For months, observers had wondered whether or not the trauma of the withdrawal from Gaza would set off assaults on government officials, soldiers carrying out the evacuation of the settlements or even attacks on the Arab population, whose goal would be to derail Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's scheme by drowning it in a sea of blood.
Some of those who talked openly of such a possibility were regarded as cynical. They hoped, perhaps, to silence Sharon's critics or to delegitimize them by associating their cause with violence.
That was, and still is, unfair. Even though Sharon can claim that the majority support his move, you needn't be a murderer or even a violent protester to be opposed to Sharon. Indeed, only a very small portion of those critical of the Gaza plan are in any way supportive of radical behavior. It was unjust to brand approximately half of Israel's voters who opposed the Oslo peace accords as extremists because of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin by a fanatical foe of his policies. So, too, is it wrong to do the same thing with the sector of Israeli society that is fighting against disengagement.
It is also appropriate for us to compare the across-the-board condemnations of the bus murders by Israelis of all political stripes with the half-hearted and hypocritical denunciations of the far more numerous murders of Jews by Palestinians by Arab leaders. The Shfaram killing was an aberration opposed by all sane Israelis. The ongoing Palestinian campaign of hatred is aided and abetted not just by terror groups, but by the Palestinian government itself.
Having said that - and even if we accept the contention that the bus killer was deranged - the continued existence of a small group of Jews who are willing to countenance violence against both fellow Jews and their Arab neighbors must be acknowledged.
Even though the supporters of the philosophy of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane (whose Kach movement was banned after the April 1994 Purim massacre of 29 Arabs in Hebron by one of his supporters) comprise no more than a fraction of a percent of the population, they survive on the fringes of Jewish life. It is vital that leaders of the movement opposing Sharon both in Israel and in the Diaspora should condemn not only the Shfaram murders, but also the ideology of hate that may have spawned it.
Given the volatile atmosphere of division that exists in Israel, it's all the more important for every thinking Jew to understand that he or she must do all that's possible to prevent the anger and recriminations about Gaza to morph into violence against anyone.
This coming week marks the observance of Tisha B'Av, the date in the Jewish calendar that recalls the destruction of both ancient temples in Jerusalem, as well as subsequent disasters that have befallen the Jewish people. Our traditions teach us that the prime lesson of this day of mourning is that sinat hinam - "mindless hatred" - was at the root of disaster for Jews in the past.
Our present circumstances offer a chance for this generation to avoid previous mistakes. Bitter debate about issues that concern life and death are one thing; it is another thing entirely to incite violence or lift a hand against another Jew or an innocent Arab.
That can never be tolerated, no matter the cause. u