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Palestinians react with indifference to murder of teens

Until discovery of bodies, many believed no abduction had occurred, since such an act
would undermine so many Palestinian successes.
By Amira Hass | Jul. 2, 2014 | 2:41 AM | 16

Relatives of Yousif Zagha, 20, who was killed by Israeli troops early Tuesday, watch
his funeral in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin. Photo by AP



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The abduction and murder of three West Bank yeshiva students is viewed by the
Palestinian public as just another incident in a routine of violence for which Israel
bears primary responsibility. It didn’t spark opposition and protest, but neither did it
spark support and calls for “more.”
Two weeks under an Israeli military steamroller that harmed thousands of Palestinian
families with no connection to the kidnapping killed even the natural tendency to feel
compassion and identification on an individual level. And that’s aside from the basic
fact that Palestinians see that Israelis in particular, and the world in general,
discriminate when it comes to violence.
Palestinian violence merits condemnation, and both its perpetrators and those who
weren’t its perpetrators are punished with great severity, even though it is by nature
reactive. In contrast, the permanent Israeli violence – by the government due to the
very fact that it is a foreign government, by the army and by private individuals like
settlers – not only isn’t penalized, but is barely reported. It isn’t defined as violence,
it doesn’t interest Israelis, and it certainly doesn’t spark feelings of identification in
them. Israeli victims of violence – of whom there are fewer than there are Palestinian
victims – are given names and faces in Israel and worldwide. The many Palestinian
victims are at best mere statistics. This assertion isn’t just a view expressed in a
newspaper op-ed; it’s at the root of the Palestinians’ daily experience. The lack of
compassion in specific cases is the Palestinian response to this discrimination.
As long as the bodies hadn’t been found, a great many Palestinians believed no
abduction had ever occurred. In their view, the kidnapping was fabricated to thwart
the Palestinians’ national unity government, undo the achievements (from the
Palestinian perspective) of the deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, and harm
Hamas. They concluded that the kidnapping benefited Benjamin Netanyahu’s
government, which had been painted into a diplomatic corner (for example, by the
European and American refusal to object to the Palestinian unity government). The
hunger strike by Palestinians under administrative detention in Israel had begun to
make waves in the media, and the killing (murder, according to the Palestinians) of
two Palestinian teens in Beitunia by Israeli soldiers had exposed lies in Israel’s
account of the incident and utterly embarrassed the Israeli authorities. For a while,
it even caused the army and the border police – according to both demonstrators and
journalists – to exercise uncustomary restraint at several demonstrations. So instead
of asking, “Who is this Palestinian who has managed to undermine all these Palestinian
successes,” they took refuge in conspiracy theories.
That prevented any public discussion of a different conclusion: Not only is there no
unified Palestinian strategy, but it has once again been proven that even within
Hamas, there is no coordination between tactics and strategy. The kidnapping
endangers the new government and works against the interests of Hamas’ leaders and
many branches of the movement. They needed the unity government, in the short
term, to survive the crisis over how to pay salaries to Hamas employees in Gaza, and
in the longer term, to get rid of the burden of the chronic economic crisis created by
the Israeli blockade. Yet even those – primarily in the Fatah party – who were furious
at the local players who planned and perpetrated the kidnapping, were compelled to
suppress their feelings of anger in light of the Israeli onslaught against a very large
section of the Palestinian public.
Others, including opponents of Hamas, were waiting for the moment when the
kidnappers would announce their terms for returning the hostages (alive). In the
asymmetrical balance of power between Palestinians and Israelis, abduction is seen as
a legitimate tool. If the murderers had planned to keep the abducted teens alive but
something went wrong, this attests to amateurism and lack of proper preparation. Yet
it’s doubtful any discussion of this issue will be possible, either. Hamas doesn’t
publicly repudiate those of its members who failed or acted on their own initiative.
In this atmosphere, Palestinians who believe it’s wrong to kill unarmed Israeli teens,
even if they are settlers or study in the settlements, don’t dare to say so aloud.
After Palestinians were forced to admit that the kidnapped Israelis were not armed
soldiers, but teens, they repeatedly stressed that they were settlers. Among the
Palestinians, the prevailing view is that attacks on settlers are justified, and that a
distinction should be made between them and Israeli citizens living on the other side
of the Green Line.
One man who says he could never personally kill a settler declared that the attack on
these settlers was interpreted as a signal to Israelis that they shouldn’t send their
children to the West Bank, that they shouldn’t feel safe there, that they should know
their presence there means the dispossession of the Palestinians. It’s very doubtful
that this is the message those who kidnapped and murdered the three teens
originally planned to send. What is certain, however, is that at the moment, there is
no internal Palestinian debate over whether the murder indeed serves this goal.