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Posts Tagged ‘Murder of Palestinian teen’

 

They are gone. We say Kaddish. We mourn. We are angry. We look for a response that will salve the wounds of their murder. We want to know why Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach, three Israeli teens, had to be kidnapped and murdered. We want to know how people, even those who see themselves oppressed by Israel, can rejoice at their murders. How can even a radical fringe rejoice over the deaths of three teenagers? How can any political organization, even a Hamas, just see three teens as pawns in a political game? We wonder how human life, even the life of your “opponent,” can be dismissed so casually? So we are lost in a swirl of emotions and look for a way to react.

He is also gone. Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16 year old from East Jerusalem has been kidnapped and murdered. Some initially thought this might be an honor killing, an act between rival Arab clans. But Israeli police are becoming convinced that his murder is a revenge killing by Jewish extremists: revenge for the murder of the three Israeli teens. If this is indeed a revenge killing, one has to wonder if the extremists will see the score as evened, or will they look to commit further acts of revenge? After all, the Torah does tell us “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” (Exodus 21:24), right?

Is this the place we must stand? Is the road of alternating killings the path we must travel? I will express dismay that so much of the Israeli response has been a call for reprisal, not the extremist act of murdering Palestinian teens, but Netanyahu’s promise of action against Hamas. Please do not misunderstand me. If there were a military action that would neutralize Hamas, I would support it without hesitation. If striking Hamas outposts in Gaza was really something more than violent chest thumping, I could understand it. But no military action will eliminate Hamas. Hamas has become much more than a terrorist organization bent on Israel’s destruction. It is a political party that dispenses services and favors to the Palestinian population. Israeli strikes against Hamas has the same effect as cutting a branch off of a tree but ignoring the roots. The tree will simply grow a new branch.

So I must ask, what does continuing this cycle of violence achieve? What is its strategic purpose other than showing a population in mourning that the government is doing something? Is there another response? This is the crossroads at which we stand. I say “we” because all Jews, whether they acknowledge it or not, are connected. What happens in Israel affects all of us – profoundly.

I was moved by the reaction of one of the great Jewish sages of our time, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. Two of the murdered teens attended his Mekor Chaim high school. His former student, Pinchas Allouche, was in the car with Rabbi Steinsaltz when news of the murders spread and broke it to him. He wrote about the rabbi’s response. “People will light memorial candles, recite prayers, and attend vigils. Our boys were killed al Kiddush Hashem, (a sanctification of God’s name), because they were Jews. Therefore, to best honor their memories – indeed, to confront evil – we must act always as proud Jews, in our deeds and through our lives.” Allouche elaborates that while we cannot erase evil, we can create good. By living and acting as Jews through Torah and mitzvoth, we can create good.

That is the other path we can choose. Torah interprets “an eye for an eye” not as a dictum for revenge, but as a formula to provide just compensation to the victims, to provide as much healing as possible, even if the healing cannot be complete. Torah eschews revenge. Our tradition is one of law, justice, and healing. So interpretations of Torah, such as using the law of din rodef as justification for killing Palestinians, is a twisting of the intent of Torah. Any use of Torah to do anything other than create good, to create wholeness, is a misuse of the Divine message. Torah’s purpose is to effect tikkun (repair) to try to achieve sheleimut (wholeness).

I recognize that this Israeli government is not ready for the big gestures like halting expansion of settlements on the West Bank. I also recognize there is a pathological illness running through the Palestinian population, preventing acceptance of the Jewish state. My question is this; can we Jews recognize that we bear a part of the responsibility for this illness? Can we, as a first step towards bringing healing, do some honest teshuvah about the history of Israel that allows for some shared responsibility for the status quo? Or do we insist on a narrative that only casts Jews/Israelis as the good guys and Arabs/Palestinians as the bad guys?

However we answer that question, I do believe there is a small, tangible step that would demonstrate what Rabbi Steinsaltz means by being Jews who live by our Torah – a Torah that promotes healing. The family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir wants a statement by the Israeli government acknowledging his murder as a revenge killing. Grant them this. Even more, make a gesture of sorrow towards his family, an offer of something to promote healing. Provide appropriate compensation. This should be done without any expectation of a return gesture by any Palestinian towards the families of the murdered Israeli teens. It should be done as a simple human gesture, to demonstrate that as Jews, we understand senseless human loss. It will do more to heal the Palestinian illness than any reprisal.

I remember well the attack by a Jordanian soldier on March 13, 1997, on a group of Israeli school girls, killing seven. King Hussein of Jordan came to Israel to apologize personally to the victims’ families. He stated then, “Your daughter is like my daughter, your loss is my loss.” The power and sincerity of his gesture affected all Israel, indeed all Jews. King Hussein’s example is the one we need to follow.

Yes, we are angry at the murder of our innocent teens. Yes we are angry at the sick celebrations by segments of the Palestinian population. Yes, we are deep in grief over the perpetuation of conflict. But let us affirm the teaching of Rabbi Steinsaltz, live proudly as Jews and try to create goodness. Zichronam livracha, my the memories of three innocent Jews and one innocent Palestinian one day bring blessing. Amen.

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