Susan Abulhawa: Three Israeli Settlers And The The Searing Hypocrisy of the West
The bodies of three Israeli settlers who went missing on June 12th were found in a hastily dug shallow grave in Halhul, north of Hebron.
Since the teens went missing from Gush Etzion, a Jewish-only colony in the West Bank, Israel has besieged the 4 million Palestinians who already live under its thumb, storming through towns, ransacking homes and civil institutions, conducting night raids on families, stealing property, kidnapping, injuring, and killing. Warplanes were dispatched to bomb Gaza, again and repeatedly, destroying more homes and institutions and carrying out extrajudicial executions. Thus far, over 570 Palestinians have been kidnapped and imprisoned, most notably a Samer Issawi, the Palestinian who went on a 266-day hunger strike in protest of a previous arbitrary detention. At least 10 Palestinians have been killed, including at least three children, a pregnant woman, and a mentally ill man. Hundreds have been injured, thousands terrorized. Universities and social welfare organizations were ransacked, shut down, their computers and equipment destroyed or stolen, and both private and public documents confiscated from civil institutions. This wonton thuggery is official state policy conducted by its military and does not include the violence to persons and properties perpetuated by paramilitary Israeli settlers, whose persistent attacks against Palestinian civilians have also escalated in the past weeks. And now that the settlers are confirmed dead, Israel has vowed to exact revenge. Naftali Bennet, Economy Minister said, "There is no mercy for the murderers of children. This is the time for action, not words."
Although no Palestinian faction has claimed responsibility for the abduction, and most, including Hamas, deny any involvement, Benjamin Netanyahu is adamant that Hamas is responsible. The United Nations requested that Israel provide evidence to support their contention, but no evidence has been forthcoming, casting doubt on Israel’s claims, particularly in light of its public ire over the recent unification of Palestinian factions and President Obama’s acceptance of the new Palestinian unity.
In the West, headlines over pictures of the three Israeli settler teens referred to Israel's reign of terror over Palestine as a "manhunt" and "military sweep." Portraits of innocent young Israeli lives emerged from news outlets and the voices of their parents are featured in the fullness of their anguish. The US, EU, UK, UN, Canada and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) condemned the kidnapping and called for their immediate and unconditional release. Upon discovery of the bodies, there has been an outpouring of condemnation and condolences.
President Obama said, "As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth."
Although hundreds of Palestinian children are kidnapped, brutalized or killed by Israel, including several in the past two weeks, there is rarely, if ever, such a reaction from the world.
Just prior to the disappearance of the Israeli settler teens, the murder of two Palestinian teens was caught on a local surveillance camera. Ample evidence, including the recovered bullets and a CNN camera filming an Israeli sharpshooter pulling the trigger at the precise moment one of the boys was shot indicated that they were killed in cold blood by Israeli soldiers. There were no condemnations or calls for justice for these teens by world leaders or international institutions, no solidarity with their grieving parents, nor mention of the more than 250 Palestinian children, kidnapped from their beds or on their way to school, who continue to languish in Israeli jails without charge or trial, physically and psychologically tortured. This is to say nothing of the barbaric siege of Gaza, or the decades of ongoing theft, evictions, assaults on education, confiscation of land, demolition of homes, color coded permit system, arbitrary imprisonment, restriction of movement, checkpoints, extrajudicial executions, torture, and denials at every turn squeezing Palestinians into isolated ghettos.
None of that seemingly matters.
It does not matter that no one knows who murdered the Israeli teens. It seems the entire country is calling for Palestinian blood, reminiscent of American southern lynching rallies that went after black men whenever a white person turned up dead. Nor does it matter that these Israeli teens were settlers living in illegal Jewish-only colonies that were built on land stolen by the state mostly from Palestinian owners from the village of el-Khader. A huge portion of the settlers there are Americans, mostly from New York, like one of the murdered teens, who exercise Jewish privilege to hold dual citizenship; to have an extra country no matter where they're from, one in their own homeland and one in ours, at the same time that the indigenous Palestinians fester in refugee camps, occupied ghettos, or boundless exile.
Palestinian children are assaulted or murdered every day and barely do their lives register in western press. While Palestinian mothers are frequently blamed when Israel kills their children, accused of sending them to die or neglecting to keep them at home away from Israeli snipers, no one questions Rachel Frankel, the mother of one of the murdered settlers. She is not asked to comment on the fact that one of the missing settlers is a soldier who likely participated in the oppression of his Palestinian neighbors. No one asks why she would move her family from the United States to live in a segregated, supremacist colony established on land confiscated from the native non-Jewish owners. Certainly no one dares accuse her of therefore putting her children in harms way.
No mother should have endure the murder of her child. No mother or father. That does not only apply to Jewish parents. The lives of our children are no less precious and their loss are no less shattering and spiritually unhinging. But there is a terrible disparity in the value of life here in the eyes of the state and the world, where Palestinian life is cheap and disposable, but Jewish life is sacrosanct.
This exceptionalism and supremacy of Jewish life is a fundamental underpinning of the state of Israel. It pervades their every law and protocol, and is matched only by their apparent contempt and disregard for Palestinian life. Whether through laws that favor Jews for employment and educational opportunities, or laws that allow the exclusion of non-Jews from buying or renting among Jews, or endless military orders that limit the movement, water consumption, food access, education, marriage possibilities, and economic independence, or these periodic upending of Palestinian civil society, life for non-Jews ultimately conforms to the religious edict issued by Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, saying "a thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew's fingernail."
Israeli violence of the past few weeks is generally accepted and expected. And the terror we know they will unleash on our people will be, as it always is, cloaked in the legitimacy of uniforms and technological death machines. Israeli violence, no matter how vulgar, is inevitably couched as a heroic, ironic violence that western media frames as “response,” as if Palestinian resistance itself were not a response to Israeli oppression. When the ICRC was asked to issue a similar call for the immediate and unconditional release of the hundreds of Palestinian children held in Israeli jails (which is also in contravention of international humanitarian law), the ICRC refused, indicating there’s a difference between the isolated abduction of Israeli teens and the routine abduction, torture, isolation, and imprisonment of Palestinian children.
When our children throw rocks at heavily armed Israeli tanks and jeeps rolling through our streets, we are contemptible parents who should be bear responsibility for the murder of our children if they are shot by Israeli soldiers or settlers. When we refuse to capitulate completely, we are “not partners for peace,” and deserve to have more land confiscated from us for the exclusive use of Jews. When we take up arms and fight back, kidnap a soldier, we are terrorists of the extreme kind who have no one to blame but ourselves as Israel subjects the entire Palestinian population to punitive collective punishment. When we engage in peaceful protests, we are rioters who deserve the live fire they send our way. When we debate, write, and boycott, we are anti-Semites who should be silenced, deported, marginalized, or prosecuted.
What should we do, then? Palestine is quite literally being wiped off the map by a state that openly upholds Jewish supremacy and Jewish privilege. Our people continue to be robbed of home and heritage, pushed to the margins of humanity, blamed for our own miserable fate. We are a traumatized, principally unarmed, native society being destroyed and erased by one of the most powerful militaries in the world.
Rachel Frankel went to the UN to plead for their support, saying “it is wrong to take children, innocent boys or girls, and use them as instruments of any struggle. It is cruel…I wish to ask: Doesn’t every child have the right to come home safely from school?” Do those sentiments apply to Palestinian children, too? Here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here are video examples of the abduction of Palestinian children from their homes at night and on their way to and from school.
But none of that matters either. Does it? It matters that three Israeli Jews were killed. It doesn’t matter who did it or what the circumstances were, the entire Palestinian population will be made to suffer, more than they already are