Why is Ali Dawabsheh Dead? On Price Tag Attacks

Ali Saad Dawabsheh was only 18 months old when Israeli settlers who entered his village of Douma to carry out a so-called “price tag” attack took his life away by setting fire to his home. The crime brought shock and horror to many, regardless of their views of the overall Israel-Palestinian conflict.

"revenge"

“revenge”

But the reality is that this death is very much a part of that conflict. It cannot be understood apart from it. It is not anomalous. Ali was far from the first baby killed in this conflict, on either side.

Is it possible for this tragedy to move us closer to resolving the conflict? Is it possible that, even without ultimately resolving the major political issues we can make it more difficult for an atrocity like this to occur? Perhaps it is, if we ask one important question and make sure we get all the answers to it.It is no surprise that such a horrifying act leads people to say  “something more must be done.” But, of course, the conflict will not end over this incident. In a matter of weeks, Ali’s death will be just one more tragedy in a long list of tragedies in Israel-Palestine.

Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

Ali and his family were in their home at night when arsonists set it on fire. Ali’s parents and four year-old brother suffered severe burns and Ali died. The attackers spray-painted the word “nekama” in Hebrew on the resident. The word means “revenge.”

Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

Until the murderers are caught, we cannot be certain, but it is likely that this “price tag” attack was carried out in response to Israel’s demolition of two structures in the settlement of Beit El on the West Bank. After the High Court in Israel ordered their demolition, the Netanyahu government immediately granted permits for hundreds of new living units in Beit El and the East Jerusalem area. This, however, was apparently not enough compensation for those who carried out this heinous act.

Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

Given the shocking nature of the crime, the Israeli government will likely put considerable resources toward identifying and arresting the perpetrators. However, on a day-to-day basis, Palestinians in the West Bank have no protection from settlers. Israeli Defense Forces and Border Police often do not prevent settler attacks on Palestinians. It’s not uncommon to see them protecting settlers as they attack Palestinians.

Moreover, the forces of the Palestinian Authority have no jurisdiction over settlers and cannot protect their own citizens from them. Settlers in general feel they may act with impunity. As the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem states, “In recent years, Israeli civilians set fire to dozens of Palestinian homes, mosques, businesses, agricultural land and vehicles in the West Bank. The vast majority of these cases were never solved, and in many of them the Israeli Police did not even bother to take elementary investigative actions.”

Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

In the wake of Ali’s death, the rush to express outrage was staggering. Israeli politicians across the spectrum vowed that the murderers would be brought to justice. No doubt, they are sincere in their personal outrage and in the desire to show Israelis and the rest of the world that this is something they will not tolerate as leaders.

But their comments are universally directed at the crime itself, implying that this act was an anomalous blot on the Israeli page with no cause other than hate and extremism. The words not only of Benjamin NetanyahuNaftali Bennett and other leaders of the current government, but also those of opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid make no connection between Ali’s murder and the occupation, the settlement project or the increasingly anti-Arab tone of many of Israel’s leaders.

There was scant mention of the tolerance shown to the extreme right of the settler movement over the years. As Amos Harel put it in Ha’aretz, “The forgiveness the state has shown over many long years toward the violence of the extreme right – which was also evident this week at Beit El (none of those attacking the police are now in detention) – is also what makes possible the murderous hate crimes like Friday’s in the village of Douma. There is a price for the gentle hand.”

The decision to build hundreds of units in Beit El and East Jerusalem sent a message that the government would find ways to make the rulings of the High Court against illegal building moot in all practical ways. The bigger message that was sent in the wake of protests in Beit El where Israeli soldiers were attacked was this: violence pays, at least for the settlers.

The occupation and settlement program are themselves a form of daily violence that dispossess Palestinians, place them under military rule and deprive them of their basic rights. It may not be easy to end the occupation, but the casual way many in Israel have turned to “managing the conflict” and given up on ending the occupation sends the message that such institutionalized violence by Israel against Palestinians is at least tolerable. Why would anyone be surprised that the more radical elements among settlers would take that a few steps further?

Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

In the wake of Ali’s death, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate this act as a war crime. But this was an act of civilian murder, even if the civilian(s) who committed it was living in a settlement deemed illegal under international law. Moreover, the ICC would not act if Israel were legitimately pursuing the perpetrators, which it certainly seems like it is doing. Politicizing Ali’s death in this manner is typical of the conflict, and thoroughly counter-productive.

Indeed, mixed in with his words of outrage, Netanyahu also could not resist politicizing it in his own way by saying that Israel pursues such criminals while Palestinians name streets after them (In reality, Israel celebrates its own terrorists too). This was an opportunity for the two leaders to unite in condemning a crime and calling for justice. Instead, both took it as an opportunity to aggravate the differences between them.

Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

While this goes on, members of the United States Congress works to legitimize the settlement enterprise by equating it under the law with Israel itself. The White House is focused on the Iran nuclear deal and it is not yet clear what, if any action the current administration might take to improve the situation in Israel-Palestine before they leave office. In Europe, merely labeling products emanating from settlements is so controversial that the process of setting up an enforcement mechanism for a regulation that already exists in European Union law is dragging along at a snail’s pace.

Without ending the occupation of the West Bank, it is only a matter of time before the next horrifying incident, whether it happens to a Palestinian or an Israeli child. As Noam Sheizaf of +972 Magazine wrote, “…violence is inseparable from the colonial reality in the occupied territories — without putting an end to that reality, there is no chance to properly deal with violence. Even if things cool down temporarily, the situation will only grow worse in the long run. The only solutions are the evacuation of settlements or equal rights for all.”

And ultimately, Sheizaf’s words are the answer to the all important question:

What can we do to prevent more deaths like Ali Dawabsheh’s?

Ultimately, there is no way to stop these incidents without ending the occupation and the daily reality of privileged and protected Israeli settlers living in a Palestinian territory mostly populated by people who live under military occupation.

However, this crime was entirely predictable. Crimes like it can be prevented, at least some of the time, and it does not require an end to the conflict to do so.

Until the conflict is resolved, Israel must meet its responsibilities to protect Palestinian civilians from settlers. Both Israelis and Palestinians can treat incidents like this one as the crimes they are and refrain from politicizing them, allowing both sides to condemn them unreservedly and in unison. Finally, the United States and Europe can stop equivocating and insist that the settlement project stop immediately, and be prepared to put real pressure on Israel to make it happen.

Ali’s death can be a wake up call, or it can be just another horrible story among decades of horrible stories. Which it will be will depend as much on people’s willingness to pressure their own governments in a productive direction as it will on those governments, in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Brussels and Washington, finding the courage to finally act. Some Israeli settlers would condemn Ali’s murder. But until the occupation and the settlement project end, tragedies like this on are inevitable. If there is to be any hope of preventing them, it has to start with people standing up to finally say “NO” to the settlements and to force their governments to do likewise.

Vengeance, Not Justice in Wake Of Murders of Israeli Youths

The saga of the three kidnapped Israeli youths in the West Bank took a tragic, if expected, turn today, when their bodies were discovered near Hebron. None but the most starry-eyed optimist thought the young men would be found alive after all this time. But the story is far from over.

Even before the announcement was made that the bodies were found, clashes were reported between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the town of Halhul, where the grisly discovery was made. A massive Israel Defense Forces (IDF) presence was reported, roads were closed and the area was generally closed down. The Israeli security cabinet is meeting at this writing to decide on further measures.

The only thing that seems certain right now about the Israeli response is that it will be unjust and have nothing to do with addressing the terrible crime that has just been confirmed. For the moment, at least, it appears that the perpetrators, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, are beyond the reach of Israel. Since Israel cannot punish those who so profoundly deserve punishment, they will punish those that they can. This, sadly, is the calculus of occupation. There is already violence reported by residents of Hebron. Some might see justice in that, but ask yourself how you would feel if your son, brother or father – or just a neighbor— was a murderer and you were the one who had to pay for their crime.

There is still no evidence that the two killers, who were apparently members of Hamas, did not act alone. Nonetheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that he will hold Hamas responsible and has repeatedly called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to sever the unity government that he only recently forged with Hamas. Now, Netanyahu has declared, in a meeting of Israel’s security cabinet that “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.”

