Three of the six young Israelis who were arrested for the murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir have confessed to the killing and have cooperated in a reenactment for police in the Jerusalem forest where the body was found, according to media reports, the killers are ultra-Orthodox Jews.
“The hand that did this murder is impure,” Rabbi Benny Lau, rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem and one of Judaism’s rising stars among its modern religious leaders told The Media Line. “He should not be allowed to put on tefillin (phylacteries containing Biblical verses that Jewish men put on each morning during prayer).”
Lau blamed racist elements in Israeli society and called for a “tikkun,” a spiritual repair, by being careful in the use of language.
“It is unforgivable – how can a person who believes in Torah (the Bible) kill an innocent person?” Lau asked bitterly. “We have to call out to God with a loud call.”
The murder has been condemned across the spectrum of Israel’s society and political spectrum. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Abu Khdeir’s father to condemn what he called the “reprehensible murder.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called for the killers to be treated as “terrorists.” A leading rabbi associated with the religious right-wing, Elyakim Levanon, went even further, saying that the killers should be given the death penalty.
Israeli law allows for the death penalty, but despite the long history of terrorist acts against Israeli civilians has only been imposed once: On Nazi official Adolph Eichmann, who was executed in Jerusalem in 1962.
The murder has prompted soul-searching among the population, especially in the Orthodox Jewish community, to which most of the suspected murderers belonged, according to press reports.
They are reportedly not part of the “hilltop youth,” a radicalized sector of Israelis who live in areas Israel acquired in the 1967 war, but may be affiliated with the Shas party, the politically-powerful ultra-Orthodox party that represents Jews from Arab countries.
Rabbis say that Judaism can be used to justify revenge attacks like this one.
“Judaism, like other religious traditions, has very different stories about how we treat those who aren’t part of the Jewish people,” Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, told The Media Line.
“I have a whole slew of sources that shape my Judaism starting with the sanctity of all life being created in the image of God. The problem is that there’s chapter and verse in which Jewish life is primary, in which aggression toward others is allowed, vengeance is celebrated, and revenge is celebrated.”
Hartman says he prefers to focus on sources that say “every person is created in the image of God”; and the Biblical verse that says “you should love the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Emotions in Israel were running high after the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who had been kidnapped in the West Bank last month were found in a West Bank field. In the 24 hours following the discovery of the bodies, more than 40,000 Israelis signed-on to a Facebook page calling for revenge.
Rabbi Hartman says the calls for revenge come from deep feelings of frustration.
“It is our myth and yearning to be a normal people. It’s the same reason that people living on the West Bank hitchhike. They want to believe they’re in a stable environment,” he said. “But when you kidnap our children, when our children aren’t safe, it sets off feelings of revenge and fear.”
Just as many Israelis have condemned the murder of Mohammed Abu Kheidr, many Palestinians have spoken out against the killing of the three Israeli teenagers.
At the shiva, the traditional seven-day mourning period, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat initiated a telephone call between Yishai Frenkel, the uncle of 16-year-old murder victim Naftali Frenkel and Abu Kheidr’s father. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also sharply condemned the killing of the teenagers.
Some in Israel say that the shock waves these killings have caused on both sides may be the beginning of new steps toward reconciliation between the sides.
“In the Talmud there is a concept that you have to go down before you can go up,” parliamentarian Dov Lipman, an American-born member of Knesset member from the secular Yesh Atid party who is also an Orthodox rabbi told The Media Line. “I was so proud of the moderate voices over the last few days in Israel and we are hearing similar voices on the Arab side as well.”
“This is not Arab terrorism or Jewish terrorism,” Lipman added. “It is just terrorism and it must be stopped.”
Article written by Linda Gradstein
Reprinted with permision from The Media Line