Two horrific killings of children put Israel at a crossroads

Story highlights

  • Jewish extremists accused of killing an Israeli girl and a Palestinian boy in unlinked attacks
  • The deaths have sparked grief, and a wider discourse

Jerusalem (CNN)Ori and Mika Banki did what no parent should ever face.

On Monday they buried their daughter Shira. She was just 16.
    The girl they said was "charming, happy, lively and beloved" has been ripped from their lives.
    "With no purpose but with stupidity, evilness and recklessness, her life came to an end," the family said in a statement. "Bad things happen to good people and the worst thing happened to our amazing child."
    Their grief is fueling a wider discourse.
    Israelis are familiar with sudden death. But this is different. Not just because Ori and Mika Banki's anguish is impossible for any parent to insulate against, but because Shira's brutal killing questions the very lives people live here.
    It puts Israel at a crossroads.
    Vilified through history by so many for so long, Jews are accustomed to sticking up for one another. But, in the light of Shira's murder, the question now is: Can they still do that?
    Shira died Sunday after she was stabbed at a gay pride rally in Jerusalem Thursday while supporting the rights of her friend and others to be themselves.
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    She was quite simply upholding one of the founding principles of the Israeli State: tolerance.
    To many in the outside world familiar with the struggle between the Israeli state and Palestinians, that idea may seem hard to grasp. But to most Israelis, tolerance is what makes Israel a good place to live.
    Tel Aviv is widely rated as one of the world's most tolerant places for gays. Above others, the coastal city seems to embody what Israel's founders declared in 1948: The state "will ensure equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion race or sex."
    In the past few days that notion of tolerance has been challenged, not just by the brutal killing of bubbly 10th-grader Shira, but by the death of Ali Saad Dawabsha, an 18-month-old Palestinian toddler.
    Yishai Shlissel, an ultra-orthodox Jew, stabbed Shira and was photographed during his attack on her and five others. He had just been released from jail for a similar attack 10 years ago. Suspicion for Ali's murder also points, unproven as yet, towards Jewish extremists.
    Ali was sleeping in his house later that same Thursday in the tiny West Bank village of Duma when arsonists struck. His mother, father and 4-year-old brother were badly burned too. The house was daubed in Hebrew graffiti denoting a "price tag" attack.
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    The so-called "price tag" attacks began in 2008 and were blamed on extremist Israeli settlers driven by a religious conviction that they should live on the land of their ancestors. The "price" was for settlements the government forced them to give up and revenge for Palestinian attacks on settlers.
    Recent Israeli newspaper reports suggest Israeli's intelligence service Shin Bet believes that the right-wing extremists behind these attacks intend to escalate atrocities to destabilize Israel's government.
    Regardless, both brutal killings have triggered an examination of the Jewish state and its tolerance, questioning whether that very principle has allowed homegrown extremists to go too far.
    Israel's President Reuven Rivlin struck a chord saying "more than shame, I feel pain. The pain over the murder of a little baby. The pain over my people choosing the path of terrorism and losing their humanity, their path is not the path of the state of Israel."
    Israel's security cabinet met this weekend determining that the killers be brought to justice by all legal means necessary and, for the first time, authorizing "administrative detention" for Jewish citizens -- a security measure implemented to stop attacks and one that is more usually applied to Palestinians.
    The killings have also driven a deeper wedge between left and right, with the left blaming the right-wing government's tolerance of settlers as the root of the killing of Ali.
    As they prepared to bury Shira, Mika and Ori Banki called for "less hate and more tolerance"
    They are holding her funeral away from scrutiny and the public lament that surrounds her death. They want a quiet civil service, not a religious one.
    It's the way they raised their family, they say.
    In a newspaper interview three years ago, they told a reporter that raising Shira and her three siblings was "all about quality. To raise good citizens, children who will bring happiness to themselves and to their surroundings."
    In her short life Shira did just that.
    In her death, her country at a crossroads, many here hope her legacy will live on.