It is Thursday, three days since we received the terrible news that the bodies of Naftali, Eyal and Gilad were found near Hebron. It is exactly three weeks since the fateful night during which, instead of completing their trips home after a week at school the three boys were abducted. In such a short a time so much seems to have happened. With great trepidation and at the suggestion of a friend today I paid a shiva call to Gilad’s parents, Ophir and Bat-Galim Sha’ar, along with many hundreds from Am Yisrael.
It is almost impossible to process these experiences that have been so powerful and moving. In reality we are all in a state of mourning, even though one cannot begin to understand what the families themselves are going through.
I have been trying to think what has made this tragedy so different from the many awful terror attacks we have known over the last 20 years. Why has the spirit of solidarity and unity been so powerful during the last three weeks? And most importantly, what if anything can we take forward as the grief returns to being the personal issue of the three families, and gradually dies down for the rest of us.
During the last three weeks we have all become intimately aware of the types of families the Sha’ar’s, Fraenkel’s and Yifrah’s are. We have learnt what hobbies the boys enjoyed, music, sport and of course their love for school and learning. We have learnt something of the places where they live and we have learnt of the ongoing challenge of attending school where public transport remains in sparse supply.
Most of all, we have learnt to respect and love the parents of the victims. We have watched in awe at their serenity in the face of dreadful anxiety. We have seen them show a humble gratitude for the security forces and volunteers, even when they knew that the call for help was not dealt with in the proper fashion. Even today at their house Bat-Galim re-iterated, that notwithstanding the need to learn and implement the lessons from that fateful call to the police, we should continue to have confidence and tell our kids to call them and not us, the parents.
All of this has created a level of intimacy with the families that can never be achieved in the wake of most terror attacks. Because of their nature, we can’t normally get that glimpse into the lives of the victims and their families, nor the understanding of how they might cope over a period of great stress and uncertainty.
By now, every person in the country and many around the world feel part of the extended family of these boys, who by being buried side by side have been linked as brothers for the rest of time. Alongside her terrible anguish Gilad’s mother expressed that it also came with a feeling of spiritual uplifting. The gravitational force, initially created by the mothers, joined by the quieter fortitude of the fathers, has pulled us all into the inner circle of their experience, as apprehension turned into two weeks of uncertainty, concluding with the tragic news of the boys’ death. Even the most cynical among us (and how cynical have we become) cannot remain unmoved by this.
Since the funerals things continue to be a blur here. The families returned to their homes to commence the formal period of a week’s mourning, only for turmoil to ensue at the discovery of another victim of violence. Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a sixteen year old Jerusalemite, was found murdered in a Jerusalem forest. Rumour followed rumour and a day and half later it is still unclear the circumstances of his death. On the one hand this has fomented unrest in Jerusalem, and on the other has brought into sharp light the different responses to the deaths of all these victims.
Again, and with great nobility, family members made totally clear their view on this matter. They were joined in this by a wall to wall condemnation of violence by political and religious leaders across Israeli society. The murder of teenagers is senseless and unforgivable, no matter the circumstances.
If we are to maintain our humanity and certainly our morality we need to make a clear stand defining the role of our security forces and their exclusive responsibility for protecting us as civilians, as opposed to tools of revenge. There are of course political or tactical differences of opinion as to how this should be carried out, but it has to be about security and deterrence and not revenge and heaven forbid, vigilantism.
Once we move from the realm of politics to education and civil society, the debate must be around morality and ethics, where we demand that our leaders pay the most careful attention to their utterances. When the situation is akin to a powder keg, any wrong or misplaced statement can be used or abused to foment further violence, rather than the opposite. The Ethics of our Fathers exhort the wise to be careful with their words, always true, is of critical importance at this time.
How then shall we carry forward what might be described as the positives from the terrible roller-coaster of the last two weeks?
First and foremost we must focus on continuing to unite Israeli society. I strongly believe that the way we treat one another has an enormous impact on how we treat others. A society at peace from within will be uniquely qualified to deal with the challenges arising from its external threats. We know this during wartime and terror attacks, but we must learn it during times of peace.
As part of this effort representatives of all the youth movements visited as a cohesive group to the grieving families. Their visit to the Sha’ars today immediately inspired a discussion among all those in attendance on unity and how it can be maintained. This may seem an obvious thing to do, but with the existing chasms of Israeli society it remains within the realm of innovation. This type of cooperation must be embedded on a regular and educational basis helping to bridge the gaps between us and at an age when it still matters.
Both Rabbi Dov Zinger, the head of the school attended by two of the boys and Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid referred to the saying of the Holy Ar”i, a famous 16th Rabbi, during their eulogies. The sentence quoted implores that we treat others as we seek to be treated, with the addition that the Ar”i reminds us that this is a divine commandment, not some social luxury.
It is this sentiment and not the desire for revenge that is called for. The families themselves have repeatedly made clear that they expect all of our country’s leaders, educators and Rabbis to focus on building on the unity generated through this awful experience. I am incredibly proud of the two organisations that I am involved with. I will double up on my efforts through both Bnei Akiva and Gesher to play a role in an attempt to build up a legacy that would befit Naftali, Eyal and Gilad as we strive towards a just, caring and mutually respectful Israel.