The sight is nauseating, unthinkable. And, it turns out, not entirely new.
On its nightly news Wednesday, Channel 10 broadcast footage of dozens of young, ostensibly Orthodox Israeli Jews dancing at a wedding. Rather than celebrating the union of two young people as they set out to build a life together, this clip shows a frenzied celebration of death: the killings of the Dawabsha family — 18-month-old Ali, and his parents Riham and Saad — who were murdered when assailants firebombed their home in the West Bank village of Duma on July 31.
The Israeli far right has sought to deny the investigating authorities’ contention that the Dawabsha killings were an act of Jewish terrorism. The lawyers for several Jewish suspects in the case have sought to blacken the name of the Shin Bet security agency for allegedly torturing them. Several Knesset members have lent a degree of support to this campaign. Hundreds have demonstrated on the suspects’ behalf.
But the scenes from this wedding this month in Jerusalem tell an awful, unmistakable story. For here, gathered together in wild revelry, are dozens of young Israeli Jews delighting in the deaths of the Dawabsha family.
Described variously in reports Wednesday and Thursday as members of the extreme far-right and the “Hilltop Youth,” with one or both of the happy couple reportedly “known” to the security authorities, they chant a song that hails “revenge” against the Palestinians. One celebrant holds a Molotov cocktail in homage to the killers’ means of murder. Others wave machine guns and knives. At the height of the festivities, a photograph of baby Ali Dawabsha is “stabbed.”
Condemnation of the youths has rolled in over the past few hours from pretty much the entire political spectrum. There have been innumerable professions of horror and shock.
And yet the owner of the venue told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that there are “dozens of weddings like this every month,” and that the Israeli authorities are well aware of them. He said that after the older folks have gone home, the youths dance like this, and sometimes some of them get arrested.
Another interviewee, in the same newspaper, spoke of going to such weddings “for years,” adding, however, that the brandishing of weapons and the “stabbing” of a photograph of the murdered baby “really mark the crossing of a red line.”
Now, perhaps, we better understand why President Reuven Rivlin, on the morning after the Duma killings, lamented that “we have been lax in our treatment of the manifestations of Jewish terrorism. Perhaps we did not internalize that we are faced with a determined and dangerous ideological group,” he said, “which aims to destroy the fragile bridges which we work so tirelessly to build.” And why, at a rally the next day, Rivlin elaborated: The flames of hatred, violence and “false, distorted and twisted beliefs are spreading through the land… These flames, which are consuming all of us, cannot be extinguished with weak condemnations [by politicians],” Rivlin said. “From the educational system, to those who enforce the law, through to the leadership of the people and the country: We must put out the flames, the incitement, before they destroy us all.”
Now, perhaps, we better understand the description, given to this reporter by security officials a month after the Duma murders, of a Jewish extremist fringe that has become so radical as to lie beyond the influence of even the most hawkish rabbinical leadership. Its members heed no authority, I was told. Some are prepared to kill, to go to jail for life, and to be killed if necessary, in support of a coldly deranged championing of land and perceived religious imperative over life.
It is not too late for the State of Israel to reassert its insistence on upholding the core Jewish values that these young people have lost — and chiefly, of course, the fundamental respect for the divine gift of human life
Now, perhaps, we better understand the warnings, including from Education Minister Naftali Bennett, that these shameful Jewish youths threaten the very existence of the State of Israel. “There are a few dozen people whose goal is not murder; murder is just their means to undermine the foundations of the state,” said Bennett this week.
Rabbi Eli Sadan, founder of the pre-army yeshiva academy at Eli in the West Bank, said sadly on Army Radio Thursday that all societies have their fringe youth, their violent dropouts. That they do. But in our ultra-combustible reality, a fringe like this, as the Duma killings and their violent aftermath underline, has the potential to set the entire enterprise aflame.
Bennett, who heads the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home — the Knesset party most clearly identified with the settlement movement — said Thursday that he has tried in the past to reason with the so-called “Hilltop Youth” extremists, from whose ranks perpetrators of dozens of church-burnings, tire-slashings and other hate crimes are alleged to have sprung, and from whose ranks the Duma killers, too, are said to have emerged. But they paid no heed to him, he said, and called him a “traitor.” Where the suspects in the Duma case are concerned, he observed, it was now too late for education.
But it is not too late for education where the dozens who participated in that inhumane wedding dance of death are concerned. It is not too late for political leaders and rabbis and parents and siblings and friends to pull these deranged youths back from the brink. It is not too late for the State of Israel to reassert its insistence on upholding the core Jewish values that these young people have lost — and chiefly, of course, the fundamental respect for the divine gift of human life.
Otherwise, these dancing youths, derangedly and delightedly celebrating the death of innocents, will bring down ruin upon us all.