Four boys butchered – the cost of spurning efforts for peace in the Middle East
Opinion: No democracy is immune to running an undemocratic system of oppression in territory under its control
Vile killings: a demonstration demanding military action against Hamas, which Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed – without producing evidence – for the murder of three Israeli teens. Photograph:Epa/Abir Sultan
‘Israel is a state of law and everyone is obligated to act in accordance with the law,” the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said after the abduction and murder of a Palestinian teenager shot in an apparent revenge attack for the killing last month of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.
He called the killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in East Jerusalem “abominable”. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has denounced the murder of the three Israelis, one of them also an American citizen, in the strongest terms.
What to make of this latest flare-up in the blood feud of Arab and Jew in the Holy Land, beyond revulsion at the senseless loss of four teenagers’ lives? What to make of the hand-wringing of the very leaders who have chosen to toss nine months attempts at diplomatic mediation by the US into the rubbish and now reap the fruits of their fecklessness?
Sometimes words, any words, appear unseemly because those who perpetuate the conflict relish the attention they receive – all the verbal contortions of would-be peacemakers who insist, in their quaint doggedness, that reason can win out over revenge and biblical revelation.
Still, Israel, a state of laws within the pre-1967 lines, is not a state of law beyond them in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli dominion over millions of Palestinians, now almost a half-century old, involves routine coercion, humiliation and abuse, to which most Israelis have grown increasingly oblivious.
What goes on beyond a long-forgotten Green Line tends to impinge on Israeli consciousness only when violence flares. Otherwise it is over the wall or barrier (choose the word that suits your politics) in places best not dwelled upon.
But those places come back to haunt Israelis, as the vile killings of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar demonstrate. Netanyahu, without producing evidence, has blamed Hamas. The sweeping Israeli response in the West Bank has already seen at least six Palestinians killed, about 400 Palestinians arrested and much of the territory placed in lockdown. Reprisals have extended to Gaza. Palestinian militants there have fired rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel in response.
This is not what happens in a state of laws. Beyond the Green Line lies a lawless Israeli enterprise profoundly corrosive, over time, to the noble Zionist dream of a democracy governed by laws.
All four killings took place in territory occupied or annexed by Israel since 1967. Here the law has taken second place to the Messianic claims of religious nationalists who believe Jews have a God-given right to all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Their view holds sway, even if it is not the view of most Israelis.