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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Man-made human tragedies dominated the headlines this week as murder after senseless murder piled into the national spotlight at a dizzying pace.
Thirteen murders have been recorded since the beginning of August, including a Ramle drive-by shooting which killed an innocent teenage bystander, and the unspeakable killing and dismembering of a woman and her daughter.
On Wednesday, police led freshly-arrested suspects in both of these cases into the Ramle Magistrate's Court within a few hours of one another for remand hearings.
Judge Zakaria Yemini had one request for the grieving family members of the teenage drive-by victim, Yiftah Mor-Yosef. "Please, no outbursts," he said gently, before nodding to court bailiffs to bring in three young suspects.
They entered, smiling and confident, with one winking cockily at someone he knew in the court's public dock.
The Mor-Yosef family, including his tearful mother, complied with Yemini's request, choosing to glance quietly at the suspects. The tension was high, but the three suspects appeared oblivious.
Yemini concluded that "reasonable evidence" existed to remand them for eight days as the police investigation continued, despite protests by defense lawyers who claimed that "flimsy" grounds were used by police to arrest the three.
Earlier that day, Eli Pahima, 59, was led into the courtroom. He greeted the judge with a polite "shalom," and quietly stared around the courtroom. It would have been difficult to guess that Pahima was the man police suspect of murdering his girlfriend and her daughter, chopping up their bodies and dumping them in a garbage can in Ramat Gan and in the Alexander River, north of Netanya. Yemini extended Pahima's remand too.
"They told me today would be a difficult day," he said upon first entering the courtroom and taking his seat. "But this is also a difficult day for education in this country. This is also about education."
Outside of the court building, national debate raged as pundits and members of the public alike argued over who was at fault for the violence. Many fingers of blame were directed at the police.
THE POLICE'S message this week was simple: We are alone in the trenches; send in reinforcements in the form of government cooperation and Knesset legislation to give us more powers, senior officers said. The force needs a budget increase so that it can hire more officers and pay a decent salary, and it will be able to dominate the war on violent crime, Insp.-Gen. David Cohen said.
On Wednesday, during an emergency session of the Knesset Interior Committee, Cohen said that despite the awful past few weeks, a look at the murder statistics for this year shows that the rate is in line with past years.
Between January 1 and August 15, 72 people were murdered - one less than the same period in 2008, and five fewer than the same period in 2007. Ultimately, police believe, it is not reasonable to expect them to prevent murders, but rather to solve them quickly once they occur to deter others from taking lives.
It was, however, the unprecedented proximity of the slayings that produced the widespread public outcry against violence which has been steadily growing in recent days.
The backlash can only help the quest to improve the country's law enforcement capabilities, by pressuring government to do more to help the police.
The widespread anger is being driven by the fact that lethal violence has become so common, as was seen in Givatayim on Tuesday night, when a young man nearly lost his life for not giving a cigarette to another man.
Had the knife blade that was thrust into the victim's chest been pushed in a few millimeters more, his heart would have been punctured, doctors who treated him at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer said on Wednesday. The youth's condition has stabilized.
Much has been written on how best to reform the police, and decision-makers appear to agree that it is time to create municipal, rather than national, police forces.
Solid community policing will produce officers who know their neighborhoods inside out, and who are in contact with the street, enabling them to build up knowledge of local crime hot spots, and to know where fights between drunken youths will break out on Friday night.
The main argument has centered on the question of whether mayors, some of whom have been tainted by corruption in one form or another, can be trusted to head municipal police departments, or whether, as Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch proposes, the forces be kept under direct Israel Police command.
As things stand now, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems to agree with his public security minister on this issue.
Yet as many commentators have noted, policing and law enforcement make up only one half of the equation. Why are so many young people carrying knives on the streets? Why are we installing closed circuit TV cameras in playgrounds en masse? And who raised these young, trigger-happy gangsters, who wage urban war with other criminals through terrorism on crowded streets?
"There are no values anymore. Abraham our forefather discovered these values 4,000 years ago. Without these, man will act as a beast," said Rabbi Michael Deri, a friend of the Mor-Yosef family, as he stood outside of the Ramle court on Wednesday.
Several reporters who had surrounded him for an interview nodded in agreement. "What kind of society are we becoming?" he asked, touching on the question which appears to lie at the heart of the public's reaction to this summer's violent crime wave.
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