What might that mean? Well, earlier, some members of Netanyahu’s Likud party described the response they wanted to see.

Danny Danon, the Deputy Defense Minister said “This tragic ending must also be the ending of Hamas! The nation is strong and ready to absorb [attacks] for the sake of a mortal blow against Hamas. … [W]e have to destroy the homes of Hamas activists, wipe out their arsenals everywhere, and stop the flow of money that directly or indirectly keeps terror alive… make the entire Palestinian leadership pay a heavy price.”

For Danon, it is not even enough that Hamas pay for this, but the Palestinian Authority as well. Yet there remains no evidence Hamas, as an organization had anything to do with this. The Shin Bet, Israel’s intelligence service, issued a very telling statement about the murders: “Following intensive operational intelligence work by the Shin Bet, less than 24 hours after the kidnapping it became evident that two Hamas activists, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha, are those behind the kidnapping of the three teens.” No mention made of Hamas’ involvement; merely that the two men were members. If Bibi really has anything connecting Hamas to this crime, he’s keeping it inexplicably secret.

No matter to the outspoken Tzipi Hotovely of Likud, who said, “The despicable kidnapping and murder of the students cannot go by in silence, and those responsible in Gaza must pay the price. The government of Israel must declare a war to the death on Hamas, which is responsible for the murders, and return to the policy of [targeted] assassination.” Like Danon, Hotovely expresses no concern about the Israeli lives this will put at risk, much less those of innocent Palestinians. Nor do they care about the consequences of such actions.

One might think that these Likud members might have some interest in actually tracking down the murderers. But no, they’d prefer to cynically use this despicable crime to further a political agenda of the worst kind—one that legitimizes intense violence that will mean a far greater loss of innocent life. In this, they are joined by their fellow travelers of the American right wing. The extreme pro-occupation forces took to Twitter even before Netanyahu made his announcement to politicize and distort these events.

Whatever the two killers were thinking, their monstrous crime will yield no positive results for anyone. The PA is crippled, quite likely permanently, by its response to the initial kidnapping. Hamas has been devastated in the West Bank by the Israeli response, leaving it unable to take advantage of any political opening that might be created. The people of the West Bank will see a major crackdown, and Israel will surely follow the call of Housing Minister Uri Ariel for more settlements to be built in response. Gaza will be hit by more missiles. The only victors might be the most radical elements in the Occupied Territories, the ones Hamas has been in conflict with in Gaza and who have generally laid very low in the West Bank.

There seems to be little interest in capturing the perpetrators of the crime, and a great eagerness to make Hamas in particular and the Palestinians in general suffer for this outrage. And I’m sure that is just what will happen. The question will then become how Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even the PA will respond.

Will they attempt to hit Israel back with more attacks on civilians? If they do, we may well have witnessed the beginning of a third intifada. Will they make a mere show of firing a few rockets that land harmlessly as most do? If they do that, there may be a backlash of rage that strengthen the more radical groups in the Territories. There are ISIS- and al-Qaeda-like groups there, which have seen little support among the Palestinian people, but this could change if the existing groups are seen as doing nothing in the face of Israeli aggression.

Whatever the outcome, the episode demonstrates yet again the futility of acts of violence. No one will gain from any of this, even if they think they will. And lost in it all, the murder of three young men, a heinous crime which everyone condemns, while everyone who gets hurt on both sides will have had nothing to do with it.

Israel-Palestine Without A Peace Process

In the past, people have speculated about what Israel and the Occupied Territories would look like if the United States stopped trying to broker the mythical kind of solution that the Oslo process envisioned. Well, now we have an example.

The most radically right-wing government in Israel’s brief history was simply waiting for an opportunity to deliver the most intense and widespread blow to the West Bank. The kidnapping of three young Israelis provided that opportunity and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seized it with a vengeance. Under the cover of searching for the kidnapped youths, Netanyahu launched a massive operation to cripple Hamas in the West Bank, further humiliate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and punish the entire Palestinian population for calling for a halt to the charade of the “peace process” and, worse, moving toward a unified leadership.

