In the Darkness of Israeli Society, a Few Rays of Light Are Shining Through

During a week that captures the entirety of Israel's history, it should be remembered that 'our hope is not yet lost.'

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An archive photo showing school kids with an Israeli flag.
An archive photo showing school kids with an Israeli flag.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

This week that begins with Holocaust Remembrance Day, followed by Memorial Day and capped by Independence Day, is the most Israeli week there is. It transports us from memories of the terrible Holocaust to the experience of rebirth and independence. It sums up our entire modern history — that of a persecuted and humiliated nation that shook off its past and managed to establish a state, to build a society and an economy and to maintain an army that doesn’t allow anyone to even dream about another Final Solution.

So, yes. I know that it’s possible to paint the entire reality that we have created here in the blackest of colors, to say that we’re the most immoral nation in the world and not to find even a small ray of light. I am proposing another possibility: grasping those rays of light, enhancing them and hoping that with their help, “Our hope is not yet lost,” as our anthem states.

A week ago Yosef Chaim Ben-David, the murderer of the Arab teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was sentenced. This was a shocking murder. Ben-David burned Abu Khdeir alive. He was given life imprisonment plus 20 years, which will make it very difficult for his punishment to eventually be shortened.

Towards the end of 2015 the two minors who participated in the murder were sentenced, with the decision regarding Ben-David postponed due to the defense’s claim that he was mentally ill. Prominent pundits immediately warned that the postponement proved that Ben-David would be acquitted, because that’s how “Israeli justice” works.

A few days before the decision Ben-David’s defense attorneys submitted a psychiatric opinion that determined that he is not responsible for his acts. The court agreed to discuss the opinion even though it was submitted late, and then the same pundits said that now it was certain that Ben-David would be declared “insane” and would not be prosecuted. But what can you do, the court ruled that Ben-David was responsible for his behavior and judged him as severely as possible. A clear ray of light.

The second case regards the incident that took place about six weeks ago in Tel Rumeida in Hebron, when Sgt. Elor Azaria shot a terrorist who was lying on the ground, entirely incapacitated and not posing a threat to anyone.

On the basis of the Israel Defense Forces investigation, on the very same day Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot announced that the soldier’s act was contrary to “the values and the culture of the IDF” — a comment which subjected the army chief to a barrage of criticism from Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) and MK Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu). An opinion poll revealed that most of the public believed that the soldier shouldn’t be arrested, and an even more solid majority thought that his behavior was responsible and natural. There were demonstrations in favor of the soldier, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that there was a need to take into account “the conditions of pressure and uncertainty” under which the soldier acted.

But Eisenkot was not deterred. He sent a special letter to IDF soldiers in which he explained that “the IDF will support anyone who erred in the heat of battle, but will not hesitate to prosecute a soldier who deviated from operational and ethical criteria.” A prominent ray of light.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was also not alarmed by his Likud colleagues. He said that the incident “is totally contrary to the values of the IDF and its combat ethic,” and in the Knesset plenum he declared that this was “an exceptional case of a soldier who transgressed and not of a hero.” Ya’a’lon was the victim of a considerable vilification and even threats that he would not be elected in the Likud primaries. His words are, without a doubt, a ray of light.

Those same pundits who see only black also claimed that there was no chance that the soldier, Azaria, would be accused of manslaughter. At most he would be accused of improper use of a weapon and would be given a disciplinary hearing. But the Military Advocate General charged him with manslaughter and even called up a leading civilian attorney for reserve duty, in order to increase the chances of a conviction in the trial that began on Monday. A clear ray of light.

This week Netanyahu condemned the important words of Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, who courageously said that revolting processes are taking place here, which are reminiscent of the events Germany in the 1930’s. Netanyahu’s words of criticism, as well as those of several other Likud ministers, are only medals of honor for Golan, who also adds his beam to the rays of light that stand out in the dark. Our hope is not yet lost.