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An open letter to the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir

As Israel and the Palestinians descend further into open violence, concerned Israelis challenge their fellow citizens in an attempt to forge a joint Israel-Palestinian resistance to violence. 

(Translated from Hebrew by Idit Arad and Matan Kaminer)

Our hands shed this blood, our hands set Mohammed Abu Khdeir on fire, our hands fanned the flames. We have been living here for too long to claim that we did not know, we did not understand, we were not able to foresee. We witnessed the actions of the vast machine of incitement to racism and revenge operated by the government, the politicians, the educational system and the media. We watched Israeli society become neglected and poor, until the call to violence in all its forms became an outlet for many, fighting for their place in the margins of society, teenagers and adults alike. We saw how the meaning of being Jewish was emptied and sharply reduced to nationalism, militarism, a struggle for land, hatred of gentiles, shameful exploitation of the Holocaust and the “Teaching of the King.”

More than anything, we witnessed how the State of Israel, through its various governments, has passed racist laws, enacted discriminatory policies, labored to enshrine the occupation regime, preferring ongoing violence and victims on both sides rather than a peaceful agreement.

Palestinians carry the body of Muhammed Abu Khdeir through the streets of Shuafat. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinians carry the body of Muhammed Abu Khdeir through the streets of Shuafat. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Our hands shed this blood, and we wish to express our condolences and our pain to the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who are experiencing an unthinkable loss, and to the Palestinian people as a whole. We oppose the occupation policy of the government and we are against the violence, racism and incitement that exist in Israeli society. We refuse to gave our Jewishness identified with it, a Jewishness that includes the words of the rabbi of Tripoli and Aleppo, the wise Hezekiah Shabtai who said: “Love thy neighbor as thy self” (Leviticus xviii).

This love of one another does not only refer to the love of one Jew or Israeli for another, but to also loving our neighbors who are not Jews. It instructs us to co-exist with them through love, and pursue their safety and welfare. That is not only what common sense tells us, but also the holy Torah, which commands us to go about our lives in a pleasant manner, despite and in the face of the state’s actions and the words of our official representatives.

Contrary to the prohibition of murder in Judaism and Islam, our hands shed this blood. We therefore pledge to continue our struggle inside Israeli society – Jews and Palestinians together – in order to change society from within, to fight its militarization and bring forth an awareness of those who are in the minority and therefore victims of this militarization. We will fight against the choice to pursue war, the indifference to the rights and lives of Palestinians, and the continued favoring of Jews within the cycle of violence.

We shall strive to offer a human bond – a bond that is political, cultural, historical, Israeli-Palestinian and Jewish-Arab; a bond that can in part be reached through the history of many of us who are Jews of Arab origins and, as such, members of the Arab world. Our way is that of a struggle for civil equality and economic change, on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed groups in our society: Arabs, Ethiopians, Mizrahim (Jews of Arab descent), women, the religious, migrant workers, refugees and many more.

On the face of it, the stronger side in the conflict has the ability to use nonviolence to break down the racist regime and the cycle of violence. In the face of the complacency of many Israelis, we seek to lead nonviolently, while they prefer to allow the regime of injustice and the cycle of violence to remain in place, and expect “solutions” to somehow spring out of this never-ending merry-go-round of violence – its current face being the war against Gaza – thus bringing only more death and calls for revenge from both sides of the fence and pushing any sort of agreement further away.

Right-wing protesters shouting slogans at Palestinians during riots that irrupted following the finding of the bodies of three teenaged settlers near Halhul, West Jerusalem, July 1st, 2014. The riots broke during the funerals of Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16-year-old, that were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank. A few right-wing persons were arrested during the riots. (Tali Mayer/Activestills.org)

Right-wing protesters shouting slogans at Palestinians during riots that irrupted following the finding of the bodies of three teenaged settlers near Halhul, West Jerusalem, July 1, 2014 (Tali Mayer/Activestills.org)

Our hands shed this blood, and our wish is to create a joint civil fight with any Palestinian group that wishes to join us in our struggle against the occupation, against the violence of the occupation regime, against the disregard of Palestinian human rights. This will be a fight for an end to the occupation, either through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the Palestinian territories or through the creation of a single state in which we will all be equal citizens.

