“If Niv Asraf doesn’t sit in jail for 20 years over this I’m out of here.”
That was one talkback following the discovery that the 22-year-old Beersheba native had, together with his pal, perpetrated an epic prank that sent Israelis and Palestinians into a frantic red alert.
And what a doozy their story was: The day before Passover two buddies drive into the West Bank on an impulse to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron — the single-most volatile city in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They get a flat tire. Niv trots into the Palestinian town of Beit Anun, a Hamas stronghold, and doesn’t return. Eran calls the police.
Within hours, roads were closed through the southern West Bank, thousands of soldiers — led by Shin-Bet agents — were searching house-to-house through Arab villages and helicopters were flying low across the Hebron hills. All told, more than $1 million spent scouring the territory for Niv, who was found hiding in a valley near Kiryat Arba.
And, when the call to lock this guy up was heard, the collective nod of agreement was nearly audible.
Maybe. But regardless of which laws the court determines were broken and what the legal punishment might be for such crimes, there is something else Niv Asraf should do. It’s the thing that many people, certainly Israelis, find hardest to do.
Apologize to everyone.
Apologize to your mother and your father.
Apologize to your poor uncle, who went on TV and begged everyone to pray, and also, with his decent demeanor, made us stop thinking “what kind of family is this kid from?” and start thinking, “oh, this kid is from a family.”
Apologize to your sister, whose comment about missing her eyebrow appointment became a national joke because nobody had trained her for the moment you would drag her into the mud with you.
Apologize to every soldier and police officer who had to go search for you instead of doing his or her other work — whether these duties related to national security or to the national insanity of Passover prep.
Apologize to journalists who got stuck in front of computers and to Moshe Nussbaum, Channel 2’s police reporter, who stood out on the highway all afternoon reporting a ludicrous story about a flat tire.
Apologize to the residents of Beit Anun, who had the unexpected pleasure of a home visit from the entire Israeli Defense Forces while Moshe Nussbaum and military reporter Roni Daniel repeatedly told Israelis how “hostile” the residents of this particular village are. Well, just in case the folks in Beit Anun weren’t hostile before — guess how they feel now.
Apologize deeply to the families of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, who will never forget the moment they heard their sons were kidnapped and never fully recover from the moment they learned of their deaths, and who certainly didn’t need the extra reminder as they headed into their first Pesach seder without their beloved children.
And then apologize deeply again to the family of Mohammad Abu Khdair, burned alive by Jewish fanatics in the wake of those kidnappings, who also had to ponder whether other Jews might be happy for an excuse to be fanatical.
Apologize to this mother of a soldier who, as her son joined the search, remembered the bloody hands of a lynching 15 years ago in Ramallah and imagined the dawn of the Third Intifada.
Do this for the next 20 years. And don’t just say you’re sorry. Make amends. Be truthful. Leave your ex-girlfriend in peace. Tell your sister she’s beautiful no matter what. Forgive your parents for whatever it is that you can’t.
Let those quiet, enormous hours that you spent alone in the wilderness with your sleeping bag and cans of food be the hours that began your healing. Those moments when the blare of your injured ego and the din of your rage went quiet, those moments when everyone was worried for your safety and the whole world was not yet angry at you.
Find a way to feel how truly important one individual can be in the world. Not a big, bombastic way: keep it small. Help one person. Heal yourself.
Niv, the joke around here — and never dismiss jokes in Israel, they are our most serious pastime — was a visual that took the iconic poster of the captive soldier Gilad Shalit and put your face on it. Instead of “He’s still alive,” it said: “He’s still a shitty little brat.”
How about this for your punishment: Spend the next 20 years being the opposite of that.
Until then we can all thank you for this: You gave Israelis and Palestinians one clear thing on which they could finally agree.