Mourning Ezra, Mourning Shadi

Who we mourn and how is a statement about us and who we are.

Israel’s government (meaning the Prime Minister’s office in the name of the government) placed advertising in the print media today expressing its grief at the death of two victims of terror in Gush Etzion last week, Yaakov Don and Ezra Yehiel Schwartz. Quite rightly, the government, speaking presumably for the citizens of Israel, has seen fit to offer tribute to the dead and comfort to their families and friends. In our name, they offer condolences to those who mourn the deaths of a vibrant educator and beloved husband and father and of a dedicated young man from Massachusetts spending the year studying and volunteering in Israel between high school and what was to have been his higher education.

But wait! Three people, not two, were gunned down together on Thursday, at the same place. The same spray of bullets also killed Shadi Arafa, a Hebron resident in his mid-20’s. So why is his death not worthy of mention by the government of Israel? Why are those who mourn him any less deserving of comfort?

The Israeli government, you may say, is concerned with its own citizens, and naturally so. Let the Palestinian Authority express solidarity with the Palestinian victim. (And they did, also blaming Israeli forces for his death rather than naming one of their own people as Arafa’s murderer.) But neither Shadi Arafa nor Ezra Schwartz were Israeli citizens. One was permanently settled in an area that we largely control; the other was a Jew visiting on an American passport. Both were killed in an area that we control directly and claim will be part of Israel even in a two-state solution.

The ad also speaks in the name of “the People of Israel.” Read it carefully: not “the people of Israel” but “the People of Israel,” the Jewish people, _’am Yisrael_. Speaking (with the well-earned hubris of classical Zionism) for the entire worldwide Jewish people, the government bemoans the death of two Jews, but not of one non-Jew murdered on our watch, in an area over which we claim and exercise full control.

In making that invidious distinction, the Prime Minister and his PR people misrepresent the Jewish people and the Jewish tradition. Deuteronomy teaches us that when an unidentified murder victim is found, the leaders of the nearest village must ceremonially declare the local residents’ innocence — since they have failed to protect the wayfarer who was (nearly) in their midst. The book of Proverbs enjoins us not to rejoice over the death of an enemy. Shadi Afara wasn’t even an enemy. He was guilty of no crime. We should feel and express the same sadness over his death as over the others’.

Just like Ezra Schwartz and Yaakov Don, Shadi Arafa was murdered in a place where we are supposed to provide safety. We failed him just as we have failed to protect so many others. His name too should appear in the government’s notice. May those who mourn him, too, find comfort.


About the Author
Peretz Rodman is a Jerusalem-based rabbi, educator, writer, and translator with a wide array of professional experience. He has spent three and a half decades interpreting Jewish texts and traditions in many settings and many media. Born in Boston and educated there and in Jerusalem, Peretz has spent most of his adult life in Israel. He and his family have made Jerusalem their home since 1990.
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