It was an example of the best and worst in the world of social media; and the best and worst of humanity.
No sooner had the body of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher been found, showing signs of extreme violence, than the rumors began to take off. Ever-more gruesome depictions of her rape and death were shared on social platforms, with no respect for her memory, her family, or the truth.
The known and publishable facts – there was a broad police gag order – were bad enough. Ansbacher, doing civilian national service instead of military service, was working with troubled youth at a center at Ein Yael, close to Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo. She had been taking a walk in the nearby woods to clear her head on February 7 when she was attacked by a knife-wielding Palestinian, a former security prisoner who had previously declared his intention to kill a Jew and become “a martyr.”
The more I read about Ansbacher, the clearer it became that the girl who loved writing poetry and finding the beauty in her fellow human beings, as well as in nature, was ill-prepared to face such evil. One of the last poems she wrote was a prayer for peace.
I deliberated before writing this column in case I, too, could be accused of exploiting her death. But Ansbacher’s murder has doubly haunted me: It reminded me of other victims of terrorism whose families I know – and how my heart goes out to those forced periodically to relive the worst moments of their own tragedies. At the same time, the treatment it received on social media caused me to reconsider who I can really call my friends on Facebook.
I could only agree with Hillel Fuld, whose brother Ari was stabbed to death in September. Hillel posted on Facebook at the height of the social media frenzy on Friday afternoon: “… You want to share shady news sources about other things? Fine. But this? For another ‘Like’?… God, my heart.”
Some people used Ansbacher’s death replete with pornographic (and incorrect) details to push a far-Right agenda, trying to implicate the police, press and other usual suspects of a conspiracy – of trying to hide what had taken place and the fact that it was a terror attack. At least part of the reason for the gag order became clear when Israeli security forces managed to swiftly catch Ansbacher’s killer – who had been hiding in a mosque near Ramallah – and he re-enacted his despicable crime. The more details shared by the general public, the harder to find incriminating facts that would be known only to the perpetrator.
It was hard to avoid the conclusion that some were trying to whip up a frenzy that could lead to young hotheads taking their own revenge, leading to more innocent blood being shed.
At one stage police took the unusual step of issuing a statement calling on people to stop spreading “groundless reports harming both the victim and the family’s dignity and misleading the public.”
Arafat Irfaiya, the terrorist, perversely smiled during his remand hearing in court, showing the true face of evil. He confessed to killing Ansbacher. But social media users picked at her prone body.
IT WAS hard to tell who was worse, those on the Right peddling grisly stories, or those on the Left whose bleeding hearts leaked moral equivalence, one misplaced drop at a time.
Some grabbed on to the gender agenda. In their eyes, Ansbacher was raped and killed simply because she was a woman. One Facebook friend equated it to the “honor killing” of a young Israeli Arab woman, Siwar Keblawi, 20, murdered last week by her brother (with the help of her father) at an apartment in Turkey where she was studying with the hope of becoming a doctor.
Arab Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman, who heads the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, tweeted that it was “a crime on the basis of gender” and accused the government “of criminally exploiting Ori’s murder to try to cast a stain on the struggle of the Palestinian people with the despicable crime carried out by one man.”
A common theme was to liken her murder to the deaths of two Palestinian teens, shot while participating in a “March of Return,” when some 7,000 Gazans, most of them affiliated with the ruling Hamas regime, tried to storm the border fence with Israel. The 14-year-old, Hassan Shalabi, was reportedly the son of Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh’s niece.
The only similarity I could see was that Shalabi and the other dead teenager, Hamza Ishtiwi, were also victims of Hamas, which cultivates a culture of martyrdom and death and exploits its own people as human shields.
A fascinating KAN TV report noted that this time many Gazans thought Hamas had gone too far after it was published that Shalabi’s body was brought to his school for his classmates to see. How can you hope to bring up emotionally healthy children if you parade the body of a “martyred” child in his classroom? You don’t. The grisly message was exactly the opposite and it is encouraging that ordinary Gazans not only realize that but were willing to speak out.
BACK AT the Ansbacher home in Tekoa, a Gush Etzion community that has lost other young members to terrorism, there were more signs that give hope. On Tuesday, a small group of Palestinians and Jews affiliated with the NGO Tag Meir visited the family as they sat shiva (the weeklong mourning period.)
“I wanted to comfort the family and let them know that killing Jews is no less awful than killing Palestinians,” said Ragi Sabeetin, from the nearby village of Husan.
Ansbacher’s friends – shocked by her death, inspired by her life – wisely used social media to set up a fitting tribute. They called on ordinary people to share photos of nature taken around the country that can later be used to create a video in her memory. The campaign goes by the name (and hashtag) “To be a free people in our country – spreading Ori’s light.”
Almost everyone who spoke of her recalled that her name “Ori” means “my light.”
“It’s important for us that the world knows who Ori was,” her mother, Noa, told reporters, barely able to speak through her pain. “Ori was a child of light, adding so much light in the world. She cured broken hearts wherever she went… even people she did not know.”
She spoke a lot lately about “compassion,” her mother said.
Ori Ansbacher was not killed because of “the settlements,” nor was she (as the Palestinian Authority later claimed) a soldier. Ansbacher was killed because she was a Jewish Israeli. She set out on Thursday morning to help children and youth in need, and on the way appreciate as much beauty as she could find. Irfaiya, a Hamas-affiliated terrorist, set out the same day armed with a knife and the desire to kill the first Jew he could. This needs to be remembered. But also the response of her family and friends who refuse to give in to terrorism.
The last words should go to Ori’s mother, who asked all those who want to preserve her memory and who care “to do one small thing to add light to the world – one act of kindness.”
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