I cannot get the vision of Eden Atias, stabbed again and again and again, and bleeding to death in his blue fabric seat on a bus at Afula bus station on Wednesday morning, out of my head. And I’m sure I’m not alone in the abiding sense of horror and despair.
A young man, conscripted into the Israeli army just two weeks earlier, fast asleep in his seat on a bus inside Israel, knifed over and over by a Palestinian teenager so consumed, so spilling over with hatred as to have truly lost “the image of God.”
All killing is foul, all terrorist murders indefensible. But this assault is particularly depraved and depressing. For it sickeningly demonstrates an atmosphere and a mindset evidently prevalent, among at least some Palestinians in the West Bank, that leaves no room for optimism in the short-term. And it underlines the nature of the task ahead if there is to be any substantive change for the better in the medium-term.
Human nature is flawed. We all grapple with what seem to be instinctive tendencies to be selfish, materialistic, suspicious of the unfamiliar, resentful of others who we think have it easier or better than we do. Some of us deal with these unpleasant aspects of our personalities better than others. In the best of us, good wins out over evil more often and more completely.
But even in the most stained and weak of characters, there are limits to the horrors and the wrongs that our flaws will push us to commit. At some point, other, better instincts kick in. Many folks drive irresponsibly; some cheat on their taxes; fewer carry out robberies and assaults. Most people recoil at the idea of taking a human life.
Almost nobody, no matter how flawed, how skewed, how filled with hatred, sinks so low as to take a life in cold blood.
Hussein Rawarda sank that low on Wednesday morning. He deliberately ended the short life of a young man about whom he knew nothing, who had never done him any harm, who he happened to find sitting next to him on a bus. Killed Eden Atias as he slept the sleep of the innocent. Killed him because he was an Israeli, because he was wearing the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces. Killed him because the opportunity to kill him presented itself. Hussein Rawarda killed Eden Atias because he was so consumed with hatred for this sleeping man-child that none of those last human failsafes, those final limits that protect us from shedding the last traits of our humanity, none of those could compete with his cold insistence on taking that life.
However badly the world treats people, however bitter their experiences, and however hopeless the future may appear, they simply don’t do what Hussein Rawarda did to Eden Atias on Wednesday morning. Only the most foul of indoctrinations, only the most relentless of inculcations, can produce the kind of evil on which he acted.
Only a human being who has existed solely in a climate of unflinching hatred, an atmosphere in which no hint of light has been allowed to enter, can manufacture so dark an act. It is in that climate, that atmosphere, we can only conclude, that Wednesday’s murderer has spent his 16 formative years in the West Bank.
Israeli leaders, and some Palestinians too, often bandy around the term “incitement” as the source of many of the ills afflicting the dismal relationship between our two peoples. The term is vague and means little until you start watching, say, Hamas’s children’s TV programs, in which sweet young kids, on studio sets full of colorful backdrops and cuddly toys, unthinkingly parrot the vicious curses against Israel that their cynical elders have fed them, and vow with the earnest innocence of their manipulated young psyches that they are willing to martyr themselves — to kill and be killed — for the noble, divine cause of harming the terrible Jews.
The term “incitement” can sound vague and mean little, too, until you start to internalize that now, right now, day after day — in Gaza and in the West Bank, and in countries all across the region — in schools and in youthful get-togethers and in newspapers and on television and on Facebook pages and in the speeches delivered by political leaders — millions of young minds like that of Hussein Rawarda are being gradually poisoned. Children are being persuaded by those they trust that Israel is the embodiment of iniquity, and that all Israelis, most certainly including uniformed young Israelis helpfully asleep on the bus, must be culled.
The international community’s efforts to chivvy the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships toward a permanent peace treaty are largely born of good intentions. Israel emphatically would benefit from such an accord. It’s not healthy for us to be ruling over another people, and neither do we wish to lose our Jewish majority or subvert our astonishing democracy in a failure to reach terms of separation from the Palestinians. We also make it too easy for those who preach hatred and violence against us when we insistently build more homes in West Bank areas that we know will have to come under Palestinian control if an agreement is to take shape.
But the insistent approach of the international community, as emblemized currently by the stance of Secretary of State John Kerry, is to focus almost exclusively on the imperative to tackle the problematics of the settlement enterprise, while doing next-to-nothing to tackle the carefully cultivated, pervasive negation of Israel’s legitimacy among Palestinians. And that approach constitutes an absolute guarantee that peace efforts will never succeed.
Tell the Israeli government you regard settlements as illegitimate. Warn it against prejudicing the prospects for an accord. Make threats. Do your worst. But be aware that that’s not the whole battle or even most of it, and that bending the government on settlements will not bring peace.
The main enemy of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation is the hatred for Israel that is being nurtured daily in the hearts of so many in the West Bank and Gaza — the constant peddling of the narrative that says Israel has no right to exist, and that its people are rapacious invaders who must be struck down. Sixteen years filled only with that despicable falsehood brought Hussein Rawarda to the moment, on Wednesday morning, when he shed the last vestiges of his humanity and took away Eden Atias’s life.
The only small crumb of comfort that might derive from this act of evil would be if it registered some sense of the challenge ahead for those Israeli, Palestinian and international policymakers and activists who have the power and the influence to help both sides toward an accommodation. If the heartless, soulless killing of Eden Atias, at the hands of a youth two years his junior, does not prompt a realization of the imperative to halt the drip-drip poison of anti-Israel incitement among the Palestinians, then nothing will.