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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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So What To Do? A Year After the Fogel Family Massacre

The funeral of the five Fogel family members murdered in their home in Itamar.

The funeral of the five Fogel family members murdered in their home in Itamar.
Photo Credit: Kobi Gideon / Flash90

Just over a year ago two Arab men broke into a settlement called Itamar and slaughtered the Fogel family. Among those slaughtered there was an eleven month old girl. As is the custom in Israel, a group of volunteers from “ZAKA” was called to the place of the incident. An explanation for those unfamiliar with ZAKA: It is an organization that has committed itself “to rescue when it is possible to rescue and to pay the last homage when it is impossible to rescue,” as its motto proudly declares. Almost all ZAKA members are observant Jews, which makes sense: the need to rescue is quite rational, while the need to collect all body parts of those killed is not. When I was a boy I used to spend hours at a huge wasteland plot in Kharkov with my friends, and we often stumbled upon the unburied remains of World War II combatants and victims. I would venture a guess that they have not been identified and buried up till now, for the Soviet power abolished both God and respect for the dead. But I digress. Among the ZAKA volunteers at the scene in Itamar was a friend of mine, Professor Firer, Head of Department of Chemical Technology. Michael Firer is a battle-hardened soldier and no novice in ZAKA, a man with a lot of nerve. But what he saw in Itamar plunged him into a deep depression – the bestiality of what happened in Itamar was more than a human mind can take. The assassins were arrested and today their lawyer claims in Israeli court that they are victims of Israeli occupation.

My employer, which somewhat bombastically calls itself the Ariel University Center, is situated mere kilometers off the site of the tragedy. Quite a few people knew the Fogel family – they were charming people who devoted all their spare time to their children, as becomes a true Jewish family. I also knew the Fogels – my daughter went to school with one of the girls who survived by miracle. The next day, children in Gaza got candy “in honor of the great victory of the Palestine Liberation Movement.” For my part, I was scrutinizing the reactions of the Jewish students – there was not even one incident of an outburst of hatred towards their Arab classmates, who made up quite a noticeable part of my students’ body. Had such an incident happened, the college management would have suppressed it without mercy.

The Tolstovian title of the article may seem a mockery in the context of the story I have told, though I am not intending “to pummel Leo Tolstoy’s dead body,” as Merab Mamardashvilly used to say, but nevertheless, this title was not a random choice. Had Tolstoy heard about this insanity, he would have advised to forgive the murderers, as a good Christian should, and let them go. Being neither a Tolstovian nor even a Christian, I do not find it possible to agree with this solution. As I see it, absence of hate is the highest virtue that can be demanded of a human being in these circumstances. It seems incredible, but it is true: there is little hate towards Arabs in Israel, and if xenophobia bursts out into the surface, it is harshly condemned. Arabs walk about in Ariel and on the campus feeling perfectly safe, while my visit to a neighboring Arab village would be without any doubt my end, and in the best case, I would be neatly wrapped in plastic bags and thrown over Ariel’s fence. Lack of symmetry is clearly evident.

OK, I am an occupier living “over the green line,” but even Israeli police (!) are afraid to enter the Arab villages within the 1967 borders, so what can be said about ordinary Israelis? Everyone, including those who deny it, knows it. Not long ago a naïve Israeli bought a house in an Arab village, assuming, not without grounds, that the law in a democratic country would protect him from his neighbors’ possible assaults. Well, it did not. He could not safely and peaceably live in the Arab village and he did not get his money back.

An even more surprising fact is the absence of hate towards Russia. Russia has stuffed the most abhorrent Arab regimes with modern weapons that have killed thousands of Israelis. There has not been an anti-Israeli UN resolution that Russia has not signed with enthusiasm. Russia remains Arab countries’ best friend under both socialism and capitalism, or whatever the brand of “-ism” that has grown there should be called. This is a political world, constant, as in physics. It would be logical to expect anti-Russian moods in Israel, but there are none. And I believe that the reasons for this are very deep. Judaism has always been a tribal, even a family religion. Israel is actually Jacob’s enlarged family. Judaism has never recruited proselytes nor has it claimed to be a universal religion. Jews always looked with some compassion and disbelief at their neighbors who did not know the true God and were able to be consumed by something outside true faith. Hatred, on the other hand, when put at the corner stone, forms a stable and pernicious symbiosis with the world rule idea. This idea is like cancer: the tumors of National Socialism and world revolution can be resected, but then the metastasis of Islamic globalism spreads. Even though we have never sought either Christian infants’ blood or world dominion, this is what we have always been suspected of.

