Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Murder of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir: Can Israelis mourn the death of a Palestinian?

There is no doubt that this last week will be one that will be etched into the minds of many Israelis and Palestinians. It started last Monday (June 30) with the terrible news that the bodies of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar, the three teenagers who had been kidnapped by a Palestinian terror group, most likely affiliated with Hamas, were found dead. Three long weeks ended in tragedy. The boys did come back but only to be placed into graves.

Israel HaYom, July 2 2014: A Whole Country with a Broken Heart

On the day of their funeral, however we received news once a gag-order was lifted on the case, a chilling emergency call to the police by one of the kidnapped boys was released in which it became apparent that the teenagers were executed at point-blank range immediately following their kidnapping. In other words, the public was led to believe that they could be alive even though just seconds after one the boy reported to the operator, “I have been kidnapped,” gun shots are heard. This fact was known by many in the media, and once released, it was clear that from the beginning it was estimated that there was a strong chance that they were not alive. 

That is right. A whole nation was held hostage to the idea that these boys might return home safely. Even worse, Israeli government and security official supported a hashtag campaign on twitter, #bringourboysback, gathering international support, all the while making hundreds of arrest, destroying homes searching for the boys, and worse, killing Palestinians who during the raids to find the boys, clashed with forces. It was also ample time to muster up a great amount of "national unity."

It is in this atmosphere, this build-up of emotions, that the Israeli public received the news of the death of the three teenagers. From there, the incitement grew. On Israel Channel Two’s program (June 30, 2013), right-wing politicians seized the moment to spread hate, advocate more settlements, with the only sense coming from the “bitchonistim,” former members of the security apparatus turned in moderate politicians, but in no way representing the peace camp.

All in the studio agreed that the people behind the killing should have their homes demolished as a measure of deterrence, and act of collective punishment. In fact, the program pretty much summed up many Israelis’ sense of Palestinians. They hate us, and they only understand force.

Not twenty-four hours had passed, when following the triple funeral, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, at a special cabinet meeting, declared “May God avenge their blood.” These five words clarified the feeling of many on the street, and surpassed the mumbling right-wing politicians. In place of calming the mounting tension, Netanyahu fanned the flames.

All the while, reports emerged on social media of Jews taking matters into their hands, not waiting to “let the IDF do the job.” We heard of the woman and her child on the Jerusalem tramway, who was cursed and thrown off; reports came in of radical right wing groups roaming the streets, shouting “death to Arabs,” just looking for a Palestinian to tear into, at times checking passing cars. Yet, the Israeli government overall remained silent despite the frightening atmosphere of revenge in the air.

Yediot, July 7 2014: Incomprehensible, 6 Jewish suspects burnt alive  the
 Palestinian youngster from Shuafat -Cruelty from Among us
If things could not get worse they did- in the early morning of July 2, a 17-year old, by the name of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir was kidnapped in Shuafat, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem of a young Palestinian boy, in the early hours of the morning. As Palestinians took to the streets in protest, many Israelis at first took this with a grain of salt. 

Clearly, this was just another Palestinian killed by a Palestinian-most likely part of a blood feud, some even hinted that  the young man might even be gay and it was an honor crime. As protests broke out, some in the Israeli media even accused Palestinians for jumping to conclusions, causing unnecessary problems.   

Well, two days ago (July 6) six Jewish suspects were arrested for the kidnapping and murder of Abu-Khdeir, and are accused of burning him alive; while the story is still under a gag-order, we know that three of them are minors and that a group of them have reenacted the crime; in fact, the police clearly stated the kidnapping was done as an act of revenge.

Importantly, Abu-Khdeir's kidnapping was the group's second attempt. Israel Channel two interviewed a nine-year old boy, together with his parents. Luckily, the child was able to break away from the attempted kidnapping. However, even though this was reported to the police a day before, it seems to have been brushed aside. If only the police had taken this serious perhaps Abu-Khdeir would still be alive. 

Yes, it was clear at this moment, that “we are not better than them.” Israeli social norms shaped this fascist and racist group of youngsters and if Israel would like to prevent such acts in the future, it will be necessary to take major steps weeding out racism present in the society and opening its doors to the other. However, this is easier said than done.

Israeli society is one that is based on unity of its Jewish community. For example, once news that the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli boys hit the media, Jews from all backgrounds, religious and secular, united lighting candles in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, just as they do in schools on Holocaust Day and the Memorial Day for Fallen soldiers. But who among the Israelis will light candles for Mohammed Abu Khdeir?

Yes, strong condemnation was voiced by Israeli politicians, but for most Israelis memorializing the young Palestinian is beyond their capacity, since from a very young age they are placed into a bubble and never recognize the fact that Palestinians exist. Israelis grow up in a country where not only memorial days exclude 20 percent of its citizenry, but every holiday-whether religious or secular (in the same way state emblems and national anthem are exclusively Jewish). 

True, a growing number of Israeli Jews meet Arabs at schools, as their teachers, or in hospitals, as their doctors. However, many more meet Arabs at retail stores and fast food chains, working together, in some cases, but in most cases, being served by them. In fact, in order not to disturb Israeli clientele there have been documented incidents were Palestinians workers are forbidden to speak Arabic (the language of the enemy) making them even more invisible.    

Jews who have Arab friends and who frequent leftist protests often come head-on with this racism. For the ones with Arab friends, they will encounter the warning by their fellow Jewish compatriots, "be careful, not to get a knife stabbed in your back while visiting the Arab village."

For Jewish protesters, we are of course traitors, and the Jewish women who join in with Palestinians are Jewish “whores.” Twenty years ago they spat on us, just as they did numerous times this week. And, throughout years, we come directly in contact with the fascist and racist slogan “death to Arabs,” a slogan yelled at football matches towards Arab teams or players. However, it is just not hooligans: I myself heard this numerous times among university students, my workplace, and while teaching in high schools. Jewish racists hate the fact that there are "Jews and Palestinians who refuse to be enemies," a slogan often used at leftist demonstrations.

The current bleak situation is strengthened by the fact that there is a total lack of will by the Israeli state to promote co-existence and to educate the Jewish population about the national minority within them, that they too have a legitimate right to the Land. In fact, while the current government plans at allocating money to strengthen Israeli ties with the Jewish diaspora, there are none for creating a safe haven for its non-Jewish citizens. 

Of course, any co-existence is difficult as long as Israel continues to occupy Palestinian territories, and even takes Israeli Jewish school children on field trips to Hebron in order to come in touch with their Jewish heritage (which in itself is scandalous since it is not even Israel by Israeli law). However, do these school children learn about the ugly side of occupation and the continued daily abuses against the Palestinian people? 

Perhaps, a good way to start educating their children is to integrate the story of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir into the classrooms starting in September, and showing Israeli children the true and horrific price of racism within their society; showing them that we as a people not only can mourn Palestinian deaths, but need to if we want to work our way out of this vicious circle.

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