Cross-posted from Middle East Eye
When the bodies of three Israeli settlers -- two teenagers, Aftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 -- were found on 30 June near Hebron in the southern West Bank, Israel went into a state of mourning and a wave of sympathy flowed from around the world. The three had disappeared 18 days earlier in circumstances that remain unclear.
The entire episode, particularly after its grim ending, seemed to traumatize Israelis into ignoring harsh truths about the settlers and the militarisation of their society. For instance, one of the three has since been accused of humiliating Palestinian prisoners, while another was reportedly an occupation soldier.
Amid a portrayal of the three as hapless youths, although one was a 19-year-old soldier, commentators have failed to provide badly needed context to events. Few, if any, assigned the blame where it was most deserved -- on expansionist policies which have sown hatred and bloodshed.
Before the bodies' discovery, the real face of Netanyahu's notoriously right-wing government was well-known. Few held Illusions about how "peaceful" an occupation can be if run by figures such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, and Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon. But because "children" -- the term used by Netanyahu himself -- were involved, even critics didn't expect an exercise in political point-scoring.
The was sympathy elicited for the missing settlers case, but it quickly vanished in the face of an Israeli response (in the West Bank, Jerusalem and later a full-scale war on Gaza) largely seen as in the crucible of world opinion as disproportionate and cruel. Rather than related to the tragic death of three youths, this response obviously reflected Netanyahu's grand political calculations.
As mobs of Israeli Jews went out on an ethnic lynching spree in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank that some likened to a "pogrom," occupation soldiers conducted a massive arrest campaign of hundreds of Palestinians, mostly Hamas members and supporters.
The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas said it has no role in the death of the settlers, and this appears plausible since they rarely hesitate to take credit for something carried out by their military wing. Israeli military strategists were well aware of that.
This war on Hamas, however, has little to with the killed settlers, and everything to do with the political circumstances that preceded their disappearance.
Nakba and a new Intifada
On 15 May, two Palestinian youths, Nadim Siam Abu Nuwara, 17, and Mohammed Mahmoud Odeh Salameh, 16 were killed by Israeli soldiers while taking part in a protest commemorating the anniversary of the Nakba, or "Great Catastrophe." Video footage shows that Nadim was innocently standing with a group of friends before collapsing as he was hit by an Israeli army bullet.
The Nakba took place 66 years ago as the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict emerged. An estimated one million Palestinians were forced out of their homes as they fled a Zionist invasion. Israel was established on the ruins of that Palestine.
Nadim and Mohammed, like the youths of several generations since, were killed in cold blood as they walked to remember that exodus. In Israel, there was no outrage. However, Palestinian anger, which seems is in constant accumulation -- being under military occupation and enduring harsh economic conditions -- was reaching a tipping point.
In some way, the deaths of these Palestinian youths were a distraction from the political disunity that has afflicted Palestinian leaderships and society for years. Their deaths were a reminder that Palestine, as an idea and a collective plight and struggle, goes beyond the confines of politics or even ideology.
Their deaths reminded us that there is much more to Palestine than the whims of the aging Palestinian Authority "President" Mahmoud Abbas and his Ramallah-based henchmen, or even Hamas's regional calculations following the rise and fall of the "Arab Spring."
The Israeli reaction to the settlers' death has been different. After the bodies' discovery, fellow settlers and right-wing Israelis began exacting revenge from Palestinian communities. The mob was united by the slogan "death to the Arabs," reviving a long-disused notion of a single Palestinian identity that precedes the emergence of Fatah and Hamas.
Perhaps paradoxically, the grief and anger provoked by the death of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, 17, who was burned alive by Israeli settlers as part of this lashing out, has furthered this reawakening of a long-fragmented Palestinian national identity.