Late Thursday night, a bunch of underage thugs were hanging out in the center of Jerusalem looking for trouble, and to impress the girls they were with. The oldest was 17, the youngest 13.
As they were shooting the breeze, undoubtedly smoking and drinking (as is customary for kids who are out and about past midnight, while their parents are at home in bed), one of the girls told a story. She said she had been raped by an Arab a few weeks earlier. It’s an odd thing to be talking about in such a context, but no matter. Teens these days have a peculiar way of bragging.
The “disclosure” had the desired effect: It prompted the boys to become all puffed up and testosterone-pumped. Clearly in an attempt to show off, as well as let off steam, they decided to hunt down Arabs on behalf of the girl, and exact revenge.
As luck would have it for the Jewish juvenile delinquents, three young Arabs happened to walk by.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose, with the Jews surrounding the Arabs menacingly. The Arab boys managed to escape the circle and fled, with the Jewish boys and girls in hot pursuit. After running the length of a long street, the Jews caught up with the Arabs — whom they heavily outnumbered — and began to beat them up, one of them nearly to death.
During the five days since then, every Israeli police officer, politician, pundit, and member of the populace has decried the “lynch” while deriding and denouncing the perpetrators. A special investigation squad was swiftly established to handle the incident, and several kids have been arrested.
President Shimon Peres announced that this crime violated Jewish law. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat condemned the act and assured the public that the police would “bring all the assailants to justice.” Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon called it a “hate crime,” and said it ran “contrary to Jewish morality and values, and constitutes first and foremost an educational and moral failure.”
Indeed. And the mother of the wounded boy, who is still in intensive care, though now conscious and healing, can rest assured that the Jewish boys and girls who are responsible will be treated as harshly as their age allows under the law.
But let us look back 12 years ago, to another lynch that took place, about half an hour’s drive away from the scene of the current crime. On Oct. 12, 2000, two reservists who were serving as drivers in the Israel Defense Forces took a wrong turn and ended up in Ramallah by accident. There they encountered a Palestinian Authority road block (no, road blocks are not an Israeli invention). Rather than being turned away by PA policemen, as other Israeli vehicles had been that had made the same error, these two young men were detained and taken to a nearby police station.
Upon learning that two Israelis were at the station, a mob of more than 1,000 Palestinians began to storm the building. What ensued was a murder the likes of which has rarely been seen, even in this terror-torn region. The two men were choked, stabbed, disemboweled, and had their eyes gouged out. Not only did the Palestinian police not intervene, but some among their ranks even participated in the frenzied mutilation.
When the men were finally dead, one of the murderers stood at an open window and held up his bloody hands for the crowds outside to see. This caused them to erupt in gleeful cheers.
Then, much to their delight, one of the bodies was flung from the window onto the street below. This was an opportunity for those who had not been able to participate in the actual lynch to stomp on the bloody corpse. The body of the second victim was then brought out, and the mob set him on fire. Finally, what was left of the two poor guys was dragged to the center of the city, where a “victory celebration” was held.
Israeli security forces spent the next several years tracking down the murderers, one of whom was indicted only this month. Another, who had been convicted in 2004 and sentenced to life imprisonment, was released as part of the Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange last year.
In the aftermath of the lynch, the PA did nothing, other than try to censor foreign media outlets that had managed to get partial footage of the atrocity. The PA-controlled media, meanwhile, portrayed the two victims as Israeli spies.
When the news of Thursday night’s lynch in Jerusalem reached the airwaves, it was clear that the conclusion of moral relativists would be that Israel, too, has its terrorists, hate crimes and lynches. Indeed, whenever arguments about the two societies emerge, someone always claims that “Israelis are just as violent as Palestinians.”
Though that particular point is debatable, I will not go into it here. I will point out, however, that a society is not judged by its criminals, but rather by its criminal justice system. A society is not judged by its flaws, but rather by its openness to criticism of those flaws by the press. And a society is not judged by immorality in its midst, but rather by the response of its leaders, educators and the general public to it.
Nothing illustrates this better than the tale of the two lynches.
Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring,'” now available on Amazon and in bookstores in Europe and North America.