I’m one of those people who believes we’re judged by how we respond when bad things happen. And the best response has to be doing the utmost to prevent it happening again; stopping someone else from getting hurt.
Two incidents last week brought out the best – but also the despicably worst – in Israelis. The first was the stabbing attack on Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade in which six people were injured, 16-year-old Shira Banki fatally. The second was the firebombing of two homes (one of them fortunately empty that night) in the Palestinian village of Duma near Nablus in which 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha lost his too-short life and his four-year-old brother and parents were seriously injured.
The two events are connected by hatred.
The participants in the gay pride parade included members of the homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and people – like Shira – who joined the colorful march as a call for tolerance and equal rights for all. The assailant, Yishai Schlissel, was revisiting the scene of his previous hate crime. He had been out of prison for less than a month after serving 10 years for a similar attack on the 2005 parade. Schlissel was caught literally red-handed, with the blood of his victims on his hands but not, apparently, on his conscience.
Schlissel had openly stated his intention to stop the parade again, and the police and prison service need to investigate the lethal security screw-up that enabled him to reach the area armed with a butcher’s knife and some kind of biblical Phinehas complex.
Some people consider themselves Jewish but think that they know better than God when it comes to the commandment not to commit murder.
The perpetrators of the attack on the homes in Duma have not been found and brought to trial. But they know who they are and what motivates them, and so do their friends and relatives. Police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) are primarily investigating it as a hate crime – an act of Jewish terrorism – and are appealing to the general public for information that will lead to the arrests of those involved.
The social media immediately filled with claims and counterclaims – and a lot more hatred.
The two cases tragically came one after another on July 30 and July 31 and hence in the public mind will forever be combined, but they are not the same.
While the gay pride attack was a classic “lone wolf” incident, the firebombing in Duma was not. It did not come out of the blue, lethal lightning on a hot summer night. Figures are hard to come by, but according to the statistics of the left-leaning B’Tselem NGO, “in the past three years since August 2012, Israeli civilians set fire to nine Palestinian homes in the West Bank.”
Anyone who doubts that a small but deadly group in Israeli society is fostering the incitement that makes such acts of terrorism possible should consider the rhetoric and behavior of the hard-core group of Beitar Jerusalem Football Club fans known as “La Familia.” Last year, after the Hamas kidnapping and murder of the three Jewish teens, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil- Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, an Arab youth was abducted and killed in an apparent revenge attack. When I interviewed Naftali’s mother two months ago, Rachelle Sprecher Fraenkel noted that the foreign media continue to be surprised by her response to the murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, which she and her family condemned wholeheartedly.
“I don’t know anyone who wasn’t shocked and horrified by it,” she stressed.
Heaven help us if we ever stop being shocked and horrified by such despicable acts. And Heaven help us, too, if we don’t want to acknowledge that such a thing can happen again. You can’t prevent a crime if you’re not willing to admit that it could take place.
As I have pointed out before, when a crocheted kippa unravels it starts at the edge. We cannot ignore Jewish terrorists because they are extremists. Like all terrorists, it only takes a few to cause tremendous harm to both their intended victims and the wider society in which they live, albeit on the margins.
Like many journalists, I was bombarded by lists of murdered Israeli babies and children.
Facebook friends posted photos of Chaya Zissel Braun, just three months old when she died in a Palestinian terror attack on a crowd waiting at a light rail station in Jerusalem last summer, and of four-year-old Adele Biton, who died in February after struggling with the neurological damage caused in 2013 when Palestinians stoned her family’s car as they were driving near Ariel. Five members of the Fogel family were slaughtered as they slept in their home in the community of Itamar in 2011: Udi, 36, his wife, Ruth, 35, and their children Yoav, 11, Elad, four, and Hadas, three months.
The list of names is heartbreakingly long.
And the list of near misses is even longer (there have been three serious attacks on Jews this week at time of writing). But that is not a justification for revenge attacks or fostering the atmosphere in which they take place.
I was encouraged that the country’s leadership is treating the matter seriously. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced “zero tolerance” for Jewish terrorism; Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon approved the use of administrative detention for Jewish terror suspects; Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said: “We as a society must do soul-searching and think about how to encourage more tolerance and restraint and how we can all improve as a society and a country.” Erdan also criticized as hypocritical those on the Left exploiting the incident to try to portray all right-wing voters and religious as guilty, saying the Left was “apathetic time and again when firebombs are thrown at settlers.”
A sign of the hypocrisy could be seen in the heckling of National Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz when he tried to address a pro-tolerance rally in Tel Aviv on last Saturday night and that Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett was barred from speaking at the event.
President Reuven Rivlin issued a condemnation in Hebrew and Arabic urging everyone on both sides to “not let terror win.” Like Netanyahu, he visited members of the Dawabshe family in the hospital.
For their efforts, both Netanyahu and Rivlin were subject to such hate-filled feedback on the social media that the State Attorney’s Office ordered a criminal investigation against suspects believed to have uploaded videos to YouTube showing them wearing Nazi uniforms and speaking in German.
Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau published a joint newspaper ad condemning “any act of violence whatsoever against any person who is created in the image of the Almighty, whether Jew or non-Jew, soldier or citizen. Violence is not the way of our holy Torah and it is completely forbidden to act in any way or situation in this manner.”
Groups of rabbis with (smaller) groups of Muslim religious leaders held joint prayers for peace and the speedy recovery of the wounded.
Education Minister Bennett vociferously condemned the murder in Duma as well as its exploitation by some to blast the “settler movement” and the religious. He is especially well placed to lead the fight when the school year starts next month. The curriculum must include programs on tolerance and meetings between Arab and Jewish children. All pupils should be taught the spoken language of the other – as a means for communication and understanding, not “to know your enemy.”
And the rabbinic leadership needs to go into schools to act as role models and stress that there is no excuse for violence in the name of religion.
No other country dwells so much on the concept of “soul-searching.” It’s one of those things that makes Israel, the Jewish state, special. It is something of which we can be proud. We’re getting close to the Jewish New Year, a period marked not by parties, but by breast-beating prayers and introspection.
Admitting there is a problem is the first step toward solving it.
This is not about hasbara. This is not a question of Israel’s image abroad and how other people see us. This is about who we are and who we want our children and grandchildren to be and what values we want to live by. It’s about doing what we can to prevent the lists of victims – of whatever religion, race and gender – from growing longer.
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