Late last week dozens of Jewish teenagers set upon three Palestinian teenagers in the heart of downtown Jerusalem, shouting “Death to Arabs.” The mob beat the Palestinians, one of them nearly to death.
An eyewitness described the brutal and gruesome attack:
When one of the Palestinian youths fell to the floor, the youths continued to hit him in the head, he lost consciousness, his eyes rolled, his head at an angle started to twitch, and then those who were kicking him fled and the rest gathered in a circle around, with some still shouting with hate in their eyes…
Children aged 15-18 are killing a child their own age with their own hands—their own hands. Children whose hearts were unmoved when they beat to death a boy their age who lay writhing on the floor. The picture has not been struck from my eyes and I can still hear the voices and the feeling of helplessness and the question, what happened to us and what is happening to our kids? And the most important – If and how can we still change it?
The tragic events in Jerusalem came only hours after the firebombing of taxicab carrying a Palestinian family outside the settlement of Bat Ayin. The car burst into flames. All six inside were injured, the three children under the ages of five most severely. The incident is suspected to be another “Price Tag” attack.
Prime Minister Netanyahu quickly condemned the firebombing and charged the Shin Bet with bringing the perpetrators to justice. Likewise, the Jerusalem police have begun to apprehend suspects in the mob attack and the mayor renounced the violence. Each of these official responses is welcome and necessary, but none, even when taken together, sufficiently addresses the critical questions raised by the eyewitness: “What happened to us and what is happening to our kids? And the most important – If and how can we still change it?”
Such violence is evidence that “the status quo” is, in fact, a constantly deteriorating situation, and moments like these underscore just how rapidly and broadly this is so. It is proof positive that what happens in the Palestinian territory does not stay there. Persistent conflict—particularly in the absence of serious and sustained efforts to resolve it –is eroding Israel’s own social fabric. And this happens at great peril to the democratic and Jewish values upon which the state was founded and to which its prospects for true peace and security remain tightly bound.
Reasonable and well-intentioned people on both sides of the divide will decry the brutal acts that transpired last week. Some will point to the intractable conflict, which they will ultimately blame on Palestinian intransigence. They will ring their hands at the misdeeds of their own, but ultimately resign themselves to the idea that Israel is powerless to resolve this conflict. Others will say that it is Israel’s occupation that has created a culture of violence. And they will resign themselves to Palestinian powerlessness to resolve this conflict. The truth is that violence is endemic to conflict anywhere and everywhere. But, in the end, even this realization matters little.
Our children will not remember us for resolving the question of who is to blame for the violence, but for what we did or did not do to stop it. That the current situation is untenable is clear, as is the recognition that the brutal acts committed last week are an affront to our values as a people and our aspirations for Israel. So too are contours of a viable resolution to this conflict well-known and widely accepted by people on both sides. The only real questions that remain are how many more children’s lives will be left to hang—twisting, turning and, far too often, falling— in the balance, and what will we do to save them?