After the Second World War, the French Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, developed a philosophy that at its heart demands human responsibility from one who sees the face of the other, and from which emerges the commandment, “You shall not murder”:
Seeing the face is already hearing: “You shall not murder.” And hearing “You shall not murder” is hearing (the command for) “social justice.” And whatever I hear from God and towards God, who is invisible, should reach me through that particular and unique voice. (Levinas, Difficult Freedom, 69)
Two weeks ago, the “March of the Dead” took place in Tel Aviv. The purpose of the march was to cry out, precisely in the heart of Tel Aviv, against the continuous increase, and the recent terrible jump, in the number of murdered people in Arab society.
A similar march took place in Haifa last week. As a woman, a Jew, and a religious Israeli, I felt obliged to go. I felt an obligation to comply with the Divine commandment that is incumbent upon me regarding my fellow human beings and demands that I take responsibility.
I felt that I owed it to friends I’ve known over the years, but no less to myself.
It was not an easy experience, yet it was very empowering.
A silent, solemn procession was led by a display of coffins on which were written actions that the murdered could have accomplished in their lives — but will no longer happen. After the coffins, the relatives of the murdered carried photos of their loved ones, and finally a large crowd followed — young and old, Jews and Arabs, men and women, with covered and uncovered heads, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze.
So many Torah commandments preclude me from ignoring pain and suffering. Starting with “You shall not stand by when mischief befalls your neighbor” to the call to our historical memory, “Remember you were slaves in Egypt.” We, the people who have been victims of so much violence, cannot stand by in the face of such violence, cannot remain silent in the face of injustices that harm the weak, the stranger in our midst, the orphaned, and the widowed.
Precious women and people I know live in constant fear of their lives, of the lives of their children. If, before now, there were those who thought these attacks were on specific people, or only a problem because of the availability of weapons, now, the number of people murdered and the fact that the murders have touched almost every family and class in Arab society are forcing us to open our eyes.
Children, elderly people, women, students, doctors, high ranking officials, and business owners have been murdered, and basically every Arab citizen lives in constant fear today. Arab society is controlled by gangs of organized crime who charge protection and threaten the lives of those who do not cooperate. Gang members do not hesitate to act violently and brutally among the civilian population, and the victims have ranged from marked targets to their family members and to innocent bystanders.
You may ask, how does this relate to us? Why protest in Tel Aviv? What do you want from us?
I say: a majority that is not aware of the plight of the minority is not fit to rule.
Civil society is under attack by criminal elements, and the responsibility lies with all levels of the state. It is impossible to rely only upon the municipal level. This is a national problem, and whoever thinks that it will remain within the Arab villages is wrong.
Crime does not grow and intensify randomly. It grows as the power vacuum left by the government allows it to grow. It grows wild in the resultant no-man’s-land.
When an entire population is denied a basic investment in construction, sanitation, education, and culture, the result is the takeover by the lawless street. When the youth are in distress and there is no educational or social response to produce hope for a better future, it is very easy to recruit them to criminal organizations.
Arab society is no different from similar processes in the past and that are taking place now all over the world.
I assume you have noticed, for example, the many cases of drowning involving Arab citizens. I once looked into why this was. I discovered, to my astonishment, that there are no swimming pools in the Arab areas. No swimming lessons. There is insufficient access to supervised swimming areas and rescue services. This is a simple and even simplistic example of how investment in infrastructure can save lives; it can also teach us something.
You may say, “But what about corruption, shooting at weddings, and domestic violence?” Even if all such claims are true, they are not reason for neglect. On the contrary: they demand more active involvement of the government out of concern for its citizens, from the little girl to the woman, to the elderly, indeed, to every passerby on the street.
The State of Israel is sovereign. It is impossible to talk about “governance” without governing. Governing is not just about showing presence, but also managing. It is making sure that constructive elements in society get everything they need to flourish and thrive. True, there are also questions of policing and enforcement. But it must not start there. That is dealing with the tip of the iceberg without taking preventive actions first, and after so much neglect.
Also true is that the lack of trust in the state authorities does not make the work of the enforcement agencies, or of other authorities, easier. However, that is not a reason to give up. There is no reason to put up with so much murder daily, nor to abandon an entire society to criminal gangs.
It is important to point out that this terrible jump in the number of people murdered has taken place on the current government’s watch. The sense that no one really cares about the Arab public encourages the gangs to continue their anarchy. Ignorance has reached new heights, and with it, decisions to withhold budgets and prevent programs designed to reduce violence.
But no Israeli government for generations has taken responsibility for the ongoing neglect. What is happening now is the culmination of 75 years of inactivity. Those of us who belong to the ruling majority — we can no longer close our eyes.
We all remember the criminal gangs that dominated large city centers until about 20 years ago. Names like Abergil, Harari, and Alperon are known to almost every Israeli citizen. Netanya, which was the symbol of crime, is a quiet and prosperous city today. It is our duty as citizens to protest and raise our voices so that the residents of Kfar Qasim have the same chance.
At the March of the Dead that Sunday I felt not only an obligation to raise my voice, but also simply to embrace the people and say, “I am here with you.” Normally, I don’t like being identified by my head covering, but that Sunday in Tel Aviv, I felt that the religious presence of the participants was a statement and it provided hope. We are all sons of Abraham and we all believe in the one merciful and compassionate God. Silence in the face of murder is simply not an option. The face Levinas describes speaks to me, “You shalt not murder.” And I hear the call for social justice.