Since June 12, Israel has besieged the four million Palestinians who already live under its thumb, storming through towns, ransacking homes and civil institutions, conducting night raids on families, stealing property, kidnapping, injuring and killing. Warplanes were dispatched to bomb Gaza, again and repeatedly, destroying more homes and institutions and carrying out extrajudicial executions. Thus far, over 560 Palestinians have been kidnapped and imprisoned, most notably a Samer Issawi, the Palestinian who went on a 266-day hunger strike in protest of a previous arbitrary detention. At least nine Palestinians have been killed, including three children, a pregnant woman, and a mentally ill man. Hundreds have been injured, including children and journalists. Universities and social welfare organisations were ransacked, shut down, their computers and equipment destroyed or stolen, and both private and public documents confiscated from civil institutions. This wanton thuggery is official state policy conducted by its military and does not include the violence to persons and properties perpetuated by paramilitary Israeli settlers, whose persistent attacks against Palestinian civilians have also escalated in the past weeks.
Casting doubt on Israel
Israel’s excuse for this latest rampage through Palestinian lives is that it is searching for three settlers who went missing on June 12, presumed kidnapped from Gush Etzion, an illegal Jewish-only colony in the West Bank. No Palestinian faction has claimed responsibility for the abduction, but Benjamin Netanyahu is adamant that Hamas is responsible. The United Nations has requested that Israel provide evidence to support its contention, but no evidence has been forthcoming, casting doubt on Israel’s claims, particularly in light of its public ire over the recent unification of Palestinian factions and U.S. President Obama’s acceptance of the new Palestinian unity.
In the West, headlines over pictures of the three Israeli settler teens refer to Israel’s reign of terror over Palestine as a “manhunt” and “military sweep.” Portraits of innocent young Israeli lives emerge from news outlets and the voices of their parents are featured in the fullness of their anguish. The U.S., the EU, the U.K., the U.N., Canada and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) condemned the kidnapping and called for their immediate and unconditional release.
The Gaza siege
Although hundreds of Palestinian children are kidnapped, brutalised or killed by Israel, there is rarely, if ever, such a reaction from the world.
Just prior to the disappearance of the Israeli settler teens, the murder of two Palestinian teens was caught on a local surveillance camera. Ample evidence, including the recovered bullets and a CNN camera filming an Israeli sharpshooter pulling the trigger at the precise moment one of the boys was shot indicated that they were killed in cold blood by Israeli soldiers. There were no condemnations or calls for justice for these teens by world leaders or international institutions, nor did they make mention of the more than 250 Palestinian children, kidnapped from their beds or on their way to school, who continue to languish in Israeli jails without charge or trial, physically and psychologically tortured. This is to say nothing of the barbaric siege of Gaza, or the decades of ongoing theft, evictions, assaults on education, confiscation of land, demolition of homes, colour coded permit system, arbitrary imprisonment, restriction of movement, checkpoints, extrajudicial executions, torture and denials at every turn squeezing Palestinians into isolated ghettos.
None of that seemingly matters.
Nor does it matter that the kidnapped Israeli teens are settlers living in illegal Jewish-only colonies that were built on land stolen by the state from Palestinian owners. A large portion of Gush Etzion belongs to Palestinians from the village of el-Khader. And a huge portion of the settlers there are Americans, mostly from New York, like one of the missing teens, who exercise Jewish privilege to hold dual citizenship; to have an extra country no matter where they’re from, one in their own homeland and one in mine, at the same time that the indigenous Palestinians fester in refugee camps, occupied ghettos, or boundless exile.
While Palestinian mothers are frequently blamed when Israel kills their children, accused of sending them to die or neglecting to keep them at home away from Israeli snipers, no one questions Rachel Frankel, the mother of the kidnapped Israeli, who seems oddly confident that her son is being safely “kept” ostensibly by lunatic Jew-hating terrorists. She is not asked to comment on the fact that one of the missing settlers is a soldier who likely participates in the oppression of his Palestinian neighbours.
No one asks why she would move her family from the United States to live in a segregated, supremacist colony established on land confiscated from the native non-Jewish owners. Certainly no one dares accuse her of therefore putting her children in harm’s way.
This exceptionalism and supremacy of Jewish life is a fundamental underpinning of the state of Israel. It pervades its every law and protocol, and is matched only by its apparent contempt and disregard for Palestinian life. Whether through laws that favour Jews for employment and educational opportunities, or laws that allow the exclusion of non-Jews from buying or renting among Jews, or endless military orders that limit the movement, water consumption, food access, education, marriage possibilities and economic independence, or these periodic upendings of Palestinian civil society, life for non-Jews ultimately conforms to the religious edict issued by Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, saying “a thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew’s fingernail.”
Violence accepted and expected
Israeli violence is generally accepted and expected. It is normalised, cloaked in the legitimacy of uniforms and technological death machines. It is a heroic, ironic violence that western media frames as “response,” as if Palestinian resistance itself were not a response to Israeli oppression. When the ICRC was asked to issue a similar call for the immediate and unconditional release of the hundreds of Palestinian children held in Israeli jails (which is also in contravention of international humanitarian law), it refused, indicating that there’s a difference between the isolated abduction of Israeli teens and the routine abduction, torture, isolation and imprisonment of Palestinian children.
When our children throw rocks at heavily armed Israeli tanks and jeeps rolling through our streets, we are contemptible parents who should bear responsibility for the murder of our children if they are shot by Israeli soldiers or settlers. When we refuse to capitulate completely, we are “not partners for peace,” and deserve to have more land confiscated from us for the exclusive use of Jews. When we take up arms and fight back, kidnap a soldier, we are terrorists of the extreme kind who have no one to blame but ourselves as Israel subjects the entire Palestinian population to punitive collective punishment. When we engage in peaceful protests, we are rioters who deserve the live fire they send our way. When we debate, write and boycott, we are anti-Semites who should be silenced, deported, marginalised or prosecuted.
What should we do then? Palestine is quite literally being wiped off the map by a state that openly upholds Jewish supremacy and Jewish privilege. Our people continue to be robbed of home and heritage, pushed to the margins of humanity, blamed for our own miserable fate. We are a traumatised, principally unarmed, native society being destroyed and erased by one of the most powerful militaries in the world. Rachel Frankel went to the U.N. to plead for its support, saying “it is wrong to take children, innocent boys or girls, and use them as instruments of any struggle. It is cruel … I wish to ask: Doesn’t every child have the right to come home safely from school?”
Given the daily violence perpetrated against Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers (such as the presumed kidnapped Israeli teen/s), I wonder if Ms. Frankel means to exclude our Palestinian children from that statement.
Susan Abulhawa is the author of “Mornings in Jenin”.