What does one say to a man whose entire family has just been wiped out by terrorists? That was the dilemma that confronted me this week when I visited the Gush Katif settlement block in Gaza, and met David Hatuel, whose pregnant wife Tali and four young daughters were killed two weeks ago by terrorists who shot them at point-blank range in an outrage that shocked the world.
I asked him if he felt hatred toward Arab terrorists who could do such a thing. He responded that he was not interested in blame, had barely examined press reports as to the murderers’ identity, and harbored in his heart absolutely no desire for revenge. Rather, his sole wish was that no family be forced to suffer a similar tragedy. He had asked Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli defense minister who paid him a condolence call, to finally provide security along the entrance road to Gush Katif where scores of innocent civilians have been murdered over the years.
I then asked David, who is a devoutly religious man, if he hated God for allowing such an unspeakable calamity to occur. He answered:
My non-religious friends asked me how I am even alive right now. They told me that if it were them, they would have put a bullet through their heads. But I am only able to cope because of God. Rather than focus on the horror of how my family was taken from me, I am focusing instead on the 12 beautiful years God gave me with my beloved wife and daughters. Some people don’t even get that. We always had the most wonderful time together. I just have to believe that God has a plan as to why the time was cut short.
Throughout our conversation, David displayed a serenity and composure that belied the unhealable wound that would forever afflict him, and I walked away feeling I had met an angelic man of towering strength and moral courage.
After the horrors of the Hatuel family massacre, it is time that world openly confront the growing crisis in Islam. Centuries ago, Islam produced the most advanced and tolerant civilization of its time. But in our own time, Islam is tragically devolving into a religion more famous for hatred than love, more renowned for murder than healing.
Religion’s first calling is to bring out the Godly qualities in man, but Islam seems to be bringing out the beast in many of its believers. Every human being is created in the image of God, but a disproportionately high number of Muslims are erasing that image by the brutality of their actions.
A once-glorious religion that inspired the world’s first universities now inspires Nick Berg’s killers to scream “Alahu Akbar” while sawing off his head. A once-great civilization that created humane and just rulers like Sultan Saladin today motivates cold-blooded killers to shoot pregnant women’s bellies. A religion that once produced the world’s greatest philosophers is today producing too high a number of the world’s most savage killers.
Religion is a civilizing agent. Yet Islam – which at its core is a humane faith that once civilized nomadic tribes – is today inspiring a level of cruelty which is anything but civilized. And to cap off the tragedy, Islamic leaders continue to disgrace their illustrious faith by mostly remaining silent in this face of Islamic barbarity.
Every religion says it has divine truth and the only way to verify the veracity of its claims is to leave aside the dogma and focus instead on the kind of people the religion produces. Islam is in crisis because it is producing monsters like Osama bin Laden rather than saints David Hatuel. This father of four murdered children is a perfect example of the power of religion to mold greatness in people.
Even after experiencing an injustice of Biblical proportions, David is interested not in revenge but in kindness to strangers. Judaism civilized David Hatuel while Islam radicalized his children’s murderers. Had this catastrophe have befallen an Arab family, I fear they and their neighbors would now be screaming on television that the children’s deaths must be answered for with Jewish blood.
And here you have the most compelling reason that Israel dare never leave the Gaza strip. Simply stated, Israel has civilized a part of the world that was once barren, belligerent and broke. Most people are under the impression that the Gaza settlers are a collection of stubborn religious radicals who inhabit two broken-down trailers that need to be protected by hundreds of reluctant soldiers. I harbored some of that same misconception until I drove past the spot where Tali Hatuel was murdered and into an Eden of green fields and colorful children’s playgrounds.
The brave and humane settlers in Gaza have created a vast desert paradise, home to nearly 10,000 people, which today exports many tons of the highest quality produce to Europe. Giant sand dunes were converted into lush acreage of magnificent crops. Centers of higher education are teeming with eager students and schools are bursting with smiling children. Gush Katif is a joyous land filled with pious people and material plenty. Indeed, the only thing I saw that was in short supply was fear.
I could not help but contrast this image with what the misfortune I witnessed upon an earlier visit Gaza two years prior. On that occasion, I escorted the Rev. Al Sharpton, who I had brought to Israel on a solidarity mission, but who decided that Arafat must visited as well. We drove through Gaza City to Arafat’s headquarters. I waited downstairs while the two had lunch, so as not to legitimize a terrorist.
Even so, Arafat’s staff were very friendly and did much to make me feel comfortable. And I pitied them and all the innocent Palestinians forced to live in the hovels of Gaza because their earlier Arab masters had used them as political pawns in their war against Israel and left them in refugee camps.
Even after nearly 10 years of Arafat’s rule – and billions of dollars in aid from the rest of the world – all around me there was squalor and poverty. If only the Palestinian leadership had convinced these poor people to love their own villages rather than hate the Israeli settlements, they, too, could have built for themselves a paradise by the sea.
I am now more convinced than ever that the single best hope for the Palestinians in Gaza is to live – like the Arab citizens of Israel – under Israeli democracy rather than Palestinian tyranny.