|By Rabbi Steven Pruzansky|
Here in Israel, the temperatures have topped 100 degrees. Even hotter is the police blotter, which recorded the spasms of violence on back-to-back days last week that still dominates the news and street discussions and has prompted the customary search for Israel’s “lost” soul. Each act of violence – each despicable and contemptible in its own right – is not attributed to the perpetrators alone but to the group whence the perps allegedly emerged. There is something unsettling and unfair about that but it has become fairly standard in Israel. No “religious” person is ever just an individual; no Haredi or settler is ever a lone wolf. Lone wolves can only emerge from certain protected ethnic groups. As for the rest of us, any depraved or fiendish acts of one person are wielded as clubs with which to beat entire groups.
On Thursday, the Mitz’ad Hagaava (“Pride Parade”) in Yerushalayim was brutally invaded by a lone assailant in Haredi garb who randomly stabbed various participants and one police officer. One young girl has died. The photographic accounts reveal his crazed eyes, just as his writings reveal his lunatic ranting and unhinged hatred of the homosexuals and supporters who were marching.
His actions were pure evil and the fact that he had just been released from a decade’s incarceration for committing the exact same crime is testament to a distorted soul. (It is also a staggering police failure; the accused boasted of his intentions in writing from the moment he was freed from prison, and nothing was done to thwart him.) Frankly, it is hard to rationally explain the depth of such hatred. It’s not normal, and one reason why there has been across-the-board condemnations of his vile conduct. Who stabs people because they disagree with them or even oppose their lifestyle choices? It is insane behavior, if not clinically or legally then at least as far as normal people go about their business. Even the Haredi group that was protesting the parade – and with good reason – denounced the assailant. His actions were beyond the pale and if he never again breathes fresh air as a free person, that is fine with me. What a wasted, empty life; I can only suspect that it has been filled with torments unknown to us that has brought him to such a self-destructive and violent state. Personally, I cannot fathom such hatred for anyone who has done me no harm.
There is no Torah precept and no Jewish ethic that can rationalize such bizarre, depraved conduct. (Forget the facile analogies to Pinchas; marching in a parade is not a sin.) No person can take the law into his own hands to attack people who have done nothing untoward to him, whatever their celebrations are about. That part is easy.
This is not: must the “pride” community continue to antagonize the sensibilities of denizens of the Holy City with a parade celebrating what, after all, still remains a sin? Can’t they show a modicum of respect for others? This is not to say that they provoked the violence. No one provokes violence because no human being has the right to attack another human being who poses him no threat. They could have marched anywhere, and this evil nut would have tracked them down. But can’t Yerushalayim at least be off limits – must the very source of G-d’s moral teachings be host to their trampling?
I am not disputing the legal or even civil rights of the marchers, but their judgment. Can’t there be even a little tolerance for those who adhere to a traditional morality? If a group that advocated traditional morality wished to demonstratively parade through Greenwich Village, I would feel that too is inappropriate. Why be in someone else’s face? Why seek to bother people? The “pride” community has won such major victories in the last several years across the world. Can’t it accept its victories with grace and just seek to blend into society instead of standing out? Can’t they tolerate what others regard as sacred?
Again, this is not to say that the parade in Yerushalayim provoked this monster in Haredi garb to violence. We don’t accept this notion of provocation - if anyone doesn’t like it or them, then just have a little self-control. Stay home. Shout nasty slogans from the sidelines. But stab people? Vicious, ridiculous and criminal.
Nevertheless, Yerushalayim should be different. March in Tel Aviv. It’s more welcoming there. To make the point clearer, I am sure that on some abstract level 1000 Jews have the right to march through Gaza or Tehran carrying an Israeli flag and singing Hatikvahwithout fear of violence, There must be some UN Conventions that protect that right. But is it prudent to insist on every right where people will be agitated by it – not agitated to violence, G-d forbid – but just agitated? It just doesn’t seem very nice.
That aside, I grieve for the dead and pray for the complete recovery of all the wounded because what was done to them should not be done to anyone.
While reeling from this news, later that evening unknown assailants torched two houses in an Arab village in Samaria. One was empty but the other was inhabited, and one infant was murdered and three other family members were injured.
That the assailants’ identity is yet unknown has not precluded wholesale and widespread denunciations of settlers, rabbis, Orthodox Jews, etc. (Today’s rumor suggested the crime resulted from an internal Arab feud, so what follows should be read with caution.) When the suspects are presumed to be from a disfavored class and the victims from a protected class, the usual inhibitions against the application of collective guilt tend to disappear.
