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The Murder of an Arab Youth and Israel’s Responsibility

by Shmuel Rosner

July 2, 2014 | 5:32 am

"A good Arab is a dead Arab" and "Kahane lives," reads the graffiti sprayed on a Jerusalem mosque. Photo by Reuters

We don't yet know what happened in the case involving the alleged kidnapping and the certain violent death of a Palestinian teen. The Israeli police has been asked to swiftly investigate the event, but investigations don't always conclude as quickly as policy makers would like them to, and in the meanwhile the Palestinian public and leadership are blaming Israel for the murder. "The Israeli government bears responsibility for Jewish terrorism and for the kidnapping and murder in occupied Jerusalem," Fatah official Dmitry Diliani said.

It is noteworthy that Israel was quick to respond and look into the matter. It is also important to remember that there have been cases in which Palestinian claims of settler violence ended up being made up stories, or worse (there have also been cases in which settlers were blamed for what later proved to be internal Palestinian killings). It is good that Israeli ministers from both the right and the left promptly expressed their vehement denunciation of violence against Arabs, that they were not shy about expressing shock and disgust and outrage.

Israel, PM Netanyahu reminded Israelis, is a country of law and order. I hope this is not an act of revenge for the slaying of the three Israeli teens, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said. The Israeli government as a whole surely hopes it isn't, and not just for the obvious reasons that cynics might list: the loss of international sympathy following the funeral of the Israeli teens, the ramifications it will have on Israel's ability to act against Hamas or other Palestinian targets, the impact such an act would have on BDS drives etc. No, Israeli ministers – and the Israeli public - are disturbed by the possibility of such a horrid act not just because of political calculations.

Some damage has already been done. Some news agencies were careful to describe the events as "possible" revenge, others chose "apparent revenge attack". The Palestinians demanded quick condemnation – and got it. Of course, there's still reason to worry about how such an act might affect Israel's image. But there is even more reason to worry about what it does to Israel. What it might do to the solidarity of recent weeks, to the sense of just cause that Israelis – most of them – share.

Truth must be told, and it is a painful and disturbing one: Even if it turns out that it is blameless in this case, Israel's handling of its right wing radicals thus far has not been convincing enough. Not that anyone expected a kidnapping and murder from any of these radicals. Not that anyone would turn a blind eye in case of such a dreadful possibility. And yet – and yet – it is time for Israel to not only swiftly investigate the murder but to also swiftly and aggressively deal with its outlaws. Not that it is easy, or uncomplicated. It's very complicated. It is also essential, and possibly more so than Israelis have realized thus far. Adherents of a right wing ideology who believe in maintaining law and order should be the first ones to demand such action.

In the coming days, if the worst case scenario turns out to be true, Israeli spokespersons will rightly highlight the fact that Israel battles against extremism, that no official condones violent acts of citizens, that the state condemns acts of terrorism by Jews as well as Arabs, that this was a spontanious type of violent outburst, that there is no institutionalized terror acceptable to the government. This is all true, and it is all insufficient. Israel has to do more to curb violent acts by Jews against Arabs. It should do more to prevent a mob from harassing innocent residents of Jerusalem. Yesterday, no less than 47 participants of such mob action were detained by Israel's police as they were attempting to attack Arab Jerusalemites. How these hooligans will be treated by the police, the prosecution, and the courts will be an important indication of Israel's seriousness about battling its mobs of bullies. How such hooligans have been treated in the past will rightly be examined as Israel claims it is innocent in the murder of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir.

Should Israel be blamed for the atrocity? Should it be blamed for murder (if this turns out to be a murder committed by Israelis), should it be blamed for the mob? The answer is not a resounding no. Israel should not be blamed for malice - but accusations of possible negligence might be harder to dismiss. 

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