It’s difficult to recall the last time, and in what circumstances, the gut played as central a role as it did for the entire country in the wake of the abduction and murder of Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel.
It evoked the trauma Israel experienced when missiles were fired at Tel Aviv in the 1991 Gulf War, which demonstrated just how vulnerable our civilian population can be, and the extent to which we and our children are walking on a razor’s edge. Three deaths are not unusual in Israel – it happens nearly every day on our highways. But an accident is one thing, and the martyrs of the kingdom in the territories is another thing entirely. To each their own memory.
We live in a country in which, one Friday night two Palestinians broke into the Fogel household in Itamar and with a 40-centimeter (15-inch) knife stabbed to death both adults and three of their children, one of them an infant. Then, too, there were failures in the system, but then, too, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) condemned the attack. Both the murderers, men from the neighboring village, were apprehended, and each received a 130-year prison sentence. It’s a good thing that they were not among the prisoners freed in exchange for Gilad Shalit.
Unlike the people who boast of their sons’ actions, the “shahid” photographs of whom decorate their living rooms, we are not proud of our extremists, not of the “price tag” vandals and not of the “defensive” killing that does not distinguish between combatants and children.
Three deaths are not, as we noted, an exceptional toll in Israel, but nevertheless these deaths somehow drew an overwhelming response. Why? Because the families radiated something different from the norm. They appeared to have grown out of the National Religious Party branch of religious Zionism, not the “hilltop youth” branch.
The Israeli public demonstrated empathy, especially when it saw the smiles of the three teens on the photos that survived them. Something about their parents’ conduct touched our hearts. They did not call for revenge, they did not preside over violent demonstrations. They wept quietly and in private, even when they heard the voice of their son whispering “I’ve been kidnapped” on the recording of the emergency call.
Looking back, it is doubtful that an immediate police response would have changed anything. Judging by the sounds on the recording, it seems they were murdered immediately after the call to the police. It’s not clear whether the teens were abducted as bargaining chips, but it is clear that the kidnappers panicked and did not follow their “plan,” if there was one.
The “operating assumption” that the teens were alive never stood a chance. Very little was leaked from the frequent meetings of the inner cabinet. The greater the blackout, the more unbearable the chatter and the interpretations on the electronic media. To paraphrase Churchill, never was so little known by so many about what was actually going on.
Between leaks, various revenge operations were proposed, from reoccupying the Gaza Strip to obliterating it in an aerial assault. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who suggested founding a new settlement “in a permitted area” of the West Bank in the names of the three victims, was surprisingly restrained, saying we must think with our head, not our gut. Were I in his place, I would put that to a cabinet vote.
The public did not wait for instructions, it took to the town squares, singing sad songs and lighting memorial candles. Tens of thousands of people attended the funeral. Our extremists crawled out of their holes, and in Jerusalem an Arab teenager was murdered – a murder that became a fuse that set off riots and suggested that the perpetrators of the price tag attacks were behind the death.
What happened to all of the politicians’ campaign promises to bring peace and security? The “we don’t have a partner for peace talks” is the false excuse of the prime minister, who is afraid of his own shadow and thinks from his gut, not his head, when asked to work toward an agreement with the Palestinians.
Abu Mazen is not Yasser Arafat, who didn’t want peace; Abbas is a thoughtful leader who says openly that he wants a peace treaty with Israel. A leader who is capable, in a meeting of Arab foreign ministers, of denouncing the kidnapping of Israelis by Palestinians is a true man. Stop saying there’s no one to talk to. The solution is right in front of us.