As fate would have it, we have always stood in the way of those striving for world power: Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Christians, Nazis, and Communists. While this – serving as an obstacle on the way to world rule – may seem quite an honorable mission, it is also bound up with a lot of inconvenience. No one has failed to stumble over us, to sidestep the puzzle of the Jewish barrier. Neither can radical Islam do it. A. Toynbee, who hasted to declare us to be “a historical fossil” overlooked this mission of the House of Jacob, which has not yet lost its actuality. The sets are changing, the actors and their roles are not.

Judaism is a family, tribal business. “However divided Jews may be today in their religious (or non-religious and even anti-religious) ideology, however furiously they may argue with each other about the role of the Halacha in today’s life, all of them undoubtedly agree that the Jewish religious law does not apply to non-Jews. They disagree about to what degree (if at all) this law applies to Jews, but no one suggests that non-Jews must obey the commandments that the Torah prescribes ‘to children of Israel’ (R. Yoshpe, “What Is Jewish Philosophy”).

The local, familial character of the Jewish religion has always disheartened Jewish superintellectuals. Pasternak’s Gordon, who had a chip on his shoulder about his origins, verbalizes this grudge quite tangibly: “their national idea has forced them, century after century, to be a people and nothing but a people – and the extraordinary thing is that they have been chained to this deadening task all through the centuries when all the rest of the world has been delivered from it by a new force which had come out of their own midst… In whose interests is this voluntary martyrdom?… Why don’t the intellectual leaders of the Jewish people ever get beyond facile ‘Weltschmerz’ and ironic wisdom?”

It seems that we paid quite a price for this wisdom of ours. It is surprising that Pasternak failed to see that it was this tribal character which saved Judaism from the devil of the lust for universality. Our argument with Christianity is ages old. Hillel advised not to do onto one’s neighbor what you do not want to be done to yourself. This demand seems far more modest than the moral duties which the founder of Christianity made his followers shoulder. But it happens to be that not increasing the evil weighs more, on the world history scale, than forceful propagation of the good (including the universalizing of democracy). If the bandits who rule in Gaza found themselves next door to a Christian state and showered its towns with rockets, the whole Gaza Strip would be reduced to a pile of crushed stone. And again, everyone knows it, including those who deny it. The state of Israel’s practice exhibits our age-old debate with Christianity in a new light. Israel has managed to keep a human face in an inhuman situation.

The basis for this practice lies in an astonishing synthesis of liberalism and traditional Jewish mentality; Jabotinsky may have foreseen the possibility of such a synthesis. M. Aldanov, who hated the Jewish revolutionaries who crowded the political scene in the beginning of the 20th century, once made a vitriolic remark about them, calling them “Prometheuses from heder.” Aldanov’s sarcasm, in this case, dims the heart of the matter: while heder did have a deep impact on Ben Gurion and Israel’s other founding fathers, it apparently left no trace in the minds of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Uritsky, whose cosmopolitan activities evidently contradicted Judaism’s familial thought patterns.

The graft of democracy on the Christian stem has not entirely benefited it, for liberalism has choked and crushed religion in the West. As for Islam, this graft has never succeeded in any Islamic country. No, Islamic countries do not object to the benefits of civilization: Twitter and Facebook are filled with cannibal slogans and the atom bomb is undoubtedly the most important scientific achievement for radical Islam.

Controlling one’s hatred is a hard thing to do. The human soul has a predisposition to Manichaeism: it yearns to know where exactly in the world evil is – obviously, with the sole purpose of eradicating it (together with its bearers, to be sure). Judaism seems to have once and forever done away with the idea of evil’s independent existence; nevertheless, relapses of Manichaeism sometimes occur in unexpected areas, like, for example socialist ideology. Remember “Warszawianka”?

“Storm of hostile whirlwinds is howling above us, Dark evil forces oppress us today.” You can object to this, for does not the Bible teach us: “You who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalms 97:10). But pay attention: “evil”, not: “the evil ones,” a distinction that is even more difficult to grasp. Nevertheless, Talmudic Judaism insists on it.