Our hands shed this blood. By saying so out loud in our society we are forever accused by the nationalistic propaganda of being one-sided, of condemning only Israel’s crimes and not those committed by the Palestinians. To this we reply first and foremost: he who supports or justifies the killing of Palestinians by extension supports – and in fact encourages – the killing of Israeli Jews. In the same vein, he who supports or justifies the killing of Israeli Jews supports and encourages the killing of Palestinians. The wheel of revenge is large and fast moving, but we are against any form of violence, and seek a nonviolent solution to this violent situation.

Objecting to Netanyahu’s ways does not necessarily mean support for Hamas; the reality is not dichotomous. Other options exist on the axis between Netanyahu and Hamas. Furthermore, we must emphasize that we are Israeli citizens and the center of our lives is in Israel. Therefore, our main criticism is that of Israeli society, which we seek to repair. These murderers came from among us. There are, of course, grounds on which one can criticize other societies. Nevertheless, we think that every person’s duty is to first examine closely and critically the society in which he or she lives and only after so doing to apply this approach to other societies. If we were Palestinians we may have turned our efforts to criticism of Palestinian society, and perhaps we would have tried to create a left-wing alternative to its current regime.

We are aware of the criticism that exists within Palestinian society of its rulers. Sadly, support of such criticism by us, the citizens of the occupying state, does not always help the growth of such voices within Palestinian society. We are also aware of the lack of symmetry between the State of Israel, which is a regional military and economic occupying power, and Palestinian society, which suffers from an inward split, has no independence and which is under Israeli military control in a state of occupation.

An Israeli mobile artillery piece sits near the Gaza border, July 13, 2014.

An Israeli mobile artillery piece sits near the Gaza border, July 13, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

Our hands shed this blood, and we know most of the innocent Palestinians murdered over the last 66 years by Israeli Jews did not receive due justice. Their murderers were not arrested, tried, or put in jail, unlike the six Israeli Jewish youngsters suspected in the murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir. Most innocent Palestinians were killed by men in uniform, sent by the government, the army, the police or the secret services. When these men have killed innocents, whether from the air, with artillery or on the ground, this has sometimes been defined as a “human error” or a “technical glitch”. Reference to them included only a faint apology (such cases were rarely investigated and mostly end with no indictments, and simply dissolve into thin air). Most are ignored by law enforcement agencies, the military and the media. The unique speed with which the suspects were apprehended this time is due to the fact that these murderers, like those of the Jewish Underground (who were quickly pardoned), like Ami Popper, Baruch Goldstein etc., were not in uniform. With the exception of the soldiers convicted of the Kufr Qasem massacre in 1956, who spent no more than a year in prison, military personnel in Israel have seldom been tried for such crimes, including in the cases of the worst atrocities.

Our hands shed that blood, and even now, when Benjamin Netanyahu wishes to express his condolences and to condemn the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, he does so in the same breath, expressing a racist and dangerous claim of Israel’s moral superiority over its neighbors: “There is no place for such murderers in our society. In that we stand apart from our neighbors. In their society murderers are seen as heroes and have squares named after them. But this is not the only difference. We prosecute those who incite to hatred, whilst in the Palestinian Authority incitement is carried out by the official media and the education system, calling by large for Israel’s destruction.”

Left-wing activists during a protest in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with right-wing nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists with little police interference. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Left-wing activists during a protest in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with right-wing nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists with little police interference. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Netanyahu forgot that several individuals suspected of being war criminals served in various Israeli governments, some under his very leadership, and that the number of innocent people murdered in the last 66 years of the conflict paints a very different picture. When we look at the numbers of Jewish Israelis and Palestinians killed, we find that the number is much higher for Palestinians.

