Palestinians, Israelis and an eye for an eye: why it never stops
“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith The Lord.”
It’s not often that I’m moved to quote the New Testament but it seems appropriate here in the Holy Land where no-one takes any notice of it. Here many think that vengeance is not God’s but theirs to exact. This is an Old Testament sort of place where they prefer “an eye for an eye”.
Here’s the story so far. On Tuesday, the bodies of three Jewish yeshiva students – 19-year old Eyal Yifrach, and 16-year olds Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar – were found near Hebron. They had been kidnapped and murdered, allegedly by two Palestinian men, who remain on the run. The suspects are associated with Hamas, but were not believed to be acting on orders from the leadership. Israeli forces have destroyed their family homes as punishment for the killings.
When the bodies were found, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu talked of vengeance against Hamas, as well as bringing the murderers to justice.
Yesterday, just after the dawn prayer, a 16-year old Palestinian boy, Mohammed abu Khadeir, was bundled into a van driven by unknown men just outside his local mosque in Palestinian east Jersualem. His burnt body was later found in a forest in the Jewish western part of the city. The Israeli police suspect this was what they call a “nationalist issue”, in other words a crime of revenge by extremist Israelis.
Visiting Mohammed’s family yesterday I was struck by how the different generations responded. His mother, Suha, sitting with other older women in the family, distraught by grief, immediately focused on revenge.
“For three people, they turned the world upside down. But nobody cares about my son,” she said. “They destroyed their houses in Hebron and damaged the city just because of those three Israelis. I want to avenge my son, to do the same and demolish the houses of those who killed him.”
But his cousin, 19-year old Thawra, a nursing student in a pale pink headscarf, said: “If you want to keep avenging your people you’re never going to stop.”
I’m sure there are many young Israelis who think like her, but a Facebook page titled “The People of Israel Demand Vengeance!” featuring young people holding up signs threatening violence against Arabs, has garnered more than 32,000 ‘likes’. Police, who are investigating, seem to have taken it down.
According to the Times of Israel, a post uploaded by the group’s administrators on Wednesday stated: “Many have been asking if vengeance means killing innocent people. No… The goal of this group is to avenge the blood of those kidnapped, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, of blessed memory. To catch the terrorists who kidnapped and killed them, and exact vengeance.”
Yesterday, I watched as Palestinian youths, angry about the death of Mohammed Abu Khadeir, threw rocks at Israeli police who responded with baton rounds. I felt as if I was in a time warp, back in the early 2000s covering the Second Intifada.
By the end of the day I was in despair – the rest of the world may move on, but here nothing changes. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict doesn’t have the same international import as it used to have, because other forces are shaping the Middle East. We have learned that they can carry on killing and counter-killing without it affecting the rest of us too much. But they keep going whether we report it or not.
The “cycle of revenge” is a cliche used by lazy journalists. I know that there is much more to it than that, and I am especially well aware of the persistent suffering of Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza. But it’s not journalists who perpetuate the language of revenge, it’s Palestinians and Israelis, and that’s one major reason nothing ever seems to change around here.
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