Vengeance, Not Justice In Wake Of Murders Of Israeli Youths

Israeli memorial

by Mitchell Plitnick

The saga of the three kidnapped Israeli youths in the West Bank took a tragic, if expected, turn today, when their bodies were discovered near Hebron. None but the most starry-eyed optimist thought the young men would be found alive after all this time. But the story is far from over.

Even before the announcement was made that the bodies were found, clashes were reported between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the town of Halhul, where the grisly discovery was made. A massive Israel Defense Forces (IDF) presence was reported, roads were closed and the area was generally closed down. The Israeli security cabinet is meeting at this writing to decide on further measures.

The only thing that seems certain right now about the Israeli response is that it will be unjust and have nothing to do with addressing the terrible crime that has just been confirmed. For the moment, at least, it appears that the perpetrators, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, are beyond the reach of Israel. Since Israel cannot punish those who so profoundly deserve punishment, they will punish those that they can. This, sadly, is the calculus of occupation. There is already violence reported by residents of Hebron. Some might see justice in that, but ask yourself how you would feel if your son, brother or father – or just a neighbor— was a murderer and you were the one who had to pay for their crime.

There is still no evidence that the two killers, who were apparently members of Hamas, did not act alone. Nonetheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that he will hold Hamas responsible and has repeatedly called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to sever the unity government that he only recently forged with Hamas. Now, Netanyahu has declared, in a meeting of Israel’s security cabinet that “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.”

What might that mean? Well, earlier, some members of Netanyahu’s Likud party described the response they wanted to see.

Danny Danon, the Deputy Defense Minister said “This tragic ending must also be the ending of Hamas! The nation is strong and ready to absorb [attacks] for the sake of a mortal blow against Hamas. … [W]e have to destroy the homes of Hamas activists, wipe out their arsenals everywhere, and stop the flow of money that directly or indirectly keeps terror alive… make the entire Palestinian leadership pay a heavy price.”

For Danon, it is not even enough that Hamas pay for this, but the Palestinian Authority as well. Yet there remains no evidence Hamas, as an organization had anything to do with this. The Shin Bet, Israel’s intelligence service, issued a very telling statement about the murders: “Following intensive operational intelligence work by the Shin Bet, less than 24 hours after the kidnapping it became evident that two Hamas activists, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha, are those behind the kidnapping of the three teens.” No mention made of Hamas’ involvement; merely that the two men were members. If Bibi really has anything connecting Hamas to this crime, he’s keeping it inexplicably secret.

No matter to the outspoken Tzipi Hotovely of Likud, who said, “The despicable kidnapping and murder of the students cannot go by in silence, and those responsible in Gaza must pay the price. The government of Israel must declare a war to the death on Hamas, which is responsible for the murders, and return to the policy of [targeted] assassination.” Like Danon, Hotovely expresses no concern about the Israeli lives this will put at risk, much less those of innocent Palestinians. Nor do they care about the consequences of such actions.

One might think that these Likud members might have some interest in actually tracking down the murderers. But no, they’d prefer to cynically use this despicable crime to further a political agenda of the worst kind—one that legitimizes intense violence that will mean a far greater loss of innocent life. In this, they are joined by their fellow travelers of the American right wing. The extreme pro-occupation forces took to Twitter even before Netanyahu made his announcement to politicize and distort these events.

Whatever the two killers were thinking, their monstrous crime will yield no positive results for anyone. The PA is crippled, quite likely permanently, by its response to the initial kidnapping. Hamas has been devastated in the West Bank by the Israeli response, leaving it unable to take advantage of any political opening that might be created. The people of the West Bank will see a major crackdown, and Israel will surely follow the call of Housing Minister Uri Ariel for more settlements to be built in response. Gaza will be hit by more missiles. The only victors might be the most radical elements in the Occupied Territories, the ones Hamas has been in conflict with in Gaza and who have generally laid very low in the West Bank.

There seems to be little interest in capturing the perpetrators of the crime, and a great eagerness to make Hamas in particular and the Palestinians in general suffer for this outrage. And I’m sure that is just what will happen. The question will then become how Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even the PA will respond.

Will they attempt to hit Israel back with more attacks on civilians? If they do, we may well have witnessed the beginning of a third intifada. Will they make a mere show of firing a few rockets that land harmlessly as most do? If they do that, there may be a backlash of rage that strengthen the more radical groups in the Territories. There are ISIS- and al-Qaeda-like groups there, which have seen little support among the Palestinian people, but this could change if the existing groups are seen as doing nothing in the face of Israeli aggression.

Whatever the outcome, the episode demonstrates yet again the futility of acts of violence. No one will gain from any of this, even if they think they will. And lost in it all, the murder of three young men, a heinous crime which everyone condemns, while everyone who gets hurt on both sides will have had nothing to do with it.

