Both Arabs and Jews recently confronted the wanton murder of children. How each society responded to those heart-breaking events tells us a great deal about the cultural divide between them and why the idea that negotiations could bridge that separation and bring peace is a delusion.
You do not have to share your enemy’s culture, and you do not have to love your enemy. But at some point, at least, you have to transcend your fixation on and self-absorption in your hatred for your enemy. If you are incapable of doing that, then either you have to decimate your enemy or your enemy has to defeat you. You cannot live in a geo-political world of hatred and share a common border without fighting either an unending war of attrition or one war to end the conflict.
The murder of three Israeli teens and an Arab teen and both societies’ disparate reactions to those tragedies inadvertently tell us in graphic detail why peace, which is of the greatest necessity, is impossible.
After the discovery of the bodies of three dead Israeli high school students, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, the Palestinian Authority’s propaganda machine at the United Nations was still busy condemning Israel’s search for the teens. PA representative Riyad Mansour’s statement in Arabic was absent the slightest mention of why Israel security teams were combing the West Bank.
Mansour’s English language version did not fare any better, referring to the “alleged missing settlers,” even as the Israelis were preparing to bury their children.
The PA’s WAFA news agency, followed in tandem, condemned the search not the kidnapping and murders.
The UN also jumped on the Palestinian bandwagon, being more concerned about Israel’s search for the children than the kidnapping itself.
Rachel Frenkel, the mother of Naftali Frenkel, addressed the UN, while hope still existed for finding her son and the others alive. In response, the international body turned a deaf ear to her pleas for greater involvement and continued to repeat the Arab mantra of condemning Israel rather than condemning the kidnappings.
When, on July 2, the burned body of sixteen-year-old Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir was discovered in a forest in West Jerusalem, in what now appears to be a retaliatory murder, Israeli authorities were quick to condemn the heinous act, not even waiting to parse who killed the teen or why.
For any civilized society, the murder of a teen is sufficient grounds for outrage.
When news of the abduction of the Jewish teens reached ordinary Arabs, they distributed sweets in the tradition celebratory manner. In Gaza, they fired guns into the air. Everywhere they were jubilant.
The mother of Abu Aysha, one of the alleged kidnappers, stated “If they [Israel] accuse him of this (the kidnapping), and if it is a true accusation, I will be proud of him until Judgment Day.
Palestinians adapted the three-finger salute popularized by the film The Hunger Games— later used to protest the oppression of the Thai military coup— to express their joy over the killings. When relatives of the kidnapped boys went to the Temple Mount to pray for them, they were greeted by Muslims, including young children, who taunted them with the three-finger salute, calling them names, and interrupting their prayers.
In contrast, there was little joy in Israel upon learning that an Arab teen had been kidnapped and murdered, possibly in retaliation. He was embraced as a tragic victim. His photo was added to those of the three Israeli teens in posters that displayed a common human tragedy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the murder “despicable” and vowed to find the killers. Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat called it a “horrible and barbaric act.” Israelis organized a rally against hate in Jerusalem and thousands showed.
When amid the discovery of the Israeli teens’ bodies, seven Israeli soldiers posted messages of incitement on social media, they were jailed, something that would never happen in the Palestinian Authority, let alone, in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Perhaps, the strongest statement came from Kay Wilson, a Jewish victim of a Hamas attack, who had been stabbed thirteen times and miraculously survived. Her friend, Kristine Luken, who was attacked in the same incident, did not. Wilson tweeted, “My heart is with them,” in support for the family of the murdered Arab teen.
Suha Abu Khdeir, the mother of the murdered Arab teen, however, called openly for revenge even as retaliatory riots and arson engulfed parts of Israel.
Yishai Frenkel, the uncle of the murdered Israeli teen said about the murder of Abu Khedir, “There is no difference between blood and blood.” Frenkel went on to add, “A murderer is a murderer, no matter his nationality and age. There is no justification, no forgiveness, and no atonement for any murder.”
Frenkel showed humanity. Abu Khdeir’s mother threw gasoline on the flames of incitement burning in suburban east Jerusalem.
If, indeed, Jews did murder Abu Khdeir in an act of revenge, there will not only be an absence of celebration, there will also be a sense of shame and shared grief, something the Palestinians as a community have not exhibited over the murder of the Israelis.
While Israelis rallied by the thousands on July 3 in Tel Aviv to end any incitement, the Palestinian Authority was inciting violence and provoking young men with rocks and firebombs to go into the streets to face Israeli troops in a confrontation that puts people on both sides in harm’s way.
Israel too has its zealots. This is not a zero/sum relationship. Some Israeli teens acted despicably in response to the murder of the three Israelis, and it now seems that some ultranationalists might have been involved in the death of Abu Khdeir. However, when we speak of communities, of values, of the embrace of life over death, there is an ineluctable difference, a contrast of one society valuing life, everyone’s life, and another obsessed with death.
Um Nidal, the mother of the struggle, sent three of her six sons on suicide missions. She is now a much lauded member of the Hamas’ parliament. She announced with pride that she is ready to send the other three.
If a Jewish mother acted like this, she would be considered criminally insane, and the state would seize her children for their protection. That poignantly sums up the cultural difference that will never be bridged across a negotiating table.