When I was young and playing in the sea and a huge wave would rise up and dunk me, for a few moments I would feel like I was drowning, disoriented, and unable to breathe. Until I clawed my way back up for air, taking huge gulps of sweet oxygen.
That’s what I feel every time I hear about a terrorist attack when people are killed. A suffocating wave of emotions, of being violated, outraged, and sad all at once. I take it personally, as if I knew the victims, although I didn’t. And the sadness that washes over me stays with me in my consciousness as I go about my everyday life. And I sometimes stop for a second and think about the trail of tragedy that is left after their deaths and the burning, violent anger I feel towards the terrorist, wanting to lash out and make *him* feel pain, to make him suffer.
And then I always think about what we can do to make it STOP, these incessant, indiscriminate attacks. How can we make this end, this pain, and suffering, this grief, and mourning? This hate.
Sometimes, when a terrorist attack occurs next to a West Bank settlement, I think that maybe if it wasn’t there, they wouldn’t have been killed? That the settlement is a provocation, a thorn in their eye, scratching, irritating every time they look out of the window, a burning and growing resentment, until one day some Palestinian loses it and lashes out. Not that the victims deserved it, God forbid, but that them being there, in their faces like that — it was a tragedy waiting to happen.
I usually feel offended when people glibly trot out the response “they were killed, just for being Jews.” So often they weren’t killed “just for being Jews.” Sometimes, they were killed because they were soldiers who are seen by the Palestinians as the agents of their oppression, not just because they were Jews. Sometimes, it’s because they are Settlers against whom the Palestinians of the adjacent village bear a grudge for taking away their grazing pastures with their settlements, and in their wake they brought the army to their doorstep, disrupting their lives and forcing them to live under curfew, and with roadblocks, and foot patrols. Not just because they were Jews, but because of who they were, where they were, and why they were there. This doesn’t justify their murder, but it gives their murder more context than an expression of simple antisemitism. Sometimes, giving the explanation of “just because they were Jews” is a cop-out, to avoid thinking about the context of the conflict we live with every day.
But not last night.
Last night in Elad, three young men were killed, just because they were Jews. Elad is a Haredi city, within the Green Line and most Haredim don’t serve in the army. In this attack, there are no other explanations.
The three victims leave behind 16 children. Sixteen children who will never again feel their father’s hands on their head on Erev Shabbat, as he recites,
ישימך אלוהים כאפרים וכמנשה
יברכך ה’ וישמרך
יאר ה’ פניו אליך ויכוניך
ישא ה’ פניו אליך וישם לך שלום.
Veyasem Lecha shalom.
I used to bless my sons every Erev Shabbat and it used to fill my heart with a sense of gratitude and satisfaction. These 16 children will miss that. And as they say “המוציא לחם מן הארץ” as they all hold hands, one pair of hands will be missing. They will always be missing from now on.
And it breaks my heart.
And now I want to say something more. There is also anger and defiance in my heart; it is towards the vultures of the Israeli Right, who swoop down and gluttonously pick at the carcasses of these poor victims for political gain, without even the most basic respect and deference for the dead, without even waiting for them to be buried. And my anger burns against them for defiling the solace of our mourning.
It burns so much that I want to shout, “Who the hell do you think you are? What makes you think that you have the monopoly on our grief? What gives you the right to think that only you feel these emotions of pain and anger more than we do? How dare you use these deaths, and tread on their bodies to point fingers at us for political gain? What you are doing is to defile the sanctitude of their deaths.”
Just two days ago we bowed our heads when the siren sounded, in honor of our dead. They died protecting our country, to keep us safe. Their sacrifice was not qualified by whether they were Right Wingers or Leftists.
We ALL want is for Israel to be secure. And safe. And when we are in the army and we charge together, side by side, placing our lives in the hands of our comrades, we never think about whether the man or woman charging next to me, with his or her rifle tucked into the crook of the shoulder, voted Bibi or Meretz. It’s irrelevant.
I repeat: It is irrelevant! Israel has suffered terrorist attacks during the tenure of every single government, from its inception. There is not one government that was free of terrorism and deaths. There was not one government that completely controlled terrorism. Certainly not the previous Prime Minister.
Some of us think that the only way to end this endless cycle of violence, of aggression, and retaliation from them and from us, is by finding a solution that will bring mutual peace. I believe that it is our obligation to never stop seeking a way to find an end to the conflict. And I believe that we can do it responsibly.
Some of us think that only force, intimidation, and deterrence can bring quiet. That “they need to know who is boss” and not to mess with us. I personally think that this approach is short-sighted and shorter-lived.
Some of us are driven by a burning desire for revenge, a desire to lash out collectively against all Palestinians. Some are driven by hate. They are the ones who divide us.
But none of us wants to see our landsmen killed. None of us feel the crippling sense of loss of life – of their lives – any more or less than the other. We all care deeply for our country.
So, please, just stop.
If we want Am Yisrael Hai to be more than just an empty slogan, then we need to live together. We need to work to achieve it – together. Left and Right. And let’s stop tearing our society apart. It hurts deeply.
Veyasem Lecha Shalom.