The Israeli-Palestinian revenge cycle, take two

Hatred, anger, and desires for revenge are being driven ever higher by the dynamic of unequal violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Ammar Awad/Reuters
Israeli Arabs take part in a protest in the northern city of Acre July 7. The abduction and killing of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khudair has touched off clashes between police and stone-throwing Arab protesters in East Jerusalem and in several Arab villages in northern and southern Israel.

On June 30, the day that three missing Israeli teens were confirmed dead I wrote a short post titled "After three Israeli teens found dead will the revenge cycle be ratcheted up?"

I suggested that calls for revenge from Israeli politicians and citizens, the roundup of hundreds of Hamas members and other Palestinians, and the deaths of at least five Palestinians during the Israeli hunt for the abductees would lead to an increase in violence. The post received a flood of condemnation via emails and social media, calling me an Israel hater, an anti-semite, and pretty much a callous monster.

What struck these respondents as particularly outrageous was my breakdown of the death toll on both sides in recent years. How dare I analyze the long-running conflict by suggesting that Israeli and Palestinian lives are somehow comparable? And the notion that Israelis might pursue revenge indiscriminately against Palestinians was cited as proof of my bias and lack of regard for the facts. 

Here is the offending section:

Against the death toll of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these deaths [of the three teens] are just a drop in the bucket. From 2000-2007, a period that includes the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, 4,228 Palestinians were killed and 1,024 Israelis were killed. Of these, 971 of the dead were children or teens, and about 854 of these Palestinian.

Though the situation has generally been less violent in recent years, the killing on both sides continues. Late 2008 and early 2009 saw Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" in Gaza, in response to militant rocket fire, which resulted in about 1,400 Palestinians dead and four Israeli dead. Of the Palestinian dead, 345 were children or teens. Since that operation ended, 571 Palestinians were killed and 25 Israelis were killed through May of this year. Of the Palestinian dead in that period, 84 were children or teens and five were Israeli children or teens.

I have absolutely no regrets about pointing to these facts.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is filled with hate on both sides. This is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. And yet, to point out that one side suffers disproportionately – the side that is the weaker of the two and doesn't have a state of its own – is treated by many in Israel and among its friends abroad as the height of bias.

This attitude is one of the reasons why the revenge cycle I highlighted a week ago is now heading into overdrive. Here's how it works. Palestinians in the West Bank hate the occupation, particularly mass arrests by Israeli forces and Israel's use of collective punishment. That hatred fueled the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens who were hitchhiking in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli response was to blame collectively Fatah and Hamas, arrest hundreds in the West Bank, and kill at least five more Palestinians as it sought for the teens' killers. An expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank was also announced as a form of punishment. Then, as we know now, a Palestinian teen was kidnapped from his home in East Jerusalem and apparently burned to death by Israelis.

And as Israel has continued to turn the screws on Hamas, the Islamist movement has lashed out with rocket strikes from Gaza, which have so far killed no Israelis. The Israeli military response has killed at least 11 Palestinians so far – most, but not all, militants. The focus among Palestinians will be on the latest civilian casualties, driving more anger, more ineffectual Palestinian attacks, and deadlier Israeli responses.

There is a sort of an addiction to the revenge cycle in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and with each rotation the hatred grows deeper and the risk of escalation reaching true breaking point increases. 

One former Israeli security chief, Yuval Diskin, thinks that time may be near. Diskin was the head of the Shin Bet from 2005-2011 and pulls no punches in a post he made on his public Facebook page about Israel's role in its own insecurity.

I see the severe and rapid deterioration of the security situation in the territories, Jerusalem and the Triangle and I’m not surprised. Don’t be confused for a moment. This is the result of the policy conducted by the current government, whose essence is: Let’s frighten the public over everything that’s happening around us in the Middle East, let’s prove that there’s no Palestinian partner, let’s build more and more settlements and create a reality that can’t be changed, let’s continue not dealing with the severe problems of the Arab sector in Israel, let’s continue not solving the severe social gaps in Israeli society. This illusion worked wonderfully as long as the security establishment was able to provide impressive calm on the security front over the last few years as a result of the high-quality, dedicated work of the people of the Shin Bet, the IDF and the Israel Police as well as the Palestinians whose significant contribution to the relative calm in the West Bank should not be taken lightly.

However, the rapid deterioration we’re experiencing in the security situation did not come because of the vile murder of Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad, may their memories be blessed. The deterioration is first and foremost a result of the illusion that the government’s inaction on every front can actually freeze the situation in place, the illusion that “price tag” is simply a few slogans on the wall and not pure racism, the illusion that everything can be solved with a little more force, the illusion that the Palestinians will accept everything that’s done in the West Bank and won’t respond despite the rage and frustration and the worsening economic situation, the illusion that the international community won’t impose sanctions on us, that the Arab citizens of Israel won’t take to the streets at the end of the day because of the lack of care for their problems, and that the Israeli public will continue submissively to accept the government’s helplessness in dealing with the social gaps that its policies have created and are worsening, while corruption continues to poison everything good, and so on and so on

... What’s been happening in the last few days can get much worse — even if things calm down momentarily. Don’t be fooled for a moment, because the enormous internal pressure will still be there, the combustible fumes in the air won’t diminish.

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