Netanyahu also forgets, or tries to make us forget, the widespread incitement propagated by his own government in recent weeks, and his own words on revenge after the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped Jewish teens – Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah – when all of us were in deep shock: “The revenge for the blood of a small child has not yet been created by the devil, nor the revenge of the blood of such young and pure boys.” There were those who interpreted the “blood revenge” in terms of an eye for an eye, and a child for a child, the logic of which would leave us all blind, orphaned and bereaved.

Our hands shed this blood, and instead of declaring days of fasting, mourning and repentance, the government has now decided to go on a military operation in Gaza, which it terms “Operation Protective Edge.” We call on the government to stop this operation at once and to strive for calm and for a peaceful agreement, something that the Israeli government has opposed in recent years. Gaza is the history of all of us; it is the oblivion of our history too. It is the most painful place in Palestine and Israel, and in its very cemetery is buried the poet Rabbi Israel Najara, who may well be chanting from the heavens words in defense of both us and the Palestinians. Gaza consists of mainly refugees displaced from the coast in 1948, and since 1967 its inhabitants have built up many of the houses that are now being bombed.

In the Israeli development towns all around Gaza lives a population of mostly Jewish refugees from the Arab world and their descendants. They were forced to leave their countries of origin after the War of Independence in 1948, in the operation poetically labeled “From the ship to the village.” As they arrived on the shores of Israel, they were transported in trucks at night directly to those development towns. They did not stop in the center of the country, lest they remain there. In the south they worked in the fields and factories of the southern kibbutzim and moshavim surrounding the development towns. Gaza has been endless wars and invasions since the war of 1948: retaliations, 1956, 1967, the invasion of Ariel Sharon in 1970 and again in 1987, 2000, 2009, 2012 and 2014.

Family and friends of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, three Israeli teenagers who were abducted over two weeks ago, take part in their funeral in the city of Modiin, Israel, Tuesday, July 1, 2014.  Tens of thousands of mourners arrived ro Modiin in central Israel for a funeral service for three teenagers found dead in the West Bank after a two week searches, raids and arrests in the West Bank, as Israel accused Hamas of abducting and killing the young men. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Family and friends of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, three Israeli teenagers who were abducted over two weeks ago, take part in their funeral in the city of Modiin, Israel, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Gaza is our hopelessness. Our common origins seem to be pushed further and further away: after 40 years of possibility for a painful historic compromise between the two national movements, Palestinian and Zionist, this option is gradually evaporating. The conflict is being reinterpreted in mythological and theological terms, in terms of revenge and avenging that revenge, and all we can promise our children is many more wars for generations to come, spreading the killing amongst both peoples, and the building of an apartheid regime that will require even more decades to dismantle.

Our hands shed this blood, and we think we must examine together our common, bloody and tragic 100-year history in a global context. At the beginning of the conflict, European colonialism was at its height. It captured large parts of Asia and Africa, economically and militarily exploiting the people it occupied. It treated the occupied cultures as inferior and primitive, and massacred many, many of its subjects. Following that, many nationalistic movements, even in countries just freed from colonialism, adopted violence as a guiding principle and sought to “cleanse” their national territory of those they considered foreigners. They did so on the grounds of race, nationality, religion, ethnicity and culture, thus bringing on themselves a continuous state of war.

We seek to work against this tendency in world history. Through the various communities of our society: Jews and Palestinians, Arabs and Israelis, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, traditional, religious, secular and orthodox. We choose to oppose the walls, separation, dispossession, deportations, racism and colonization, and to offer a joint and common future as an alternative to the present depressive, oppressive and violent state of our society. We wish to build a future that does not surrender to the cycle of violence and revenge but in its place offers justice, reparation, peace and equality; a future that draws on the common elements of our cultures, humanity and religious traditions so that our hands will no longer shed blood but will have the opportunity to reach out to one another in peace, with the help of god, Insha’Allah.

