The murders of three Israeli teens, Eyal Yifrach, Gil’ad Sha’ar and Naftali Fraenkel have plunged the Jewish world into despair, sadness and mourning. It is as if for Jews these boys were members of our extended family and we are diminished by their deaths.
Remarkably, the family of Naftali Fraenkl said after the death of their son and in response to the murder of a 16 year-old Palestinian teen, Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir:
“There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder, whatever the nationality and age. There is no justification, no forgiveness and no atonement for any kind of murder.”
Their response, tragically, is not shared universally by Jews.
Yesterday morning the body of Muhammad was found in a Jerusalem forest, and police have now arrested six Jewish extremists who have conducted a revenge-killing.
Hundreds of Jewish rioters also took to the streets of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat screaming “revenge” and “death to Arabs.”
Israel, of course, must seek justice for all these four murders, but for Israel indiscriminately to punish the Palestinians as a people, as some right-wing Knesset members and settlers are calling upon Israel to do, is not only contrary to Jewish values and morally wrong, but beneath the dignity of the Jewish people.
Prime Minister Rabin had it right in 1993 on the White House lawn, and I believe that this is a critical time to recall his words. He said:
“Let me say to you, the Palestinians: We are destined to live together, on the same soil in the same land. We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians – we say to you today in a loud and clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough!
We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred towards you. We, like you, are people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, live side by side with you – in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance and again saying to you: Let us pray that a day will come when we will say, enough, farewell to arms.”
The only way Israelis and Palestinians will successfully transform their shared history of blood and tears is to recognize the humanity of and the pain of the “other,” to condemn together the killing of innocents regardless of circumstances, as both PM Netanyahu and President Abbas did this week, to resist escalating this conflict, and to return to negotiations where they strive heroically and boldly as statesmen do to make painful compromises, and settle this conflict once and for all in a two states for two peoples agreement.
As they do so, they ought to deliberately and categorically isolate those who resist a peaceful negotiated solution and say to them as one voice that it is they, those who deny the inherent rights of the other, who are the real enemies of peace and the real enemies of the nation-state of the Jewish people and the nation-state of the Palestinian people.
In last week’s Torah portion, Chukat, God commanded Moses to speak to a rock when the Israelites complained of thirst, and God promised that water would pour forth and sate them. Moses, was weary, frustrated, angry, and worn-thin by years of their bickering. Instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it with his stick, and though water came forth, God punished him by refusing him entry into the Land of Promise. (Numbers 20:8-13)
The story reminds us of another very similar tale in the book of Exodus when Moses appealed to God for the first time when the people were thirsty. God told Moses to hit the rock with his stick. He did and water came forth and sated the people. (Exodus 17:2-6)
The difference in the two similar narratives is that one occurred before Mt. Sinai and the other after Sinai, as if to teach that God intended human history to change as a result of the covenant God forged with the people of Israel, that we would henceforth sanctify words and not weapons of violence, convert our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, and to cease making war. Compassion and reason would replace hatred and force. Enlightened words would resolve conflict, and we would live then side by side in peace, justice and security.
Rabin’s call is still the call of the moment – “Enough of blood and tears. Enough!”