He Was Known to the Police
Two young men were killed in Lod on Wednesday, one by a car bomb, the other shot. Both were “known to the police.” As the video of the burning car made the rounds, people peered at narrow road visible in front of the flames and asked “Where did it happen? Not near a school, right? Not in my neighborhood, I hope.”
Murders in Lod have become commonplace, but two in one day was uncommon enough to place them high on the news lineup. Not high enough apparently. Our Minister of Internal Security was busy that day defending members of his party who had gone to prevent the dismantling of an illegal outpost. He could not be bothered to show up in Lod for the photo op, to make the hollow promise to deal with organized crime in the center of the country.
According to the police, over 100 suspects have been arrested since the beginning of the year in association with violent crimes in the central region, dozens of weapons have been seized and 10 patrol units have been added, in addition to border patrol and specialized units to deal with violent crime. In connection with the most recent killings, they would not comment on an ongoing investigation.
He belonged to the wrong family, had been observed hanging around with known criminals
They assure me that keeping the public peace is their goal. Why then, do people keep getting assassinated in broad daylight, in public places? I don’t believe there is one clear answer to this. What is clear is that it is the result of a situation that was allowed to fester for many years. After years of growth, even arresting hundreds of suspects and adding special units, the police can chop branches off a crime family tree, but they have been unable to uproot it or do it serious harm.
To be clear, Lod has had its share of criminal activity over the 40+ years I’ve lived in the area. There have been gains, in addition to the setbacks. The “caspomat” drug dealers, for example, are gone. And to be clear, I’m aware that enforcing the law in Lod is a difficult job, and I believe many of its police do their best. Still, many residents report their feelings of personal safety are at an all-time low.
But honestly, what bothers me is that phrase: “He was known to the police.” If he had been a suspected terrorist, he would have died in a “work accident,” or he would have been “neutralized.” Known to the police means he was most likely one of those hundreds arrested, and he had been let go. He belonged to the wrong family, had been observed hanging around with known criminals. Known to the police in Lod – we won’t spell it out, but he was Arab.
The door has been opened for us to decide that a Jewish life is worth more than an Arab one, that a young man’s life counts for more than that of a mother of young children
So now we can assign values to their lives: The one who was “neutralized”: His life was completely worthless. Less than worthless until he became neutral. The one who was known to the police, his life was worth a little more, but we don’t count him in our roster of tragic deaths. If the police don’t find his killers – there’s plenty of other crime to keep them busy. A woman who was killed by a family member. That’s sad. Her life was worth something and we might even shake our heads and say it’s a shame. Maybe the police should do something. A soldier killed in an army operation? That loss is the worst; apparently his life was worth much more that the others. The newscasters will comment: “A young life so tragically ended,” as the camera zooms for long minutes into a closeup of a tearful mother, sister or wife. The door has been opened for us to decide that a Jewish life is worth more than an Arab one, that a young man’s life counts for more than that of a mother of young children.
Here’s a news flash: Every one of them had a mother. The terrorist was a 14-year old who wanted to be a hero/a father of four who let his rage get the better of him/a mentally ill young man who did not have access to care. The one who was known to the police was supporting two younger siblings/found crime was a way to earn the shiny car he craved/was working for his uncle. The murdered woman was a teacher/she wanted a better life for her daughters/she wanted to marry the man of her choice. The soldier was a young man to whom we gave a gun and put into an extremely high-risk job.
Who gets to decide which life is worth more? Is it police superintendents and generals who allocate resources and personnel? Is it judges who hand down different rulings, depending on who has been killed? Is it the media, which feeds us the story, gives us the key to the code: neutralized/known to the police/not known to the authorities/tragic? Is it our Knesset, which makes the lives of ultra-orthodox Jews worth more valuable than that of secular, left-wing ones, the lives of Jews more precious than that of others? Is it ourselves and our belief in our national narrative – the one we teach our children and tell ourselves every evening when we tune in to that newscast?
In short, somewhere along the way, too large a part of our society has lost its basic respect for human life. We are all equal under the law, but not in the eyes of the law. To change the reality, we need to reframe the story. We need to assume, on every level, that each life is worth the same as any other. We need to guard against letting ourselves become inured to the violence, to mourn every loss, to see the terrible wake of every violent death, to think, next time a reporter tells us, “he was known to the police,” about all of the assumptions that underlie that statement.