Mur­der and re­venge in Jerusalem

The Pales­tinian-Is­raeli con­flict warms up again

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Clif­ford D. May

EAST JERUSALEM think it goes to flames.” Nuha Musleh, a Pales­tinian who earns her liv­ing as a “fixer” — a guide­trans­la­tor-ar­ranger for for­eign re­porters — stage­whis­pered that in my ear. We were stand­ing on a side­walk in Shuafat, a Pales­tinian neigh­bor­hood of East Jerusalem, watch­ing a loud and an­gry demon­stra­tion in sup­port of Mo­hammed Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old boy ab­ducted and killed two days ear­lier. The demon­stra­tors blamed Is­raelis — an act of re­venge, they pre­sumed, for the kid­nap­ping and killing of three Is­raeli teenagers last month, crimes Is­raeli of­fi­cials have linked to Ha­mas.

Ms. Musleh was work­ing for an Ital­ian tele­vi­sion crew, whose cam­era was fo­cused on young men with ke­fiyehs cov­er­ing their faces. Some had knives tucked into their belts. Many car­ried flags: Pales­tinian na­tion­al­ist flags; flags of the Pop­u­lar Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Pales­tine, a Marx­ist-Lenin­ist ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion; flags of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an in­ter­na­tional Is­lamist group in­tent on es­tab­lish­ing a new caliphate; and black flags sim­i­lar to those al Qaeda dis­plays. A few wore Guy Fawkes masks, the kind fa­vored by mem­bers of the ni­hilist-ac­tivist-hac­tivist move­ment that calls it­self Anony­mous.

Shuafat does not ap­pear to be a hope­less place. The home of the Abu Khdeirs — a prom­i­nent fam­ily — is large and stately, con­structed of stone. Nearby are shops and a mosque. A sign ad­ver­tises an or­tho­don­tist’s of­fice.

Now the neigh­bor­hood is in a sham­bles — strewn with rocks, tear gas can­is­ters, bro­ken glass and garbage. The blis­ter­ingly hot air is redo­lent with smol­der­ing tires.

A light-rail line runs down the main street. It took years to build and cost mil­lions of dol­lars. It was in­tended to serve as a bridge be­tween Pales­tinian East Jerusalem and other sec­tions of the city where some res­i­dents of Shuafat work, shop or visit friends. That bridge has now been burned — lit­er­ally. Equip­ment has been torn out and the pas­sen­ger shel­ters smashed as well.

How long be­fore the line is re­paired? Pos­si­bly never. Rad­i­cal Pales­tinian groups say they won’t al­low it. Ex­pect other Pales­tinian groups to charge that, with­out the rail line, they are be­ing cut off, that the Is­raelis are sep­a­rat­ing them, im­pos­ing “apartheid.”

The rea­son Ms. Musleh was pre­dict­ing a fur­ther es­ca­la­tion of vi­o­lence and de­struc­tion: Mo­hammed’s body was just then be­ing car­ried to the mosque where the fu­neral would be held. Af­ter that, she told me, the shabaab, the young people, would be even an­grier. It didn’t help that this was the first Fri­day of Ra­madan, a pe­riod when, from sun-up to sun­down, ob­ser­vant Mus­lims may nei­ther eat nor drink.

As the body ar­rived, in an open cas­ket and wrapped in a Pales­tinian flag, there were sud­den ex­plo­sions. These turned out to be fire­crack­ers, loud and smoky but not dan­ger­ous. Demon­stra­tors chanted — prais­ing those who sac­ri­fice for Pales­tine, and vow­ing to “ex­plode the skull of the Zion­ist.”

Af­ter the fu­neral, some demon­stra­tors sought out Is­raeli soldiers and po­lice — who had pru­dently stayed blocks away — and threw Molo­tov cock­tails, pipe bombs and rocks at them. Tear gas, stun grenades and rub­ber bul­lets were fired in re­turn. People on both sides were hurt but, ac­cord­ing to press re­ports, no one lethally.

It may have helped that Pales­tinian lead­ers, in­clud­ing Mah­moud Ab­bas, had called for re­straint, and that Is­raeli lead­ers, not least among them Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, had un­equiv­o­cally con­demned the killing of the Pales­tinian teenager, promis­ing to bring to jus­tice “the crim­i­nals re­spon­si­ble for this de­spi­ca­ble crime, who­ever they may be. Mur­der, ri­ots, in­cite­ment, vig­i­lan­tism — they have no place in our democ­racy.”

On Sun­day, Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties ar­rested six sus­pects. An Is­raeli of­fi­cial de­scribed them to a French news agency re­porter as mem­bers of an “ex­trem­ist Jewish group.” Ac­cord­ing to other re­ports, sev­eral were “soc­cer hooli­gans” with crim­i­nal records. It was not clear whether they be­longed to a loose net­work of vig­i­lantes known as Price Tag — the name sig­ni­fy­ing that its mem­bers in­tend to make Pales­tini­ans pay for acts of ter­ror­ism. In the past, how­ever, Price Tag­gers have gen­er­ally gone no fur­ther than spray-paint­ing mosques with hos­tile slo­gans, up­root­ing trees or punc­tur­ing the tires of Pales­tini­ans’ cars. Kid­nap­ping a teenage boy, burn­ing him alive and leav­ing his body in a for­est would rep­re­sent an as­ton­ish­ing es­ca­la­tion.

A friend, an Is­raeli col­lege pro­fes­sor, called this lat­est de­vel­op­ment — let’s not mince words; this bru­tal ter­ror­ist act pur­port­edly com­mit­ted by Is­raelis — “dev­as­tat­ing,” caus­ing “parox­ysms of self-ex­am­i­na­tion” within Is­rael. A prom­i­nent writer called it “the low­est mo­ment in the his­tory of Is­rael.”

It’s also true, how­ever, that Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties in­ves­ti­gated the crime ag­gres­sively and made ar­rests quickly. The prose­cu­tion that fol­lows is ex­pected to be un­spar­ing. The vast ma­jor­ity of Is­raelis will not re­gard any­one found guilty as a hero or mar­tyr. Salaries will not be paid to the per­pe­tra­tors when they are in­car­cer­ated (as is the case with Pales­tinian ter­ror­ists in Is­raeli pris­ons).

By con­trast, the killings of the three Is­raeli teenagers have been widely cel­e­brated in the West Bank and Gaza — places where streets are named for sui­cide bombers. Pales­tinian me­dia have com­pared the Jewish boys to ver­min — there­fore, de­serv­ing of ex­ter­mi­na­tion. Mr. Ne­tanyahu has sug­gested that the Pales­tinian Author­ity is do­ing lit­tle to help Is­raeli law en­force­ment lo­cate and ap­pre­hend the killers.

Many per­ti­nent facts have yet to emerge about both cases. When they do, it may not make much dif­fer­ence. Many people be­lieve what they choose to be­lieve, re­gard­less of the facts. In Jerusalem, an an­cient city built on be­liefs and be­liev­ers, that may be es­pe­cially true. Clif­ford D. May is pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies.


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