The moral strength of Haim Fogel

There was a story in the Jerusalem Post recently about Israeli President Shimon Peres’s visit with the parents of Ehud and Ruth Fogel – the couple who, together with three of their children (Yoav, Elad and Hadas) was brutally murdered by terrorists in Itamar.

The words of Haim Fogel, the father of Ehud, to the Israeli President simply must be noted.

The Jerusalem Post reported the following:

“Haim Fogel, the father of the slain Ehud, said that his children had been educated with values such as love for Torah, statehood and respect for the other, but it was impossible not to notice the unfettered hatred of the other side. Politics aside, with the focus purely on education, said Fogel, children are taught hatred at school, and the upshot of that is what happened to his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.”

The story then quoted Haim, who said – amidst his grief and unimaginable anguish over the knowledge that he’ll never see his son, daughter in law, and three grandchildren again – the following:

The murderers killed our children in the most bestial fashion.

Before concluding:

But they are not beasts. They are human beings who were taught to hate.”

I have been to Itamar, saw the haunting notice which remains on the front door of the Fogel family residence joyously announcing the birth of  baby Hadas, I’ve seen the horrific crime scene photos taken after the attack, and have listened to the IDF paramedic recall in excruciating detail what he witnessed upon entering the home, and still can’t cease meditating upon the viciousness and hatred of those who would commit such an unspeakable crime against innocents.

Yet, I’m also in awe at the profound decency of a man who has every reason to succumb to the desire for revenge, and the need to dehumanize the perpetrators of this ghastly crime against those who he loved, yet – through strength, faith, and character which is almost impossible to comprehend – somehow finds the spiritual energy to not only resist this temptation, but to emphatically stress the humanity of even such morally compromised souls.

I read and re-read the words Haim uttered to the President of our nation, attesting to his courageous moral restraint, and am moved beyond words.

Fogel Family Funeral

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  1. http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/netanyahu-s-exploitation-of-the-murders-at-itamar-1.349258

    The horrific murders in Itamar were a crime against humanity. Entering a home in that manner and slaughtering five people in their sleep is a base, cowardly act, and it makes no difference whether the victim is an adult or an infant. Murder is murder is murder.

    Motti Fogel, brother of Udi Fogel, said at the Har Hamenuhot cemetery on Sunday that the funeral should have been a private affair. “A person is born for himself, to his parents and siblings, and dies for himself, he is not a symbol or a national event, and death must not be allowed to become an instrument of something.”

    But it was not Motti who decided. Right-wing politicos, cabinet ministers, Knesset members and West Bank rabbis expropriated the murder of his brother and his family from Motti and made it a political event. To them the five murdered members of the Fogel family are a catalyst for realizing the great dream: the dream of messianic redemption, of the Greater Land of Israel.

    Above the freshly dug graves the speakers competed among themselves as to who could be more extreme. Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, said there is no partner for talks on the Palestinian side, and the small community of Itamar should be turned into a major Israeli city – an extreme-right agenda voiced by a figure who is supposed to be the voice of the state.

    “How long will you stay silent, how long will you grovel?” cried Udi Fogel’s father, Haim Fogel, as if we weren’t mistreating the Palestinians sufficiently, not burning enough mosques, not destroying enough olive trees, not expropriating enough of their lands and not killing enough of them.

    Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin seized the opportunity to declare that Israel “shall continue to build anywhere and at any time.” Samaria Regional Council chairman Gershon Mesika said, “All the talk of peace delusions must stop.”

    Interior Minister Eli Yishai was quick to demand the construction of 5,000 homes in the settlements, while Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon denounced incitement by the Palestinians, as if he had never heard of the incitement by West Bank rabbis, for whom the Palestinians are gentiles not created in God’s image.

    Many others spoke of “hastening the redemption” – meaning extending Jewish control over the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River while “transfering” the Arabs to the other side of the river.

    The murders strengthened the hands of extremists on both sides. Those on the Palestinian side want young settlers to launch a revenge campaign in their villages that will set off a third intifada.

    Our extremists want that intifada to become an all-out war, the war of Gog and Magog, that will end in victory and the “cleansing” of Arabs from the land.

    The only problem is that while both sides are confident in their own victory, only one side can prevail, and sometimes both lose.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, too, hastened to move the attack to the political arena. He promised to build 400 homes in the main settlement blocs and even declared, during a condolence visit, “We shall build our land,” thus disclosing his true thoughts.

    Netanyahu, after all, never believed in the two-state solution, despite his Bar-Ilan speech. To him, the entire land belongs to us, and the two-state shibboleth is meant only to buy a little sympathy from U.S. President Barack Obama.

    Netanyahu believes in force and deterrence, and as the familiar saying in these parts goes, if force doesn’t work, use more force.

