Today, Israeli volunteers found the bodies of the three Israeli boys who’d been murdered after being kidnapped in north Hebron over two weeks ago. Their bodies had been buried under rocks in a field. They’d been shot shortly after they were abducted (and probably just after an emergency call was placed by one of the boys, which was ignored by Israeli police). The bodies were found in the general location intelligence officials had told my source ten days ago they would be (he’d also added that the boys were almost certainly dead). A few readers on both the left and right had doubted these reports here in the comments section. Unfortunately, my source was proven right.
In such situations, speaking in purely political terms seems inadequate. You blame one, you blame another. You assign guilty or blame. But where does it lead since neither the innocent nor the guilty pay much heed? Speaking in the language of faith or spirituality resonates more because they plumb the tragedy of life and appeal to a higher power.
When hearing news of death, the traditional response is the phrase: Baruch dayan emet (“Blessed is the true [or ‘righteous’] judge”). This is the address of the faithful believer who accepts the justice of a death even if he cannot plumb its meaning or justification. But there is a contrasting concept embedded in the Talmud which questions such blind acceptance. Rabbi Elisha Ben Abuya, one of the most interesting and troubling figures in the rabbinic literature, wrestled with his faith. At some point, he became an apostate, being unable to reconcile Jewish faith in divine providence with the evil and injustice found in the world.
He once saw a boy climb a tree upon his father’s command to retrieve the eggs from a bird nest. The Bible directs that a Jew chase the mother bird away so it won’t see you take her eggs. His father had reminded him to do this. As he did so, he fell from the tree and died. The tragedy of a boy honoring two Biblical injunctions and, in doing so, dying was the reputed act which drove Ben Abuya to apostasy. He summarized his pain with the agonizing denunciation: Leyt din v’leyt dayan (“There is no judge and no justice”). One of the profundities of Judaism for me is that the tradition preserves and respects such heresy as a valid, though troubling response to evil. Though we are not meant to emulate Ben Abuyah, his own pain and extreme response is honored.
So we have two alternate views of these tragic deaths. Observant Jews comfort themselves knowing that their death has meaning only God can know. But others like myself believe these deaths are a sign of a nation and region gone mad. The deaths of young people, whether Israeli or Palestinian, is a crime both against law and nature. Any such death betrays a world out of balance, a society based on a sin.
As long as Israel refuses to settle its dispute with the Palestinians these children will die. Their deaths have no meaning other than telling us over and over how sick this moral predicament is. Occupation must end. Statehood (whether one or two) must be recognized. A holy city shared. Refugees must return home (there is even a Biblical phrase and popular traditional song, “the children will return home”). Any reality that falls short of that guarantees more dead children.
For example, Bibi Netanyahu called the killers “human animals.” He added:
Hamas is responsible –- and Hamas will pay.
The notion that anything can avenge such a crime; that there is a payment that can be made in blood for such a crime, is itself pathological. Such a response sanctioned by Israel’s leader guarantees blood lust and vengeance. When found, the boys (for the suspected killers are only a few years older than the victims) will likely be executed on the spot. You can also expect high level Hamas leaders to be assassinated sometime in the coming months. So the cycle of hate will keep turning.
Fortunately for Israel (but not fortunately for Palestine), its security forces prevents many such attacks. Thus Israelis remain inured to the suffering they are causing Palestinians. But every so often security fails (as it must for we are human) and there are stark reminders of just how untenable the situation is.
I cannot see any justice in these deaths (remember that seven Palestinians died in the resulting IDF invasion and ransacking of the West Bank). There is no point, no reason. The blood of these boys is on the heads of every Israeli leader, politician and general who refuses to acknowledge the inevitable.
Israel will exploit the deaths for tactical advantage. It’s already done so by invading the West Bank and arresting 500 suspects, few of whom have any useful information about the crime. It will continue to pressure the PA to renounce the unity government with Hamas. If Israel succeeds in this it will weaken the Palestinians and delay any resolution of the conflict. If Israel fails and Hamas remains in the new government, then the former will have further reason to refuse to solve the conflict. It’s a perfect storm of failure and denial.
Daniel Rocha says
I’d like to confirm if one of the 3 dead people was above the age of majority, 19. That is, fully accountable for crimes in most part of the world, including Israel.
“The three, two of whom are 16 years old and the third 19, were hitchhiking home from their yeshiva in a West Bank settlement when they were believed to have been kidnapped.”
I thought all of them were minors.
You’re all heart, Daniel.
