The Murders in Itamar Settlement, and the Cynical Government Response

When I read about the horrifying slaughter of five members of the Fogel family, who lived in the settlement of Itamar, I had to ask myself why I reacted the way I did.

Was the rage I felt, the intense moral revulsion, due in any way because these were fellow Jews? After all, I receive daily, often even more frequently, reports from NGOs, human rights groups, the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli and Palestinian governments and a wide variety of international sources, many of which describe horrible acts of violence and killing.

The IDF has increased its presence throughout the West Bank in the wake of the murders in Itamar

The answer is no, but let me explain why I wondered. My reaction to this event was strong, and not in the least tempered by the fact that these people were settlers living in one of the most ideologically-driven settlements, a frequent boiling pot for violence against Palestinians, as well as being one of the more frequent targets of Palestinian violence when it has occurred against settlers. Thankfully, Israeli civilian casualties have become much rarer in the last few years. But Palestinian civilians are killed much more frequently.

During Operation Cast Lead, Palestinian babies were also killed, as is not unusual in war. Given the general disregard the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) showed for civilian life during that onslaught, it cannot be known how accidental those deaths were, but the sheer number of them certainly leads to a reasonable assessment that there was, at the very least, reckless and criminal disregard.

The difference, for me, and the reason for my visceral reaction to these murders (and, like an incident I discussed last year, that’s just what this was—cold-blooded murder of the foulest kind. Such an act must not be confused in any way with resistance to the occupation) might be more of a personal difference than a moral one.

The inescapable image from this incident is of a cold-blooded killer stabbing to death a 3-year old toddler and an infant of only three months of life. One can’t help but wonder what kind of a monster, no matter how much injustice he may have suffered, could bring himself to do such a thing.

If a baby is killed because a bomb was dropped on her house or because someone walked up and stabbed her, she’s just as dead. One, of course, leaves open the possibility of an accident, a mistake or a killing by negligence, and one doesn’t. But the tragedy and the horror are still the same.

Nonetheless, I, and I daresay most of us, feel an extra heap of shock and revulsion when we contemplate what kind of person can walk up to a toddler and an infant and stab them to death.

So, yes, I’m angry about this, and I get angrier still when I read the words of a letter sent to reporters by the so-called Imad Mughniyya Group, proudly claiming responsibility: “Thanks to God almighty, fighters affiliated to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – Imad Mughniyya Group succeeded in attacking a settler home and killing its inhabitants. The fighter confirmed that at 1:15 (a.m.) he broke into the home and killed all five inhabitants. Zionist forces admitted the operation and the fighter returned safe and sound. This operation is a natural reaction to the massacres by the fascist occupation against our people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.”

Whether or not this group (which Israel has treated as making false claims of this type before) was actually involved, the glorification of murdering a family, including a toddler and an infant, while they slept is appalling.

Also appalling is the attempt to use this horrific act for political ends. Let’s look at a few quotes, shall we?

Ron Nachman, mayor of the settlement of Ariel said, “Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad calling for a boycott of goods manufactured in the settlements as well as Israeli newspapers ‘separating settlers from Israelis living on the other side of the Green Line’ were responsible for inciting the terrorists to carry out the attack in Itamar.”

Benjamin Netanyahu: “I noticed that several states which rushed to condemn Israel for building a house in some place are taking their time in condemning the murder of children…A society which allows for such wild incitement prompts the murder of children.”

National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau: “Behind the murderer of the family in Itamar stands Abu Mazen [Abbas], the “peace partner,” who founded the official educational system in the Palestinian Authority, which teaches hatred of Jews and presents child killers as role models.”

After Israel decided that the appropriate response to a horrific act of murder was to increase its own criminal behavior and announce 500 new settlement units, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said: “… the decision is not enough and Israel must construct …at least a thousand new homes for each person murdered.”

I’d note that this is the same Eli Yishai who vowed to use his ministry’s resources for the settlements to the greatest extent possible, which left many Israelis to die in massive fires the state was unable to combat and in railway accidents caused by trains which the state did not allocate resources to maintain.

Avigdor Lieberman said that the fact that the Palestinian Authority has yet to condemn the attack “says more than anything about the true nature of someone who is supposed to be partner for negotiations.”

This last was also echoed, less obnoxiously, by the United States: “We call on the Palestinian Authority to unequivocally condemn this terrorist attack and for the perpetrators of this heinous crime to be held accountable.”

Both statements ignore the fact that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, on Saturday morning, said: “An infant, two children and their parents were the victims, and as we have always rejected violence against our people, we reject it against others and we condemn it.”

Both Israel and the United States seemed determined to show that the Palestinian Authority was either complicit or at least indifferent to this outrage. In fact, such was not the case.

Despite some very legitimate concerns that have been voiced about the sometimes reluctance of the Israeli hardcore left to condemn violence against settlers, there has been a large cry of outrage from a large spectrum of groups —  Israeli, Jewish-American and international. The right-wing leadership of the Israeli government, however, has been simply shameless in their cynicism in attempting to turn this horrific act to political advantage.

More to the point, Israel’s response to the murders was…to authorize 500 new settlement units! This was done in specific response to the killings. That is a crucial point, as it demonstrates unequivocally that settlement expansion is not undertaken because of the demands of settler families, security for Israel or any other of the reasons often given. No, it is a weapon against the Palestinians, plain and simple; a tool in the ongoing conflict, in essence, a weapon in the continuing betrayal by the Israeli government of its own people and its opposition to ending the occupation of the West Bank and giving Palestinians the rights due to every human being in the world.

A last note: many media reports either highlight the Imad Mughniyya Group’s connection to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (a militant group from the Fatah party) or simply omit the Mughniyya Group entirely and simply say al-Aqsa Martyrs took credit. This, whether intentionally or not, serves also to promote the right-wing line that is trying to blame the Palestinian Authority for this crime. Since that time, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, certainly not a group known to be sympathetic to settlers or one to be squeamish about the use of violence in their resistance, issued a very strongly worded statement not only denying involvement but strongly condemning the act.

We are all – left, right and center – appalled by the killing of the Fogel family. In a different way, we should be at least as appalled by the behavior of Israel’s leadership.

They step on Palestinian rights as a matter of course, and this particular government has not missed an opportunity to alienate their closest Muslim allies, insult the United States and completely exasperate Europe. We are, unfortunately, used to this behavior by now.

But the response to the Itamar massacre has been shameful even for this government. They have used this tragedy, an incredible crime committed against one of their own, to enhance their political program, used the crime to increase the terror of their own people and taken the opportunity to expand the facts on the ground that are a wall between Israelis and Palestinians on one side and peace and security for both peoples on the other.

One can only hope the perpetrator of this crime can be brought to justice, and that’s not an unreasonable hope. What is less likely is that the men in control of the Israeli government will ever pay for the betrayal of their country in their zealous attempt to capitalize on the murder of babies in order to place yet another nail in the coffin of a two-state solution.

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  1. Pingback: ‘Tu Quoque’ or not to Quoque? Ongoing cycle of mutual wrongs and recriminations | Partners for Progressive Israel

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