Communities and government condemn murder

July 3, 2014 by J-Wire
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Members of the Australian Jewish community have condemned the tragic murder of Mohammed Abu Khdair outside Jerusalem…but tension in the area is growing

From Suzanne Rutland in Israel:


Over the last two days demonstrations have been held in Israel, expressing strong concern at the calls for vengeance and violence against the Palestinian population by the radical religious right. I attended both of them.

In Jerusalem, the demonstration was organised by an organisation called Tag Meir Forum, which was formed to counter the settler Price Tag movement and other hate crimes, while in Tel Aviv Peace Now organised the demonstration.

The price tag movement involves radical settler youth carrying out acts of vandalism and violence against both the Palestinian population and the Israeli army and security forces. Their actions include spraying graffiti on churches and mosques, attacking cars and homes of Palestinians and uprooting olive trees.  This is their response to any perceived action that seeks to limit the settlement movement.

In Israel, it was thought that these hate crimes were just undertaken by a small group of extremist religious youth, who are really hooligans. However, the tragic murder of the three Israeli boys has revealed a much uglier underbelly of Israeli society, with support for hate crimes and vengeance being more widespread than was previously thought.

The demonstrations in Israel’s two major cities spoke strongly against such violence. As one of the speakers in Jerusalem urged the one-thousand strong crowd: “Say no to racism, say no to violence, say no to revenge”.

Whilst the Jerusalem demonstration was based on moral outrage at the calls for revenge from the religious right, the Tel Aviv rally had a stronger political edge, criticising the political leadership, with a strong focus on Tzippi Livni and Yair Lapid, who have chosen to remain in the Netanyahu government.

As Professor of Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture in the Department of Hebrew, Biblical & Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney, at present on sabbatical in Israel, I felt a moral imperative to attend these demonstrations. For me, this violent underbelly of Israeli society, and particularly of religious youths, is an anathema.

Calls for revenge are not part of our tradition. The Torah exhorts us to treat the strangers in our midst well, because we were strangers in the Land of Egypt, while Jews everywhere aspire to be “Ohr L’Goyim: A light unto the nations”.

The parents of the three murdered youths are voices for moderation. It is very important that at this juncture the Australian Jewish leadership support their calls, and express their strong opposition to this broader violent opposition, just as our leaders have already expressed their sympathy for the parents of the murdered Arab boy, and their general opposition to the concept of revenge killings.

President Shimon Peres, delivered a special messagecalling for an end to incitement and respect for the rule of law:

“As President of the State of Israel I call upon every citizen, all citizens, with a serious request, now is a time for two things; to respect the law and to avoid incitement. We weren’t born to hate, we weren’t born to speak in a hateful language. A few days ago we all behaved as one with dignity, even during our sorrow but together we called for restraint, we called for investigation, we were careful with our words. It’s time to stop incitement, it’s time to be respectful and to respect the law. It’s in our hands. People who are engaged in incitement are not always aware where it can lead, to more sorrow, to more dangers. It’s time for all of us to show restraint, to show understanding and let us as human beings, all of us, be true to our morality, to our hope to live together in peace.”

The message was filmed by AP and Reuters in both Hebrew and English

The Australian Government  [Julie Bishop – Foreign Minister]: “The Australian Government offers its profound condolences to the family and friends of the Palestinian teenager found murdered in East Jerusalem on 2 July.
The senseless killing of innocent children is appalling and I reiterate the Australian Government’s condemnation of all acts of violence against innocent civilians.
The perpetrators of this crime must be held to account.
It is vital that all parties refrain from acts of violence and vengeance that risk further destabilising negotiations for a peaceful two state solution.”

World Jewish Congress Ronald S. Lauder:  Leaders of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) on Thursday condemned the murder of a 16-year-old Arab teenager, Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, near Jerusalem this week as a “callous crime” and said his killers must be found and brought to justice quickly. They also condemned the calls for revenge and attacks on Arabs that have been heard in Israel since the tragic discovery of the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teens this week, urging restraint among Israelis and Palestinians.