Daniel de França says
Eyal Yifrach was 19, if he wasn’t going to a Yeshiva school by declaring Torato Omanuto, he’d be serving on IDF. He could well choose to study outside West Bank, but rather, he chose to stay there. So, he, as an adult, consciously chose to side with the colonial occupier. He (with the other 2) studied at Yeshivat Har Yetzion, inside occupied land. But since he was an adult, chose an yeshiva inside occupied land, using copious amount of resources stolen, like water, from Palestinians.
So, unfortunately for you, yes, my heart is not with him, but with the deaths and the dislodged people from the land he used and with the people that were killed and imprionsed without proof, only suspecions. And now from people that will die in Gaza, since it was declared that it was Hamas tha did this.
I am sorry, if my heart is selective. Even more, my heart choses the weaker side, whose had land stolen. The 2 others, who were underaged boy, I feel sorry them, but, they are just 2 victims along a much higher pile of corpses of innocent palestinians who were killed.
Daniel de França says
One observation, my middle name was selected by mistake, rather than my final name, Rocha.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Daniel de Franca: I don’t see how you can say that because a boy is 19 he’s responsible for his own death or the murderers are less culpable. He was murdered. He was a civilian. This was a crime plain and simple. We can argue about things like the relative pain & suffering endured by both sides and put this murder into context. BUt you can’t justify or explain it away based on the age of one of the victims.
Daniel Rocha says
I am sorry, that’s how my heart is. I am not trolling, on the contrary. I am being deeply sincere, I am not going to accuse you of being “politically correct”, just as to dismiss your point of view. This is nonsense for me. I think you are being completely sincere since I don’t think anyone would waste so much time analyzing things so passionately and carefully.
Regarding the suffering, the asymmetry forces in play and the out of proportion official (from authorities) international commotion for those 3 settlers makes me feel unsympathetic toward them or their family. And I don’t think being a civilian does not make one free of political relevance. With age comes political rights and responsibilities. And this is, in my view, so true, that the invisibility of the Palestinian personal struggle leads to a much harsher environment, and this is so for the large brutality suffered by the poor and miserable anywhere. This is why I see that political inaction, mostly when it comes from elites/oppressors, is brutal as a crime. On the oppressed side, though, the Palestinian in this case, the death of only one of them, makes me much more sadder, since I know the suffering machine, for them, will be much more hard stop.
Note though, that I didn’t excuse the murderers, whoever they are, since their act would obviously add to the suffering of the Palestinians. So, I don’t see any of this as a crime, one crime a plain, as coming from a personal or familiar grudges. In this case, I see it inseparable from the whole political context.
Thanks for this article and your thoughtful (and correct) ruminations on these deaths, and consequences. Just thanks.
I too greatly appreciated your commentary on the deaths and the background on apostate rabbi Ben Abuya
….Where are such rabbinical thinkers in these times??
Something else that is relevant to the discussion about all these deaths of children….that has been lost on the general public …(though you mentioned the 7 who have been killed thus far in revenge.) I read this post on Facebook earlier today
…that every three days a Palestinian child is killed — over the past 13 years.
[comment deleted–I find your comment insensitive & offensive. Apparently, it was an attempt at wit, feeble as it was. Your next comment violation will cause you to be moderated.]
You missed the main point of Ben Abuya’s apostasy – the two commandments of honoring one’s parents and chasing away the mother of bird’s eggs before taking them are the only two commandments where the reward for keeping them is specifically mentioned in the bible, and ironically the reward is ‘long life’. Hence the child falling and dying while performing both these commandments together was beyond Ben abuyah’s faith and he thus chose apostasy.
Apostasy aside, blood revenge is as ancient and middle eastern as it comes and still respected and expected in this area by both Jew and Arab. The solution is the sulhah aka a peace agreement. Until then don’t even begin to think that revenge will not be attempted.
Thanks Shmuel, for clearing that up. Richard’s interpretation left me uncertain.
Richard Silverstein says
So your response is that because we’ve always taken revenge in the past we’ll take revenge now and in the future as well. I think that’s the definition of mental illness isn’t it? Do something once that fails and keep repeating it because one of these days it might not fail? But somehow it never does succeed.
“blood revenge is as ancient and middle eastern as it comes and still respected and expected in this area by both Jew and Arab.”
My, my, ain’t we an ‘ancient people’, and don’t we have ‘deep roots’ in the Middle East!!!
This is so totally fake, you silly pretender. Don’t make me laugh! Benjamin Netanyahu-Mileikowsky and the other violent, land stealing criminals in his government have NO roots in the Middle East, and you probably don’t have either.
This is just a pretentious and stupid combination of Orientalism (portraying Arabs as backward: “we live in a tough neighborhood you know”) and fake pretensions of having ‘old roots in the region’.
… and may be even Khazars.
