On Tuesday, November 18, 2014, two Arab terrorists walked into a Jewish synagogue in one of Jerusalem’s Jewish neighbourhoods and murdered five people and wounded at least eight. According to information that has now been made public, four of the victims were not only murdered while they prayed, but were killed while they prayed the ‘Amidah’ prayer, which is, arguably, the central focus of our daily prayers. It is the moment in our daily prayer when we get the chance to speak most directly to G-d.
These four Jews were murdered as they spoke to G-d.
The fifth murder victim was an Israeli Arab Druze policeman who was killed at the scene of the attack. We mourn with the victims’ families for their loss. We honour the Druze officer who fell serving the Jewish people. We pray for a complete recovery for the wounded.
Murder is an act of violence. Civilized societies consider it to be the most horrible of crimes, worthy of the harshest of punishment (Wikipedia). For most Western criminal law, murder is the unlawful killing of one human by another, with malice aforethought (Joshua Dressler, Understanding Criminal Law, 3rd ed, 2001).
‘Malice aforethought’ is typically defined as having four characteristics: an intent to kill; an intent to inflict grievous bodily harm; a reckless indifference to unjustifiably high risk to human life; and an intent to commit a dangerous felony (a ’felony’ is normally defined as ‘a serious crime’).
Murder: it’s vicious, it’s horrific, it’s wrong by its very nature. It’s evil.
But for some people, the murder of Jews is none of these (I emphasize key words below so you can track them through the news stories you’re about to see). For some people:
It isn’t horrific to murder a Jew. It’s a reason for joy.
It isn’t wrong to murder a Jew. It’s a source of community pride.
It isn’t unlawful to murder a Jew. It’s heroic.
It isn’t evil to murder a Jew. It’s normal. It’s natural.
The families of the terrorists celebrated with joy upon learning that their flesh and blood had committed the murders (“Terrorists' Families Celebrate, Pass out Candies in Jerusalem”, Arutz Sheva, November 18, 2014). They handed out candies. They “responded with shouts of joy” (ibid). A cousin told Israeli news that this attack was “a normal thing that can be expected from every man” (ibid). A resident in the Arab community from which the terrorists came, said, “we are proud of the two martyrs who carried out the attack” (ibid).
Politicians celebrated the attack (“Abbas's PA and Fatah Celebrate 'Heroic' Jerusalem Attack”, Arutz Sheva, November 19, 2014). They termed the attack ‘a heroic operation’ (ibid). Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas described this attack as "a natural reaction to Israel's practices against Palestinians” (“Five dead in attack on Jerusalem synagogue”, Al Jazeera, November 18, 2014).
From these news stories, we see that it appears normal, natural and joyous to murder a Jew. It appears heroic.
But murdering a Jew after a leader has called for an Intifada might also be called, committing a genocidal crime.
Genocidal crime is a crime against humanity.
Here’s the original definition of ‘genocide’, published in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin:
“By ‘genocide’ we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. This new word, coined by the author to denote an old practice in its modern development, is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing)…. Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group” (see The Holocaust Encyclopedia, “Coining a Word and Championing a Cause: The Story of Raphael Lemkin”, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website).
The attack we saw this week against Jews in Israel was directed against individuals, not because they are individuals, but, apparently, because they are members of a specific national and religious group—Israel’s Jews. That makes these murders more than a crime. They are genocidal crimes.
In the world led by Mahmoud Abbas, these genocidal murders are called heroic, normal and natural. The news stories above show you that. But the Convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, passed by the UN in 1948, doesn’t see genocidal crime as normal, natural or heroic. It sees such acts as “a crime under international law” and “condemned by the civilized world” (ibid). They’re not praiseworthy. They’re “an odious scourge” (ibid). They are not political acts. They are punishable crimes.
Genocidal crime isn’t natural. It’s not heroic. It’s something the civilized world has been called upon to condemn.