Kidnap Denial: Blaming the Victim of Tragedy

I had trouble sleeping last night. Three families are wounded beyond measure. I saw loving kindness in them. And I saw people who openly blamed them, at their hour of unimaginable pain, for the murders of their own children.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Mourners light candles for the three teens in Elad, June 29, 2014.
Mourners light candles for the three teens in Elad, June 29, 2014.
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

Three teens are dead. Families are wounded beyond measure.

There is no solace here. There is no healing here. There is no learning here, and therefore there is no lesson.

No revenge will do them honor.

We have seen something rare in these families, a quality of chesed, of loving kindness, that we sorely miss in this place and time. We look on kindness with suspicion. We see suffering and ferocity, and all too often we choose to fight ferocity with ferocity.

We have leaders who offer us no future. They counsel bitterness. And so we learn nothing. We move nowhere. We nurse pain.

Underlying everything, now and perhaps for as long as these two peoples shall live - there is a blood feud. There is nothing else.

All around, at every microphone, at every inbox, there are people using every means to bend a tragedy to their own ends, their personal and institutional biases, uses, causes, fund drives. A crime has been committed, and in its wake, perverse misdemeanors of exploitation.

When the bodies were discovered, even before there was time to notify the families, activists on both extremes took it upon themselves to do what they have done so often and so well over the last 18 days:

Kidnap Denial.

Pick an extreme. On the extreme that despises Israel to death, the primary form which kidnap denial takes, is literal. "The bodies of three missing Israeli teens - Gil-Ad Shaer,16, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19 – were found today in a West Bank field near the village of Halhul, not far from where they went missing on June 12," wrote Adam Horowitz, co-editor of the avowedly anti-Israel, in a tone passive enough to cast or reinforce doubt – much in evidence in some pro-Palestinian circles - as to whether a crime had been committed at all.

The next form – a litmus test for a certain form of racism on the hard left - is the idea that the three murder victims had it coming to them.

When one Mondoweiss reader asked “Can’t we be sympathetic to three mothers who lost their children without trampling on their graves?” a second reader was quick to respond:

"No. When have the Zionist Jews been sympathetic to the mothers of dead Palestinians??? When they begin, then the feeling should be reciprocated. Until then it simply plays into the bigoted Zionist narrative.

"And more specifically, I don’t have pity for these parents, I hold them in contempt. If they were not willing participants in the theft and occupation of Palestine, their kids would not be dead. But they loved their demonic ideology more than they loved their children."

When the first reader suggested "I think the appropriate response at a time like this is a simple, 'I’m sorry for your loss,' the second reader replied that "since this people have never treated the Palestinians with basic human decency, I say to hell with them."

On the extreme of the hard right, meanwhile, kidnap denial took the form of taking a tragic and hideous incident, and putting it to work for divisive, extremist political objectives, often with overtones of racism against Palestinians in particular and Arabs as a whole.

Minutes after the announcement of the discovery of the bodies, far-right Likud MK Ze'ev Elkin, chair of the key Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, capped a wish-list of possible anti-Hamas measures with the following:

"The thing which hurts the Palestinians the most, and you know this excellently well, is [settlement] construction," he told Israel Channel 10 News. "Building in Hebron, in the place from which the murderers came, in order to strengthen the Jewish settlement there, and building on the place where the bodies were found."

There were other suggestions as well. Wrote Alan Bergstein, quoted on the far-right Israel Commentary website:

"Not being a citizen of Israel, I can only hope that they will clean out the Arab residents of Hebron, where the kidnappers lived, and Gaza, from where rockets are now bombarding Israel, and send them packing into Arab controlled countries for permanent relocation."

There's a name for blaming all members of a group for the actions of a few. Whatever the target group, and no matter how religious or right-on the person who preaches collective guilt and advocates collective punishment, it comes out the same: racism.

It's racist if the only murders and unwarranted deaths you acknowledge, are the ones committed against your side. It's racist to suggest, as we do all too often on both sides, that the other had it coming to them.

It's racist if all you can say about the murder of three Israeli teens is that other Israelis are screaming "Death to Arabs" – at a time when what is actually happening across Israel is characterized by genuine grieving, introspection and respectful measures of mourning.

It's racist to believe that the lives of Palestinian families are not crushed by the death of a child in bombing raids or blunt-force, live-fire riot control.

I had trouble sleeping last night. I saw the faces of three teens, their families wounded beyond measure. I saw loving kindness in them. And I saw people who openly blamed them, at their hour of unimaginable pain, for the murders of their own children.

Thousands rally in Tel Aviv in solidarity with kidnapped Israeli teenagers, June 29, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod

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