Hearing sirens wail in the Jerusalem night last Thursday, then radio broadcasts about a shooting spree inside a Yeshiva library, evoked fears that the intifada days of fear and loathing are here again.
Friends abruptly cancelled a visit to the big shuk (farmer's market), presuming we might provide a temptingly soft target inside a closed space on the funeral day for the 8 student victims. Eleven more wounded teens are recovering in hospital. It's been quiet and tense ever since and no one knows where we are in the latest cycle of violence (The IDF have slowed down incursions into Gaza, where 126 Palestinians were killed last week, one third of them civilians.) Bloody muddled east.
What's puzzling old-timers is that this attack by a lone Palestinian gunman with an AK-47 and a pair of pistols appeared to be modelled on American-style high school mass murderers, such as Columbine, and had scant resemblance to most suicide bombings. The gun-toting neighbors of the West Jerusalem seminary, who swiftly finished off the Arab killer, were an unusual added danger to investigators and reporters. Police at first speculated that these armed right-wingers might have gunned down some students by mistake after rumours circulated that a second or third shooter was on the loose, disguised as a student. Not all the bullets at the seen came from the gunman.
Gideon Levy, in a controversial and frank Haaretz column, talks about what Mercaz Harav Yeshiva represents. With its "fascist" ideology, it was not a random target of opportunity, he contends:
Nothing, of course, can justify the horrible killing of young boys in a library. Still, it would be appropriate to recall, even at this difficult hour, what this yeshiva has brought forth.Mercaz Harav is the flagship of the last group in Israeli society still operating in the realm of ideas.
Religious Zionists are the only group, aside from the ultra-Orthodox population, whose members are willing to lay down their lives for the collective and its worldview. It is a group that responds faithfully to its leaders - a group that even has leaders - and idolizes them. It is also a fairly homogenous group in terms of its thinking: Some 80 percent of its members define themselves as right-wingers. None of this is true of Israel's complacent, individualist secular public. And so we end up with a minority, 12 to 15 percent of the population, whose influence in certain areas is crucial and far exceeds its own relative size.
No one can explain in depth the magical powers of extortion this group has obtained. Nor can anyone ignore the damage it has caused the country. Without the settlement enterprise, peace might have reigned here already; without the Gush Emunim movement, supported by successive Israeli governments, there would be no settlements; and without the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, there would be no Gush Emunim. This institution, then, was the cradle of the settlement enterprise and its driving force. Most of the students killed in the terrorist attack were second-generation settlers. It should be said again, clearly and unequivocally: Their killing was a criminal act...
There are still very many secular Israelis who view the religious Zionists, the students of the Mercaz Harav yeshiva and the West Bank's so-called "hilltop youths" as a group of pioneers committed to noble values, as the pillar of fire advancing before the camp. Even those who deeply detest the Haredi public reserve a warm spot in their hearts for religious Zionism, the very group that has inflicted more calamity on us than all the Haredim put together.
The killing at the yeshiva is heartrending. No one deserved it. The innocents in Gaza and the victims at Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem were all an unnecessary sacrifice. They have already paid the highest possible price. Their families and those around them will probably adopt even more radical positions now, and so we will be led into another round of endless bloodshed.