When the bodies of three Israeli settlers — Aftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 — were found on June 30 near Hebron in the southern West Bank, Israel went into a state of mourning and a wave of sympathy flowed in from around the world. The three had disappeared 18 days earlier in circumstances that remain unclear.
The entire episode, particularly after its grim ending, seemed to traumatize Israelis into ignoring harsh truths about the settlers and the militarization of their society. Amid a portrayal of the three as hapless youths, although one was a 19-year-old soldier, commentators have failed to provide badly needed context to the events. Few, if any, assigned the blame where it was most deserved — on expansionist policies, which have sown hatred and bloodshed.
Before the discovery of the bodies, the real face of Netanyahu’s notoriously right-wing government was well known. Few held Illusions about how “peaceful” an occupation could be if run by figures such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon. But because “children” — the term used by Netanyahu himself — were involved, even critics didn’t expect an exercise in political point scoring.
There was sympathy elicited for the missing settlers case, but it quickly vanished in the face of an Israeli response (in the West Bank, Jerusalem and later in a full-scale war on Gaza) largely seen in the crucible of world opinion as disproportionate and cruel. Rather than being related to the tragic death of three youths, this response obviously reflected Netanyahu’s grand political calculations.
As mobs of Israeli Jews went out on an ethnic lynching spree in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank that some likened to a “pogrom,” occupation soldiers conducted a massive arrest campaign of hundreds of Palestinians, mostly Hamas members and supporters.
The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas said it had no role in the death of the settlers, and this appears plausible since they rarely hesitate to take credit for something carried out by their military wing. Israeli military strategists were well aware of that. This war on Hamas, however, has little to do with the killed settlers, and everything to do with the political circumstances that preceded their disappearance.
On May 15, two Palestinian youths, Nadim Siam Abu Nuwara, 17, and Mohammed Mahmoud Odeh Salameh, 16, were killed by Israeli soldiers while taking part in a protest commemorating the anniversary of the Nakba, or “Great Catastrophe.” Video footage shows that Nadim was innocently standing with a group of friends before collapsing, as he was hit by an Israeli Army bullet.
The Nakba took place 66 years ago when the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict emerged. An estimated one million Palestinians were forced out of their homes as they fled a Zionist invasion. Israel was established on the ruins of that Palestine.
Nadim and Mohammed, like the youths of several generations since, were killed in cold blood as they walked to remember that exodus. In Israel, there was no outrage. However, Palestinian anger, which seems to be in constant accumulation — being under military occupation and enduring harsh economic conditions — was reaching a tipping point.
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