This a sad and serious time for Israel, the Middle East, and the Jewish People.
I took a cab to get to the other side of Jerusalem and the radio was, of course, on. So I asked the driver whether there had been any more news about Muhammad Abu-Chadyar, the poor boy who was taken from his home two days ago and found murdered in the Jerusalem forest. It is not known who was responsible, but no one I spoke to thought it entirely impossible that it might be a revenge killing, God forbid.
The cab driver answered: ‘The world responded to us differently after the murder of our three boys. It felt towards us differently. Now this has happened and it’s turned everything on its head. Unless there are absolutely clear proofs to the contrary, the world will think it was an act of revenge’. He continued, ‘After everything the Jewish People has been through, we wanted this to be a Jewish State, a state with true Jewish values.’ I looked across and saw the pain on his face.
The eight o’clock news began and he turned up the radio. The opening item was a speech by President Shimon Peres: ‘I call upon all citizens of the country’, he declared. ‘Two things are needed at this time: respect for the law, and restraint in our speech. We must not be drawn into incitement to wrongdoing. Whoever incites brings about the most perilous state of hatred and enmity. This is not our purpose. We aspire to live in peace and to allow our neighbours to live in peace.’ He said, categorically and unambiguously, what every leader needs to say. He was speaking to Israel’s Jewish community; he was also speaking to its Christian and Muslim communities.
But most powerful was the statement by Avraham and Rachel Fraenkel, just a day after they had buried their own son. Because they were in mourning, Avraham’s brother Yishai spoke on their behalf: ‘We don’t know for certain what exactly happened last night in East Jerusalem. However, if the young Arab boy was killed on nationalist grounds, this is the most terrible and shocking act. There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder, whatever the nationality or age of the victim. There is no justification and no excuse for any murder whatsoever.’ They no doubt also recognised the grief of Muhammad’s family through the depth of their own.
At this time people feel deeply pained, saddened and vulnerable. There is plenty to be afraid of. People may naturally also be angry. The spiritual and moral struggle is to turn these raw feelings not against Arabs, or against Jews, or against any other person, nation or religion, but into sorrow and indignation at the very existence of hatred, cruelty and injustice. This may be the greatest challenge an individual or a society may ever have to face. The capacity to do so may prove decisive for our future, not just in the Middle East, but in all our conflicts, across the entire globe.
We therefore need each other’s humanity, solidarity and understanding, not each other’s threats, rejection and prejudice. Significantly, each day there have been demonstrations in Israel of just these values, Tag Meir (‘Light Tag’) in Jerusalem yesterday and a rally in Tel Aviv tonight. I admire those who not only attended them, but strive to live by the qualities of universal respect, justice which they represent.
For those of us who live in the Diaspora this is a time to stand in solidarity with the words of Shimon Peres and Avraham and Rachel Fraenkel. Both in Israel and in our communities across the world, we are called upon to renew our commitment to live the true values of Judaism. This is not a moment to withdraw.
It is essential for us to reach out to our neighbours of other faiths, especially our neighbours who are Muslims. We need one another. We have no one else to stand surety for each other’s safety and humanity.
I will therefore conclude with the words of a Muslim friend and leader who attended the vigil outside the Israeli Embassy on Wednesday night:
‘I pray that the most recent losses will make communities of all creeds
gather in solidarity to echo the message of NO to violence and YES to
peace-building across the globe. I link arms with you all as one family mourning the loss of your beloved and will be very pleased to assist in any way that I can.’