On the Palestinian side, the fundamental lack of strategy has become ever more apparent. Ditching the US-brokered process has been, for a very long time, the right move, but sloughing it off in a half-hearted way and without a substitute was unconscionably foolish. That’s especially true when you consider how much time there was to devise an alternative strategy to the US-brokered process over so many years. The result is that the Palestinian unity agreement was imperiled before it was signed by the essential incompatibility of the strategies and ideologies of Fatah and Hamas.

This is being played out on a daily basis now: Abbas appears not only weak, but like a traitor as he cooperates with Netanyahu in this massive operation that has yielded nothing with regard to the three kidnapped Israelis but has resulted in hundreds of arrested Palestinians without cause, disruption of work, school and health services throughout the West Bank, hundreds of injuries and, to date, five deaths. Hamas is fanning the flames of anger while denouncing Abbas for his quisling behavior, but it also offers no alternative, unless one foolhardily believes that yet another intifada is going to soften Israeli stances. The last intifada may have shaken up Israelis, and certainly resulted in numerous deaths and injuries in Israel, but it did no harm to Israel’s stability while killing and harming a great many Palestinians. In fact, it only hardened Israel’s positions and worsened conditions for the Palestinians. This suggests that violence, on top of being deplorable, is a foolish course for the Palestinians.

For his part, Netanyahu is playing this to the hilt. It is far from certain that Hamas, as an organization, is responsible for the kidnapping. Right now, it seems much more likely that this was a small group whose members might also have been members of Hamas, but were not acting in concert with the organization. Netanyahu, however, insists he has “unequivocal” proof that Hamas was responsible. The credibility of that claim erodes with each passing day that Bibi refuses to offer evidence for his claim.

Netanyahu’s brand of politics, like most right-wingers, functions best when the country he runs is either angry, scared, or better yet, both. The current situation creates such an atmosphere. The problem will come when and if the tension in the West Bank boils over. And that problem is going to be one that neither the United States nor much of the rest of the world will be able to ignore. They will have to choose a side.

In looking at where we’re headed right now, we must start by understanding that the US is not removed from these events. While the Obama administration has decided to take a “pause” from this conflict and certainly has other matters like Iraq and the advances of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to occupy its time, it is still Israel’s benefactor, providing arms and, quite likely, the omnipresent protective veto in the UN Security Council. So, the US is still there, whether it wants to be or not.

It will also be drawn further in if the Palestinian Authority collapses and violence in the West Bank is renewed. This seems very much to be the direction Israel is pressing matters towards. If that is the case, then it also stands to reason that the Israeli government intends to annex some part of the West Bank, using the violence as a pretext. Israel, especially given its budgetary constraints these days, is certainly not prepared to supplant the Palestinian Authority in administering the West Bank. The remainder of the West Bank would be surrounded by “Israel” and would be easily contained. From there, local councils or some such arrangements are probably what is envisioned for the lands Israel decides to leave to the Palestinians.

Netanyahu and his cohorts like Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Ya’alon are gambling that the violence of a third intifada will be enough to convince key governments — particularly, the US, UK and Germany — to tolerate the annexation. By “tolerate” I mean that they would object and “refuse to recognize” the action, much as they have with East Jerusalem, but would take no other action.

That is a huge gamble. It is far from certain that even the United States would acquiesce to such actions, and less so that Britain and Germany would. Even if they did, there would surely be a great uproar from other countries, in Europe and throughout the Muslim world, as well as from Russia, France and China. Even governments like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are largely indifferent to the Palestinians’ plight would be unable to stay silent.

But the gambit has a few things working in Bibi’s favor as well. First, as much as the Israeli de facto annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980 outraged many, the reality of the whole city functioning as an “undivided” capital, however restlessly, has survived for over three decades since then. And that’s Jerusalem, the hottest of hotspots in this conflict. Netanyahu surely reasons that if Jerusalem didn’t start a war, there’s a good chance that annexing the Jordan Valley in a similar manner won’t either.

