Hebrew grafitti at the Dawabsha family home in Duma where a fire engulfed the house after a molotov cocktail was thrown at it.
(photo credit: ZAKARIA, RABBIS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS)
Eighteen months ago I wrote the following in an op-ed decrying the alarming growth of Israeli terrorism against Palestinians (“‘Price tag’ attacks are terror,” February 18, 2014): “Israelis should be concerned about a slippery slope that can lead to disaster. The day is coming when price-tag offenders will kill someone, whether intentionally or by accident. All those who have viewed price- tag attacks with a ‘boys-will-be- boys’ attitude will defend their prior apathy by saying, ‘Gosh, I didn’t think they’d do that.’ The perpetrators will reasonably respond, ‘You didn’t object very strenuously, so we assumed you didn’t really oppose what we were doing.’ “At that point it won’t matter what level of punishment we impose on the price-taggers. There will be an innocent victim, and (based on our previous experiences) the likelihood of deadly retaliation. The match will have been struck. Many more innocent Palestinians and Israelis could die.”
While I received numerous expressions of support, there also were several letters in opposition. One person wrote that my position was “hysterical, insulting, mendacious, and dangerous incitement.” She concluded that, “It is shameful that people call price-taggers terrorists, thus putting them on the same level as real terrorists.”
Now our worst nightmare has come true. Eighteen-month old Ali Dawabsha was murdered and her four-year-old brother and parents were seriously wounded by a fire-bomb attack on their home in Duma. There followed violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem and the disputed territories.
Some will argue that there is no proof that the heinous crime was committed by Jews. This same initial denial appeared last year when Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s burned body was found. Those who did not want to believe that Jews were responsible resorted to several unsupported theories. The truth turned out to be as we had initially suspected and feared.
Meanwhile, three Jews have been charged with the recent arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication. Two people were sent to the hospital as the result of that attack.
Some will assert that it is unfair to indict price-taggers unless the graffiti at the crime scene explicitly used the term “price-tag.” This defense is disingenuous in the extreme. Price-tag attacks are not planned and carried out by a central controlling organization. Rather, the attacks represent a mindset that Palestinian civilians are appropriate targets of violence, sending the message that they should fear for their lives and livelihoods. The death of Ali Dawabsha is the natural and entirely foreseeable consequence of this mindset.
There are two reasons why Jewish terrorism must be vehemently condemned and excised from our society. The first is based on fundamental human morality: Murder is undeniably wrong. In last week’s Torah portion of Va’eschanan we read the second presentation of the Ten Commandments. The Sixth Commandment states simply, “Thou shalt not murder.”
One would have hoped that Israel’s religious leaders would immediately condemn this vicious attack on an innocent and helpless child. So far, these leaders are conspicuous by their silence. Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef did condemn another indefensible act of violence – the stabbing of six people at Jerusalem’s gay pride march.
Rabbi Yosef’s statement in that context was troubling: “It’s unthinkable that a man can lift up his hand against another Jewish soul in the name of religion.” Is Yosef suggesting that the knife attack was unacceptable because the victims were Jews? Would he have refrained from condemning the attack if the victims had been Muslims or Christians? There is no qualification in the Sixth Commandment, “unless you murder someone who is not Jewish.”
The second reason to oppose Jewish terrorism is simple pragmatism: such acts do grievous harm to Israel’s standing in the world. As we saw following the Abu Khdeir murder, they obviate the possibility that others will finally understand and appreciate the threat under which Israelis live. The murder of an innocent Arab child plays into the twin narratives of “moral equivalence” and “cycle of violence” that allow lazy thinkers to conclude “a plague on both their houses.”
We are all, to some extent, complicit in Ali Dawabsha’s murder. Of course, those who committed the despicable crime must be captured and punished to the fullest extent possible. But what of those who supported price-tag attacks in the past? They should have known that once the beast was unleashed the severity of attacks would only increase. The rabbis whose fiery words inflamed their young followers are especially culpable. They failed to instill in their students appreciation not only for the Torah as an abstract but for the value of all human life in concrete terms.
The government and police are not without blame. For too long they have mouthed the obligatory platitudes regarding the need to bring price-taggers to justice. But one has the sense that, at least until very recently, their efforts were only half-hearted – certainly much less urgent than if a synagogue or a private Jewish home had been fire-bombed by Palestinians.
Finally, did those of us who denounced price-taggers from the outset do enough to convince others of the evil in our midst so that those who pursued this criminal course would become the social pariahs they deserved to be? The conclusion is inescapable: we cannot credibly assert our opposition to Arab terrorism if we ignore terrorism within Jewish society. The immoral actions of price-tag terrorists call into question our own morality. Failure to label them exactly what they are, and to oppose them with all possible legal and moral force, has made us enablers and accomplices. There can be no justification for any further failure to confront this phenomenon honestly and forcefully in the face of this innocent Palestinian death.
The author, a retired US diplomat, is a Fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya.