The bus driver Yitzhak Natan Zada is an introverted person and has a gray ponytail that lends him a youthful air; his handshake is limp. He is of Iranian descent. He is less talkative than his wife, Dvora, who is of Yemenite origin. She is assertive. Next to the open grave of their son, Eden, she spoke; her husband prayed. Itai, Eden's brother, is closed, like his father. At the funeral, an orange ribbon was tied to the belt of his pants.
But at home they didn't talk politics much, they did not educate Eden to become a murderer, his parents repeated over and over. In fact, they do not know what actually happened and how he went haywire and was lost to them while he was still alive. The family album has a photo of him taken when he was a boy, in front of the monument commemorating Yosef Trumpeldor at Tel Hai, with the words, "It is good to die for our country." But how he arrived at the racism of Meir Kahane and perpetrated the attack in Shfaram - that, his parents do not know.
They were just an "ordinary family," the parents insisted this week time and again, and indeed, in all of Israel there is probably no more "ordinary" city than Rishon Letzion, rife with an Israeliness that aspires to America but gets no further than Tel Aviv. Theodor Herzl once stood on the balcony of one of the buildings there, and today a mannequin in his likeness stands at the spot. Many of the store signs in the center of the city are in Russian.
The Neve Eliahu neighborhood, where Eden Natan Zada lived for the 19 years of his life, is named after Eli Cohen, the Israeli spy who was executed in Damascus. It is not one of the better neighborhoods in the city. The Natan Zadas live at the shabbier end of Torah and Avoda Street - Torah and work, the values of the Bnei Akiva youth movement. The farther one gets from their lower-class apartment, the more one sees white villas and empty expanses of sand that the contractors have not yet conquered. Off in the distance, high-rise high-tech buildings are visible, along with a luxurious shopping mall and the sea.
There are no democratic societies today that do not have a far-right fringe; that is one of the major challenges faced by these societies. Israeli society is not proffering a sure hand to deal with the challenge: as the years pass, racism is becoming legitimized, in part because of the influence of Palestinian terrorism.
It's possible that Eden Natan Zada discovered Kahanism on the Internet. His parents noticed that he had embarked on a dangerous path and did everything to extricate him from the West Bank settlement of Tapuah. They warned the army, and when the army did nothing they turned to Carmela Menashe, the longtime military correspondent for Israel Radio. Dvora Natan Zada was probably right when she said this week, "It is not God who took my child from me; it is the army that took him."
In a clumsy attempt to blur this fiasco, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz prohibited Eden Natan Zada's burial in a military cemetery, as though he had not been a soldier or had served in a different army. Mofaz, who is not exactly a moral authority, argued that the murderer of Arab passengers on a bus was "not worthy" of a military grave. However, if we were to remove from the military cemeteries all the soldiers who are tainted with moral opprobrium, in some cases for illegal killing of Palestinian civilians, quite a bit of space would become available.
The abuse heaped upon the Natan Zada family recalled the attitude toward the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and like that attitude, reflects a worldview that is undemocratic, tribal, almost pagan. It might be worth considering why Israel Defense Forces people have to be buried in separate cemeteries at all, but as long as this is the custom, no one has the right to treat the military cemeteries as though they were his private preserve.
Meir Nitzan, the veteran mayor of Rishon Letzion, also picked on the family, as though they had violated some municipal ordinance and deserved to be punished. Nitzan tried to prevent Natan Zada's burial even in his city's civilian cemetery. Once, in 1984, I was impressed by Nitzan's courage when he ordered the reburial of Teresa Angelovich, a non-Jewish woman whose body was removed from her grave and thrown onto a refuse heap by religious hoodlums.
At that time we stood next to Angelovich's empty grave and spoke about the cemetery as a historic document. "One hundred years of Zionism," the mayor said. I asked him if he had heard anything from any of the dead who were buried near Teresa Angelovich. "They are silent," Nitzan said in panic. Eden Natan Zada's neighbors are also silent. Only the occupants of the villas near the cemetery shouted: They are concerned that the presence of the grave will bring Kahanists to the site and lower the value of their homes. Nitzan, too, he said, is apprehensive that the grave will become a Kahanist meeting place.
As far as I could see, the Natan Zada family is not inclined to cultivate their son's memory as a national myth, even though his mother said that in her eyes he was and remains a hero. They wanted a restrained funeral, in the spirit of the father, and at first everything went quietly. Not many people turned up - most of them were relatives. They viewed the events as a tragedy, not an act of heroism. But the photographers and the Kahanists interfered and the maternal dominance took charge of the event. Let Mofaz go to hell and all the leftists with him, Dvora Natan Zada snapped. It sounded not like a political declaration but an outcry of protest because an attempt was being made to deprive her of the right to mourn.
After the mourners left, only the Kahanists remained, saying "May God avenge his death" and cursing the Arabs who had lynched Eden Natan Zada. One girl wept and asked forgiveness from Natan Zada, as though she had sent him on the mission. Avigdor Eskin, a veteran of this scene, said that there are streets in Israel named after Shlomo Ben Yosef; Israel, it turns out, is capable of honoring people like Eden Natan Zada. Ben Yosef opened fire at an Arab bus that was traveling between Safed and Rosh Pina. The year was 1938, and Ben Yosef became the first Jewish terrorist to be executed by the British. Rishon Letzion has a street called Olei Hagardom, referring to Jews who were executed for their nationalist activity.
Border Policemen, massively tall and muscular, chased away from Natan Zada's grave a few children with long side curls and big woolen skullcaps. That's easier than dismantling Tapuah.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now