    Netanyahu’s real plan is “to annex as much of the open territory as possible,” as he said some years ago – somewhere around the 50 percent mark, while holding on to the Jordan Valley as a safety belt to the east. In the small, noncontiguous area that remains he would be prepared to give the Palestinians autonomy that would be called a “state.”

    In his opinion, because any significant chunk of territory that Israel leaves would soon become an Islamic base, and every concession would play into the hands of Hamas and Iran, as few concessions should be made as possible.

    Netanyahu is consistent in this regard. He never believed in a peace deal entailing genuine concessions. He opposed the Oslo Accords when he was a Knesset member and shattered them after he won the 1996 election. Now, in his second go-round as prime minister, he maintains the exact same policy, with an extreme-right cabinet and with the aid of his natural partners, Yishai and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

    Netanyahu’s real vision is to live by the sword. He will lead us from intifada to intifada, from war to war, and the murders in Itamar were just one more opportunity to heighten construction in the territories as well as the walls of hatred and blood between us and them.

  2. http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/the-private-side-of-a-public-tragedy-1.351740

    Everyone came to the funeral of the Fogel family members murdered in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, from members of the national-religious youth movement Bnei Akiva, in their blue shirts, to the “hilltop youths,” with their long sidelocks. All the public leaders, Knesset members, settlement leaders and regional council heads came to the cemetery on March 13 to bury parents Udi and Ruthie, and children Yoav, Elad and Hadas.

    The eulogizers’ words were aimed at the large crowd, the people of Israel and the prime minister. One spoke about incitement, another about the defense minister’s lax policy. Almost all were united in what they deemed the appropriate response to terrorism: building new settlements and neighborhoods.

    Against this background, the voice of Motti Fogel, Udi’s older brother, stood out. “If I could, I would get rid of everyone here and whisper to you, ‘Let’s go play soccer one last time,'” he said. “All the slogans about Torah and land settlement, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people try to make us forget the simple fact that you are dead. A person is born to himself, to his parents and his siblings, and he dies to himself, to his children, and in very bad cases also to his parents and his siblings. You are not a symbol or a national event, your life bore a purpose unto itself and we must not let your terrible death become a tool, no matter what for.”

    A few days later, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, one of the most important and most extreme of the settler rabbis, came to the home of the Fogel parents in the settlement of Neve Tzuf, near Beit El, where the family was observing the week of mourning. Levanon spent time with the parents and as he was leaving, he said to Motti, “It won’t help. It’s not private, it’s public.” A heated conversation ensued. Finally, Motti Fogel said, “Maybe Udi was also punished for the disengagement [from Gaza]?” alluding to Levanon’s comment that former president Moshe Katsav had been punished for not speaking out against the disengagement. In the end, Levanon left after Fogel threw a chair at him.

    That has been Motti Fogel’s only confrontation since the murder and his eulogy, despite the ideological abyss that separates him from his family and the society he grew up in.

    “I admit I was apprehensive about how people would respond to what I said at the funeral. But a few people from my parents’ area told me they deeply related to what I said and that it was important to say it. The settlers, in quotation marks, are first of all human beings. It sounds very dumb to say this, but they have private lives, and it was important for them to have a private element at the funeral. Levanon is the exception,” he says.

    Fogel, 39, lives in Jerusalem with his wife and their three children. He works as a writer for the financial newspaper Globes and for the weekly entertainment guide Akhbar Ha’ir (City Mouse ). He crossed the lines politically after his army service. He is highly critical of the society in which he was raised, but also feels understanding and compassion for it. The eldest of five siblings, Motti was raised in Neve Tzuf. His father works for Amana, the settlement arm of the Yesha Council of settlements.

    “I grew up in a classic Gush Emunim home,” he says, referring to the movement that spearheaded the settlement project. But then he adds, “Actually, I’m not sure I know what ‘classic’ means.”

    He initially began to change his beliefs after studying the writings of none other than Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the settlers’ spiritual father. “It is hard to say when exactly your views change. And it’s not a single event, either. But in [the yeshiva] Or Zion, there was a major emphasis on studying Rabbi Kook. I liked his writings very much, and took them very seriously. I remember that one of the things that gave me pause was Rabbi Kook’s discussion of the justification for a Jewish nationality. He writes that nationality is fundamentally unacceptable, but that the Jewish people is different from other peoples in the sense that when it looks after itself, it is looking after the whole world. You can take that as a mission and you can take it as fate. If it’s fate, it can justify extreme selfishness; if it’s a mission, that is something else entirely. I too take it as a given that the Jewish people’s mission is to look after the world, every person, so I don’t see how that is consistent with ruling another people.”

    After leaving the yeshiva, Fogel studied philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. There he had another turning point, in a conversation with a Palestinian student. “I remember we were sitting outside the library and talking. She asked me where I was from and I told her. I remember the look of horror on her face. I think the horror is unjustified, but it was authentic horror. It suddenly gave me a different understanding of what we look like,” he relates.

