The pain Israelis feel over the three missing boys must be respected, but the fight to end the occupation – including a major BDS effort in America this week – must not stop.
The three boys kidnapped in the West Bank Thursday night are innocent victims. And given their youth (Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaer are both 16, Eyal Yifrah is 19), there’s absolutely no justifying this attack. Youngsters should never be targeted, no matter the political cause.
But while the three boys are innocent and their kidnapping wrong, that doesn’t mean Israel is innocent or right in what it does to the Palestinians; the opposite is the case. Israel is running a military dictatorship in the West Bank, which means Israel shares in the blame for the kidnapping because Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians was at least one of the things, probably the main thing, that provoked it. So ultimately the answer to kidnappings and other acts of terror against Israelis is to end the occupation, let the Palestinians have their state, put up a border between Israel and Palestine like there’s a border between Israel and the other neighboring states, and such attacks will end – especially if Israel has a peace treaty with Palestine like it does with Egypt and Jordan.
A long time ago there were influential Israelis making this argument, even in the wake of terror attacks. But you don’t hear them today, because anybody who says such a thing in 21st century Israel is by definition a person without influence. Outside of Arabs and Jews on the left-wing margin, who weigh nothing in the Israeli body politic, nobody is going to be influenced by such an appeal; nobody wants to hear it. Israelis are convinced they offered the Palestinians everything they could ask for – first with Oslo, then with disengagement from Gaza and the prospect of more withdrawals from the West Bank – but the Palestinians turned it down both times, so Israel is off the hook. That’s not true – Israel never offered the Palestinians anything anywhere that could be called independence, sovereignty or statehood – but that’s what Israelis believe.
So the virtually unchallenged view today is that Palestinian terror comes out of the blue – it has nothing to do with the occupation, or Israel’s stance in the just-ended peace process, or its policy toward Palestinian prisoners, or anything at all. It follows, then, that there’s nothing really wrong with the occupation, or our stance in the peace process, or our policy toward prisoners or whatever else we do. What we do to them is irrelevant, it’s not worth any attention. The Palestinians act out of “motiveless malignity,” like Shakespeare’s evil character Iago.
This belief that Israel is a passive innocent and the Palestinians relentless evildoers leads the public, led perfectly by Netanyahu, to make endless demands on the other side while ignoring theirs. And when the Palestinian Authority keeps the peace year after year in West Bank cities, villages and refugee camps in the face of the most contemptuous, unyielding Israeli government in 30 years, Israelis don’t find anything remarkable there – that’s the way it should be. So when a terror attack does occur, Israelis are stunned: why are they doing this to us? Where does such evil come from?
I imagine that in the rest of the world (except America), the reaction to the kidnapping, to the extent that there is a reaction, is: “What does Israel expect?” Because the world (outside America) sees what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, which Israelis don’t.
An example of this one-eyed view is the resentment here being directed at PA leader Mahmoud Abbas because he hasn’t publicly denounced the kidnapping. What escapes Israelis’ notice, though, is that on Wednesday night, a day and a half before the news of the kidnapping, it was reported that a highly credible autopsy found that 17-year-old Nadim Nawarah, one of the two Palestinian boys killed in a Nakba Day protest, was shot with live bullets, despite the IDF’s claim that its troops shot only rubber-coated ones – yet not a word was heard from the Israeli army or government. First a video shows that Israeli troops shot and killed Nawarah and Muhammad Salameh, 16, while they were doing nothing but walking down a road, and the IDF denies responsibility. Then an autopsy proves the IDF wrong, and Israel reacts with a blank stare. Yet in Israel people are offended that Abbas, whose forces are reportedly combing the West Bank for the kidnappers, hasn’t spoken out publicly against the attack.
This selective blindness only gets worse – every Palestinian act that’s not to Israel’s liking, from terrorism, to forming a unity government with Hamas, to going to the UN, to refusing to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, just makes the Palestinians more evil, and Israel the more injured party, which in turn makes Israel more rigid, and the Palestinians more frustrated and desperate. This is what’s been going on for many years, and the kidnapping is another low point in the process, one that will almost certainly have bad consequences for both sides.
The pain that Israelis feel over the three missing boys is something that must be respected; this was a horrible act. But it does not mean that Israelis’ political outlook must be deferred to, even now when sensitivities are very raw. The fight to end the occupation is a fight for Palestinians and Israelis both, so this is no time to stop. And since Israelis remain unwilling to end it, they must, unfortunately, be coerced into doing so.
The Presbyterian Church USA is voting this week on divesting from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard because these companies equip the Israeli occupation, and I hope the church votes “yes.” The kidnapping of the three Israeli boys doesn’t discredit the BDS movement; it’s another harsh reminder of why it must succeed.