Assuming the worst – that it was a band of young settlers taking vengeance for whatever – it should be clear that this type of murder is illegal, abhorrent, embarrassing and unbecoming a Jew. It should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but properly so, not the usual police tactic of mass arrests and leaked accusations to see what shakes out. The situation in Judea and Samaria is difficult, to say the least, but the taking of innocent life is unacceptable. To suggest that all Arabs are enemies because some, even many, are is immoral and heinous. Committed Jews do not act this way. We protect the innocent, and harass the guilty until they are subdued.
I could leave it at that – platitudinous and obvious as it is – but the full picture would thereby not be conveyed. We should understand the context, not to justify what happened but to ensure that it never happens again.
Here's where I depart from the piling on, especially before any facts are actually known. (At this point, if the police find that Arabs were responsible for this crime, no one will believe them anyway.) We should try, as the liberals always do, to understand the milieu which can produce young people who would allegedly kill the innocent. What is that milieu? The average 20-25 year old in Judea and Samaria has grown up in homes that are situated in the heartland of Israel but territory that the world and one-third of his countrymen consider "occupied," even as he has been taught that it is holy land given to us by G-d and worth the ultimate sacrifice. He has seen hundreds of his friends and neighbors killed or wounded, with every trip on the highway being fraught with potential danger. He has seen the murderers and attackers of his friends and neighbors arrested, convicted, incarcerated - and then released in prisoner exchanges. As such, he has contempt for the law - law that does nothing to protect his life and his home.
He has grown up hearing his country's media blame him for the absence of peace - not just in Israel but across the Middle East and probably the world. He has witnessed numerous terrorist attacks against his friends and neighbors that are simply not reported by the media, including some 75 attacks (shootings, stoning of cars, and the occasional
firebomb) just in the last two weeks. Few in the general society even care about it. He sees the wailing and lament over the loss of any Arab life and the complete disregard over the loss of or injury to Jewish life - and he deduces the obvious: no one really cares if he is killed or maimed. He sees that the army and government are less interested in defending him that in ensuring that he doesn't build a home next to his parents. He has seen Jewish attacks in Arabs – rare as they are – denounced as “hate crimes,” while Arab attacks on Jews deemed political, legitimate and even justified as acts of a national liberation movement.
He has lived under left-wing governments that openly wish to expel him from his home,
and right-wing governments that promise him full support during each election campaign only to immediately revoke the promises after victory, only to repeat them during the next campaign. He has grown up thinking that the whole world and many of his countrymen are unsympathetic to him and is strengthened only by his faith that he is doing G-d's work. He trusts no one outside a small circle of like-minded people, and with good reason. As such, he has contempt for all human authority.
All of that might be true but none of that justifies the murder of innocent life. Even if - especially when - logic and emotion might suggest a ruthless response to a provocation - that is when the committed Jew is constrained by the Halacha, a Higher authority, and must rein in his baser passions, eschew all his rationalizations and stay his hand from harming the innocent. It is evident that violence breeds violence, and growing up in a climate in which violence and the fear of violence are palpable and prevalent takes it toll. The wonder is that acts of Jewish violence against the innocent are exceedingly rare, and that is a tribute to the parents, rabbis and educators who are largely successful in rearing youth who are law-abiding, passionate and dedicated to the land and people of Israel.
It's not just that the murder of the innocent is what our enemies do, not us (as many have said in the last few days), and not just that it is a diplomatic disaster (the world
obsesses over the death of a single Arab life at the hands of a Jew far more than it does at the death of hundreds of thousands of Arabs at the hands of other Arabs); it is simply that the murder of innocent life is a moral and legal wrong, a desecration of G-d's name and all that we hold dear, and the antithesis of the Jewish ethical ideal.
All this is warranted: acts of self-defense against an aggressor, joining the IDF, pressuring the government, punishing the guilty, etc. But the Jew who attacks the innocent just because the enemy has attacked our innocent has, indeed, sunk to their level. The disgrace is that it happened; the consolation is that it is a fringe phenomenon with attacks seldom carried out and Halacha serving as an appropriate constraint even when passions run high. One who reads only of "settler violence" in the foreign press without any reference to the far more extensive Arab violence against the settlers is
being purposely misled by those interests that are hostile to the Jewish narrative in the land of Israel. Jewish life is also precious. The murderers who killed an infant thinking they are accomplishing something worthwhile have not only perpetrated a great evil but also have endangered Jewish life as well.
This too shall pass. May the guilty be caught and punished severely, may tolerance reside even in those who think that only they are right and their antagonists are both wrong and immoral, and may the land of Israel find true peace and brotherhood under the reign of the Almighty.