As the Jewish people wait for the return of the three kidnapped boys k’ish echad b’lev echad – as one person with one heart – praying for the safe return of acheinu kol beit Yisrael – our brothers, the whole house of Israel – tensions have flared up throughout the country. The IDF has expanded its search operation, rockets have increased in regularity from Gaza, and the spread of the ISIS near the borders of Jordan and Syria has garnered attention from politicians and decision makers.
But among all these nerve-racking events, the death of one boy stands out and should tug on the collective heartstrings of Israel and the Jewish people.
He was a boy like any other in Israel. From his home in the beautiful Galil region, he probably enjoyed some of the pastimes shared by many fifteen-year-old Israeli boys. Maybe on June 22, he chose to go with his father to work instead of playing soccer with his friends or studying for an upcoming exam.
Seconds before Mohammad Karaka’s life ended, as he heard the whistle of an upcoming Syrian rocket, he may have realized that the decision to help his father was the last one he would ever make.
What makes Mohammad’s death different from any other casualty of the state of war that constantly plagues Israel? In many ways, nothing. With his untimely death, he joins the ranks of innocent civilians who are victims of terror and hatred. His name will be appended to the list of people commemorated on Yom Hazikaron, and one more number will be added to the grand total of Israelis who have been killed since 1948.
In other ways, everything is different this time. As an Arab-Israeli, one cannot help but feel that Mohammad is a casualty of a war that was not his to fight. By an accident of his birth and history, Mohammad had been born into someone else’s national religious homeland. For him, this accident was fatal. Tov lamut b’ad artzeinu – “It is good to die for our country.” But there is no question that Trumpeldor’s famous last words hold a different weight for a Muslim boy living in the Jewish state.
This is not to say that Mohammad was any less Israeli than Gil-ad, Eyal, or Naftali. Israeli democracy challenges the Jewish people to face “the other” as equals – the Muslims, Christians, Druse, and other non-Jews in our midst. In many ways we have succeeded, although there is endless room for progress. Arab-Israelis are often labeled as a fifth pillar, but as we have seen in recent weeks, many are immensely proud of their Israeli identity. The Syrians who targeted the Karaka’s car did so out of hatred for all Israelis regardless of religion, language, or skin colour. I have little doubt that they celebrated their success without regard for the background of the victim.
As Jews, how do we mourn Mohammad Karaka? Whether his family supported Hadash, Ra’am Tal, or Kadima, this young boy’s life and death are the essence of the incredible Jewish-democratic Israeli project.
As such, he mostly certainly merits being mourned among acheinu, kol beit Yisrael – our brothers, the whole house of Israel.