This summer was the toughest summer Israel has known, apart from wartime. Because the Zionist project - in its secular, liberal, civil and egalitarian form - failed. Not "will fail," but "failed." The reasons can be listed one after the other, but it's enough to think about the little four and a half-year-old boy whose hands and face were covered with burns after a Molotov cocktail was hurled at the car in which his family was traveling on August 16, near the Bat Ayin settlement. The boy's name is Mohammed Hassan Jayada. All six family members, Palestinians from Nahalin, were wounded, two of them critically.

Not long after the attack, pictures appeared in the media of the three children who were being held for the crime. They were arrested on August 26 at the Jerusalem yeshiva they attend. The boys were just 12 and 13 years old, with long, fair sidelocks hanging down below broad skullcaps, their faces blurred because of their status as minors, wearing striped shirts with their tzitzit visible underneath, handcuffed. These young boys are the suspects in this terror attack.

It's impossible not to feel the pain when a child is a victim of terror, and it's impossible not to cringe when a child is a terrorist. But by the look of these children - whose guilt is yet to be proven, and one wholeheartedly hopes that they were not the ones who did this - it's clear that something has become completely twisted. The boys are suspected of deliberately hurling a Molotov cocktail at a car and setting six people on fire, permanently scarring the children in the car. It's clear something has become twisted because the moment that nationalist crimes are being committed by children, we have entered a void.

Whoever treats other people this way has no understanding of what it means to inflict disability, to cause charred skin and horrible agony. And whoever has lost this understanding has lost his humanity. So the child suspects, if they turn out to be the actual perpetrators, are also victims. They are victims of an upbringing that preaches violence and hatred, and voids the term "human being" of all meaning. The father of one of the suspects told Haaretz that his son did not do anything, adding that, in any case, the incident cannot be seen as completely divorced from the reality in Judea and Samaria. He meant the reality from his point of view, naturally, whereby the land belongs to him by divine right and he is redeeming it from the hands of the evil nation of Amalek.

Is it illogical to think that in order to place themselves high in their parents' esteem, these settler children decided to show that they can punish Amalek themselves? That they were putting the rhetoric that "the best self-defense is a good offense" into practice?

Of course, the whole thing cannot be pinned just on the three children who were arrested. If their guilt is proven, perhaps it will turn out that they happen to have a greater tendency to violence than other boys their age. For in every kindergarten, there is one child who thinks he can speak rudely to the adults, to do just as he pleases, shut everyone else up, who has an illusion of power; it is always this child, more than any other, who is in need of protection and of boundaries, of a caring and empathetic authority figure.

But can one ignore the images of the children of the Jewish settlement in Hebron who curse and threaten older Palestinians as a matter of routine, as well as those who patrol "their community" in the city, and are filled with pride at their vile "courage?"

So this summer, in which seven teenage boys and girls tried to kill three Arab teens in Jerusalem's Zion Square, and others justified this with despicable drivel about "protecting the wholesomeness of daughters of Israel," is also the summer in which the Zionist project - in its secular, liberal, civil form - failed. Because this summer it finally became clear that it's not just a matter of juvenile crime or parental neglect. Rather, what we are seeing is a surge of violence among the future citizens that threatens the country's future. Violence that puts the Zionist project itself in doubt, that seeks to expunge anyone who is not a Jew, that is continually occupied with educating children to feel superior because of their nationality instead of instilling pluralistic ideals. The Zionist project that is turning its back on human rights.

Those who shudder when Palestinian children are arrested and interrogated without the presence of an adult, parent or lawyer, as happened in Silwan, also shudder when Israeli children are led to prison on suspicion of committing a terror attack. The rights of these minors are upheld and their identity is concealed. It may turn out to be a mistake, but no matter what, their childhood is shattered. For childhood is also shattered when the child is a perpetrator of violence, when he does not comprehend pain.

Israel may survive as an armed state of Jewish law in which Jews and the children of Jews do as they please to Arabs by divine right, but this is no longer the kind of Zionist state that Herzl envisioned, a state in which a decent person could live. And this summer, just because no regional war erupted, this suddenly became totally clear.