The Jewish community around the world has recently been in mourning for the loss of three young Jewish men, kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank. Their bodies were found on June 30, more than two weeks after they were taken.
Israel blamed Hamas for the kidnapping and, since the three teens disappeared, has been engaged in a crackdown against the terrorist organization. For its part, Hamas did not claim credit for the crime, but praised the kidnapping. The event has sparked Hamas rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, retaliatory airstrikes, and the revenge killing of an Arab teen by Jewish extremists.
The discovery of the young men’s bodies also led to mass mourning within the Jewish community in Israel, around the world, and here in Washington, DC. Last week, 1,200 mourners attended a memorial service in suburban DC for the slain teens. Most of the attendees were Jews, but representatives of several local Christian communities were also present. All expressed solidarity with the family members and deep sadness at the loss of “our boys.”
Of course in times of tragedy, it is the nature of communities–even fractured ones like the American Jewish community–to come together to mourn and comfort one another. But this recent tragedy in my own community, and our response to it, has gotten me thinking about whether the way we mourn–and what events we choose to mourn–contributes to the problem of violence between communities.
One area of concern for me is the us/them mentality of the Jewish community’s response (and obviously this is not unique to the Jewish community). The idea that there is an us and a them. Our expression of grief over the loss of “our boys” seems to me symptomatic of the problem. We grieve for “our boys,” but not for “their boys.” Maybe this is a trite point, but I can’t help but think about some of the people I have represented; people who have faced senseless losses as horrible as those suffered by the Israeli teens’ families.
For example, I am representing a Syrian couple whose newborn baby was asphyxiated by dust and poison gas during a battle. I also represented (successfully) an Iraqi mother who watched her son gunned down in front of her and in front of his own wife and young child. We recently attended an asylum interview for an Afghan man who saw dozens of his relatives and friends killed and maimed by a missile strike on a family wedding. There are no public memorials for these victims. No one even knows about their stories. Indeed, maybe because stories like these are so common in places like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, no one pays much attention. But I have met all these people and heard their stories, so when I see the outpouring of grief for the three Israeli boys, it is difficult not to feel that the solitary suffering of my clients (and millions like them) is unfair and that failing to fully validate the humanity of such victims is unjust. Perhaps if we thought of people like my clients as “us” rather than “them,” we would be more willing to take action to help them (and that goes for all the unaccompanied minors arriving at our Southern border–what if we thought of these children as “our boys and girls”? How would our approach to them differ?).
Maybe I am hoping for too much here. How can we acknowledge so many losses? Why shouldn’t we honor and support “our own” before we deal with everyone else? I don’t know, but it seems to me if we could do better about recognizing the humanity and the value of “the other,” we would take a big step towards preventing future harm for everyone.
A second concern I have about my community’s response to the deaths is more about what we didn’t do. We mourned “our boys,” but not the Palestinian boy who was killed in a barbaric revenge attack by Jewish extremists. Israel quickly arrested the culprits and Prime Minister Netanyahu and many others have condemned the killing. These are obviously important steps, but it is a bit different than mourning the loss of the young Palestinian. Mourning the young man’s death is important not only because “our side” is responsible for his death and thus it reflects on us, as Jews, but also because we need to recognize the boy’s value as a human being.
Again, maybe it is asking too much–especially in the heat of conflict–for Israelis and Palestinians to mourn each others’ losses, but I believe that this is what we must do if we hope ever to end the violence. Indeed, family members of one of the Israeli boys and of the Palestinian boy have been in contact with each other, and some Palestinians and Israelis have been crossing the lines to offer condolences to each other. If people so close to these tragedies can see the humanity in each other, perhaps one day the rest of us will too.