    Fogel is still religiously observant, and wears a skullcap, but he is also one of the founders of the Egalitarian Minyan of Baka, an Orthodox congregation that aims for equality between men and women in prayer, which meets in a Jerusalem community center. Politically, he has been participating in the weekly demonstrations in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, protesting the creation of a Jewish settlement there.

    “When I demonstrate, I know I am expressing views my family does not accept, but I feel I am continuing what I received at home. I definitely see myself as a product of my life; however far I may be, I see myself as very much connected to the home I grew up in.”

    His home is the basis for his worldview: He opposes the occupation but also opposes the evacuation of settlements. “If we put aside the question of political feasibility, I prefer a binational state. I would prefer the settlements not be evacuated. I don’t think evacuation is the path to peace. I don’t think creating more distress is the way to do good.

    “Personally, it’s hard for me to leave places in which I grew up,” he says. “I think about the people who are living there, now the third generation. Children who were born to children who were born in the settlements. Irrespective of what they think, they are human beings.

    “When [Kadima leader] Tzipi Livni says she wants consolidation in one state, so that it will be a Jewish state, I ask myself what she means by a Jewish state. Because in my view, a Jewish state is not one that clings with all its power to ensure a royal Jewish majority. I also don’t think a Jewish state is a state that rules another people who lack the right to vote and other basic rights. What is behind the cliche ‘democratic Jewish state’? There are two sides that both believe a Jewish state is one without Arabs. The argument is over how there will be no Arabs, whether we ourselves will withdraw or whether we will expel them. Let’s set aside the fact that it’s easier to withdraw than to expel people. There is also an element of preserving the balance of power, and that is what interests most of the Israeli bourgeois parties – Labor, Likud, Kadima and also, regrettably, Meretz. The fear of a bi-national state is fear of shifting the balance of power.

    “I suggest listening to the settlers’ criticism, even if it sounds like slogans. They say, ‘Why do you want to evacuate settlements, when Ramat Aviv is also on Arab land?’ They are right. Not in the sense that 1967 is the same as 1948. They are right in the sense that it is easier for us to think about evacuating settlers who are not part of the Israeli norm than about eroding the power of those in the center. I simply draw a different conclusion. My conclusion is not that we must not withdraw from any place, but we still have to listen to this critique.

    “Udi was far more mischievous than I was, and much more sociable and popular. From the outside, it may have looked like he was becoming more pious religiously, but I think it suited his character. He was a very sociable, very good person. With a permanent smile. I suppose he did not smile all the time, but that’s what it looked like. He taught me it can be nice to speak with others.”

    “I don’t know how it will change my life,” Motti says. “My natural inclination is to go on as usual. But one of the things I am discovering is that we cannot control our memory. I can’t control when I think about Udi. One of the most difficult moments came at the end of the shiva, when we came back here. I was very happy to be home after a week. But I suddenly returned to the moment when I was told, and that was not a pleasant moment.”

    The murder did not change his political stance. “It only makes things more concrete. The need to reduce the enmity comes closer to me personally, you can’t ignore it as much.”

    After learning of the murders, Fogel drove to his parents’ home in Neveh Tzuf. “On the way there, we saw a fire burning in the fields opposite the spring,” he says. The spring is the site of a dispute between the settlers and Palestinians from the adjacent village of Nebi Saleh. “What will a left-winger think when he sees the fire? That settlers burned the field as part of the ‘price tag’ policy [of revenge]. I also thought that.

    “When we got to the settlement, there were people there who ensured that journalists were kept out. I told them, ‘We are not a family that burns fields.’ Afterward, one of them told me they didn’t know what I was talking about, because the Palestinians had rolled a burning tire into the field and set it ablaze. So, in short, when we see a fire burning, let’s not presume who lit it. Maybe we will be better off making an effort to put it out.”

  3. I would like to add here something that Golda Meir said many years ago:
    “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

  4. I’m going to give my opinion on these sentiments a miss for once, seeing as they come from the father of the bereaved. However, regardless of one’s stance on the issue of revenge, the Arab settlers need to be expelled, all of them, from Palestine, the indigenous territory of the one and only true Palestinian nation, the Jewish nation, for the sake of both justice and security.

    Whether beasts or killing-machines or mere humans taught to hate, our sons and daughters do not deserve to be under their constant threat. Let us not talk of revenge, then, but about mercy: The mercy that is required of us toward our children. In the name, not of revenge, but of mercy, let us expel the Arab settler-colonialist, imperialist, land-thieving imperialists, whose mere proximity to us, the indigenous Palestinians, the Jews, means lives constantly imperiled. For mercy!

  5. Adam, I thank you for the breadth of subjects you produce for this site. I know I’m not alone in appreciation.

    And – your Norwegian colleague (in blogging) called this “one of the more classy blogs”.