"…Much more importantly, let's call a spade a spade: those who say [the kidnap victims shouldn't have been hitchhiking alone at night in the West Bank] are blaming the victim. It is a disgusting claim, akin to misogynists who say - some loudly and others only behind closed doors - that women who dress provocatively are somehow partially responsible for being raped or sexually assaulted or harassed. It is a logic out of the dark ages, usually formed in the minds of people who are either completely ignorant or woefully self-righteous (or both).…"
Former Chief Rabbi of the IDF Avichai Ronsky – now a rosh yeshiva at Yishuv Yitzhar in the West Bank – told the Serugim news website that Zionist Orthodox settlers and other West Bank residents will continue to hitchhike despite the kidnapping Thursday night of three teenage boys returning home from their yeshivas, Yeshiva World reported.
Ronsky did not say this with any sadness or opprobrium.
Meanwhile, Arutz Sheva’s managing editor Ari Soffer wrote a long poorly reasoned column attacking everyone who wants settlers to stop hitchhiking and insisting that not only will he personally continue hitchhiking, he will allow his 1-year-old son to start hitchhiking when he’s older.
Here’s the gist of Soffer’s disingenuous foolishness:
…As a resident of Samaria I find myself tremping [hitchhiking] fairly often. My wife and I share a car and, since waiting for a bus could triple my journey time to or from work (or more), whenever I find myself "car-less" and can't prearrange a lift with a neighbor, I tremp. And I have never felt "scared" or in any way threatened; not even once.
When I do take the car I often find myself on the other side, giving rides to all sorts of people. Sometimes, if I've had my morning coffee and have morphed into a sociable human being, I have occasionally found myself engaged in some really remarkable conversations with some truly fascinating people.
And although my son doesn't tremp (he is less than a year old - we're not that hardcore), when he is old enough to I will certain let him do so, just like every other kid his age does.
While the concept seems a little odd for some of our family and friends back in London, or for anyone else who lives in a big city, here in Samaria it's something you don't even think about - it's a way of life.
So when in the past few days I heard some people - none of whom actually live here and many of whom, though not all, are conveniently also opposed to Jews living in this area altogether - mutter that perhaps, in some way, those boys or their parents were partially to blame for their own plight (after all, "why were they tremping in the middle of the night in such a dangerous place?") I could not help but respond.
First of all, the spot where these three innocent students were waiting for a tremp - a bus stop outside the town of Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion, bloc south of Jerusalem - is not any more "dangerous" than any other in the country.
I know, because it was not that long ago that I was Eyal's age and studying at the yeshiva in Alon Shvut. My friends and I used that "trempiada" at least once a week, and in my two years studying there there was not a single incident. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has there been one in the many years since, until the tragic events of last Thursday.
Conversely, as a high school student in London - when I was the same age as Gilad and Naftali - I was the victim of an exceptionally violent anti-Semitic attack at a bus stop right outside my school in a quiet, middle-class suburb, which ended in a trip in the back of an ambulance to the hospital. On several occasions we got into scraps with anti-Semites on the bus or by the bus stop - much to my mother's despair. Go figure.
Blaming the victim
Much more importantly, let's call a spade a spade: those who say such things are blaming the victim. It is a disgusting claim, akin to misogynists who say - some loudly and others only behind closed doors - that women who dress provocatively are somehow partially responsible for being raped or sexually assaulted or harassed. It is a logic out of the dark ages, usually formed in the minds of people who are either completely ignorant or woefully self-righteous (or both).…
Every attack like this simply cements us more tightly to our homeland - through our tears and prayers, and sometimes, though please God not this time, through our blood.
We will keep praying for our boys, and we will do every feasible thing to help the authorities find them - because that's what brothers do.
We will keep tremping, and hiking, and breathing the air of this beautiful land, and living normal lives.
We won't listen to the cynics or the haters or the ignorami - but we do invite them, and you, to hop into a tremp to Judea and Samaria and see things for yourself before passing judgement.
You'll be pleasantly surprised.
No I won't.
I'm not a stranger to the West Bank, and I'm well aware of the hitchhiking culture there.
But I'm also aware that IDF and security officials have been warning for months of a kidnapping attack just like the one that took place Thursday, and I'm well aware the IDF – those guys and girls who risk their live to allow Soffer to hitchhike and live in his settlement – have begged settler rabbis and community leaders to ban the hitchhiking to thwart kidnappings.
