Could it be that these events took place in the same country? On a balmy Thursday, a small group of Jerusalem-area Palestinians and Israelis sat around a large table at a café near the Almog Junction on the way to the Dead Sea. The topic of this installment in the congenial monthly interfaith encounter between Muslims and Jews was the concept of heaven and hell in each religion.
A couple hours later, around 1,000 mostly Anglo music lovers of all ages gathered at Jerusalem’s Kraft Stadium for the annual Jerusalem Woodstock Revival featuring the good vibes and sounds of the 1960s.
Both events symbolized the country aiming for its ideals – tolerance, understanding and freedom.
However, at the same time as kippa-clad, tie-dye T-shirt wearers were grooving to the music of Cream and The Grateful Dead, three kilometers away a crazed extremist was stabbing six people who had gathered to support or march in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade.
A few hours after that, two masked men – believed to be Jewish settlers – reached the Dawabsha home in the Palestinian village of Duma, broke windows, and hurled Molotov cocktails inside. The fire that resulted killed the family’s toddler, Ali Saad Dawabsha and seriously injured three members of his family.
Those incidents capped a week of unrest that can only be considered insurgence against the State of Israel – from within.
Settlers hurled rocks at security forces in Beit El, after the troops began demolishing two illegal buildings. Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev called to “bulldoze the Supreme Court” in response to an earlier High Court of Justice rejection of an appeal seeking to prevent their demolition.
Thursday night’s anti-gay stabbing, the Duma terror atrocity, the attacks by rightwing extremists on security forces and threats made by legislators against Israeli institutions all point to the fact that the Jews in Israel who aren’t prepared to accept its democratic nature are becoming more brazen and lawless.
Given the historical context of the senseless hatred that is the focus of last week’s Tisha Be’av fast, that ominous threat of self-destruction is ultimately greater to the nation’s future than any outside menace, be it a Palestinian toddler at sleep in his home or a nuclear Iran.
All level-minded Israelis condemn the stabbings and the terror arson and wonder how vile perpetrators who committed those crimes could have been cultivated in our society.
We should be gratified at the outpouring of condemnations and the thousands who attended rallies Saturday night around the country. It’s not something we ever see in Palestinian society when Israelis are killed by terrorists. But that doesn’t excuse the issue at hand – this isn’t a Palestinian problem, it’s our problem.
But the rallies also pointed out the divisiveness within our own society. When we should be banding together in solidarity, crowds in Tel Aviv drowned out National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Minister Yuval Steinitz. It’s true that the government Steinitz sits in is to blame for not doing enough to combat the phenomenon of Jewish terror – but to conquer that cancer, he and the government need to be the driving partners, not the enemy.
It’s time to take the country back from those who would not be averse to a theologically driven, Islamic Statelike Jewish state. But to do so means forging some unnatural and uneasy coalitions – alignments in which the terms right-wing and left-wing take a back seat to the realization that the notion of a Greater Israel that negates the rights of the Palestinian people was never possible and will never become a reality. Not if it produces the kind of people who could throw a Molotov cocktail into a home where a toddler is sleeping.
The Jewish and Muslim concepts of heaven and hell are quite different, it turns out. But daily existence in this life, in this land, are ultimately going to be the same for all of us – Jews and Arabs.
We just have to decide whether we want it to be heaven or hell.