The latest spate of violence in Israel and the occupied territories has been the occasion for anguished references to the “cycle of violence,” as if it were like the procession of the seasons and no one side can be held responsible. This has never been true – one side is indeed responsible – and this is underscored by the recent behavior of the Israeli government in regard to the kidnapping of those three Israeli boys.
On June 12, at 10:15 p.m., a trio of Israeli teenagers – Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach – who were hitchhiking back to their homes were given a lift by Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha. The car radio had Israel’s public station on, giving the impression that the occupants were Israelis, but the three boys soon realized their fatal mistake. One of them called 911 and told the dispatcher “We’ve been kidnapped”: in the recording – kept secret until now – one can hear gunshots in the background, the cry of someone who has at least been wounded, followed by celebratory singing.
Oddly, the police did not respond to the call until five hours later, when the parents reported them missing.
The authorities immediately issued a gag order on all reporting on the content of the call, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet lied to the Israeli and international public by pretending not to know the boys were almost certainly dead. Even after the kidnappers’ abandoned car was found, splattered with bloodstains that confirmed the killing, the Israeli authorities continued to maintain the fiction that the three were being held for some yet-to-be-disclosed ransom.
The boys, said Netanyahu & Co., had been kidnapped by Hamas in order to extract more concessions from the Israeli government as in the case of Gilad Shalit. The Israeli-Jordanian border was closed, supposedly to prevent the transport of the kidnapped teens. Netanyahu’s wife launched a media campaign on Twitter modeled on Michelle Obama’s #BringBackOurGirls hashtag: “Bring back our boys!”
And of course there was a military complement to the propaganda campaign: although the Israeli government knew the three boys were almost certainly dead, they initiated what they dubbed “Operation Brother’s Keeper.” Thousands of IDF soldiers combed the West Bank, ostensibly searching for the kidnapped boys: 560 Palestinians were arrested, with over 200 still being held, and over 2,000 locations – homes, public buildings, even water wells – were searched. Palestinian homes were ransacked and looted. And, naturally, Gaza – Israel’s punching bag – was mercilessly bombed, in tandem with the killing of six young Palestinians by the IDF.
As Israel Pulse points out, when rumors that the boys’ bodies had been found began to circulate, the Israeli authorities held a press conference at which
“IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz adopted a reproachful tone and raised hopes even higher. He said, ‘Both the army and the Shin Bet are working on making new evaluations of the situation in the recent hours and are involved in many operations designed to ensure the safe return of these boys. Regarding the rumors that have spread — these rumors have no basis and are not reliable.’ He didn’t even blink an eye when he said this.”
One imagines the authorities were equally unblinking when they lied to the parents of one of the boys, who – after being allowed to listen to the 911 call – were told the shots heard were “blanks”! The government then sent family members to a United Nations conference in which the deceived parents tearfully pleaded for their sons’ return.
So why did the Israeli government lie about the “kidnapping”? Look at the context: the US had recently recognized the Fatah-Hamas unity government and Tel Aviv had taken the brunt of the blame for the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It was a no-brainer, as far as the Israelis were concerned: why not use the murder to exert maximum political leverage on Washington, launch fresh attacks on the Palestinians, and score a few much-needed propaganda points?
The Israelis not only kept the murder of the three boys secret, they also kept the identities of the accused Palestinians under wraps for two weeks. Why?
Because the two brothers implicated in the murder are members of a clan known to be a “rogue” element in Hamas, having defied the wishes of the Hamas leadership on repeated occasions. Hamas would have no motive for the murder, unless the leadership wanted to sacrifice the real political gains they have made on the West Bank for the “satisfaction” of executing three Israeli teens.
The Israeli deception allowed them a pretext to carry out a military operation that otherwise would’ve been seen for just what it was and is: pure vengeance directed at those who had nothing to do with – and nothing to gain from – the murders.
Alongside the military campaign directed at Hamas – but actually aimed at any and all Palestinians – the government’s propaganda campaign whipped up the Israeli people into a frenzied paroxysm of hate. Mobs of Israelis marched through the streets, beating any Arab in sight. The Israeli far-right went ballistic, calling for outright genocide against the Palestinians. The Israeli “mainstream,” for their part, kept up the incitement, with Netanyahu and defense minister Moshe Ya’alon proposing a new Israeli settlement on Palestinian territory in “honor” of the murdered boys.
The death of 16-year-old Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped by Israeli “extremists” and burned alive, was all too predictable. After weeks of ferocious pronouncements coming from Israeli government officials, whose overwhelming message was the necessity of exacting vengeance, it was almost inevitable that some would get the message and take matters into their own hands.
There is a curious parallelism in the Israeli government’s domestic and foreign policies: both seem designed to whip up as much turmoil as possible, resulting in a condition of perpetual war. At home, the government is constantly pushing the boundaries of morality and international law, seizing Palestinian land, building “settlements,” and routinely brutalizing even those Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. Abroad, Tel Aviv has kept the pot constantly boiling, calling for American military action against Iraq, Syria, and Iran and consistently backing policies that aim at nothing less than the atomization of its Arab neighbors.
In this most recent case, involving conscious deception and the exploitation (and incitement) of murder, the Israeli political class exhibits a malevolence unique among nations. It is a trait that has become more pronounced over the years, earning it enmity on an international scale, inspiring a boycott campaign and isolating its people inside what the writer Max Blumenthal trenchantly characterizes as “a hermetic dystopia.”
Israel is, increasingly, an outlaw among nations – which, as far as libertarians are concerned, makes it an outlaw among outlaws. The boycott-and-divest (BDS) campaign, urging people everywhere to treat it as an international pariah, is more than justified by recent events. This is underscored by the Israeli public’s non-reaction to the revelation that the government knew the three boys had been killed and yet used the kidnapping angle to milk the situation for maximum political gain: they no longer care if they’re being lied to, as long as it confirms their hatred of the Palestinians.
The prophetic words of Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the great Israeli teacher and classical liberal, who predicted what would happen to the Jewish state if it kept the occupied territories, have come to pass:
“The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police – mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 million to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would have to suppress the Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.”
The entire energies of the Jewish state, instead of looking to the actual needs of its citizens, would be directed at enforcing “this strange system of political domination.”
It was strange to Leibowitz, who fled anti-Jewish persecution in Europe and emigrated to Israel to become one of the giants of the founding generation, because it inverted the whole history of the Jewish people, turning them into the spitting image of the pogromists whose terrorism he had fled. Today it is strange no longer, but simply what we have come to expect.
Let us hear no more about “the cycle of violence” in Palestine, as if both sides are equally responsible for the current conflagration. An honest recounting of history must show who ignited it – and the calculated incitement of inter-ethnic violence by Israel’s current “leaders” tells us all we need to know about who is keeping the fires of hatred burning.