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Mitchell Plitnick

Mitchell Plitnick is former vice president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He is the former director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and was previously the director of education and policy for Jewish Voice for Peace. He is a widely published and respected policy analyst. Born in New York City, raised an Orthodox Jew and educated in Yeshiva, Mitchell grew up in an extremist environment that passionately supported the radical Israeli settler movement. His writing has appeared in the Jordan Times, Israel Insider, UN Observer, Middle East Report, Global Dialogue, San Francisco Chronicle, Die Blaetter Fuer Deutsche Und Internationale Politik, Outlook, and in a regular column for a time in Tikkun Magazine. He has been interviewed by various outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor and CNBC Asia. Plitnick graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in Middle Eastern Studies and wrote his thesis on Israeli and Jewish historiography and earned his Masters Degree from the University of Maryland, College Park's School of Public Policy.

6 Comments

  1. I hate to agree with you but I do.
    Justice (vengeance even) as to individuals but not as to Hamas unless clear that Hamas specifically culpable.

  2. As long as Israel considers strength to mean liberal and belligerent use of military might as the primary solution to all problems and the best way to impose its will, it is actually losing control, not gaining it. That MO tells those among the extremest of Palestinians to use this as their guide for what operations to launch in order to make Israel react according to its own blueprint in a predictable way and in the process elicit more resentment and anger from Palestinians, arouse more international sympathy toward the plight of a beleaguered and dispossessed people, and isolate Israel further. Situations like this expose Israel’s inability/unwillingness to levy proper justice by finding the real culprits and discrediting and punishing them for their crimes. Instead, convinced by the belief that Israel MUST always show a “proper response” which Mr. Plitnick has so concisely described here, it resorts to what really amounts to collective and vastly disproportional punishment of innocent people, and of course it never has the intended result of bludgeoning a people into line. It just radicalizes them and makes them more militant because nothing else works in their favor.

    This approach simply benefits extremists. In just about every situation when there are two or more groups of Palestinians involved Israel through its actions pushes the population toward the more militant group, the group that believes Israel is not interested in a just peace but is interested in confiscating all the Palestinian lands and subjugating, humiliating and forcing them out. Case in point is the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. By treating the PA with absolute contempt and disdain, Israel proved Hamas’ assertion that Israel expects its Palestinian “partners” to accept to give up their land, act as a proxy militia executing Israeli orders with Palestinian manpower and international funding, be willing to be humiliated, be willing to watch Israel raze their farmland and homes while it builds more and more settlements, take away Palestinian water so the settlements can have pools and lawns, and reduce Palestinians to an impoverished population who begs for bread crumbs. Hamas sold that idea and Israel kept enforcing it. Hamas effectively won the argument that the way to counter Israel is not through cooperation but through standing up to it, and as evidence it pointed to how it had forced Israel to shut down its Gaza settlements while it was expanding its West Bank settlements even as the PA cooperated for two decades. Rather than rewarding the PA with a peace process that actually produced results, it kept using the peace process as a strategy of buying time as it gobbled up more of the PA land. Hamas would not have existed today had it not been for Israel’s choices 20+ years ago and since. Elements more extreme than Hamas would not be possible without those actions that Israel is about to take. That is something that is very obvious to people like Mr. Plitnick, those who look at problems with humanist eyes, and something that unfortunately Israel’s current leadership is incapable of seeing.

    Just reading some of the comments on mainstream sites, comments about razing all of Palestine, carpet bombing them, resorting to the maximum level of force, it all makes it obvious who is winning this battle. Not a single one of them is asking for the culprits to be brought to justice. Instead, they’re asking for punishment unleashed against an entire population.

  3. Israel has been waiting for a pretext to destroy the new unity between Hamas and the PA because it felt could make the Palestinians stronger.
    One may wonder if the murder of three teenagers hitchiking in total unawareness in Palestinian territories is not coming just in time to give Israel the pretext it was looking for.

  4. The response will be telling, as you say Mr Plitnick. How many more innocent victims will be added to the rolls? Perhaps this will lead to Israels 9-11 moment, just as the U.S. had. After all, didn’t Netanyahoo and his Likud members condem the Palestinian/Hamas link up? I’ve always considered the IDFs actions toward the PA/Hamas like shooting fish in a barrel, while the reaction to the IDF was toothless. This is not to convey that I condone either, but the whole concept started out on the wrong foot. History will be the final teacher. Perhaps the action taking place in Iraq/Syria today, should give pause, especially before Israel itself becomes a victim. Food for thought.

  5. The Israelis don’t seem to consider that the murders were revenge attacks by some Palestinians for the killing of Palestinian children with impunity. This cycle of revenge will go on and on, with the Israelis responding with 100 eyes and teeth for an eye and a tooth. This is the pattern, and no one in Israel seems to have the wisdom or will to stop it. They will continue to build more settlements in any case, no matter how submissive the Palestinians are.

    Israel has set this situation up, and of course the Palestinians will continue to suffer. there are no Martin Luther Kings in Israel. The Israelis don’t seem to be interested in finding the perpetrators of the crime, but only to find an excuse to destroy Hamas and make the Palestinians suffer more. There is nothing but hatred coming form the Israeli government Nothing good comes from violence. The Israelis have all the power. the Palestinians have none. What are they supposed to do as their land is stolen, their population imprisoned, and the children killed almost every week?

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