Anyone who was not in Israel in the summer of 2005 cannot understand the heartbreaking rift between the Jewish people at the time of the Expulsion from Gush Katif. As then-Prime Minister Sharon bulldozed his plan for unilateral withdrawal, hoards of Israelis participated in protests, civil disobedience, and prayer services. Many others condemned the protests and applauded as scores and scores of demonstrators, the majority of them teenagers, were arrested and sent to Ma’asiyahu Prison where a special wing had been opened to house the political prisoners.
Nothing could stop the evacuation of the beautiful towns and villages in Gush Kaitf and northern Shomron, though. The ordeal began on August 17th as soldiers were deployed to evict thousands of sobbing residents from their homes.
August 17th was a hard day for anyone listening to the news. It was with a heavy heart I headed down the hill to the local grocery store. On the way two ambulances went speeding past me, their sirens wailing full blast. Once at the store I heard the horrible news that there had been a murder at the Industrial Zone. Seconds later Asher Weisgan arrived, squealing brakes as he jumped out of the vehicle he was driving. He tossed his rifle to a bystander and lifted his arms in surrender. Policemen jumped out of the squad car that had followed him and Asher was handcuffed. His trial was quick and he received four consecutive life sentences. Four months later he hung himself in his jail cell.
Asher had lived in the next village over. He was married and the father of two. At one point he had done some remodeling work in our house. Normally uncomfortable with workmen in my home, I found him to be quite pleasant. Unfortunately, he decided to stop working for himself and took a job for a factory in the Shilo Industrial Zone. Part of his job was transporting Arab workers to and from the factory. On August 17th, instead of taking them home, he lined them up and shot four of them pointblank.
We are taught it’s a commandment not to hate our fellow Jew, unless he is an evil person who sins on purpose. Then we are instructed to despise his wicked acts. I not only despise Asher’s actions, I condemn them. However, I don’t believe that he was fully responsible for his actions. Instead, I believe that something inside him snapped in reaction to all the torment and pain that was happening around him.
Anyone who was not in Israel the past month cannot understand the unbelievable unity that was among the Jewish people in light of the kidnapping of the three boys, Naftali, Gil-ad, and Ayal, may HaShem avenge their blood. Political and religious differences were put aside as we were led by their noble families to pray and do acts of kindness. We became united in worry, love and caring. When the bodies were found we stayed united in our sorrow and mourning. Despite our grief we had hope for our future together as one people.
And then the morning following the funerals horrible news hit the headlines. An Arab teenager had been kidnapped and a badly burned body found. Immediately, there were reporters who decried it as a revenge crime for the kidnapping of Ayal, Gil-ad, and Naftali. I couldn’t believe it and was sure it was a blood libel. Surely, it was an honor killing or rival criminal family taking revenge. Apparently, I was wrong. Six Jews were arrested for the brutal murder of Mohammed Abu Khder.
Names of the Jewish murderers have not been released and I pray they are no one I know. As with Asher, I know I must hate their act and not them, but it is difficult. Not only was a despicable act of murder committed, but it blew apart the unity that was in our hands.
Despite the pain that we can have within us people capable of such a base deed, I look with pride at how most of us have reacted. Many rabbis and politicians all the way to the Chief Rabbis and Prime Minister have condemned the crime and I join them. I am proud that we feel revulsion to the grisly deed as that loathing bears witness to the fact this is not our way. I pray that we can repair the damage that was done and again become an united people.