July 11, 2002
This Was Terror
Referring to last week's attack that claimed the lives of Victoria Hen and Ya'akov Aminov as an "isolated incident" does not give any sense of either the viciousness or the scope of the crime committed. Whether or not their murderer belonged to a recognized terror organization, or received his orders from such, this act of barbarity cannot be isolated from the anti-Jewish hatred, incitement, and brainwashing which has become so commonplace in today's Middle East. When millions are indoctrinated in a culture of death, martyrdom and racism, the kind of evil exhibited last Thursday at LAX is virtually an inevitable outcome.
Indeed, while Hen and Aminov were murdered by a solitary assailant, they were also slain by a much larger phenomenon of bigotry that considers it noble to extinguish innocent lives. This is an indiscriminate cult of death, a type of fanaticism that preaches that those of a different religion or different ethnicity are less than human. It is a brand of evil that spreads the belief that any Jew or Israeli can be murdered because of a political cause. Aminov and Hen were killed because they were Jews, and because they were at a ticket counter of El Al, a symbol of the state of Israel. This was not random. It was a logical consequence of the fact that, in today's Middle East, officially sanctioned incitement against Jews has taken root within the halls of government, in the mosques, in the schools and in the media.
We cannot separate the hatred borne toward Israel and Jews by the Egyptian-born gunman from the fact that Egypt's state-run media has referred to Jews with blatantly racist language. This was the year in which an Egyptian journal featured a columnist urging his readers to "thank Hitler for taking ... revenge upon the most despicable people on the face of the earth ... [the Jews]." How can we "isolate" last week's attack, and indeed, the terror that has resulted in the murder of 560 Israelis during the past two years, from Osama bin Laden's call upon Muslims to target Jews for slaughter; or from a government-controlled Saudi journal publishing a column "proving" that Jews use the blood of Muslim children to make Purim and Passover pastries? We cannot isolate attacks against Israel and Jews from the type of language employed by a leading Yasser Arafat-appointed cleric in Gaza, who urges his followers to "have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country ... wherever you meet them, kill them."
This fanaticism poses a threat not only to Israel and Jews, but to the entire international community. It is essential that the nations of the world take a firm stand now, and utterly rebuke, disavow and combat the cult of death that targets us all. This is by far the most important challenge of our age, for the greatest evil in the world is the belief that one is permitted to murder those who are innocent, and those who are different. It was no coincidence that this shooting against unarmed civilians occurred on the Fourth of July, the very day on which America reaffirms the values it holds so dear: freedom, democracy and pluralism. America is the very land that stands as proof that different people, from different religions and points of view, can live together with respect and friendship. Los Angeles is a perfect microcosm of the American ideal. Jews, Christians and Muslims live side by side, with an overwhelming degree of respect and tolerance for each other's beliefs and views. However, when someone from the local Arab community intentionally targets for death unarmed Jews and Israelis, we need to hear from that community loudly and publicly. We need to hear from its members that the murder of Jews and Israelis is unconditionally evil, whether it takes place in Los Angeles or Jerusalem. Los Angeles can be the place in which Jews and Muslims, Arabs and Israelis find common ground, and set an example for the Middle East.
Out of this tragedy, let a message of peace and reconciliation spring forth, a message that the repudiation and demonization of the "other" must come to an end. For unless this vision is brought to the Middle East, and allowed to be expressed there, more victims like Hen and Aminov will be struck down. There will be more widows, more orphans. Whatever is left of the dream of peace will deteriorate. And life itself will vanish.
Yuval Rotem is the consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.