Blog  Israel Thing | Reading the Warning Signs

Israel Thing | Reading the Warning Signs

What bring a person to act violently against another person? Does it derive from rationalized thinking that brutality allows one to impose his will on others or change a certain situation to his favor, or is it just an uncontrollable emotional outburst? Inspired by the NFTY-BBYO anti-bullying-campaign, I thought about this question after watching the documentary “Bully” the other day. And it came up again for me when some troubling news from Israel came to my attention.

The incident that first caught my eye occurred during a protest bike ride when a group of activists, including Palestinians from the West Bank and foreign activists, rode their bikes along the Jordan Valley’s main route to protest Israel’s policy in the West Bank. Video images from the event show a high ranking Israeli army officer landing a blow on the face of a demonstrator with the butt of his M-16 rifle–seemingly without provocation. It was shocking, embarrassing and shameful to watch this video, especially as an Israeli who served as a combat soldier in the IDF. The round of condemnations by politicians and military generals came almost immediately after the release of the video. The officer was quickly dismissed from his command post, with a statement by army officials that he showed professional and command failures and that such behavior does not characterize IDF soldiers and officers.

This section of the video was broadcast in symbolic proximity to another report on a violent incident, coming this time from Israel’s sports arena when a bunch of players and fans of two rival teams exchanged blows during a brawl following a soccer game. Violence has been festering in Israeli soccer for quite some time, but this incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back– following the disturbances on the soccer pitch, the Israeli Supreme League canceled games for the entire weekend. It indicated a serious flaw in Israel’s soccer system, but it would be all too easy to dismiss soccer’s problem as a bubble inside Israeli society rather than a symptom of society as a whole.

In the end, the behavior of the hooligans and players in the stadiums was not much different than that of the officer discussed before. It’s true that friction with demonstrators and sports games are situations that carry greater potential for violence than daily life. However, I consider those as our warning signs, a moment before this plague will spread further to our schools, neighborhoods, and homes. It calls for more effective punitive measures and better enforcement against the outbreak of violence, and above all it requires educational procedures that will make it crystal clear that mindless violence has no place in the State of Israel.

Rega Shel Ivrit

Kavash Et Yetzro כבש את יצרו (conquered his urges)

Personally, I think the main reason people behave violently is because they try to subdue someone else’s actions or opinions. They might think it makes them stronger, but it’s actually the opposite. Our Sages said, “Eizehu gibor? Hakovesh et yitzro” (Pirke Avot 4:1). This idiom is still in use today and means that a hero is one who conquers his own urges (controlling his temper, for instance) and not one who conquers another.

Shabbat Shalom,


About the Author

Roey Shiff, NFTY ShaliachRoey Schiff is the NFTY Shaliach. Roey grew up in Ein Vered, Israel and has experience working with teens and leadership development. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Business Management from Ben Gurion University. In September 2010, Roey moved to NYC to act as the NFTY and Israel Programs Shaliach as part of the URJ Youth Division.