I scrolled through the news the other day as usual, and saw two articles that broke my heart.
The first was about an Orthodox Jewish man who stabbed six people at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem, killing 16-year-old Shira Banki. Sadly, this criminal, Yishai Shlissel, was just released from a 10-year prison term for committing the same crime in Jerusalem at the 2005 gay pride parade. The second article was about Ali Saad Dawabsha, an 18-month-old Palestinian boy who was burned to death in an arson fire set off by unidentified Israelis who live in the West Bank.
The news of these tragic events made it around the world in only a few hours, and as someone who believes Israel is a key player for peace in the entire Middle East, this news seriously grieved me. I think what upset me the most was knowing the desire for peace within the Israeli culture and seeing how these horrific events can easily misconstrue someone’s perception of the Israeli people due to the actions of some rogue extremists.
Not too long after I read the reports I got another notification on my phone that said, “Thousands gather at anti-violence, anti-homophobia rallies across Israel; Netanyahu condemns extremism,” and that’s when it hit me––this is what makes Israel different!
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What makes Israel different from its neighbors is the way the country responds corporately to these issues. Israel doesn’t reward the acts of extremism or terrorism; it doesn’t promise them heaven, money, or virgins. Instead, it prosecutes them according to the law of the land.
As a matter of fact, in response to the fire that killed the 18-month-old, PM Netanyahu and his Security Cabinet, who labeled this arson an act of “terrorism” from criminals inside Israel, approved jailing Jewish terrorists without trial. PM Netanyahu made sure to visit the family in the hospital who lost the toddler, and he called Palestinian President Abbas condemning these acts of terror and committing Israel to work with the Palestinian Authority to stamp out terrorism on both sides.
Israeli President Reuben Rivlin also has been busy speaking out against these acts of terror, saying, “This is a time to join together. The law enforcement and the legal system will find the murderers, and bring them to justice. Taking the law into one’s own hands, and submitting to acts of violence, is to award a prize to the terrorists.“
Thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to show solidarity against these acts of violence that were committed both on their own citizens and Palestinians, evidence of how the country as a whole feels toward their own extremists who commit acts of terror. Additionally, Israelis, many from the Jewish towns surrounding Duma, where the arson took place, made their way to a prayer vigil for the Dawabsha family.
Too often I hear phrases like, “Israelis are no different from the rest of the countries in the Middle East.” And yet, from the Israeli leadership in the Knesset down to its citizens on the streets, there is great mourning for the loss of such a young Palestinian and Israeli lives. Corporately the country, whether religious or secular, conservative or liberal, desires to see peace realized. These groups certainly have differences of opinion on how to acquire peace, but there is one thing they can agree on: Extremism and terror are not the answer. I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is what makes Israel different.