnya, just out of spite.
I do not remember when cries of “Death to the Arabs” began in Israel. I do not recall as a child being exposed to the phenomenon, though the fact that I grew up in bourgeois Mt. Carmel in Haifa, and the fact that there was no television at the time, might have been responsible. I do however recall reading (it must have been in children’s books, since I didn’t read newspapers at the time) that the battle cry during Arab anti-Jewish riots in Mandatory times was “itbah al yahud” – kill the Jews, following which Jews were slaughtered.
At least the cries of “death to the Arabs” have, to the present and to the best of my knowledge, never been followed by immediate cases of slaughter.
Nevertheless, the phenomenon is disturbing, and the fact that those responsible for yelling this slogan – whether adults, youth or children – are not reprimanded or punished – is unacceptable. In fact, a bill has recently been passed in the Knesset in preliminary reading that inter alia declares yelling at anyone “Nazi” a criminal offense. To the best of my knowledge no one has ever submitted a bill to the effect that extremist right-wingers (some of whom warrant being called Judeo-Nazis) yelling “death to the Arabs” should also be declared criminal offenders, though I am sure that if one were to dig deep enough into the existing criminal code, one would discover a provision that could be used even today to file criminal charges on these grounds. “When there is a will, there is a way.”
I am not saying that Israelis should be forced to love or even like all Arabs. Our history has taught us that the Arabs are not exactly lovers of Zion, or Judeophiles, and we have reason to believe that if it weren’t for our powerful and effective defense forces we wouldn’t be here. We are also all too well aware of the violence of Arab and Muslim societies in our region and the world round, and suffice it to mention current-day Syria, Iraq and Nigeria.
So “be respectful and wary” is certainly a motto worth remembering in our relations with our neighbors. However, from there to marking every Arab as a potential killer of Jews, to whom the saying from the Babylonian Talmud “If someone comes to kill you, rise against him and kill him first” applies, the distance is great, and highly problematic.
Beyond the historical facts of Arab-Jewish relations, there is the fact that we are all human beings, with basic human rights, that include the right to life. We also know, from our own history what blind, sweeping prejudice and hatred can lead to. Furthermore, as a democratic society (or at least a society that claims to be “the only true democracy in the Middle East”), we simply cannot afford to continue to assume a forgiving and complacent attitude to the phenomenon.
There are those who say that “barking dogs do not bite.” However, I know from personal experience that this is not always true (as a child I was bitten by a barking dog), and even if it were – I am sure that many of those who actively participate in the yelling are admirers of the butcher Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who on Purim of 1994 massacred 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers and wounding another 125 in the Cave of the Patriarchs, for daring to perform the act that they do not dare perform.
So what should be done? First of all, there should be a relentless war not only against phenomena of “price tag” and other hate activities, but also against verbal manifestations of hatred.
Punishing all such acts (and I am in favor of the most unrelenting punishment for anyone guilty of first-degree murder – whether Arab or Jewish) is, of course, not enough. There is need for education – not just regarding tolerance, and understanding of the term “pluralism,” but also regarding the fact that “words can kill,” not only when one types SMSes while driving, but also when one yells out words of hatred.
I would go further, and emphasize that many more Jewish Israelis are killed every year in wanton, drunken brawls, by fellow Jewish Israelis outside clubs and in public parks, than at the hands of Palestinian terrorists, without anyone calling for the death of the Jewish killers, whose parents almost invariably speak of them as “good, normative children.” The same applies to the fact that more Jewish Israelis are killed in traffic accidents caused by criminally careless Jewish Israeli drivers, than in acts of Palestinian terror, and few call for more drastic measures being taken against the killing drivers – once again, all good, normative individuals.
What I am saying is that emphasis should be placed on the value of life, while condemning, in the strongest terms, those who cause loss of life – whether purposefully, or due to indifferent carelessness – which, unfortunately occasionally include the armed forces as well.
I would add that our leaders ought to do much more in their public statements, and in action. For example, my preferred candidate for the presidency – Reuven Rivlin – recently stated, when asked about Beitar Jerusalem football fans yelling “death to the Arabs,” that one should not take these shouts literally, and that this is simply a Jerusalemite “manner of speech.”
As a Jerusalemite of 45 years I protest against there being such a thing as a racist “Jerusalemite manner of speech” that ought to be condoned, or at least not condemned, as opposed to the manner of speech of certain Jerusalem riff raff, who happen to be part of the body of Beitar Jerusalem fans, and who have been allowed to give vent to their racism for much too long.
Besides, as one who views himself as the most suitable candidate to be Israel’s tenth president, I believe Rivlin – especially since he is a right-wing liberal, who as Knesset Speaker bent over backwards to be fair in his treatment of the Arab MKs – ought to be much more careful in his choice of words, even if he is a Jerusalemite by birth, and a Beitar Jerusalem fan himself.
As to the subject I opened my article with – the murder of Sheli Dadon – I completely identity with the declared goals of the demonstration that took place, including the call to the government to avoid releasing terrorists with blood on their hands, who have received life sentences. However, that is already a different subject.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.
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