Signatories:

Orly Noy, Yossi Dahan, Inbal Jamshed, Yossi Granovsky, Eliana Almog, Eyal Sagi Bizawi, Varda Horesh, Herzl Cohen, Sivan Shtang, Yossi Vazana, Dori Manor, Yardena Hamo, Itay Kander, Avri Herling, Michal Chacham, Mirit Arbel, Yoav Moshe, Avi – Ram Zoref, Sa’ar Gershon, Yotam Kadosh, Tziki Eisenberg, Noam Gal, Amit Lavi, Sarit Ofek, Mati Shmuelof, Andre Levy, Chico Bahar, Naama Kti’i, Ronnie Karni, Tal Gilboa, Rebecca Mondlak, Arnon Levy, Noam Ben-Horin, Avtasham Barakat, Udi Aloni, Diana Danielle – Schramm, Yoram Meltzer, Rami Adot, Chamutal Guri, David China Woolf, Izzy Wolf, Yael Aharonov, Yonathan Mizrachi, Naama Sason, Idan Cohen, Zvi Ben – Dor Banit, Inbal Eshel – Chahansky, Matan Kaminer, Yotam Schwimmer, Hagit Mermelstein, Asaf Philip, Aliza Weston, Eli Bar, Dafna Hirsch, Yael Ben Yefet, Maya Spector-Behar, Erez Yosef, Yael Golan, Noa Eshel, Efrat Shani – Shitrit, Sigal Primor, Aviad Markowitz, Ilona Pinto, Tamar Novick, Dganit ElKayam – Cassuto, Alimi Sarah, Itai Snir, Diana Achdut, Liron Mor, Yoni Silver, Or Shemesh, Gal Levy, Dana Kaplan, Daniel Shoshan, Ziv Yamin, Michal Nitzan Re’ut Bendriam, Yuval Ayalon, Yuli Cohen, Oren Agmon, collected Ja’akobowicz, Jonathan Vadai, Michal Goren, Eli Oshorov, Yuval Dreyer – Shilo, Tal Shefi, Yehuda Ben-el, Moran Tal, Nurit Ben-Zvi, Eli Shmueli, Dalit Metzger, Menashe Anzi, Meir Amor, Shoshi Shamir, Eran Kalimil Misheiker, Noa Heine, Sahar Shalev, Eli Edelman, Ran Segev, Albert Swissa, Sergio Yachni, Roy Hassan, Zilla Zalt, Mazal Moyal Cohen, Abigail Eren Hozen,, Efrat Issachar, Shlomit Carmeli, Uri Ben – Dov, Tamar Mokady, Yahav Zohar, Yif’al Bistri, Yair Meyuchas, Rony Mazal, Odelia Goldratt, Idit Arad, Eldad Zion, Yotam Cohen, Noa Mazur, MIchali Bror, Or Barkat, Oz Rothbart, Esther Attar, Ronit Bachar Shachar, Adi Keysar, Ela Gringoz, Noga Eitan, Tamar Saraf, Hila Chipman, Yegev Bochshatav, Tomer lavi, Roni Henig, Vered Kupiz, Shai Shabtai, Yael Gviraz, Tamar Achiron, Gai Ayal, Hagit Bachar Morris, Amira Hass, Avraham Oz, Yael Barda,  Moti Fogel, Pnina Mozpi- Haaller, Yuval Ivri, Almog Behar.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

Related:
Let’s talk about Gaza, Sderot and the racist devaluation of lives
‘Our’ murderers – what would Arendt and Buber say?

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    COMMENTS

    1. Arb

      !. Did this group write a similar letter after the three Israeli kids were kidnapped?

      2. Why do I have a suspicion that if they wrote that letter, it would be exactly the same as this one, and still directed at criticizing Israel and not the Palestinians.

      3. Your hands did indeed shed this blood. Support of Palestinians and incessant criticism of Israel has brought about great divisions in Israeli society and has sharpened them. One could also argue that as the Palestinians have gotten stronger diplomatically and across many societies around the world, this is due in large part to their Israeli helpers – propagandists and activists who make a living (and do it out of passion) criticizing Israel and absolving the Palestinians. The sense that many Israelis have as a consequence, particularly those on the right, is that they are under constant attack. This is why they are lashing out now. Would they be doing it otherwise? Quite possibly no.

