And Now for the Zionist Response

No punishment imposed on the kidnappers, not even a death sentence, will be able to cool the fervor of commemoration by real estate - an eye for an eye, a settlement for a settler.

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A settler, 2012. The value of this novel by Assaf Gavron ‏is anthropological, driven by literary observation and romantic isolation.
A settler.Credit: Pavel Wohlberg

Three citizens who are murdered send a sharp pain to the chest. Three teenagers murdered in a kidnapping engender a national drama.

A terror attack that ends in murder is a sudden event that drops from the collective memory in the blink of an eye, leaving a personal tragedy for the victims’ families. In comparison, a kidnapping contains a uniquely loathsome stage — the stage of hope, even when it is futile: Maybe the kidnapped people will be found, maybe someone will present a list of demands, show signs of life, start negotiations that will spark a political and military debate.

There is another big difference between the two kinds of attacks. The victims of “ordinary” murder are usually unknown. They build awareness of the collective price claimed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the national bottom line of profit and loss. Kidnappings become tangible milestones because of the time they give the public to get to know the victims intimately. They supposedly represent the personal price that each individual is liable to pay. What is “public” becomes “private.”

How many of us remember the names of the victims of terror attacks? In comparison, the names of Avi Sa’adon, Ilan Sasportas, Nahshon Wachsman, Gilad Shalit and even Elhanan Tennenbaum are engraved deep in the public consciousness. While the “ordinary” victims belong to their families, the kidnapping victims are national property. After the 2002 terror attack at the Park Hotel in Netanya, the army embarked on Operation Defensive Shield, and Operation Brother’s Keeper was born of the kidnapping of the three boys. In the former case, the attack, not the victims, was the pretext for the operation. In the latter case, the victims were Israel's brothers and turned it into a bereaved country not just in the national sense but in the sense of family as well.

In other circumstances, the differences between terror and kidnapping would have no significance. But then come the right-wingers, and they of all people are the ones who sketch out the line separating national and communal bereavement. Two days ago, the chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Zeev Elkin, suggested establishing a community at the spot where the boys’ bodies were found. In the meantime, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has contented himself with calling for a “proper Zionist response” — well-known code for building more settlements and adding thousands more housing units in the territories. We can estimate with a great deal of confidence that the prime minister will not be far behind. At this stage, nobody will suggest establishing a library in Sderot and naming it after the victims, building a new neighborhood in Be’er Sheva that will bear their name or funding a new hospital wing in Safed in their memory. A proper Zionist response can be fulfilled in only one place — in the territory where the murdered teenagers lived.

From the moment their deaths were announced, they were kidnapped into the settler community in the name of the monopoly on “national responses.” At a time of national mourning, replete with frustration and the desire for vengeance, who would dare stop the bulldozers and cement mixers that will expand the settlements? Who would agree to be the traitor who does not realize that only new apartments will stop the terror attacks and the kidnappings? After all, those who oppose terrorism must be in favor of construction in the territories. Anyone who wants to punish the kidnappers — and who does not? — must expand the country’s borders without delay. Settlements, then, are punishment, revenge, a demonstration of appropriate national feeling. They not only offer sacrifices, but also claim a price for them. From now on, the mourning is theirs alone.

“Ordinary” victims of terror attacks die in vain. They did not protect the homeland or leave behind any national legacy other than fear. They are usually unlucky civilians who were in a terrible place at a bad time. They are always on the losing side, adding another line to the national ledger of losses. Settler victims were given a mission. Their deaths will not be worthless. Awaiting them is a national monument that will draw the country further into the depths. No punishment imposed on the kidnappers, not even a death sentence, will be able to cool the fervor of commemoration by real estate. An eye for an eye, a settlement for a settler.

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