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The incident Yaniv Kubovich reported in Monday's Haaretz is deeply troubling. At high noon, in front of dozens of people, a group of men had sexual intercourse with a half-naked young woman on a Tel Aviv beach for several hours. Not all the circumstances of the peculiar occurence are clear yet and the conduct of the Tel Aviv police - who were very late in arriving at the beach and claimed at first that "no event had taken place" - is inexplicable to say the least.

But the crux of the matter is the behavior of the beachgoers and workers. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people watched the goings on and almost none of them lifted a finger to stop it. The staff of the nearby beach restaurant and the sunbathers along the shore acted as if they saw nothing and heard nothing. Few bothered to call the police or ask the woman if she was alright.

"I didn't get into it because I had a lot of work," a waiter said. "I saw them doing what they were doing and thought it was a call girl and they were having a good time," his colleague said. "At no stage did it occur to me to do something," said a woman who witnessed what happened. The Israelis watched the incident and did not think they had a civic duty to do something to stop it.

This indifference on the public's part is deep and horrifying. This is not the first time it has been displayed, but in this instance - considering that the event took place at midday, in front of many people in the heart of a large city - it seems to have broken a record. If in the past Israelis looked away so as not to see what was happening in the state's backyard, now they're doing the same when the offense takes place in the state's shop window, right in front of their lounge chairs.

The police are now entering the scene, atrociously late, and must ascertain the circumstances of the event and bring the perpetrators to justice. But Israeli society must ask itself much more profound questions, more important than those pertaining to the police's faulty performance. Have we really become so obtuse, so brutalized, that even such a spectacle like this fails to shake us from our apathy?