Combat terrorists without stabbing ourselves in the back

Despite the tension we feel these days and the absolute need to kill the terrorists while they try to kill us, there is no way to reconcile chants of “Death to Arabs.”

Scene of terror attack in Armon Hanatziv (photo credit: GALI TIBBON / AFP)
Scene of terror attack in Armon Hanatziv
(photo credit: GALI TIBBON / AFP)
What a horrific two weeks we have just experienced. Palestinian Authority and Islamic Movement incitement built upon a foundation of lies has led to terrorist attacks throughout Israel. Aside from the loss of innocent lives and life-altering injuries which we have sustained at the hands of these ruthless killers, everyone is on edge as we find ourselves constantly checking our surroundings for fear of a possible attack.
There is no doubt that we must continue killing these terrorists as they carry out their attacks, and that our security forces and fellow citizens must be praised for their swift reactions, which have helped to minimize the extent of damage from these attacks. However, while we work to emerge from this crisis as safely as possible on a physical level, we must also ensure that we retain our lofty values.
Judaism is very clear regarding its perspective on non-Jews. We just read in last week’s Torah portion that God created Man – not Jews, but Man – in “His image.” The Egyptians tormented the people of Israel for 210 years with murder and slavery.
When the Egyptian soldiers who carried out this torture drowned in the Red Sea, God would not allow the angels to praise Him as the Egyptians were dying, saying, “My handiworks are drowning in the sea, and you sing praise to Me?” (Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 39) In fact, we do not recite the full Hallel prayer – replete with praise of God – during most of Passover for that same reason. This idea is reinforced annually at the Seder. As we recount the plagues with which God afflicted and punished the Egyptians, we spill out some wine from our cups. Our cups cannot be full, there cannot be complete rejoicing, as fellow human beings suffer, even if they are our enemies who deserve this punishment.
Commentaries explain that this is why we don’t recite a blessing over fulfilling the commandment to read the Torah portion about eradicating any memory of the nation of Amalek. Jews do not recite blessings over the destruction of fellow human beings, even those who are committed to our destruction. (Kaf HaChayim Orach Chayim 685:29) These sources demonstrate just how far we must go to respect all human beings, Jew and non-Jew alike.
We must also recall how during the High Holiday services, we prayed not just for the Jewish people but for ALL of mankind. “Instill Your awe on ALL your works and Your trepidation on ALL that You have created. Let them revere You, ALL of your handiwork, and let them bow down before You ALL that is created. Let them become ALL OF THEM a united group to do Your will wholeheartedly.”
Despite the tension we feel these days and the absolute need to kill the terrorists while they try to kill us, there is no way to reconcile chants of “Death to Arabs” – a rallying cry which we began to hear in the streets of Israel during this difficult time – and Jewish values. “Death to those Arabs who try to kill us or have hurt us.” That is legitimate.
But even then it can be said with no happiness, as King Solomon taught: “When your enemies fall do not rejoice.” (Proverbs 24:17) But Death “to Arabs?” To all Arabs? Attacking people simply because they are Arab or look like Arabs? That is foreign to Judaism.
And I ask the Jews who chant these words: Are they including Jamal Hakrush, deputy head of the Coastal District of the Israel Police, an Arab Muslim, a lead investigator of some of these attacks? Are they including the Arab doctor at the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera who gave stitches to the Israeli who neutralized a terrorist? As a volunteer with the Border Police, I listen attentively to the internal radio transmissions during my shifts, and hear non-stop reports by citizens seeing suspicious activity. Almost all are false alarms, but it demonstrates how we are all living with great anxiety and how difficult times raise emotions and a desire for punishment and revenge. Despite this, we must always remind ourselves that the goal is to live safely not just in any state, but in a Jewish state built on Jewish values.
I conclude with the words penned by MK Yair Lapid after a Jew took revenge for the recent stabbings by stabbing random, innocent Arabs in Dimona last week.
“Whoever does this doesn’t understand what Judaism is, and what it means to be a Jew. Whoever does this damages Jews, damages the state, and damages our security. Because there is one principle which we have always guarded, even in the most difficult of times: We will not be like them.
We will not be like the terrorists. We will not adopt their disgusting and murderous values.”
People who carry out these attacks do not only damage the State of Israel and Jewish values, they also make things more difficult for our security forces. Our security forces have been stretched as far as they can go – working around the clock.
There are daily attacks, and the Border Police, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), and the IDF must deal with Palestinian terrorism, and they cannot be busy dealing with Jewish terrorism.
In these days, we need to unite, to protect one another, and to remember the Jewish values upon which the state was built and exists. Anyone who stabs an innocent street cleaner, stabs us all in the back.”