I owe you an apology. I owe you many, in fact. Many more than I have space for here. But a person has to begin somewhere. So I’ll begin with what’s right in front of me, right now.
I want to apologize for the unforgivable.
For the boy whose face in the photograph I can see even with my eyes closed. The face of the boy before he was wrestled into a car by people on my side, who charred him to death.
I want to apologize to the loved ones of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, his family in Shoafat. And to his cousins in Sacramento, who remember him as a kid who loved to tell jokes and riddles, and who was never serious.
You can’t tell how old he is in the pictures. It’s something about the eyes and the taut smile, the wariness just under the humor.
I want to apologize for the unfathomable.
For Mohammed’s 15-year-old cousin Tariq, the one whose straight-A grades in his Tampa, Florida high school earned him a summer vacation to visit family in the Holy Land – where Border Police troops from my side punched him and dragged him on hard ground and soccer-kicked him until they fractured his jaw and his nose.
I want to apologize for the unconscionable.
For the people on my side who, the night before Mohammed’s murder, attacked and tried to kidnap Musa Zalum, only nine, but were forced to flee when his mother and others fought them off.
I want to apologize for those on my side who will never do so, who believe that it is wrong to do so. Weak to do so. A betrayal of my side, my people, to do so.
I want to apologize for what’s in the air.
I want to apologize for those on my side who can speak with appropriate condemnation about brutal kidnap-murders – but who feel they must add, as Prime Minister Netanyahu did this week, that the moral high ground is my side’s alone: “This is what differentiates us from our neighbors. There the murderers are welcomed as heroes, and squares are named for them.”He went on to say that my side jails and puts on trial those who incite, while your side makes incitement part of the work of officialdom and educators.
I want to apologize for those on my side who are guilty of incitement, and whom we neither jail nor try, but rather furnish salaries as cabinet ministers, heads of youth movements, civil servant chief rabbis, and commentators.
I want to apologize for Israel Hayom columnist Haim Shine who, without relating at all to the horrific incident that sparked demonstrations and rioting in Arab towns and centers – and without relating at all to the people on my side who rioted immediately after learning that three of our teens had been murdered –wrote this: “The hypocrisy of the Arabs of Israel is unchecked and disgusting. Unfortunately, they do not realize that their actions keep them walking a tightrope that could collapse if their traitorous conduct persists.”
I want to apologize to good people who are being driven out of this place by the actions and words of bad people.
One of the good people is a colleague, Sayed Kashua. Last week, he published some of the most painful and powerful lines ever to appear on these pages. “I was silent,” he wrote, “knowing that my attempt at living together with others in this country was over. That the lie I’d told my children about a future in which Arabs and Jews share the country equally was over.”
I want to apologize for those on my side who never will. I want to apologize for those on my side who suggest that you imbibe murderous vengeance with your mothers’ milk, I want to apologize for the tens of thousands of people on my side who, in anger over your side’s murder of our three teens, are promoting revenge as a value for Israeli Jews.
Some of these same people will demand that only you have something to apologize for. That only my side is owed an apology. If you do offer an apology, though, expect these same people to dismiss it as nothing more than empty words, servants of a darker agenda.
And one last apology, perhaps the one which should have come before all the others: For sometimes forgetting that, where actual people are concerned – actual children, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons – my side and your side are the same.
It may be, in the end, that the only message we’ve really needed to hear over the past unbearable weeks, my side and yours, was a simple one, nothing more than one headline which appeared on Sunday: “Sane people on each side, unite!”