Kindling hate is inseparable from inferiority complex. Aldanov remarked that in England xenophobia does not exist because the English are confident of their absolute superiority over other nations. Nazism, on the other hand, was a fruit of Germany’s Versailles Treaty humiliation. But who can humiliate the Chosen people? Only the One who has chosen it, and certainly not Nebuchadnezzar, Titus, Hitler, or Nasser. I do not intend to gloss the picture. Does a savage phobia towards Arabs exist in Israel? It certainly does; every shade of color is present in the moral specter of any nation. The question is where the center of gravity of this specter lies. The hate towards Israel of the average Arabs who live in near by countries and who have never seen Jews is astonishing. I could start analyzing the religious, economic, and psycho-social roots of this hate, but what for? What could this analysis reveal to me and should I change my behavior in accordance with the results obtained?

The Arab world could greatly from contacts with Israel, which would be happy to lend its high agricultural technologies to its neighbors and once and forever do away with hunger in these countries. This is impossible for the same reason that Peter the Great’s reforms did not succeed in Russia or the last attempt at liberalization did. Closeness to Europe has not made Russia a European country. It has become so horribly evident in the last half decade – Russia has regressed to a prehistoric political state in a matter of several years. This means that regression time in politics does not depend on the country’s size (gigantic, in the case of Russia); it is rather brought about by the immutable “mess in the heads.”

It is true that political analogies have a tendency to limp, but why should Arab public opinion change anger to mercy towards Israel? All this means only one thing: no equilibrium is possible for Israel except the equilibrium of fear; this is an unpleasant truth, but truths often have this quality. Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man did not like it that two times two make four, but for that he is an underground man.

A reporter asked a six-year-old Arab girl: “What is your wish for the next year?” The answer was: “That all the Jews be killed.” Nevertheless, I feel no hate towards this little girl, I know how children can be brainwashed; I remember Pavlik Morozov. But this is the utmost I can squeeze out of myself. However hard I try, I will never be able to either love this little girl or get interested in the motives of the people who incited her. I know these motives only too well. A person who in his youth answered the call: “to struggle for the cause of the Communist Party – be ready!” with the words “always ready!” can understand more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of by University philosophers. I grew up in a country that put the poor man’s hate towards the rich man at the basis of its ideology. I can also evaluate the effectiveness of the stake in hate: its effect lasted for seventy years, a very long time. A less successful politician, Hitler, played the card of hate more than successfully. Today radical Islam is playing this card, but as Helvetius said,”the past madness seldom opens people’s eyes to their today’s madness.”

Even the quotation from Helvetius does not make my reasoning less commonplace. It all seems so self-evident that there is no point in striking the PC’s keys. But the point is that this is not self-evident. Surprisingly, quite a number of smart, educated people assume that if my Ariel house is pulled down or occupied by an Arab, or if the laboratory – the creation of which I have been working at for fifteen years – is destroyed, the longed-for peace will come. There is also some positive experience – we tried it in Gaza, we bulldozed flourishing settlements – and in response, we got rocket fire in the south of Israel. Love’s Labour’s Lost. Same dreams.

Another point of interest is that these educated people do not give away their houses to Arab orphans, but why not? No one has ever forbidden private charity in Israel. They are kind, so to speak, at my expense. M. Aldanov perfectly formulated why European socialists (nice and well-meaning people, after all) irritated him so much: they approved of the great social experiment on the Russian people, but not on themselves. Neither gulag, nor the experiences of the Mao China, Cambodia and North Korea have ever taught anybody a positive thing: “give us cheap housing, and not anywhere, but in Tel Aviv, otherwise we will muddle up the whole country.” The Soviet socialism was not good, but somewhere in the high spheres of spirit, in about the same place where the peace with our neighbors lies, the real socialism does exist. In this kingdom of spirit there is enough sweet cake for everyone; moreover, everyone gets identical pieces of cake and identical smiles of deep satisfaction flourish on the faces of the inhabitants, who spend their time in free creativity and reading Plato’s Dialogues and Yoram Kaniuk’s novels. And indeed, something like this already exists in Norway, so why can’t we have it? Yes, we can – if we move to Norway, but I do not know how long it will last. In Israel, where a third of the population, by incredible trickery, dodges taxes without turning their noses away from the benefits of civilization – it is impossible.

