Like some sort of supremely unfunny cosmic joke, Wednesday was bookended by news regarding two very terrible, very grisly and very different murder cases, a reminder that the worst humanity has to offer is sometimes lurking around the corner, and sometimes not as black and white and crimson as it might seem.
Those two cases are the gruesome beheading of a woman by her ex-husband who walked around the streets of Tiberias with her severed head before throwing it in the trash, and the freeing of one of the main perpetrators convicted in the killing of two IDF soldiers in a lynching in Ramallah at the start of the Second Intifada, a double murder that provided one of the most indelible and lasting images of the Palestinian uprising.
With both of those stories on the front pages Thursday of Israel’s two top tabloids, neither comes close to passing the breakfast test and both show how lurid they can be in the chase to the sensationalist bottom, with Yedioth Ahronoth taking the clear lead.
That paper leads off with the Tiberias murder, its front page screaming the words ”He walked with her head in his hands.” It gets more terribly vivid once readers make it inside the paper, confronted with the headline “He was bloody and held something wrapped in a towel. I thought it was a doll AND THEN I UNDERSTOOD IT WAS A HEAD.”
That quote comes from a worker at a nearby building site who was unlucky enough to interact with the head-holding suspect in the moments after the murder.
Lest the tragedy of the victim be lost in the utter horrifying details of the story, the paper provides that too, from a neighbor, who calls the victim “a good friend.”
“She was a good woman, gentle and sensitive, loved kids and worked in daycares, caring for kids diligently,” the woman is quoted saying, adding that the victim told her something two weeks ago which tipped her off that things might not be all right, a sign that the Sea of Galilee region might have a syndrome not unlike Jerusalem’s only psychosis-causing condition.
“She told me that he started to dream about Elijah the prophet, and I got worried that something would happen like what happened in Migdal with the guy who started to think that he was Elijah the prophet,” she says, referring to an incident earlier this year in which a father suddenly turned on his family stabbing his wife, children and a neighbor to death.
Haaretz also puts the story on its front page, albeit with a somewhat less ghastly headline (“Tiberias resident suspected of killing his ex, chopping off her head”). The paper quotes the suspect’s public defender, who confirms that the killing was likely the result of a psychotic episode.
“The suspect told him that he didn’t take the psychiatric pills he was supposed to take,” the paper reports.
Describing the murder scene Israel Hayom writes that “A terror like what happened yesterday in Tiberias comes straight out of the worst nightmares.”
Thankfully for readers of all three papers, there aren’t any especially gruesome photos to match the grisly scene in Tiberias. The same can’t be said for the October 2000 lynching of soldiers Yosef Abrahami and Vadim Norzhich, caught on camera by an italian TV crew. The most enduring picture from that scene — of Palestinian Aziz Salha waving his bloodied hands out of the window of a police station — is plastered on the front of Israel Hayom, transporting readers back to that terrible day.
The occasion is the freeing of Hatam Faiz Khalil Magari, convicted in the killing and freed on Wednesday after he was found to not have been one of the murders, and the paper pulls no punches with letting readers know how it feels about that decision, calling it “outrageous” on its front page.
Even though he’s not the person in the picture, the paper’s headline still laments that “he’s being freed with blood on his hands,” using a popular Hebrewism to denote someone with a murderous past. The paper doesn’t mention that it’s not him in the picture and continues to call him a terrorist despite the new ruling.
Columnist Haim Shine notes that the decision to free Magari raises some tough questions.
“If Magari took part in the murder and was part of the lynching, why is he being freed? The message this sends to potential terrorists is that the worst crimes Israel will give you a light sentence,” he writes. “If indeed there were issues with the evidence that casts a shadow over his conviction, why did it take so many years to identify them?”
Haaretz buries the story at the bottom of a page halfway through the broadsheet, but plays up another report that also raises questions about how Israel deals with Palestinians accused of wrongdoing. The paper’s Amira Hass reports that new figures show some 60 percent of Palestinian minors arrested last year reported some sort of abuse, with 83% reporting being blindfolded and 92% reporting having their hands tied, numbers that have remained roughly steady over the past four years.
“He’s not how he used to be,” Hass quotes the father of a 12-year-old arrested for throwing a rock at a car saying. “He used to joke around, and he stopped. He used to talk a lot, and now he’s quiet. He had a hard time returning to school, and has trouble stringing together a sentence that’s longer than five words,” Hass adds.
The paper’s lead story, though, is more optimistic, reporting on an assessment by US envoy Jason Greenblatt that peace in the region will positively affect the whole world. The paper’s Barak Ravid reports that the upshot of Greenblatt’s statement to the Arab League summit in Jordan is that US President Donald Trump is taking this whole peace negotiation thing very seriously.
Greenblatt “reaffirmed Trump’s personal interest in achieving a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians and his belief that such a peace agreement is not only possible, but would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world,” the paper quotes a statement from the US Embassy in Amman.
On Yedioth’s op-ed page, though, columnist Sever Plotzker pours cold water on the idea that Trump gives two shakes about solving our little dispute, saying those that put their stock in him are wasting their time and energy.
“Trump has no intention of jumping into the Jewish-Arab whirpool and he has no dream of being the usher for reconciliation,” he writes. “Now and again he’ll throw out some statement or another that will rile Ramallah or Jerusalem, and after he’ll clarify to calm things down. Trump doesn’t care about out conflict, he won;t get his hands dirty to find us a solution. This is our work, and our work only, especially in the Trump era.”