I’m not justifying revenge but stating the reality that has and will exist in the ME.
Not taking revenge by either side is (mistakenly?) interpreted as weakness.
Neither side will admittedly be seen as the weak one
Daniel Rocha says
This is not a revenge culture. Eye by eye revenge is common in many cultures around, not at all restricted to middle east War in Afeghanistan and Iraq were like this, but, it in reality it was an excuse to dominate the weaker. I think the same case is here.
Also ironically it was Arik Sharon who in later life claimed that there is strength in restraint. But I think the other side saw it as weakness
When in Rome…..that’s the local custom.
50% of Israel’s pop. is middle eastern which includes North Africa Iraq etc.
blood revenge is integral to the Torah so much so that is forbidden to accept money as a substitute for the blood revenge.
But Elizabeth, named after Aaron’s wife, could perhaps at least hold her tongue at least until the end of the funeral taking place now.
Sickening lack of tact! Shame on you!
Your new comment is even dumber than your first.
” When in Rome…..that’s the local custom.”
There you go again, you stupid racist: The civilised guy, surrounded by barbarian natives. (“We simply HAVE to take revenge, you know, these savages only understand the language of violence.”)
” 50% of Israel’s pop. is middle eastern which includes North Africa Iraq etc.”
Oh really? And who are, and have always been in positions of power, deciding the policy since the beginning of the state of Israel? The Mizrahi Jews? Again: Don’t make me laugh. It is Europeans like you Shmuel, and Mileikowsky.
” blood revenge is integral to the Torah so much so that is forbidden to accept money as a substitute for the blood revenge.”
Funny then, how European Jews never acted upon that. How repressed they must have felt by the surrounding society that had abandoned such customs. I pity them profoundly. I am so glad they can feel free to resort to their ‘old’ customs again, now they are ‘back’ in their ‘ancient’ neighborhood. I suppose the moratorium on polygamy that was voted for under this European oppression will also soon be lifted?
My name is with an ‘s’ and I was named after John the Baptist’s mother, and I do not see why I should wait to point out to you that you say dumb things until after the funeral. Did you yourself ‘hold your tongue’ until then? (Shame on you!)
Deïr Yassin says
“But Elizabeth, named after Aaron’s wife, could perhaps at least hold her tongue at least until the end of the funeral taking place now.
Sickening lack of tact! Shame on you!”
Yeah, because Elisabeth and everyone else outside your Zionist bubble is of course following closely when the teens are being buried, and the world has in fact decided to stand still for the rest of the day. And the funeral taking place didn’t prevent you from writing your essentialist crap about Middle Eastern revenge-culture. You really should go back to England before these Ayrabs come for you too…. and they have lots of reasons, don’t they, Shmuel ?
This is the funniest comment so far.
These antisemites are so rude! They pillage and rape before we have a chance to bury our dead!!
Richard Silverstein says
@ Shmuel: Yeah, but you forgot the story of Dinah in which two of Jacobs sons are condemned for engaging in an act of blood vengeance. So it’s more complicated than you’re letting on.
Elizabeth was attacking you, not Israel’s mourning. I think you’re a big enough boy to deal with that. So stop diverting the subject. Your generalizations were racist, whether you know it or not. As Daniel pointed out, blood vengeance is as American as apple pie: Hatfield & McCoys, anyone? Stop trying to make the ME into some primitive jungle when it ain’t.
Ok so i’ll go back to england
But then i’m an intruder there, since i only came a generation ago to england from nazi germany
Ok i’ll go back to germany.
But i have no rights there since my father was actually a polish citizen
So i’ll go to poland
But they won’t take me in since my family left there to germany 3 generations ago
So i’ll do what english anti-semites always told my father to do ‘go back to Palestine’ – and i did.
I came HOME
And Deir Yassin – i have no reason for any Palestinian to seek revenge from me. I have done none any harm.
Ask your friends from the popular front.
Deir Yassin says
I have a good memory ! You told us you were born in England, that your father came with the Kindertransporte from Germany. It makes you as English as anyone else in the UK.
“I’ve done none any harm. Ask your friends from the Popular Front”
Why don’t you ask the Palestinian neighbours of your friends in Kfar Etzion….. by the way, that’s where the Yeshiva-boys studied, wasn’t it ?
Richard Silverstein says
@ Shmuel: What’s odd about this is that you certainly are entitled to German citizenship due to your connection to Germany. Any Jew with any connection to Germany whose family was affected by the Holocaust is entitled to German citizenship. 100,000 Israelis live in Germany now. Hard to believe you don’t know this since I’m not Israeli and I know this. Certainly Israelis like you would/should know as well.