Violence now afflicting the mainstream in Israel

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On the day before the fourth anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, Israeli news carried three stories of child abuse: a father convicted of systematically raping his 12-year-old daughter for years, a 16-year-old detained on suspicion of forcing his 14-year-old sister to have sexual relations with him, and a man charged with raping his niece who had been entrusted into his care at a young age.

Add to this the nine women murdered by husbands and boyfriends this year, the five children brutally murdered by their fathers, the little baby thrown over a balcony by the mother's lover, the countless acts of incest, rape and domestic violence reported almost daily — and a worrying picture emerges.

In a country of 6 million people, the figures just seem to add up.

Clearly we've learned nothing from the assassination of Rabin. Violence in our society has reached alarming levels.

Something has happened, or is happening, that should be ringing warning bells. We are no longer looking at an occasional "freak show," but at a phenomenon that is becoming endemic.

In almost all the cases the perpetrators and victims have been mainstream Israelis, not vagabonds on the edge of society. It is happening on moshavim and kibbutzim, in the cities and in the fervently religious community. Just regular folk doing very sick things.

Whenever this issue comes up, one wonders whether things have always been like this and that only now the press, stooping ever lower to gain readers, is giving these incidents more attention.

There's nothing like a good murder and rape to sell papers, they say. There is probably some truth to this. Or perhaps the efforts of organizations dedicated to getting victims to speak out are finally beginning to pay off.

And of course, there are those who will whisper the "delicate" question as to whether what we see happening to our society is a result of some of the negative values injected into Israeli society in recent years by the flood of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who brought many blessings, but problems as well. The same question is asked about immigrants from Ethiopia.

But a look at the random statistics shows that this is not true. Neither the taxi driver who murdered his wife and two children, nor the man who burned his children to death while visiting them, were new immigrants. The man who murdered his wife on a moshav in the north of the country and the 23-year-old who killed his friend by stabbing her 13 times on a kibbutz were salt-of-the-earth Israelis.

Yes, there is more violence in some ethnic groups than among others. But what we are witnessing is a curse permeating our society at an accelerated pace, and not because the papers tell us so.

It's happening and we must find out why.

Perhaps part of the answer can be found in an extremely depressing report on school violence published recently. Not only is there escalating violence among pupils themselves, but more than 50 percent of all teachers claim to have been victims of some form of violence perpetrated by their pupils.

I don't remember when weapons were ever an issue. Knives in the playground are now common. I don't remember teenage bar brawls ending in stabbing and murder, but now this happens more and more often.

There is violence on the roads, and one senses anger and impatience among crowds walking through the malls or doing their shopping. People are quick to tongue lash, blow their horns and curse in public.

This was all crystallized for me the other day when a neighbor, a quiet and gentle man in his mid-70s, a poet and author of world renown, made the "mistake" of stopping his car at a pedestrian crossing and tarrying for a second or two while he gave a passerby directions to a nearby hotel.

First came the incessant hooting from the car behind him, then the flashing of lights. Finally the driver swung out in an urgent motion, rolled down his window and started cursing the gentle poet.

"Metumtam" — "idiot" — he yelled several times, before screeching off into the traffic oblivious to the danger involved. Not a Russian, not an Ethiopian, not a bum from the fringes of society and not a yellow journalist. Just a normal Israeli behaving in what he believes is the normal way. Let's just hope he doesn't take his anger out on his wife and kids.

At the heart of it all is our basic lack of respect for one another. It is a tolerance problem and an education problem. It is an extremely complex issue that has to be dealt with methodically, intensely and immediately. We cannot go on adopting an ostrich approach to something so clearly dangerous to us all.