An Arab-Palestinian teenager broke into a Jewish home last Friday night to kill as many Jews as possible. He succeeded in murdering in cold blood three at the Shabbat table, where they were busy performing one of the most central commandments of Judaism – having a ceremonial Shabbat bread meal. (The center of Jewish religious life is not in the synagogue (unlike Christians in Church or Muslims at the Mosque) but rather at home.) A close-by off-duty soldier stopped the perpetrator by lightly wounded him – no doubt a right decision as he now could be interrogated. Also, Israeli-army regulations (see below) will not allow to use unnecessary force – no to overkill (pun intended).
In this order, Israeli political leaders Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and Israel Is Our Home Party leader and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman have now each pleaded for a death sentence for this hate crime. The death penalty has been on the books in Israel but is, besides in a terrible mistake once in the beginning of the State, only been effectuated against one person, architect of the Holocaust and other WW II genocides, Adolf Eichmann.
The UN, quick to criticize Israel (who else?) for the death of violent Arab-Palestinian protesters hours before, has not been heard from since, about this hate crime. The US President is silent too, which is not much better than the State Department under President Obama, that when Jews were murdered, always called “on both parties to exercise restraint.” AP, that puts more deceit and hatred of Israel in its reporting than any other press agency that I know, was quick to report that the Pope was worried equally by turbulence from both sides, which sounds more like typical AP propaganda (false equal equivalence) than true words by this Pontiff.
The powerless anger in Israel is palpable. The frustration is that whatever we say or do, we can’t bring back these lives. It’s also not the first time a Jew was murdered from baseless hatred, condoned by most of the world. (Ah, you want to repeat the murderer’s claim that he had a valid reason for his despicable deed: the Al-Aqsa is in danger? That is not the motive – that is only the excuse. No, this is not merely semantics. The real reason was being indoctrinated to hate and incited to kill.)
Every human loss is a great tragedy and terribly sad for all bereaved. Still, Jews know as no one else the sanctity of life. In Amsterdam in my workplace, one of my colleagues once asked me: “Jews also have 24 hours a day like everyone else – why are they always running?” I guess, it shows that we know better than anyone how valuable every second is.
I believe that Jews have not yet been able to teach the whole world the Thou Shan’t Murder. It is hard for Jews to imagine that others are not so strict on murder. We better learn reality. Of course, most Gentiles are squarely against killing others, sure, unless …. provoked, humiliated, their loved ones murdered, their sexual partner found violated or unfaithful, etc. (Jews when furious damage goods, Gentile-Arabs kill to express their anger.) We Jews must give the highest priority to teaching this commandment to the whole world – without blaming ourselves for all the bloodbaths we were feasted on by them through the ages.
This revulsion about murder is not in our DNA. We need to teach it out children generation after generation – and we do. But have a Jew untypically drink boundless amounts of alcohol and he’ll kill for nothing too, as so many people in pubs the world over.
Ironically, one of the main objectives of maligning Jews and Israelis is to portray them as murderers. This is intended to ward off and neutralize guilt feelings about Gentile killing sprees and especially mass murders on Jews. How bitter that no moral code has been more humane than that of the Israeli Defense Forces (if someone has one rock and threatens you with it, you may shoot him; as soon as the rock has left his hand, starts flying, you’re not allowed to harm him), and that no one learns from it.
While every human death is a terrible loss to mankind, not every death is the same. Death from “old age” is not as bad as from an accident; which is not as bad as from an illness; which is not as bad as from suicide in a panic or in (false) total hopelessness; which is not as bad as from “act of G-d” (Nature); which is not as bad as from a stupid mistake; which is not as bad as from bystanders not stepping in; which is not as bad as from negligent homicide; which is not as bad as from a hot-headed anger explosion; which is not as bad as from murder planned in cold blood; which is not as bad as from a hate crime; which is not as bad as from being part of (attempted) genocide.
From all the funerals that I’ve been at or watched in the media, generally Jews cry at funerals and talk about how in the end life will conquer death. This while at Gentile-Arab funerals the prevalent mood looks dominated by anger and a vision of revenge and bloodshed. While Jews have our rage, and the way we often rise above it seems unbelievable, it appears to be better to cry and mourn, and talk about high ideals, than to speak of settling of scores. I’m not judging Gentiles, and certainly not all non-Jews, but for Jews bare fury at funerals seems just too primitive.
On top of all this, religious Jews believe that all bad befalling us, Heaven forbid, is a message from G-d. That does not exonerate murderers at all, but the way to reap benefits from tragedies lies in us shaping up. Also, G-d chooses the best of the best close to Him – Jews being murdered from hatred show how dear they are to G-d (Leviticus 10:3), may He spare us all.