But just like Soffer, those settler rabbis and leaders ignored those pleas before last week's kidnapping and, with the exception of one or two rabbis, they are ignoring those pleas even now.
Lets be even clearer.
The price Soffer pays for his housing is far below what he would pay in Israel proper. In part, those cheap housing prices are meant to offset other costs – like the need to own a car – that Israelis living in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem don't necessarily have.
What's more, in order for Soffer to be able to live where he does as cheaply and safely as he does the IDF and Israel's security forces have to protect him to far greater extent on a daily basis than they do for residents of much of Israel proper.
In other words, Soffer and his fellow travelers get to live their biblical Zionist fantasies at the expense of the vast majority of Israelis who pay in blood and treasure to make it possible.
Most Israelis want to limit or end these settlements and many detest the theology Soffer and his rabbis espouse. Even so, they continue to pay to protect Soffer and those rabbis, and when kids were kidnapped doing the thing the IDF begged not be done for that very reason, Israel proper rallied around them and is now expending lots of treasure (and risking IDF lives) to find them and bring them home safely.
Those boys were kidnapped in part because of the irresponsibility of their rabbis – including Adin Steinsaltz – and settler leaders and opinion-makers like Soffer.
Yes, the terrorists who kidnapped those kids bear the brunt of the responsibility for it.
But they don't bear all of it, and any claims made by Soffer or others to the contrary only serve to highlight the moral failings of settler leaders.
I'll put it as simply as possible.
You like to jaywalk and have done it for years. It's legal, although many people in more developed parts of the country have long stopped doing it anyway.
Police warn you that factors have now changed, that there are far more reckless unskilled and drunk drivers on the road than there once were, and warn that what was once questionable but basically safe and begrudgingly legal is now far more dangerous. "Stop jaywalking," the police plead. We don't want to have to visit you in a hospital."
But you don't listen because this is your town and your ancestral land going back millenia,. The police are not Zionist Orthodox and don't share your theology or your deep love for this land, and you don't care what they say. God is on your side, your rabbis are on your side. And so you jaywalk and end up in the hospital in serious condition. The ambulance driver and EMTs who rushed to scene and then rushed you to the hospital risked their lives doing so. The cost of your care to the country will be in the many hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Who is at fault for the accident? The speeding drunk driver who hit you or you, Mr. Jaywalker?
People like Soffer and his ilk may not grasp this, but both are responsible.
The driver bears both criminal and moral liability for hitting you while you bear moral responsibility for not heeding expert warnings that your behavior was not safe. What's more, like the drunk driver, you also bear moral responsibility for lives risked in saving yours and for the cost involved.
Hitchhiking is no longer safe – not for the settlers who do it and not for the soldiers (many of them settlers themselves) and security forces who have to risk their lives to save yours.
The true ahavat yisrael here is not to tremp through the West Bank. The true ahavat yisrael here is to carpool and take the buses that do exist, or find a way to buy or borrow a car.
Perhaps setler organizations can start car gemachs (free loan funds) or launch their own shuttle services.
And it wouldn't hurt the government to put some extra money into public transportation on the West Bank, either. It's certainly a lot cheaper and safer than mounting giant rescue operations for trempers.
As for Soffer's claim that opposing West Bank hitchhiking is akin to blaming a rape victim, that is clearly false.
Saying that a provocatively dressed woman is responsible for her rape essentially means that men rape because they are sexually aroused – which is largely false.
Rape is a crime of violence and domination. Sexual arousal, as any sex crimes investigator or rape crisis counselor will tell you, has little to do with it.
If police warned women that a rapist was operating in a specific area and was targeting women wearing short red dresses, and woman ignored those warnings, intentionally worse a short red dress and walked alone late at night in that area and was then raped, then she would bear some moral responsibility just as our jaywalker does.
But she would not bear that moral responsibility because she was provocatively dressed – she would bear it because she ignored specific warnings from real experts that a particular rapist exhibiting a specific MO was operating in that area.
Her short red dress does not justify the rape or excuse the rapist. Neither does her walking alone at late at night.
In the same way, being a hitchhiking settler does not justify or excuse a terrorist kidnapping.
But ignoring real expert advice – especially when it comes from the people who will have to save your life if you don't listen to it – is not a morally blameless act.
And its long past the time that Soffer and his fellow travelers finally accepted this.