The Israeli economic miracle, together with its backbreaking army budget, is loaded upon the backs of some dozens of thousands talented workaholics, who spend their spare time in reserve service; why not fleece them? It is not yet clear which of the chimeras is more malignant: “peace now” or “communism now,” and the amusing thing is that both ideas, which demand God’s kingdom on earth immediately, easily get settled in secular heads that should seemingly be more disposed to a sober view of reality.

This reality does not herald anything good. In a matter of half a year, the seemingly stable Arab regimes have collapsed; the revolutions were followed by their indispensable fellow traveler – chaos, which will be followed by hunger and poverty. In comparison, the pre-revolutionary period (also not exactly all milk and honey) will look like paradise. And the culprit is at a stone’s throw. The mythology of world Caliphate will then be the only thing to stifle the masses’ discontent.

The Soviet masses were successfully fed with the world revolution myth for seventy years, but that was “world revolution,” a slapdash, slipshod mythology, while Islam is a religion with a thousand year tradition, so it cannot be treated off-handedly. It could be made possible if the colonial system was quickly restored, sparing millions of human victims, but the West has neither the energy nor confidence in its rightness for such a solution.

So what is there to do? Not to hide our heads in the sand but to see things as they are. King Lear, who recovered his sight, is a tragic figure; the Lear, who complacently divides the kingdom between his daughters, hoping for a peaceful old age – is foolish, useless and pathetic. Only the seeing ones can rise to a tragedy. Pay attention that in every culture a cheated husband is a laughing-stock. This attitude to a cuckold shows not only a nasty cruelty towards weakness, but also a reasonable contempt to a voluntary blindness, a reluctance to see what is going on under one’s own nose.

My previous Soviet experience caused me to feel a permanent aversion to any ideology, both rightist and leftist; I feel sickened by bombastic phraseology and propagandist babble. Amos Oz in his Tale of Love and Darkness tells the reader how he, a young man from a respectable Revisionist family, in the twinkling of an eye lost his right wing beliefs. The grandiloquence of the rightists made him feel esthetically disgusted. I understand what he wanted to say, but it is less clear to me why the leftist demagogy does not produce the same effect on him.

I remember very well that an alliance of philosophy with politics always leads to a bad result, from Plato to Heidegger. Thought needs no other cause except itself. It would be so good to forget the reality, to get fenced off from the burning problems of the day, but as Friedrich Gorenstein wrote, you can isolate yourself from an ideology, but you cannot run away from your own nose. The lives of these noses’ owners remain no more safeguarded than they had been before the state of Israel was founded.

I wish I could think of Rashi, Maimonides, Descartes and Einstein instead of today’s burning issues, but I cannot seal off my mind from the slaughtered Fogel family. With all that, it is no easy task to keep hate from flooding the soul. Israel is by far not the safest place on the planet, so why live in it? Being a Jew who observes Shabbat, I should place my hand on the Bible for an answer, but I want to quote an unusual source – Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics:

“The present predicament of mankind horrible and menacing as it is, is as the mathematician would say ‘not new in principle.’ Our situation is essentially the same as that of our forefathers… If our situation is similar to that in which our forefathers found themselves, we should act in the way we wish our forefathers had acted… They did not run away from a conflict if they knew that by running away they only postponed the conflict and would have to face it tomorrow under more adverse conditions… Our culture is committing a sin by covering our eyes against the realization that none of us will be here always. As a result, we do not prepare for the inevitable last hour, we do not realize that having leave in peace, the way we die, whether fighting evil, or having abandoned by our friends, and being abandoned by them in turn, delivered to our enemies – is a decisive element when we consider the success of the whole life” (E. Wigner, Convocation Address, University of Alberta).

About the Author: Edward Bormashenko is Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology at the Ariel University Center of Samaria.


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More Articles from Prof. Edward Bormashenko
The funeral of the five Fogel family members murdered in their home in Itamar.

Notice that in every culture a cheated husband is a laughing-stock. This attitude to a cuckold shows not only a nasty cruelty towards weakness, but also a reasonable contempt to a voluntary blindness, a reluctance to see what is going on under one’s own nose.

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