Anglos enraged over Galilee rape – are others numb?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 1-17-10

My December 27 post “Galilee Rape Crisis Tests Us All” told about a teenager from Karmiel brutalized in Kishon jail. I hoped that Israel’s leaders and citizens would inspire me to write a “happy ending” follow-up story – or as happy an ending as can be to a story of police brutality and incompetence, violent prisons, repeated gang rape and a 17-year-old having his ear pierced with a copper wire to mark him as his tormenters’ sexual slave.

Over the last two weeks, I have been moved by the love and generosity that has woven a web of caring, linking fellow Jews in Montreal, New York, Ra’anana and Jerusalem with this family in Karmiel. But I am disgusted by the Israeli bureaucracy’s indifference. And I am saddened that too many of the Israeli offers of help have come in English, not Hebrew.

Many in the Anglo-Israeli community are furious about this incident, which risks becoming a defining “anti-aliya” story, one that makes it harder to encourage people to move to Israel. For this family that moved from Miami full of idealism, with an older son serving in the IDF, the dreams of “Exodus” have soured into “Midnight Express,” Israel-style. Their teenage son was not only physically and psychologically brutalized, they themselves feel brutalized by the system, wherein, among other insults, the police are insisting their 17-year son is actually 18.

Many Anglo-Israelis identify with the family, understanding that the teen’s newness to the country complicated the story. This is every Anglo immigrant’s worst nightmare, with whatever traumas of dislocation being magnified exponentially by this ultimately preventable – yet increasingly familiar – mix of inexcusable police incompetence and vile, violent criminal behavior. Also, this scandal is being exposed because, with American-style standards for the criminal justice system, we – and the family – won’t accept the police striking a boy on the head (especially having been warned he had suffered a previous head injury), or incompetently sending him to prison with hardened criminals.

Still, the pain runs deeper than this one family’s anguish. The Western aliya is an idealistic, voluntary immigration of people who often risk standard of living to improve quality of life. Israeli society’s growing violence – and the growing indifference to the violence – threatens the quality of Israeli life which attracted these modern-day pioneers to the historic Jewish homeland.

Israel and the Jewish world have a huge aliya and Zionist bureaucracy. I called the father of the traumatized teenager and asked him: “Has anyone from Nefesh b’Nefesh contacted you?” He said “no.”

“Has anyone from the Jewish Agency contacted you?” He said “no.”

“Has anyone from AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians) contacted you?” He said “no.”

“Has anyone from the Ministry of Absorption contacted you?” He said “no.”

Billions of shekels are spent on encouraging people to come to Israel, and not one person responsible for aliya took responsibility for reaching out to these olim in distress – because they were already here. This is not my Zionism.

More broadly, as of this writing, no one from the President’s Office, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Knesset, or the municipality has contacted this anguished family, although in fairness, apparently the Minister for Welfare and Social Services contacted the teen’s lawyer, Amir Melzer, after reading about the story in The Jerusalem Post. Still, given how outrageous a systemic failure there was, given how many Israeli leaders have been informed about the case, the silence stings. A nation’s leaders are responsible for more than security and budgets. These kinds of incidents, which sear the nation’s conscience, demand effective, sensitive responses.

“This is a national issue because our internal security is at risk if we accept deviations from proper police procedure that harm our citizens,” says Mark Cohen, the vice chair of Hadar, the Israeli Council for Civic Action, a new grassroots organization. “You just start becoming numb to each individual horror story you hear about. And it’s dangerous.

“The failure in this case is part of a broader failure that, ultimately, is a security issue. We should expect the highest quality police force since on a local level it is the police our daily lives depend on for the feeling of safety and security. On a local and national level we must acknowledge when mistakes happen, as occurred in this case.”

When I hear about the 6-year-old killed by his pedophile neighbors, the mother raped by her son’s killer – who was also the son’s friend – along with this story, I fear Israel’s predicament is approaching that of New York in the 1970s. Back then, a growing crime wave threatened the city – and for too long, too many innocents suffered. Finally, in the 1990s, the end of the Baby Boom, more effective policing, tougher sentencing and a growing outcry reversed the trend. Until then, New York languished. People abandoned the city, its character frequently turned ugly, and many citizens withdrew from civic life, numbed by the daily cascade of crime stories.

In Israel, we cannot wait 20 years to solve the growing crime problem. We need to do something about it today. We need zero tolerance for violence in schools. We need to demand effective policing and community responses. And we need leaders to confront this growing crisis.

Effective policing – like effective national security – requires perfect pitch. There is little margin for error. If police come on too strong and brutalize innocents, civil society suffers. If police are too passive, allowing criminals to brutalize innocents, civil society also suffers. Tragically, as with the education system, one of the state’s most crucial arms is mired in bureaucracy, famously ineffectual, and relies on underpaid, poorly-trained staff. The result has been a crime epidemic, and increasing public resignation, rather than indignation.

I hate to use this word, but maybe, given Israeli leaders’ obsession with the Palestinian problem, we must warn of a criminal “intifada” – and call on this nationalist government to fight crime as aggressively as Ariel Sharon combated Palestinian terrorism. National security begins at home – with an effective police force, an efficient justice system, a lowered crime rate – along with citizens and leaders ready to respond if something goes wrong.

I recently solicited names for this past “decade of death and disengagement.” The contest winner proposed: “Israel’s Decade of Resilience” – amid terrorism and delegitimization. May this next decade be one of renewal, not just resilience, as in this case the kind of love and empathy the Anglo community has showered on this family once again becomes standard operating procedure in Israel, our one and only Jewish state.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, was recently published by Oxford University Press.

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  1. Raped Anglo teen brutalized by the system yet redeemed by strangers » The Biblical Lens

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