Mur­ders be­come sym­bols

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - David Aaronovitch

IWAS IN an air­port ho­tel in Kuala Lumpur when I heard that the three kid­napped Is­raeli boys — let us al­ways name them — Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gi­lad Sha’ar, 16, and Naf­tali Fraenkel, 16 – had been found mur­dered. There are the pho­to­graphs of them smil­ing (how can any young per­son think they are any­thing other than beau­ti­ful?), and then the pic­tures of a burnt-out car and a dusty road­side, then their fam­i­lies at the fu­neral.

On so­cial me­dia – and I fol­low people from all back­grounds – so many fell al­most im­me­di­ately into their pre­or­dained roles. Why such a fuss over these three when so lit­tle at­ten­tion has been paid to the deaths of Pales­tinian chil­dren? The Is­raelis have “killed the equiv­a­lent of one Pales­tinian child ev­ery THREE days. 1,518 in to­tal”, tweeted the com­men­ta­tor Me­hdi Has­san. Why no live cov­er­age of their fu­ner­als, he de­manded. Has­san’s sen­ti­ments were com­monly ex­pressed by people one might de­scribe as be­ing ac­tive in the pro-Pales­tinian cause.

For oth­ers it was clear who had done it – Ha­mas – and clear that Ha­mas must be struck at again, in what­ever way Ha­mas gets to be struck at. A car de­stroyed by a mis­sile on a Gaza street, per­haps. Maybe more. Only ac­tion would do: swift, firm, vi­o­lent and re­tri­bu­tional ac­tion. A set­tle­ment on the West Bank should be named af­ter them, said an Is­raeli min­is­ter.

And so the deaths were in­stru­men­talised in­stantly. The three boys stopped be­ing three dead boys and be­came three sym­bols. The fam­i­lies stopped be­ing them­selves and be­came ei­ther a fo­cus of some­one else’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to pun­ish some­body else, or an ex­am­ple of the at­ten­tion the wicked West never gives to Pales­tinian suf­fer­ing.

As I write this the news is com­ing in that the body of a Pales­tinian boy, who was also kid­napped, has been found in Jerusalem. His name was Mo­hammedAbu Khu­dair. Within min­utes ri­ot­ers were mak­ing his death (and there­fore his short life) sym­bolic too.

As far as we can tell the killers of the three Jewish boys were a pair of crim­i­nal op­por­tunists from a trou­ble­some He­bron clan; guys who were quickly iden­ti­fied by Pales­tini­ans them­selves. Mo­ti­vated by hate, or avarice or both, and al­most cer­tainly see­ing in three Jewish boys the loathed “other”, they had turned up in their car at the wrongest time.

Now we have no hope and no progress. We have camps, only.

In a nor­mal place, what would hap­pen is that the mur­der­ers of both the Jewish boys and the Pales­tinian boy would be pur­sued, caught, tried and sen­tenced. If any­one had helped them they too would be sub­ject to the law. We could think about them as people. There wouldn’t be house de­mo­li­tions, threats of col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment, street ri­ots or people weaselly halfjus­ti­fy­ing the mur­ders as be­ing the prod­uct of le­git­i­mate anger. We would mourn the dead, seek jus­tice for their fam­i­lies, think about bet­ter ways to pro­tect our young.

Twenty years ago I was at the BBC when Panorama got its scoop about the Oslo peace process. My then col­league, Jane Cor­byn, told the al­most in­cred­i­ble story of how the deal was bro­kered. What fol­lowed was a pe­riod of hope and no lit­tle progress — the only hope and al­most the only progress in my life time – but al­ways pre­car­i­ous, al­ways vul­ner­a­ble to a loss of nerve, courage or the machi­na­tions of those who, what­ever they say, do not be­lieve in peace, be­cause they don’t see “their” boys as be­ing quite as real as “our” boys.

Now we have no hope. We have no progress. We have camps only. Camps don’t care about a Gi­lad, or a Naf­tali or an Eyal. Or an Iqab or a Bil­lal. They care about win­ning and the people be­come mere ad­juncts to the pro­pa­ganda bat­tle. It is a ter­ri­ble crime to kid­nap and mur­der three boys, but it is also im­moral to use such mur­ders to fur­ther an ar­gu­ment.

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