Before the news of the violent death of Hallel Yaffa Ariel on June 30 had even crossed the Atlantic, the public mourning for the young girl had already congealed into a turgid, predictable, politicized ritual.
First, American Jews heard the shocked announcement of the killing of an Israeli child in the Occupied Territories – a 13-year-old girl apparently stabbed to death in her bed by a Palestinian youth who had penetrated the militant Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba.
Next came the cavalcade of family pictures and grief-stricken farewells in the Israeli media, generously laced with hate speech aimed at Palestinians – none of which mentioned the brutal occupation under which the attacker, like millions of others, had languished his entire life.
And then, without a moment’s pause, came the main act: political exploitation. There was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on television – never mind his own record of terror – blaming everyone who protests Israel’s occupation for “inciting” the young girl’s killing; there was the Orthodox Union, no less, demanding that “international leaders” blame “Palestinian leadership” for all violence in the Occupied Territories; and, yes! – there was the inevitable announcement that yet more Palestinian land was now to be confiscated for the use of the Kiryat Arba settlers.
All this was dinned into our ears before we could even register the loss of another victim.
As a Jew – as a human being – I want to mourn the brutal slaying of an Israeli child. A young girl’s murder is tragedy, horror, and crime all in one. I don’t wish the loss of a child on any parents. Nor can I condone the murder of a 13-year-old on any grounds, for any reason.
But the grief I want to feel for this victim drops stillborn from my heart. Why? Because in this crazy world of whitewashed apartheid and politicized mourning, of state-sponsored Israeli violence masquerading as law and order while, on the strength of one desperate act, a whole oppressed people is dehumanized, what ought to be a normal emotion becomes an act of complicity.
In this crazy world, the immediate relatives of the alleged Palestinian attacker, though accused of no crime, are reportedly being threatened with the revocation of their permits to work in Israel – that is, with the loss of their livelihood – and the demolition of their home. But the mourning rituals repeat only the graveside accusation of Hallel Ariel’s mother that not just the parents of the Palestinian who stabbed her daughter (parents she has certainly never met), but all “Arab Muslims” everywhere in Palestine, “teach hatred” and encourage their children to “stab someone.” Meanwhile, I’m supposed to ignore the hate speech of her family – including the demand of her cousin, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, for the annexation of most of the West Bank and the expulsion of thousands of its inhabitants just weeks ago. Under the rules of public mourning, Palestinian families are presumed guilty for whatever a Palestinian does; settlers, being Israeli Jews, are innocent by definition.
In this crazy world, I’m supposed to blame Palestinian “incitement” for all violence in the West Bank. But I’m supposed to forget that the Kiryat Arba settlement in which young Hallel Ariel was killed was not only built on Palestinian land, nearly 50 years ago, but is dedicated to the expropriation of more Palestinian land. I’m supposed to forget that its founder, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, was caught shooting randomly through Palestinian windows in Hebron until he killed an innocent shopkeeper – because, he said, someone else had thrown rocks at his car. What would Israelis say about a Palestinian who had committed such a crime? But Levinger served a grand total of three months in prison, returned to Hebron a hero, and was honored at his funeral last year by Israel’s president. By the end of that same year, 24 Palestinians in the Hebron district alone would be killed by the IDF in a single month. But none of that can count as “incitement” – not within the hypnotic rituals of Greater-Israel-As-Victim.
In this crazy world, Israel’s Prime Minister can get away with the ultimate hypocrisy of telling Palestinians, “You don’t murder a sleeping child for peace,” and accusing them of “barbarism” and a “warped ideology.”
Was it for peace, then, that a sophisticated missile from an Israeli F-16 blew apart two sleeping Palestinian children, aged 6 and 10, just months ago? Was it to protect civilization that Israeli soldiers randomly riddled a Palestinian car with bullets one week before Hallel Ariel’s death, killing a 15-year-old boy and wounding several others – and then called it a “mistake”? No one is being prosecuted for those killings, and no one in my Orthodox Jewish community has ever mourned those Palestinian children’s deaths, all of them products of a 49-year-old military occupation we also don’t mention.
So far I have said nothing to any friends or family members about Hallel Ariel’s murder. That isn’t for lack of feeling. It’s because anything I say is bound to jar against the public mourning that still clogs our horizons, blotting out the simple but unmentionable facts of the brutal occupation of Palestinian land. I don’t want to strike a discord in this pain-filled atmosphere – not yet. Few in my religious community would understand me, and fewer still, I’m afraid, would want to hear me out.
But what looks from the outside like silence is really anger. Anger at the way the occupation corrupts all it touches – enabling a militarist like Netanyahu to pose as a prophet of peace, reducing a rabbinic organization to an apologist for international crime, degrading Judaism itself to the level of a real estate hustle. And anger, too, at the way these cynical rituals have robbed me of the mourning that is my due – and Hallel Ariel’s.
For the moment, I am forced to choose between grief and moral honesty. The rituals of Greater Israel will not allow both.