When I first heard the tragic news that the three kidnapped Israeli boys had been murdered by Palestinian terrorists, my immediate instinct was to cry out for revenge. What other sentiment could I have? How else to respond to such cruelty? Should we not punish the murderers and their Hamas leaders so as to deter future attacks?
This seems to be the general sentiment here in Israel, where, over the past two weeks, I have seen a nation go from prayer to grief to understandable anger.
Since the day of the abductions, the country prayed for the boys to return home. Somehow, we all thought, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would find a way. But they didn’t. When the three dead bodies were finally found, the country went into that familiar chaotic emotion that blends grief with rage.
You grieve with one side of your heart, you scream for punishment with the other. This instinct to punish is a survival mechanism that dates from the beginning of time. Punishing evil is a way of keeping order, of making sure that the forces of good prevail.
Unrestrained evil is the biggest threat to the survival of our species, and when that evil is done in the name of God, as so often happens in the Middle East, all hell breaks loose, all rules go out the window.
This is what concerns me about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s initial response to the murders: He’s playing by the usual rules. You kill and I kill you back. Brutal meets brutal. “Hamas will pay,” he declared, and sure enough, one way or another, the IDF will make sure that Hamas pays.
But why are we so sure that the best way to punish Hamas is through the violence they revere? Why are we so sure that violence, even justified violence in the name of justice, is the thing that will hurt them the most?
Don’t get me wrong. We need to find the murderers and punish them. We need to inflict pain on the leaders of Hamas to discourage future attacks. This is infinitely wiser than rewarding them by releasing terrorists in return for hostages.
The problem with this standard kind of punishment, however, is that it doesn’t go deep enough. If we really want to punish the murderers and the ideology they represent, we must introduce something new into the picture: God.
The Hamas charter preaches killing in the name of God. This is a desecration of God’s name. We must turn the tables on the religious murderers and accuse them, loudly and publicly, of desecrating God’s name.
We must shame and humiliate the God-driven killers by using their own language.
“I can assure you that Allah does not want innocent students to be murdered,” Netanyahu must say to the leaders of Hamas. “To suggest otherwise is the ultimate blasphemy.”
Bibi must stop worrying about the Western media and the Western world, and speak directly to Muslims. He must tell them the truth: “The Quran did not sanction the deaths of these three boys.”
In this holy period of Ramadan, Bibi must be relentless and fearless with this message. He must tell the murderers that when they took the lives of these boys, and ripped out the hearts of their families, they also ripped out the heart of Allah.
“Yes, Allah is great,” Bibi must declare. “He is great because He values life, the life of all His children. You, who murder in the name of Allah, owe Him repentance. How will you repent?”
Bibi and others must preach in the name of a loving Allah with the same fiery passion as those who preach in the name of a hateful Allah.
This is bigger than terrorism. It’s bigger than the rules of crime and punishment. It’s bigger than the secular values of law and order.
This is, above all, about God, and helping the loving God win.
This loving God came up in a meeting I had in Ramallah last week with a Palestinian spokesperson. My friend Felice Friedson, who runs a Middle East news service called The Media Line, had arranged the meeting. After a long conversation that was full of polite talking points, I decided to take a chance. I looked him in the eye and said: “You and I have the same father, Abraham. We are children of the same God. We are all created in His image. Why is this not part of the conversation between our people?”
He seemed taken aback by my bluntness.
It felt odd that after a long discussion of politics, I would bring up God. But it got his attention. He nodded quietly. It was obvious that he took the notion of God seriously.
Here’s the point: This is a region where God is taken very seriously. Especially for those who kill in the name of God, nothing is bigger than the Almighty.
We must fight these killers not just with lethal missiles, but with lethal messages.
God-driven murderers who are now rampaging through much of the Middle East must be universally accused, loudly and relentlessly, of dishonoring their own God.
Nothing can hurt them more.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.