As Israeli Voices Call for Reflection, Troops Amass on Gaza Border

As the murder of a Palestinian teen prompts Israeli politicians and journalists to reexamine parts of Israeli culture, Israeli troops prepare for an escalation of hostilities in the south.

A ball of fire is seen following an Israeli air strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 8, 2014.
National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
July 8, 2014, 9:57 a.m.

As some politi­cians and journ­al­ists made con­trite, con­cili­at­ory state­ments in re­sponse to the killing of a 16-year-old Palestini­an, Is­raeli troops amassed at the Ga­za bor­der and mil­it­ants in Ga­za lobbed rock­ets at each oth­er on Tues­day, in a show of mixed mes­saging from both sides.

Is­raeli re­ac­tions were ini­tially hos­tile fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of the bod­ies of three Is­raeli teen­agers last week: Eco­nomy Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­net called for “ac­tions, not words,” and Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu prom­ised that God will “avenge their blood.” But after three Is­rael­is were ar­res­ted and con­fessed to their in­volve­ment in the sub­sequent re­venge-fueled killing of a 16-year-old Palestini­an in Jer­u­s­alem, Is­raeli politi­cians and journ­al­ists from all sides tempered their mes­sages and con­demned the murder.

“I pledge that the per­pet­rat­ors of this hor­rif­ic crime will face the full weight of the law,” said Net­an­yahu on Sunday. “I know that in our so­ci­ety, the so­ci­ety of Is­rael, there is no place for such mur­der­ers.” But the prime min­is­ter could not res­ist in­clud­ing a dig aimed at Palestini­ans: “This is a dif­fer­ence between us and our neigh­bors. There, mur­der­ers are re­ceived as her­oes, and city squares are named in their hon­or.”

Voices else­where in the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment came out to de­nounce the murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Kh­deir. Ofer She­lah, a mem­ber of par­lia­ment in the cent­rist Yesh At­id Party, re­acted to the news with a com­ment broad­cast on Is­raeli ra­dio: “If it’s true, this is an act of ter­ror­ism in every sense.” And in an op-ed coau­thored by the cur­rent pres­id­ent of Is­rael, Shi­mon Peres, and the pres­id­ent-elect, Re­uven Rivlin, the two spoke out against in­cite­ment and col­lect­ive ac­cus­a­tion. “In the State of Is­rael there is no dif­fer­ence between blood and blood,” Peres and Rivlin wrote. “The murder of a boy or a girl, Jew­ish or Ar­ab, is an un­ac­cept­able act.”

The ed­it­or­i­al staffs of two of Is­rael’s most prom­in­ent news­pa­pers came out with harsh in­dict­ments of the Is­raeli cul­tur­al norms that fueled the re­venge killing. Ha’aretz, Is­rael’s old­est daily news­pa­per, called for a “cul­tur­al re­volu­tion” in Is­rael. “Abu Kh­deir’s mur­der­ers are not ‘Jew­ish ex­trem­ists,’ ” the op-ed read. “They are the des­cend­ants and build­ers of a cul­ture of hate and ven­geance that is nur­tured and fer­til­ized by the guides of ‘the Jew­ish state’: Those for whom every Ar­ab is a bit­ter en­emy, simply be­cause they are Ar­ab.”

And Dav­id Horovitz, the found­ing ed­it­or of the Times of Is­rael and the former ed­it­or-in-chief of the Jer­u­s­alem Post, wrote of the need for Is­rael­is to shed their “mor­al su­peri­or­ity” over their Palestini­an neigh­bors. “We need to face up to the fact that our on­go­ing rule over the Palestini­ans, apart from en­dan­ger­ing Is­rael as a Jew­ish demo­cracy, is cor­rod­ing us, black­en­ing our hearts,” Horovitz wrote. “If the Jew­ish state, the home­land of the Jew­ish na­tion, does not thor­oughly em­bl­em­ize a rev­er­ence for life, we have no par­tic­u­lar right to be here at all.”

But as thinkers called for re­flec­tion in Jer­u­s­alem and Tel Aviv, the Is­rael De­fense Forces con­tin­ued to bom­bard the Ga­za Strip, re­portedly killing 11 Tues­day morn­ing. The pos­sib­il­ity of a ground as­sault re­mains on the table, a source in Net­an­yahu’s of­fice told Re­u­ters. The Is­raeli at­tacks are in re­sponse to more than 200 rock­ets that were launched from the Ga­za Strip since the Is­raeli mil­it­ary began search­ing for the three Is­raeli teens that dis­ap­peared June 12. No cas­u­al­ties were re­por­ted from these rock­ets. A Hamas op­er­at­ive de­clared Tues­day that the Is­raeli es­cal­a­tion means that “all Is­rael­is have be­come le­git­im­ate tar­gets.”

The back-to-back tra­gedies that res­ul­ted in the deaths of four teens, Is­raeli and Palestini­an, offered people on both sides of the con­flict a chance to con­sider the ef­fects of per­sist­ent hatred and mis­trust — qual­it­ies that have, over the long term, be­come em­bed­ded in ele­ments of both cul­tures. But the dis­trac­tion of ag­gres­sion and hos­til­ity on both sides may rob Is­rael­is and Palestini­ans of this op­por­tun­ity for re­flec­tion, in­stead en­trench­ing each even deep­er as rock­ets fly over­head.

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