A Tough Country

Fourteen murders in three weeks make for a frightening statistic, relatively speaking. Three times more than Sweden, which has about 70 a year; three times fewer than New York, with about 600 murders annually. The current wave will be quickly forgotten. Israel will be thrust into the next scandal, but one cannot be surprised by this not-so-good middle ranking, between Sweden and New York. A country that has devoted most of its resources to defense against external dangers, sometimes real and sometimes imagined or exaggerated, cannot pretend to be surprised.

A country whose official language is force, which conveys to its citizens and its neighbors that violence is a legitimate means of solving problems, cannot be surprised when precisely those methods are adopted by its citizens. It's not possible that what is right for the alleys of Gaza and the streets of Jenin ultimately would not also be right for the Tel Aviv seashore or the banks of the Alexander River.

The acts of murder of the past several weeks are all individual incidents. The case of the person who dismembered women has nothing to do with the case of the person who stabbed the landlady, and there is no connection between those two incidents and the murderous assault on the seafront promenade. To every murder its own motive, and to every killing its own circumstances.

But when "security" is the true religion of the country and relates absolutely only to the security of the population in the face of external dangers, from Arabs, terrorism and the Iranian nuclear project, and the army is at the center of this rite of security, then the other security issue is abandoned, that of the defense of citizens from other citizens.

That was our choice: to prepare ourselves to know how to defend against every external threat at the expense of all the other no less threatening dangers. Now we will pay the price in the form of acts of murder and assault, a relatively weak police force and a fragile sense of personal safety. Let's not complain, however. It was our conscious choice.

When elected officials are protected and guarded from head to toe, with two guards for every unrecognizable junior minister and dozens of guards for the prime minister at every waking moment, then it comes at someone's expense. When the defense establishment devotes endless resources to develop more and more defense technologies, from Iron Dome to the Arrow missile, against every kind of weapon, don't be surprised if the simple citizen is left abandoned to his fate against attackers on the promenade.

And the violent language used by the state ultimately is bequeathed to all of its citizens. When Israel, which acts like the regional bully, reacts with horrifying disproportionality to every provocation, Operation Cast Lead against the Qassam rockets, white phosphorous and flechette munitions against hollow pipes, 1,300 fatalities against 13, then should we be surprised at neighborhood bullies delivering fatal blows for no reason at all, and that people are stabbed to death over a dispute among neighbors in an apartment building?

When Upper Israel, along with its education system and media, take pride in its violent responses, encourage such responses and incite passions in the face of every bombing and shelling, then the message filters all the way down, even to Lower Israel. When soldiers and policemen and border police and special forces and immigration police and the Kfir infantry brigade can deliver blows, to abuse, to shoot, and sometimes kill indiscriminately, why should we complain about the outer margins of society from which most of the recent violence is coming?

There is no difference morally or in principle between dropping bombs on houses and senseless murder in the streets, between the army's wiping out a targeted individual and the underworld doing the same, but the former engenders legitimization and sweeping support and the latter engenders shock. The former is done with state authority and authorization and is met with enthusiasm, and the latter is met with revulsion. This revulsion should have been directed at both kinds of killing, but it isn't. Violence is violence. Murder is murder. Hitting bound suspects is allowed, but it's not allowed to the simple civilian? It can't be.

That, of course, is not the whole story. There are psychopath murderers. There is alcohol flowing like water. There are young people who go to elite clubs and others who are excluded, discriminated against and hated. None of their acts of murder are justified. They are all base and terrible acts. But until we get down to understanding their cause, no police budget or ministerial declaration will help. It's a tough country, Israel, and it chose to be like that, and now it is paying the price.

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