I will never forget turning on the computer my Freshman year at UC Berkeley, clicking over to CNN, and reading about the lynch in Ramallah.
Two soldiers had made a very wrong turn, and would never turn back. They were swallowed by a lynch mob whole, who beat them, stabbed them, gouged their eyes out, and disemboweled them as they lay on the floor of the Ramallah police station.
The words were enough to make sick – just as I’m sure they’re making you sick, too.
But it was the photograph that ran alongside the text that left me screaming, screaming, screaming out of my mind, a keening wail from across ten time-zones, as I stared at the picture of one of the men who did this to them, who squeezed their lives from their bodies with such brutal inhumanity, and who then stood by the open window and waved to the cheering crowd below.
His hands, like two bloody flags waving from the window, his hands like something from the darkest recesses of the mind that drags us to that place where humanity shambles off to die. His hands, those two hands with five fingers each, just like mine, just like yours
So when Avi Issacharoff, a journalist and good friend describes his too-near brush with a baying lynch mob just outside of Jerusalem, I think about those hands waving from the window, and I shudder, sickened, my heart slackened.
You can read his own account about what happened — and what almost happened. And while it’s terrifying, what shakes me most is this:
“I remember lots of faces of people I believe were foreign correspondents — watching and staring and doing nothing.”
People doing nothing.
Who were they?
Who do they work for?
What do they have to say for themselves?
I want to know what kind of people stand by the sidelines and watch something like this happen like they’re National Geographic filmmakers who dare not interrupt a voracious jackal from devouring a gazelle.
I want to know how they can live with themselves knowing that they did nothing.
But should I be surprised? I mean really?
So often, history has taught us that people are really good at standing back with their hands in their pockets and doing nothing.
Lynch mobs in the South surged down Main Street while the ordinary townsfolk stood back and watched bruised and bloody men got swung up on trees, beaten with sticks as they dangled from ropes, dying.
Or the Holocaust, where we get all excited when a person took a family in, when really, this should have been the default and the Holocaust should never have happened in the first place.
Or a woman screaming, screaming, screaming on the street below, pleading for help as people safe inside shuffle out of bed to close their windows so they don’t hear her, as people safe inside pull pillows over their heads, as people safe inside go back to sleep until she finally stops screaming, because by the break of dawn her body is broken. (Oh, you think I’m exaggerating? This happened on the streets of New York only 50 years ago.)
Hell, I learned this lesson as a child the night I woke up and heard my father and mother screaming “FIRE! FIRE!” I flew out of bed, and called 911.
Three other neighbors did, as well.
But there was no fire.
Instead, a man smacked out of his mind by meth and cheap vodka had attacked my parents in the garage when they were coming home from dinner one night.
“Why did you call “Fire” when there wasn’t a fire?'” I asked my parents later on that night while we sipped chamomile tea around our dinning room table. “Why didn’t you just call ‘Help’?”
“Because when you call ‘Fire,’ people will call 911 because a fire can spread, and it could destroy their homes, too. But when you call “help’ sometimes people will do nothing because they don’t want to get involved.”
And there you have it. Humanity standing to the side, humanity not wanting to get involved, humanity not wanting to get its hands dirty.
For all it takes for evil to flourish, is for good men to do nothing.
And I refuse to throw my hands up in the air in surrender and accept this. Because even when the evidence is waving a big red flag to the contrary, I still believe that people are good. And in moments like these, when our mettle as human beings is tested, I want to believe — hell, I need to believe — that our connection to one another should transcend politics and religion and culture.
We must expect more from one another, which is why I am asking again:
Who were these people who stood back and did nothing while Avi was nearly lynched?
Who do they work for?
And what do they have to say for themselves?
We must hold them accountable. Because in moments like these, when the darkness swells and threatens to swallow us whole, indifference can tip the scales and send us tumbling into a gaping maw. So, we must reach out and band together to help one another, even when it means getting our hands dirty, because sometimes, that is the only way to pull ourselves back from the edge.