On June 12, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped as they were hitchhiking from their yeshiva (religious school) in a West Bank settlement. Following the kidnapping, Israel launched a major military operation dubbed “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” a security sweep and closure of the West Bank. It has been the largest such military operation in seven years. The operation searched for the kidnapped teenagers in the Hebron area, but also undeniably had a second aim: to target Hamas throughout the West Bank.
The army raided centers of most major Palestinian cities, despite the Oslo Accord that considers these areas under total Palestinian security and administrative control. Hebron, the largest populated district, was put under a complete travel ban. Israel briefly stopped fuel transfers to Gaza. Soldiers invaded thousands of Palestinian homes, and widespread destruction against the homes and property was reported. Over 570 Palestinians were arrested in these two weeks, most taken from their homes in the middle of the night without charge and many of them teenagers or even children themselves. Home demolitions left dozens homeless in the past two weeks. The Arab American University in Jenin and Bir Zeit University near Ramallah were raided by Israeli troops, two of about 1000 Palestinian institutions that have been raided. Attacks by armed Israeli settlers against Palestinians have increased as well, including attacks involving live ammunition. Over 100 Palestinians have been wounded. Six Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank, including a 14-year-old. These numbers do not include at least two who were reported to have died from heart attacks during military raids of their homes or those killed in Gaza. Since those numbers were published, a 16-year-old Palestinian in Jenin was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers.
Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, among others, decries this military operation as collective punishment: “The deliberate harming of an entire civilian population as punishment for the actions of individuals is both illegal and immoral.” Article 33 of the Geneva Convention (IV) specifically bans “collective punishment” by an occupying power against the people under its occupation, for the very reason that such punishment is aimed at “intimidating and terrorizing” innocent persons. The same article also considers revenge and pillage crimes of war.
I cannot imagine the terror in the hearts of those kidnapped boys, or in their parents’. While the desperation of the Palestinians’ situation is clear to me, there is no justification for such violence against civilians, and so I feel deep empathy and anger on behalf of these Israeli teens. But my empathy and anger extend to the thousands of Palestinians whose lives were also made nightmares in the backlash against the kidnapping, which was the action of a few individuals and not of the entire society. Why does the world respond with such a loud voice to the pain of three families and ignore the pain of thousands? Why is the life of an Israeli teenager sacrosanct and the life of a Palestinian teenager ignorable and cheap?
As Gideon Levy of Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes of a Palestinian teenager killed by Israeli forces in the last two weeks, “His mother did not appear this week before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, his sisters did not issue a heartrending public letter, no mass prayers were organized in his honor, nor was a memorial assembly held. No one accused the soldiers who killed him with live fire of perpetrating brutal terrorism, no one took responsibility for his killing. Naturally no one apologized: Israel ignored his death. But Mohammed Dudin, too, was a boy – the word Israelis are using to describe the three abducted Kfar Etzion yeshiva students.”
We went to bed last night amid reports that the bodies of the missing Israeli teens had been found, feeling grief for their loss and also fear at what kind of reprisals might occur as we slept.
The last couple weeks have been a nightmare – for the families of the kidnapped Israeli teens, for every raided Palestinian community, for the families of the Palestinians shot by the IDF, for Palestinians whose homes were demolished during this operation, for all Palestinians from Gaza under Israeli air raids, for Israelis fearing rockets from Gaza, for the hundreds of Palestinians arrested and their families, for the Palestinians who have been kept under curfew and lockdown… the list of grief, pain and terror goes on and on.
For those of us who love this land and all its people and strive for a future of peace, security and justice, it is a nightmare for us too. What will the future hold if murderous kidnapping is seen by some as the only response to an oppressive occupation? What will the future hold if the occupiers use such an event as a pretext for an even more oppressive occupation? If the occupier is given carte blanche for destruction and violence? If more and more Palestinians are killed, made homeless, cut off from their jobs and schools, denied every human right and ultimately made more desperate? If the world responds only with concern for the occupiers?
We did indeed awake this morning to what we had feared – collective punishment, or revenge, in the form of another death of a Palestinian teenager, escalation of the air raid against Gaza, a hurriedly-constructed new settlement in the contested E1 area, the bombing of the homes of the families of the suspected kidnappers, several assaults reported against Palestinians by Israelis overnight and calls from Israeli leaders to “settle the score” and “persecute” Hamas and for a “war to the death.”
I, too, hope for justice for the deaths of these young Israelis. I hope for justice for the deaths of the Palestinians killed in the last weeks as well. It is deeply disturbing to hear worldwide condemnations of the former and silence on the latter. None of our Abrahamic faiths instruct us to care only for those in our tribe. In fact, each of our religions has profound words of love and care for the “other,” whether they are an enemy or not. May those on all sides reject the natural, yet ugly, human desire for revenge and commit to the ideals of our faiths – that all life is precious, all people equal in the eyes of God and justice the only worthy path to peace and security. The only end to this cycle of fear and violence is an end to the military occupation that feeds it.
Kate Taber is the PC(USA) mission coworker to Israel-Palestine as Facilitator for Peacemaking and Mission Partnerships. She has also lived in the area twice previously, once as a volunteer with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program and once as a fellowship recipient from Princeton Theological Seminary.