This week funerals have been held across both Israel and Palestine, after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. After weeks of searching, the bodies of the boys were found buried under a pile of rocks near where they had been kidnapped. They had been shot shortly after their abduction. While Israelis reacted with grief and anger, at least one other Israeli reacted in a different way. Last night a Palestinian boy was forced into a car in East Jerusalem, and his burned body was found this morning, in what the Palestinians are calling a revenge killing. This very personal violence seems certain to lead to escalation between the two enemies. So who killed the Israeli teens? How is Israel planning to react, and what have they already done? And what does this say about the conflict between Israel and Palestine?
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netinyahu, blamed the Islamist organisation Hamas for the kidnappings as soon as the boys were kidnapped on the 12th of June. He further blames the Palestinian Authority (the ‘official’ Palestinian government) for entering into a recent unity deal with Hamas. However, Hamas denies all involvement, and it’s not yet certain that they were involved. While Hamas has always targeted Israeli civilians, this would be an extreme and bizarrely timed attack for Hamas, who at the moment are more busy with Palestinian politics. In my opinion it is more likely that the murders were committed by a small group of people filled with hate. It resembles a case from 2004, when a Palestinian woman – pretending to be Jewish – convinced a 16 year old Jewish boy she met online to meet her in person. When they met, he was shot by militant friends of hers. While her friends were members of an militant organisation, the attack was her idea, and the Palestinian government knew nothing. I believe this could be the case now. However, with Hamas’s history of kidnappings and murder, you can never be quite certain.
However, what really happened is less important than what the Israeli government believes happened. The Palestinians have already been paying for the murders. Six have been killed by the Israeli army, and over 400 arrested. After the bodies of the boys were found, the Israeli army blew up the homes of two men they suspect of the murders. The cycle of bombings in the Gaza Strip also continued, as missiles fired at Israel drew the usual airstrikes in response. It isn’t yet clear though what the next Israeli steps will be. The government has indicated that it wants to degrade Hamas’s ability to operate in the West Bank, as well as sparing no effort to find the murderers of the three boys. But with the murder of a Palestinian boy, reprisal will also come from Hamas.
The difficulty of the Palestinian position can clearly be seen here. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have both been blamed for the killings, and all Palestinians will feel the pain of the Israeli response. However, when an Israeli carries out a lone attack (such as the murder of 29 Palestinians by Baruch Goldstein), the state of Israel is never held responsible. This is a situation which leads to immense frustration and anger among Palestinians, and every time Israel destroys a home in the Gaza Strip they create more enemies.
What the attacks also speak to though is how deep hatred lies in some involved in the conflict. That anyone can abduct and murder children, shoot down men at prayer or blow themselves up in a restaurant is almost unbelievable to people who don’t live with the daily reality of a decades long conflict. With every brutal murder or wave of air strikes, the other side becomes less human in the eyes of the victims. In the world’s most complex conflict, it has become hard to see how there can ever be a solution.