Israelis and Palestinians start taking the law into their own hands

A few days only after the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were found dead near the contentious city of Hebron, the body of a 17-year-old Palestinian was in his turn found on the outskirts of Jerusalem yesterday. This succession of events has increasingly strained relations in the region, leading to the largest clashes in the Occupied side of the city in years.

A suspected revenge murder

The bodies of teenage settlers Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrah who had been missing since June 12th were found last Monday, launching a series of air strikes on Gaza from the Israeli army. This followed a massive crackdown that had previously been launched on the West Bank, leading to the death of several Palestinians and over 400 detentions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had at the time declared that “Hamas [would] pay” : the Palestinian organization is indeed denounced as responsible for the adbuction of the three Israelis by officials, despite the lack of evidence.  

Tension was reinforced by the abduction and murder of young Palestinian Mohammad Abu Khdair, under circumstances that remain uncertain. Witnesses reported that he was thrown into a car while walking to the mosque Tuesday night and his mutilated body was later found in a forest near Jerusalem’s border. Further investigations should determine whether his death constitutes an act of revenge on behalf of hard-line Israelis.

 

Towards a third intifada ?

The news raised large protests in East Jerusalem, and a violent opposition of young Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli soldiers who reciprocated by firing grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets. These images remind of former Intifada events that shook the Territories in the end of the 1980s and beginning of 2000s, and raise concerns about an escalation of tension between the two sides. Sociologist Abaher Al-Sakka explains how the kidnapping of the three Israelis is perceived in Palestinian Territories as a legitimate answer to occupation and reinforces the power of Hamas who stands as the nationalist cause’s defender. The recent events are progressively creating tension between the two Palestinian political organizations which had recently signed a reconciliation agreement. 

Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders highly condemned the attack : Benjamin Netanyahu called it an “heinous murder” while asking for belligerents not to resort to individual justice. Mahmoud Abbas reaffirmed the need for Israeli forces to stop the escalation of violence that has already caused fifteen Palestinian deaths throughout last month.  The mother of one of the three teenage settlers declared that "If the Arab youth was murdered because of nationalistic motives, then this is a horrible and horrendous act. There is no difference between Arab blood and Jewish blood. Murder is murder. There is no forgiveness or justification for any murder."

Violence has become incredibly common in the country, also by ordinary citizens : a Facebook group named “The people of Israel demand revenge”was lately created, gathering 35,000 followers by Wednesday evening. It has been advocating for a multiplication of attacks on Palestinians, and dozens of pictures were published by teenagers as well as soldiers calling for revenge. This banalisation of violent messages underlines a growing temptation of people to take the law into their own hands, while the Prime Minister Netanyahu himself tweeted “Revenge for the blood of a teenager or young man is not the devil's work”. Violent acts are increasingly being carried out by individual groups on both sides, independently from the Israel military and Palestinian armed groups.

Nevertheless, a thousand people rallied in central Jerusalem on Wednesday to protest against anti-Arab violence. They gathered on the same square where three Palestinians had been harassed by a Jewish mob the previous night. Isaac Herzog, the Labour party opposition leader, declared that : “The extremists on both sides are trying to drag us all into a circle of blood, but most of the Jewish and Arab societies disagree and want to live in peace.”

The following days will be crucial in determining whether a third intifada could take place. According to Abaher Al-Sakka, such a scenario is unlikely to happen because Mahmud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority is maintaining the distance between the Palestinian population and the Israeli forces. Besides, the lack of unity between Hamas and Fatah prevents the emergence of a common objective for all Palestinians.

Sources: Al Jazeera I, Al Jazeera II,  Al Jazeera III, Le Monde , Haaretz, Le Monde II, Haaretz II.

Author : Laura Gounon

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