Some Jews, especially from countries that have people on death row, support capital punishment. They argue often that this is permitted by Jewish Law – or: the Hebrew Bible. Well, actually it is not – certainly under the conditions that these countries employ. Not only does a kosher capital case need two kosher witnesses who understandably warned the culprit after which s/he progresses immediately to kill anyway. Moreover, Judaism calls a court that convicted more than one murderer in 70 years: a band of murderers! The role of the courts was actually to find reasons not to convict and execute. The active death penalty was abolished two thousand years ago, because there were so many cases that not only murder had become too normal but the death penalty would not deter anymore either.
An acquaintance of mine, a rabbi, once admitted to me that he found himself hitting his sons while screaming: stop hitting each other. Then the irony dawned on him. How could he teach them to stop hitting each other by hitting them? I think that we can even take this further. From what else did his kids learn that anger warrants violence than from their father hitting them in anger?! In the same vein, too much judicial killing does not drive home a lesson on the sanctity of life.
Court conviction and punishment are a great way to show that all of society condemns something. While there is little educational value for culprits in hurting them, collective disapproval can help victims recover and the population stay away from demoralization. (This because to say that all injustice will be rectified in the Future World, might not cut it, for many people.) Reasonable penalties may also deter.
Revenge, though, is just stupid. Don’t tell this to someone who just suffered a loss, Heaven forbid. However, we should all rise above actual retribution. (To feel like revenge and to tell your therapist or best friends what you want to do in return is fine.) Proclaiming reprisal as policy doesn’t fit us. Get over it.
I’m not advocating to turn the other cheek. No policy has been drenched in more blood than that one, because it is human nature to want to retaliate. Therefore, to declare such sentiments totally taboo in the end boomerangs. Some limited measure of redress may thus be in order, as Jewish Law brings, but that must be it.
The best argument for capital punishment is that it may dissuade others. The best argument against it is that it doesn’t. No would-be murderer ever thought: if I’m caught, they’ll kill me, I’d better not. It’s not that it doesn’t frighten away enough – it doesn’t scare at all. You may dislike this, but not deny it. Truth is truth.
Worse than not deterring is when murderers seek to die “as martyrs.” Jews find this hard to imagine, as we understand that we cannot truly make a martyr of ourselves as much as we cannot tickle ourselves – it can’t be done. Martyrdom is the highest death but still needs to be avoided at almost all costs. But then there are cultures that glorify dying for one’s ideals. (This can be understood as an easy copout, as it it’s much harder to live for one’s principles.) Executing someone like that is as stupid as declaring suicide attempts a capital crime. Some Arab-Palestinian suicidal teenagers (rejected in love) have sought suicide by security force bullet – how to turn giving up on your life into heroism.
It may be good to bring up the death penalty when it fits our sentiments, but it’s no use executing it.
The most prominent argument against a legal execution in Israel is that nothing equates what Eichmann did.
All the above does not mean that nothing can be done to prevent these murders. Let me give ten excellent ideas – some in motion already.
House demolition of the perpetrators’ homes does work preventatively. It is nasty, but so are crimes against humanity, genocide and hate crimes.
Since these are effective, let us add: flattening one house per victim; residences of the sibs of the murderer, or of other family members in the first degree who live on their own. Is this not terrible? I surely hope so.
Stop payment of murderers in jail. This is so insane that I don’t want to even explain it.
Stop payment of families of murderers. See the previous point.
Stop teaching hatred for Jews in Gentile-Arab schools and media.
Put all inciters in jail – all of them. Eichmann never killed anyone, not even commanded anyone to kill anyone. The worst murderers have never touch a trigger.
Teach the sanctity of life. Your blood is not redder than that of anyone else’s. Afterlife could be great but of most value is this life because only here we can use our Free Will and surpass ourselves.
Treat perpetrators – if they survive – exceedingly well, with the greatest respect, in hospital, in interrogation, in court, in prison – don’t hurt their dignity. This gives the biggest chance that they will understand that they lied to them about Jews and so help them repent – though don’t hold your breath.
Improve the living conditions of Arab Palestinians in Israel and even beyond. We have seen that the Marxist mantra does not work that if people are desperate enough they’re rise up. We also see that the worst murderers often grow up in excellent conditions. Yet, we anyway want everyone around us have a great life, so let’s assist them. It seems that most people who have a good life are harder to incite. (Though never justify murder with poverty. No one was poorer than some Jews in Europe and they never killed anyone.)
Create an independent Arab Palestine – see my blog post of yesterday.