      4. The lunacy of this letter, and I use that word deliberately, is that as one looks around the shambles of the rest of the Middle East and compares it to Israel, one can’t avoid shaking one’s head at the mea culpa of the authors. To remind them, Israelis of all stripes, among them many right-wing politicians and certainly the PM, President and President Elect, all denounced the murder of Abu Khdeir in the most critical terms and the security forces treated it like terrorism.

      Reply to Comment
      • Craig Vale

        Re: The aftermath of the three innocent Israeli boys being brutally murdered had Bibi taking to the airwaves wagging his accusatory finger at Hamas. To this very day not an iota of evidence has been presented by the PM to back his claim. I have no doubt the boys were slaughtered by Palestinians but Hamas who usually gloats about their activities were silent on taking the credit for these murders. I rather suspect a rouge element took it upon themselves to commit the deed. It is also interesting to note that while many news outlets point to these horrific murders as the incendiary for the current crisis, over 60 Palestinians had been killed by settlers or the IDF since the new year. So as to motive we never see in the press what provoked that rouge element to seek revenge on these innocent children.The right wingers want us to assume it happened in a vacuum.
        Hasbara has for several decades had complete control of the narrative coming out of the ME. Palestinians are ALWAYS the bad guys and Israeli’s the perennial victims of Palestinian terror. Israel’s policy of Lebensraum goes on uninterrupted like a stage four cancer eating up more and more land once the domain of the Palestinians and the Western press rarely covers what for most Palestinians in the underlying issue behind the violence.
        Now we have clear indications of Israel becoming an apartheid state, hell bent on ethnically cleansing the area as demographers know the burgeoning population of their ” enemy” will produce numbers not consistent will their risible claim that Israel is a democracy and representative of it population.
        Now we see four kids dead on a beach, targeted by a navy destroyer some miles off shore and Arutz Sheva’s front page on the web has not a single mention of these ” innocent’s” who are seemingly murdered for sport. Killing Gazan’s is easier than shooting fish in a barrel and now it has become a spectator sport as Israeli’s sit on the hills over looking the Gaza and cheer as plumes of black smoke rise in the distance. ” Wow, we win again” shouts the assembled crowd. A pyrric victory yet again.

        Reply to Comment
    2. whiplash

      The first paragraph of this rant says:

      “As Israel and the Palestinians descend further into open violence, concerned Israelis challenge their fellow citizens and appeal for introspection and reconciliation in an attempt to forge a joint Israeli-Palestinian resistance to violence.”

      What follows is hardly an appeal for introspection or reconciliation. It is another rant “Israel is bad and always has been bad”. If there was to be introspection, the writers would have needed to examine violence on the Palestinian side. Such introspection would have shown that Arabs and Palestinians have being killing Jews since 1920 because they were Jews and Jews have had to defend themselves against Arab and Palestinian aggression non stop for the last 94 years.

      Unless Palestinian violence, and the never ending incitement to violence, is dealt with there will be no reconciliation.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Jeffrey Ellis

      Your letter is passionate and heartfelt, no doubt. But it is factually incorrect.

      Neither Ami Popper nor Baruch Goldstein were pardoned. Popper has been in prison, since 1990. He will not be eligible for parole until 2023. Baruch Goldstein was killed immediately after his crime and a shrine created for him by Israeli extremists was bulldozed by the Israeli government, which considers him a terrorist.
      I oppose Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. I also condemn the official and popular reverence — street celebrations, school and public square namings — for Palestinian terrorists who have done nothing else than deliberately slaughter Jewish civilians.

      It is fair to criticize and condemn the government of Israel for its actions and policies, but it is wrong to falsify the facts and ignore the wrongdoings of the opposing side in this violent conflict.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yochanan

        The letter doesn’t say they were pardoned, it says members of the Jewish Underground were. The letter is incorrect in stating that they were not in uniform, as in fact both were, but they had stolen it (Popper) or wore it while on reserve duty (Goldstein), so the point being made (that they were apprehended because they were murdering without state permission) still stands.

        Reply to Comment