The specter of death stalks the settlement of Itamar. A Palestinian militant penetrated the security barriers intended to protect the residents and broke into a home of the sleeping Fogel family and stabbed to death the parents and three of their children, leaving behind three young orphans. It is a heinous, savage crime. The crime of a Palestinian terrorist bent on avenging blood. The kind of crime for which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become known, notoriously so.
This is a crime that takes us back to the bloody civil wars and genocidal tribal conflict of the Bible. It is a crime perpetrated by someone who doesn’t believe a grievance can be expressed any other way, doesn’t believe there is any hope of resolving the conflict. The killer not only hates all settlers, he probably hates his own leadership and blames them as much for being unable to deliver a victory for the Palestinian people.
This is a crime that reinforces the worst hatreds on both sides. Some Palestinians, hopefully only a few, will feel pride that a blow has been struck to avenge the innocent Palestinian blood spilt by Israel’s armed forces, and even settlers like those of Itamar and the more radical extremist settlements like Tapuach and Yitzhar. Some Israelis and Diaspora Jews will, in their pain bray for the blood of the killers: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. No one in such circumstances will have the presence of mind to remember Martin Luther King’s warning that such cycles of violence leave us all toothless and blind.
A perfect example is Rabbi Yishaya Rotter, owner of Rotter, Israel’s most popular internet gossip forum (a combination of Gawker, TMZ and Drudge Report), who calls implicitly in a forum editorial for mass pogroms against West Bank Palestinians, calling them “children of death, every one of whom wishes to kill us.” He excuses himself from legal culpability by saying he’s not taking action himself, only expressing an opinion. Which of course will constitute “wild incitement” for his settler followers to extract many pounds of flesh and pints of blood from their Palestinian enemy. Rotter further spouts such inflammatory nonsense as the claim that settlers must take matters into their own hands because the current Israeli government (that is, the one run by Bibi Netanyahu and the far-right Likud) is “under the thumb of the far-left” and their media hacks who “justify such murders;” along with “obtuse courts of justice who mistakenly believe this country is Holland or Belgium.” What is truly needed, Rotter claims, is “all out war.”
Terror attacks like this allow the worst of each side to sit back smugly and say: I told you so. Another example: Bibi Netanyahu’s ignorant, hateful laying of blame on the Palestinian Authority for the crime instead of on his own security forces (who control and patrol the territory surrounding the settlement):
Benjamin Netanyahu, pointed a finger at the Palestinian Authority, blaming it for what he described as incitement in the mosques and by the Palestinian Authority-controlled news media. According to a statement by his office, Mr. Netanyahu said, “A society that permits such wild incitement is one that eventually brings about the murder of children.”
The PA does not have any responsibility for this area as it is outside Area C, the only territory the PA does control and patrol. In fact, Haaretz today makes clear that a major ISRAELI security breach and communications snafu allowed this grisly series of murders.
This killer did not kill because anyone on his side told him to. He didn’t kill because of wild incitement, unless you count the tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians killed by the IDF as “wild incitement.” He killed because he has seen his own people slaughtered over the course of decades of Occupation; because he felt himself and his people powerless to do anything about it.
Make no mistake, I do not justify cold-blooded murder as happened in Itamar. But I don’t justify it either in Gaza or Lebanon or on the Mavi Marmara or in Bilin. And I tell you that there will be such cold-blooded murder on both sides until Israel decides it must compromise in order to settle the conflict. So Israel, if you want to elect leaders like Bibi Netanyahu or Ehud Barak or Avigdor Lieberman to lead you–they will lead you through the wasteland of Azazel. You will never get out of it alive. And there will be scores more Itamars along with scores more Cast Leads.
Not to mention scores more settler “payback” attacks on neighboring Palestinian population centers like Nablus. No doubt Palestinians (aside from the actual killers and those who assisted them who will be hunted like dogs and killed without mercy) will die in the coming days. For the settlers like the Palestinian terrorists believe the only answer to such murder is counter-murder. Get ready for the death cycle, the tit for tat of blood for blood.
And lest the Israeli right think that tragedies like these will increase support for their nationalist cause, they are wrong. Yes, there will be momentary upswell of sympathy and anger on behalf of the settlers and the victims. But this will be followed by general revulsion by many moderate individuals including young Jews who will say: I’ve had enough of this. Too much blood. Too much hatred. Let them fight to the death if they want. But I refuse to allow it to have anything to do with me. This is the type of deliberate turning away from Israel that will be the death knell of classical Zionist solidarity.
This article first appeared at Tikun Olam