For the past 24 hours I have been gazing at the twinkling eyes and sparkling smile of 20 year old Yael Yekutiel who was killed in the terror attack in Jerusalem on Sunday and brought to rest in Tel Aviv on Monday. One of my daughters goes to the high school from which Yael graduated a few years ago. Another daughter is in the army right now. I can’t begin to comprehend the anguish that Yael’s family or those of the other victims – Shir Hajaj, Shira Tzur and Erez Orbach – must be experiencing. I can’t escape the distressing feeling that there, but for the grace of God, go I.
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All terror victims are equal and their deaths are equally devastating, but as national poet Haim Nachman Bialik wrote over a century ago, the devil has yet to invent suitable revenge for the death of a small child. And while Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott recently admonished Israelis to view Elor Azaria, accused of killing an unarmed terrorist in Hebron, as a soldier and not as the country’s collective child, for their parents, the four victims of Sunday’s attack are still their little boys and girls. I cannot fathom how one recovers from such a devastating loss, how one resists surrender to the pain and the sorrow. And I cannot comprehend how one can ever forgive or empathize with the killers of one’s own child.
That’s why I have no patience right now for some of the people that I normally engage with, who are too quick to point out that technically, the decision of Fadi Ahmad Hamdan Qunbor from the Jerusalem village of Jabal Mukkaber to crush Yael and her friends to death is not terrorism. The fact that they were soldiers or that the attack took place in an area of Jerusalem which is supposedly in dispute or that the Palestinians have a legitimate right to fight the occupation cannot justify what is essentially an act of barbaric cruelty – and inexcusable stupidity.
Palestinian terrorism inflicts untold grief on the victims’ families but also inflames Israeli hatred for Palestinians as a whole. It inevitably leads to harsh reactions on the Israeli side, increasing hardships for the Palestinians themselves and creating the vicious circle that fosters ever more violence and suffering. This may serve some perverted purpose of jihadist groups who thrive on endless enmity and hostility, but it ensures that common people on both sides will continue to live in strife and conflict. It may have become an unrealistic cliché, but one cannot but wonder how Palestinians would have fared over the past fifty years if they had chosen paths of protest and resistance other than violence and bloodshed.
This is true even if one acknowledges the cynical efforts of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others to play up Qunbor’s alleged attachment to ISIS in order to downplay the occupation and its hardships. If Israel is dealing with nihilistic and annihilationist ISIS, then there is no point in alleviating the plight of the Palestinians – it won’t make any difference anyway. The fact that the occupation is immoral, that military occupation has elicited violent resistance since time immemorial, that Israel has faced terrorism for decades or that home-grown terrorists were running over Israelis with cars and trucks way before ISIS was even born is conveniently overlooked in Israel’s eternal quest to absolve itself of culpability and to gloss over its failure to do anything substantial to bring it to an end. Palestinian violence, in this scenario, can only be quelled by force, never eradicated at its source.
Make no mistake: Netanyahu and his coalition have done nothing and will do nothing to try and deal with the frustrations and resentment of 2 to 3 million West Bank Palestinians, most of whom haven’t lived even one day as free people. In his entire career, Netanyahu has never shown a hint of understanding, comprehension or empathy for the Palestinians. In fact, he and his ministers often deny that the occupation exists at all. Netanyahu still dutifully mutters two states for two people, which casts him as a moderate compared to ministers like Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi, who is essentially proposing a permanent apartheid-like arrangement of “autonomous” Bantustans. The prime minister is great at persuading gullible Jewish organizations and Members of Congress in the United States that President Obama’s and John Kerry’s essentially impotent peacemaking efforts are a true threat to Israeli security, thus obfuscating the fact that despite his long years in office he has failed to offer any initiative or solution of his own.
But don’t get me wrong: Palestinians, even though they are the underdogs, are just as much to blame. Even if one recognizes that people living under occupation have the right to resist, that does not include random acts of terror against civilians, which Palestinians have carried out repeatedly, nor does it give them a license to kill Israeli soldiers for no rhyme or reason whatsoever. Although there have been periods in which the Palestinian Authority has made efforts to fight terrorist groups, it has never fully renounced violence, never tried to convince Palestinians to protest in other ways, never convincingly argued that peace will only come through compromise and genuine acceptance of the other. Given the fact that armed resistance has gotten the Palestinians nowhere, it is immoral to continue justifying or tolerating it and it is inexcusable that Palestinians continue to support Hamas, which has offered them nothing but blood, tears and futile hardships.
Israelis and Palestinians have a lot in common, unfortunately: They share the tendency to exonerate themselves and to pin all the blame on the other side. They are masters of self-victimization and thus incapable of empathizing with the other. They are increasingly inclined to choose extremism over moderation, religious fanaticism over secular rationality. They are paralyzed in a self-righteous status quo and are terrified of changing it. And they have both failed to elect leaders courageous enough to describe the logjam, accept responsibility for it and spell out the wrenching compromises that will be needed to break it.
Many people believe that the conflict has passed the point of no return. That leaders on both sides have finally run the two-state solution to the ground. If this is true, then not only will Israel soon face a choice between becoming a non-Jewish democracy or a Jewish apartheid state, but more and more Palestinians will indeed be driven to embrace the genocidal extremes of ISIS and its imitators. Today’s sporadic outbursts of violence will yield to endless atrocities, reprisals and retaliations. Precious sons and daughters – on both sides – will continue to be sacrificed on the altar of rampant arrogance and stupidity. It will be then, as it is now, unforgiveable.