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Does the Murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir Make You Doubt Israel? It Should

by Shmuel Rosner

July 7, 2014 | 5:28 am

Palestinians carrying the body of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir during his funeral in Shuafat, July 4, 2014. Photo by Reuters

The despicable murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Muhammad Abu Khdeir is the type of event that can cast doubt on some of the most fundamental, the most sacred, beliefs one has about one's own country. It should cast such doubt, much like the murder, almost twenty years ago, of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin did. It should make us all reexamine our society, our values, our narrative. It should make us all reexamine our way of implementing the values that we hold dear. It should make us all – anyone who loves Israel – cry.

Two days ago, in an article I wrote for The New York Times, I quoted the words of Prime Minister Netanyahu from the funeral of the three murdered Israeli teens last week. This was another despicable crime, but one that hardly changed anything in Israelis' perceptions. They knew all along that the enemy is cruel and is capable of horrific acts. They knew all along that the battle against the enemy will be bloody and painful and long – most of them have little faith in the illusion that it can even be shortened. Many of them tend to think what Netanyahu seems to think: "The moral chasm that separates us from our enemies is deep and wide. They revere cruelty, and we pity".

I also want to believe that Netanyahu was right, but a murder like the one of Muhammad Abu Khdeir makes one wonder. Is the moral gap deep? Is it wide? Is it deep enough? Is it wide enough?

There are reasons to still hold to this essential belief: the prompt investigation and arrest of the suspected murderers, the swift and harsh condemnation. Israel doesn't turn its murderers into heroes, doesn't name streets after them, doesn’t support their families, wouldn't – I hope it wouldn’t – release them from jail for many-many years – possibly forever. So institutionally, Israel's reaction is exactly the one you'd expect from a country of law, order, and morality. And Yet, the doubt lingers.

It lingers because of the reasons I laid out last week, even before it was clear that the perpetrators of the murder were Israeli Jews: "Should Israel be blamed for the atrocity? Should it be blamed for murder (if this turns out to be a murder committed by Israelis), should it be blamed for the mob? The answer is not a resounding no. Israel should not be blamed for malice - but accusations of possible negligence might be harder to dismiss".

What do I mean by "negligence"?

Obviously, a country, a state, can`t guarantee a zero violence environment; it can`t guarantee a zero incitement environment. That Israel has its share of radicals, crazies, bullies, criminals, is not at all surprising. Every country has them. Israel has them. At times, it succeeds in finding them before they commit an atrocity. At other times, it only catches them after the crime was committed. There are even those whom Israel never catches.

But a country should make sure to invest its utmost effort in preventing criminals from killing, and it should invest in preventing their ideologies - of course, ideology might be too generous a term in this case - from gaining legitimacy. Such investment doesn't guarantee success in preventing all crimes. But it is needed not just for the practical reason of bettering the chances of preventing atrocities. It is needed as a measure of national character building. Who are we? We are the ones who do not revere cruelty, we are the ones who pity.

I am not totally convinced by the level of pity of the Israeli public in recent days. I am not convinced that the level of shock and dismay has reached a proper level. I would raise the bar higher. I see an Israel that didn't exactly move on but that also didn't stand still.

Of course, there are some good reasons for that. The incoming rockets from Gaza cry for attention. Last week`s grief and anger over the murder of the three Israeli teens still cloud the view of many. Israel has also found time to dedicate to lesser stories - a scandal possibly involving high ranking police officers, a crisis in the coalition following the decision by Foreign Minister Lieberman to dismantle his partnership with Likud. These are important matters.

But I suspect that we are too eager to use them as a distraction from the much more profound event - the event that undermines the story we've been telling ourselves and the rest of the world for so many years. I suspect that we as a society are too quick to absolve ourselves of any responsibility and to congratulate ourselves for catching the perpetrators of the crime. Soul searching is due. Policy adaptations are long overdue. More convincing determination in battling not just the crime but also the culture that breeds hate is necessary. I believe that our culture is not one that reveres cruelty. I also believe that the burden of proof now lays heavier on us.

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