So, is this more shattering for Israel than the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, when an arrogant psychopath decided, in a context that provided him with no little encouragement, that God required him to murder Israel’s prime minister in order to prevent the relinquishing of divinely promised land to the loathed Palestinians?
Is this more devastating than the mass murder carried out by Baruch Goldstein, the doctor who gunned down 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs?
Terrible, unthinkable crimes, those — killings that stained us all; that changed our history in this land; that pushed our fragile democracy to the brink of the abyss; that resonate, still, two decades later.
And yet, the murder of 16-year-old Jerusalemite Muhammad Abu Khdeir, allegedly by a gang of Jewish extremists, shames us and stains us no less, and raises fresh and appalling questions about our country and its course.
If we are to heal this nation, last Wednesday’s killing must rid us, once and for all, of the complacent illusion that we enjoy a distinctive moral superiority over our neighbors. If that was ever the case, it cannot be claimed by a people that can produce a gang of thugs capable of grabbing a random teenager and burning him to death for the “crime” of being an accessible Arab kid on the day after three Jewish terror victims were laid to rest. We Israelis knew we had nothing in common with those Hamas killers who so callously ended the lives of three innocent Israeli teenagers; we were wrong.
We need to internalize, too, that while we rightly protest the constant incitement against Israel that is tolerated, often encouraged, by the Palestinian leadership, our own house is not in order. It’s heartening to hear politicians and rabbis reaching deep into their lexicons for words of condemnation, but they ring a little hollow against the backdrop of hostility to Arabs displayed so routinely by so many policy-makers and opinion-shapers. I have often highlighted the toxic environment in the West Bank that could make a killer of the 16-year-old Palestinian who murdered 18-year-old soldier Eden Atias as he slept on a bus in Afula last November. What, then, can we say of the Israeli environment in which a gang of youngsters can arise capable of brutally killing a Palestinian teenager, having allegedly tried to grab a nine-year-old Palestinian boy the day before?
They started it? They’re worse? They all hate us? Well maybe they did, and maybe they are, and maybe they do. But those arguments don’t help us. Those are not arguments that are going to save our society.
We need to face up to the fact that our ongoing rule over the Palestinians, apart from endangering Israel as a Jewish democracy, is corroding us, blackening our hearts. We cannot impose peace deals upon neighbors who oppose the compromises essential to our secure existence, but we have to do more to try to create an environment in which progress can be made — an enlightened environment, that is, on both sides of the divide. All too plainly, we are being affected by living in a region where indifference to the divine gift of life is widespread. If the Jewish state, the homeland of the Jewish nation, does not thoroughly emblemize a reverence for life, we have no particular right to be here at all.
We are being dragged down, and the footage of Border Police thugs apparently beating Abu Khdeir’s cousin underlines the depths to which we risk sinking. Maybe Tariq Abu Khdeir had been involved in violent demonstrations against Israeli forces, though he denies it. Maybe he resisted arrest, and was carrying a slingshot, as the police have claimed. And maybe the video footage of his beating was tendentiously edited. But that footage seemed to show a suspect who posed no threat being pummeled and kicked mercilessly by uniformed Israeli forces. The authorities would be better off not attempting excuses, and tackling the untenable culture in their ranks.
We can try to comfort ourselves by claiming that our thugs and killers are aberrations, reviled by the mainstream, while their thugs and killers are widely exalted heroes. But our aberrations are multiplying — our killers and our thugs, our Jewish terror groups and our uniformed assailants, our race hate attacks. And unlike the Palestinians, we cannot claim the “occupation” in our ostensible defense — for we are masters of our own destiny, and we must urgently reassert our higher values.