On the Events at Amona [February 2006]
[In light of the recent events in Beit El and Sa-Nur, we turn to Harav Lichtenstein zt”l's sicha in the aftermath of Amona. We can only speculate as to what he would say today. May HaKadosh Barukh Hu have mercy upon His people and upon His land.]
Summarized by Shaul Barth
Translated by Kaeren Fish
A week ago, the Israeli government carried out the demolition of some of the houses in the settlement outpost of Amona, an event unfortunately accompanied by violence. I was reminded of an episode that occurred in 1970, a year before I made aliya. At Kent State, an enormous crowd participated in stormy demonstration against the Vietnam War, a war that was widely opposed among students. Some members of the National Guard who were present apparently felt threatened, lost their composure and opened fire on the student demonstrators. Four people were killed in this incident, which shocked the entire American nation. I was reminded of those days when I wondered, last week, what would have happened if one of the youths at Amona had, God forbid, been killed as a result of the police behavior. Aggression of the sort that we witnessed is an expression of weakness, not strength – especially when it is carried out by agents of the state, who are meant to maintain restraint and maximum control.
On various occasions, I have mentioned the fact that the prohibition against hitting appears in the Torah specifically in connection with the agent of the court: "Forty lashes he may give him; he shall not exceed" (Devarim 25:3). This seems strange: after all, it is prohibited to strike any person, at any time. Why, then, is the prohibition mentioned specifically as an issue pertaining to the agent of the beit din, who is assigned to carry out a punishment ordered by the court?
The answer is that it is specifically when a person enjoys a special status because of his position that there is a danger that his inner aggressive streak - the wild animal that exists within each of us - will burst forth. It is specifically in a situation where a person is performing his actions out of a sense of duty, when he feels that his actions have official sanction, when he feels that he is representing a system – it is precisely then that there is a need to emphasize the prohibition against "excessive beating." Indeed, it would appear that some of the aggressive feelings that the Torah warns about did find expression on that black and bitter day at Amona. Those actions represent a stain on Israeli society, and this crisis should shake us profoundly.
What took place is surprising because it is so different from what happened during the summer. During the Disengagement from Gaza, we witnessed how – regardless of political affiliations – the process was carried out with understanding on the part of both parties and a certain respect for each other, despite the distance between them. Great efforts were made not to be drawn into violence – neither on the part of the government nor on the part of the leadership of the public that suffered and was expelled; the latter generally restrained the public, both ideologically and practically. This time, that did not happen – on either side.
The difference would seem to arise from the fact that this time both parties believed that what was in jeopardy now was much more significant than what had been at stake in the summer. Even those members of the government who believed that the evacuation of Gush Katif was necessary and called-for, understood that the inhabitants of those settlements went there with the purest of motives and intentions, with governmental guidance and support, and were now paying a heavy price because the circumstances had changed - and the attitude towards them accordingly. The inhabitants of Amona, in contrast, are viewed by the government as violators of the law, engaged in patently illegal behavior, and the concern that this would not be a one-time event but rather a phenomenon spreading over a whole chain of hills triggered its action. On the other hand, the public that opposed with force the demolition of the houses in Amona did not act in the same way in the summer because Gush Katif was considered relatively peripheral, both geographically and existentially, while now we are confronting the evacuation of outposts located in the heart of the Shomron.
Hence, at Amona both sides displayed determination, but abandoned sensitivity in order to gain the upper hand. While the question of which side was in fact victorious is an important one, it seems clear which side lost: the State of Israel and its population as a whole. Thus, the question that arises in light of what we saw is – God in heaven, what are they waiting for? For deaths? Those who dispatch youths and fire them up to the point where they endanger the lives of soldiers and police by throwing cinderblocks at them – what are they waiting for? And those who send mounted police to suppress those same youth – what are they waiting for? This problem is a national one; even somone who is altogether cut off from one of the camps – emotionally, politically, ideologically – must regard the actions of both sides with concern.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the Religious Zionist public must view the situation with even greater concern, and rightly so: partly because its institutions and constituency represent the principal injured party in these events, and partly because the vision of the Greater Land of Israel is one that this public holds especially dear. It would appear that it is specifically because we feel so strongly about these issues that our camp and its leaders bear an even greater and more significant responsibility – to consider their actions and the consequences thereof, and to grapple with the issues.
Therefore, it pains us particularly to hear, from within our camp, expressions that do nothing to heal the rift and schism, but rather aggravate and amplify them. According to the polls, we are currently witnessing the justified disappearance of a party (Shinui) that garnered considerable support in the last elections because its central message was one of hatred. Unfortunately, there are those among us, too, who attract and draw people along using messages of hatred and disengagement. Such trends express not only an inability to understand what is going on from the other side's perspective, but also an unwillingness to do so.
I make this point both with regard to those youth who rove the hilltops and with regard to important rabbis who are certain that what happened in Amona is a heavenly sign that the government means to break the back of the Religious-Zionist camp. Woe to us if we are not able to rise up, despite the difficult times, to gird ourselves, to understand the historical responsibility that we bear – both young and old – and to try to bring more insight to bear on our approach to the problems facing us. The problems exist and they will not go away. Along with the insight and restraint that are required, we need to understand not only our own needs and our own wounds, but also those of the other side. Along with our questioning of the measure of force and power mobilized against youngsters - and these are undoubtedly serious questions – we must ask ourselves what thoughts and feelings motivated the people who dispatched those youths, those who stoked the flames of violence against the police and the state. These, too, are serious questions. The same passion can be destructive, God forbid, or it may be constructive and valuable.
It was, as we have said, a black day, and heaven protect us from any more days like that one. At such times, what is required of all of us is soul-searching, the drawing of conclusions and the learning of lessons. Today, more than ever, we need to bring hearts closer – and we should start with the hearts of those in our own camp. We must act and pray for better days, when we shall be able to attain peace amongst ourselves; a true peace, a peace of understanding, a peace born of the will and ability to promote our own needs – along with an appreciation of the debate and of the needs of the other side. The events at Amona undoubtedly represented a stumble; let us act and pray that they not turn into a downfall.
(This sicha was delivered on the 9th of Shevat, 5766 – Feb. 7, 2006.)