Moreover, the timing is very good for the annexationists. Not only are all eyes on Iraq with a few still lingering over Ukraine, but the specter of ISIS has renewed the sense of fright that the West feels toward Arabs. These will combine, Bibi surely hopes, to encourage a similar clucking of tongues while doing nothing that has greeted the excesses, both pre- and post-election, of the al-Sisi government in Egypt. Netanyahu’s assessment that he can take an outrageous step and get away with it is thus not without recent precedent. The annexation vision, if that is what Bibi is pursuing, would require years of violence to set the stage for it, or at least many months of intense fighting and bloodshed on both sides (though, as always, the Palestinians will bleed a lot more than Israel).

Abbas, however unwittingly, is helping that process along by working with Israel. Netanyahu is not allowing the Palestinian forces to do much of anything in the current operation, but Abbas is also doing nothing to support his own people. Hamas’ strategy isn’t entirely clear yet, but its obviously trying to capitalize on the Palestinian rage that fuels its support. In Hamas’ view, escalating violence plays into its basic strategy of confrontation rather than collaboration. But the question of whether or not Hamas actually has some endgame vision of how it can make any headway against the might of Israel’s forces, let alone triumph, remains yet to be answered.

So, this is what Israel-Palestine looks like without a sham peace process. Does that mean the sham is preferable? Is it better to have a normalized occupation, with all the banality of its entrenched administration and gradual assimilation of more and more Palestinian land into Israel; or is a possibly long period of bloodshed preferable? Only Israelis and Palestinians can answer that question. That said, the shameful behavior of the US, the international community, the Quartet, the Israeli government, and the Palestinian leadership has left few other options.

Israelis can alter this situation, of course, any time they want by electing a government that wants to make a peace deal. Palestinians can also affect change by developing, organizing and executing a strategy that wins them both attention and increased support in the international arena. At this point, however, both sides seem unwilling and unable to take these paths, which increases the odds of Israel-Palestine spiraling back into extreme violence.

Kidnapped Israelis Getting Lost In Bibi’s Political Agenda

An edited version of this article originally appeared at LobeLog.

Palestinians in Gaza protest ICRC's neutrality on Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike (Photo by Joe Catron)

Palestinians in Gaza protest ICRC’s neutrality on Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike (Photo by Joe Catron)

There is a sure, albeit contemptible, way to get the attention of virtually the entire state of Israel. That is to kidnap some of its younger citizens. It worked with Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and it seems to be playing well again, this time with civilians (living in the settlements does not strip one of their civilian status under international law).

Israel, as a whole, is riveted on the fates of these three young men. There is a national outcry in Israel when kidnappings occur that is even louder than when Israelis, even young Israelis, are killed. There is a sense of urgency; that something must be done to free the captives before a worse fate befalls them. The attention is widespread and constant, both in cases, like Shalit’s, where the captive is known to still be alive and in cases where the captives are believed or known to already be dead. Israelis press hard for a resolution to the situation. Political leaders do respond, but sometimes, sadly, they do so in self-serving ways.

 

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The Celebrated Murderer, A Phenomenon on Both Sides of the Israel-Palestine Divide

Yesterday, an old Israeli “war hero” died. His name was Meir Har-Zion. He was a veteran of the Israeli military in its formative

Meir Har-Zion in 1954

Meir Har-Zion in 1954

years after the creation of the state, and we should look very carefully at the re-telling, upon his death, of an incident that took place in 1954.

The incident was an act of vengeance that Har-Zion, along with several accomplices, enacted in response to the killing of his sister, Shoshanna. We’ll get to it in a minute. But first, let’s understand how Har-Zion is viewed in Israel.

Moshe Dayan called Har-Zion “the greatest Jewish warrior since Bar Kochba.” That’s a description we should take a close look at. Bar Kochba is a Zionist icon, and a symbol of the nationalist revision of Jewish history. For most of pre-Zionist Jewish history, Bar Kochba was a very divisive figure, but the majority view of him was negative. He was seen as a false prophet (which he undoubtedly was) who duped the greatest religious figure of his day, Rebbe Akiva ben Yoseph (though some argue that he was not actually involved with Bar Kochba’s revolt) into supporting him and eventually led the Jews to final defeat and exile at the hands of the Romans. Continue reading