 Ronald S. Lauder and Shai Hermesh emphasized that the Israeli police investigation into Khdeir murder had yet to be completed and that it was therefore too early to attribute the crime to Israeli extremists or call it an act of revenge for the murder of the three teenagers.

Nonetheless, said WJC President Lauder, “murdering children is a heinous crime that must be punished severely, irrespective of the killers’ identity or motives or the murdered person’s ethnic or religious. Just as we were shocked and disgusted by the murder of Naphtali, Eyal and Gilad, we are horrified by the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear, taking the law into one’s own hands is not an option.”

In Jerusalem, the chairman of the World Jewish Congress-Israel, Shai Hermesh, urged both Israelis and Palestinians to refrain from whipping up sentiments further in the inflamed atmosphere. “The last thing we need now is the death of more innocent people. Let’s not forget that Jews and Arabs have no alternative but to live together in this small land, and let’s make sure that the law is upheld to protect all citizens,” Hermesh said.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies President Yair Miller said: “We condemn the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdair in the strongest and most unequivocal terms. We express condolences to the family in their time of sorrow. We note that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has condemned the murder as `despicable’, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has described it as `a horrible and barbaric act’ and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has committed to finding the murderers and bringing them to justice. “We trust that the perpetrators will face the appropriate justice when apprehended.”

Miller concluded: “There can be no justification for this sort of behaviour and we look forward to the Israeli authorities determining the motives behind this tragic murder.”

The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council executive director Dr Colin Rubenstein and National Chairman Mark Leibler: “AIJAC strongly condemns yesterday’s horrific murder of 16-ycar-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem.

While all leads are being explored, the possibility raised by Israeli authorities that this could have been a revenge attack for the brutal murder of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers is absolutely abhorrent.

Israel is a nation where everyone must act and be accountable according to the rule of law.

We join Israel’s Prime Minister in his call for the police to swiftly carry out their investigative work towards speedily bringing those responsible to justice for this heinous crime.”

New Israel Fund [Daniel Sokatch]:    Israel has buried three teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered. It was a devastating act perpetuated by extremists determined to shed innocent blood and to provoke further conflict.

Even while the funeral was going on, riots broke out in Jerusalem in which Knesset Members calling for “revenge” took advantage of a national moment of pain to incite violence. Mobs chanted “Death to Arabs” and roamed the streets of Jerusalem looking for Arabs to attack.

Israeli police acted to prevent revenge attacks, but it appears they could not stop them all. This morning we awoke to reports of a potential revenge killing. An Arab teenager — Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir — was reportedly kidnapped from Jerusalem and murdered. We are still waiting for police to confirm the press accounts.

Most Israelis are horrified by these breaking developments.

Yishai Fraenkel, the uncle of one of the three murdered Israeli teenagers, said it plainly: “Murder is murder. Whatever the nationality or age are, there is no justification. There is no forgiveness or penance for any murder.”

He could not be more right.

Sadly, expressions of empathy for Palestinian suffering were rare in the mainstream Israeli media before news broke of the dead Palestinian teenager. Too few of Israel’s leaders were speaking out.  Too much of the public discourse was — and still is — dominated by extremists.

NIF is committed to amplifying the voices of Israelis committed to equality and to democracy, of Israelis willing to confront those who preach hatred, exclusion, and violence — of Israelis who work toward a vision of a better Israel.

Earlier today a large rally was held in Jerusalem to give expression to the voices of sanity. Israelis gathered under the banner: “We mourn. We don’t avenge.” Thousands attended.

Click here to see photos from this rally.

It was an important moment in which Israeli citizens gathered to make clear that the extremists don’t speak for them. The rally was organized by the Tag Meir coalition, which was seed-funded by NIF.

Much is uncertain right now. I’m bombarded by breaking reports of more confrontations, more hate-filled rallies, more rockets, and more air strikes. All of us hope the worst is over; all of us fear for the future.

What I do know — and what I believe you know too — is that there are many Israelis working toward a vision of an Israel in which every voice and every life is respected. They need our support now.

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