Horrific Attacks in Israel: President Rivlin Warns that His Country Needs a Wake Up Call—by Ayala Emmett

Two horrific brutal attacks have shaken up Israel last week. On Thursday there was a stabbing attack on a Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem in which 6 people were wounded, one seriously injured. Friday morning the country woke up to face the burning of a Palestinian family home in which a baby was burned to death in the village of Duma. The killers wishing to make sure that their identity would not be in doubt left a message on the wall in Hebrew, nekama, (revenge). On Saturday thousands of Israelis*, including Israel’s president, rallied in major cities, in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa holding signs, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” “Homophobia=Racism” and “How Many Will be Killed in the Name of God?”

People came to protest the two violent attacks of the stabbing at the Gay Pride Parade and the firebombing in the West Bank in which the Palestinian Dawabsha family, with serious burn injuries, tried and could not save their baby. Ali Dawabsha died in the fire as the house collapsed. The anguish of the bereaved helpless parents a haunting tragedy.

At a protest rally on Saturday in Tel Aviv the baby’s uncle recounted how the family were sitting together on Thursday night “and then each person went to their own home. Half an hour later the explosive device was thrown. The fuel that was in the explosive was potent; nothing was left [of the home] at the end.” The uncle Nasser Dawabsha asked Israel’s prime-minister who, unlike the president, was not to be seen at any of the rallies, why this 18 months old Ali Dawabsha had to die. Ali’s father, Saad suffered third degree burns on 80% of his body, his wife Riham has 90% burns on her body and their four-year-old son Ahmad has 60% burns.

Ali’s uncle said, what everyone in Israel has known for a long time, that there has been an endemic harassment of Palestinians in the West Bank by a group of zealot/violent settlers whose provocations have been going on with impunity and little recourse to justice. Ali’s uncle said that “this is a government that encourages settlers who all the time cry ‘Death to the Arabs’; this is why this government is part of the incitement.”

He is not alone in placing the blame not just on the murderers, but on the highest authority in Israel that does little to apprehend settlers who destroy Palestinian property and publicly announce “Death to Arabs;” and those within the Green Line who make similar incendiary statements against Israeli Arabs, citizens of the state. Prime Minister Netanyahu has a history of supporting right wing violence by omission (standing on the balcony while his supporters in the square displayed an image of Yitzhak Rabin in Nazi uniform) and by an open appeal to racist sentiments in the rightist political parties by threatening on the eve of the recent elections that thousands of Arabs (citizens of the state of Israel) are coming to vote by bus loads. The right wing voters obliged and turned up for Netanyahu in droves, ensuring his victory.

In the rally in Jerusalem, President Reuven Rivlin connected the two terrifying events, the knifing at the Gay Pride Parade and the burning of the Palestinian family as manifestations of a growing intolerant violence that must not exist in a democracy. The president said, “Every society has extremist fringes, but today we have to ask: what is it in the public atmosphere which allows extremism and extremists to walk in confidence, in broad daylight?”

President Rivlin expressed what many in Israel have been saying for years, before and since the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, that Israeli leaders of the secular and religious right wing have inflamed, legitimated or failed to stem the growing violence and incitement of hatred. The president said, “we must be thorough and clear; from the educational system, to those who enforce the law, through to the leadership of the people and the country. We must put out the flames, the incitement, before they destroy us all.”

Yes, President Rivlin used the warning words, “before they destroy us all.” On Friday, the president had already expressed shame that the killers of Ali Dawabsha came from “my people,” and right away had received threats online that were openly menacing, saying they wished the president would suffer a similar fate to the late Ariel Sharon and the slain Yitzhak Rabin. On Saturday President Rivlin said, “Citizens of Israel, a Jewish and democratic Israel, democratic and Jewish Israel, needs a wake-up call today” and the threatening messages increased. On Sunday, a few hours ago, and on the advice of the Shin Bet security service, the Security office of the president has filed a complaint with the Israeli police.

At the protest rally on Saturday the president said what people of conscience and human decency in Israel have been saying for years about the on-going rampant right wing violence. Yet, the government for its own political reasons has taken little action. The looming question is whether the country will follow President Rivlin’s example as he went on Friday to the hospital to visit the seriously burned and grieving Dawabsha family, to tell them that he was “ashamed and ridden with dread for the power of hatred.”

And perhaps a more urgent question is whether President Rivlin would re-examine his own support for the occupation, which has its deep imprint on the public atmosphere that has produced such bigoted hatred. If a two-states agreement would be proposed from the right, by President Rivlin who is a Likud member, it would produce a meaningful outcome to the shame and dread that he expressed and it would give concrete political substance to his heartfelt wake-up call.

*I thank my brother David Langerman who was at the Haifa rally and shared details of the events with me.