Incitement has been the central buzzword in pro-Israel circles for the past couple of months. As an epidemic of terror sweeps across Israel, prominent voices in the Israeli government and public have attributed the resurgence in violence to the institutionalized encouragement of terror by the Palestinian leadership. In addition to an educational system, media platforms traditional and social, and a street-naming calculus that frequently emphasize hatred of Israel, recent assertions by the Palestinian leadership of Israel’s supposed intent to disrupt the status quo on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) have fed the flames of anti-Israel fervor.
A month ago, when the violence was still limited to riots on the Temple Mount, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said in a broadcasted address, “Every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every martyr will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God…The Al-Aqsa Mosque is ours…They have no right to desecrate the mosque with their filthy feet.” After the conflagration was already raging, Abbas further stoked the fire two weeks ago, claiming that Israeli forces had killed 13-year-old stabber Ahmed Manasra in a “cold-blooded execution,” when in reality Manasra was alive and undergoing treatment at Hadassah Hospital. (Abbas’s office later retracted the allegation.) In response, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced Abbas’s “incitement and lies.” The blame for the latest spate of attacks on Israelis indeed lies largely with a Palestinian leadership that inculcates loathing of Israelis and praises those who commit acts of terror.
What’s too often forgotten in this conflict, however, is that every single one of its players is human. If we realize this, we can recognize in the other side something of ourselves and learn from that. It is painful to see that we share common ground with the Palestinians as far as incitement is concerned — but we do.
People who knew Yigal Amir described him as quiet, smart, studious, argumentative, intelligent, talented. A devout Israeli Jew, Amir studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, intermixed with service in the elite Golani brigade, and later at the Institute for Higher Torah Studies at Bar Ilan University. He was deeply involved in religious Zionism, notably with Bnei Akiva, the same youth movement that runs Camp Moshava and Camp Stone. Amir always had an intense sense of religious ideology, generated in large part by his educational environments, and stood obstinately by his convictions.
After Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo I Accords in 1993, Amir became highly active in the demonstrations sweeping the Bar Ilan campus. At the time, right-wing rhetoric against the Israeli government had risen to a fever pitch. Amir’s certainty that Rabin should be considered under the Jewish law of rodef reflected a vocal current in Israeli society. At a rally 50,000-strong in October 1995, people chanted slogans like “death to Rabin,” “Rabin is a murderer,” and “Rabin is a traitor.” Some demonstrators held signs that showed Rabin dressed in a keffiyeh. A flyer that was circulated in the crowd depicted Rabin in an SS uniform. Knesset members (notably, Binyamin Netanyahu), rabbis, and other leaders stood by idly or joined in.
And so, in retrospect, it is hardly surprising that on November 4, 1995, about a month after the signing of the Oslo II Accords, Yigal Amir finally converted words to action.
Yigal Amir’s assassination of Yitzhak Rabin unmistakably derived from the prevalence of incitement against the prime minister. Today, those same flames of hatred still burn. Last Tuesday, Hagai Amir, the brother of Yigal Amir, was arrested for incitement after writing in a Facebook post that President Reuven Rivlin and the “Zionist state,” whom he compared to Sodom, “would soon depart from this world.” Rivlin stated early last week that he would never pardon Yigal Amir. Previously, pictures of Rivlin in an SS uniform have appeared on social media. Equally abhorrent, several weeks ago, a Ynet editor uploaded a similar picture of Netanyahu.
After Jewish extremists (allegedly) firebombed the Dawabsha family home in the West Bank village of Duma on July 31, causing the deaths of a mother, father, and toddler, Rivlin expressed his “shame” that “my own people” perpetrated the attack. The backlash against Rivlin was vicious. One commenter on Rivlin’s Facebook post wrote, “I pray that another ‘Yigal Amir’ will rise to cleanse you and the Arabs from our Jewish country.”
The 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination reminds us of the demons that plague our corner of the Middle East. There is a lot of hate here. And, too often, that hate is abetted by individuals in positions of influence. We cannot tolerate this. In a democracy, particularly in one dominated by a religion so dedicated to the sanctity of life, incitement to murder must be extinguished wherever it ignites. We cannot permit policy debates to escalate into dehumanization. And if our leadership fails, we cannot let ourselves be bystanders. Many individuals who were familiar with Yigal Amir knew of his belief that the prime minister should be killed, or even knew of Amir’s intent to carry out the deed, and did nothing; they are culpable. These lessons, of course, apply to the Palestinians as well. To stop the festering hatred of our external and internal conflicts, they and we must accept personal responsibility and recognize our common humanity. We must say, as Yitzhak Rabin said to the Knesset in 1993, “Enough of blood and tears. Enough.”