A Strange Murder in Israeli Society’s Backyard

Why society didn’t want to look too closely at this soldier’s slaying by his Palestinian co-worker.

An event involving the kidnap and murder of a soldier should cause a firestorm. But the first reports on the circumstances of Tomer Hazan's slaying included hints that the soldier was about to enter into a certain deal with his killer. One would think that this component of the story would relegate it to a lower place on the public agenda. Yet the drama only increased, fanned by a forlorn, less-covered aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For ths time, the incident wasn’t strictly nationalist, nor was it strictly criminal: this was a tragedy that originated in personal anguish.

Hazan worked as a shift chief at a Bat Yam restaurant and knew the Palestinian who would murder him. The soldier worked in the late hours after his day's service at his military base, which means that he needed to earn a living, and doing a job that wasn’t easy at that. The murderer, who worked as a dishwasher in the restaurant, was friendly with Hazan, like he was with his other co-workers.

The killer tempted Hazan, whose friends described him as goodhearted and naive, to come to a village near Qalqilya in exchange for money. The details of their transaction remain unclear. He was not affiliated with a terror organization, nor has he claimed that his plan was meant to further his nation's struggle. He killed based on the ill-guided thought that he could negotiate to exchange Hazan’s body for the release of his brother from an Israeli prison.

Since the Shin Bet security service captured him and the affair came to light, demonstrators have been protesting in Bat Yam against the restaurateur, who they accuse of hiring a Palestinian without a permit. But populist claims that could have spread in the wake of the murder - that is to say, calls in the style of "here's more proof that we can't trust the Arabs" - didn't take hold.

The reason this didn't happen lies, among other things, in the quick response of the murderer's family. In an admirably ethical step, they denounced the act immediately, without trying to deny it. His father even added that if he knew about the plan in advance, he would have shot his son himself.

Every death before its time is horrible. But it is precisely the non-heroic circumstances of the murder - and the the two most prominent aspects, naivite and violence, in this story - that make it even more moving than usual. And still, from the perspective of the media and of public opinion, the incident didn't take over the public agenda. It is hard to explain except in terms of the yawning distance between the incident, which happened in some twilight zone of Israeli society, and the mainstream. Even though the territories have been the focus of the public debate for decades, most Israelis don't visit them of their own volition. Anyone who risks going over the Green Line becomes the exception. Most of us have no Palestinian friends or acquaintances and those who do are considered weird.

Hazan also differed from the mainstream in holding a jov while doing military service. Most conscripted soldiers don't support themselves. Combat soldiers have no time and “desk warriors” who serve non-combat positions need a permit to work, which is given only under special circumstances.

These are the circumstances that relegated the murder to society's back yard, to some “other” place.

It is sad, because the absurdity of Israel's existence in the Middle East means that for now, relationships between Palestinians and Israelis are confined mainly to the weaker segments of society (or, alternately, among the highest elites of the two peoples).

It is sad because until the murder, the friendship that developed between the soldier and the Palestinian was also an example of the power of life to overcome nationalist suspiciousness. And it is also sad because two days later a soldier was killed in Hebron, and even those who, despite all, had paid attention to the complexities of the affair of Hazan's murder, became engrossed in the next tragedy.