Israel Wrestles with Extremists on Both Sides
Israel, a global technology leader, has developed a smartphone app that gives users a 15-second warning whenever a rocket has been fired from Gaza. In the past few days, those alerts have been going off repeatedly as Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction, shoots hundreds of rockets at Israeli cities.
After several days of offering "quiet in exchange for quiet" to no avail, Israel has responded to the increased rocket fire with airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza. Hamas leaders live among civilians and often locate their missile factories and weapons stockpiles in neighborhoods, so Palestinian civilian casualties are likely to mount. With Hamas now firing long-range missiles able to reach Tel Aviv, the violent action-reaction dynamic will only intensify in the coming days.
The backdrop to the current crisis is the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, most likely by Hamas operatives, followed by the revenge kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager by Israeli extremists. Inflaming passions even further was the videotaped beating of a young Palestinian-American - a cousin of the slain teenager - by Israeli police.
Last month, three Jewish teens - Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah - were kidnapped while hitchhiking home from their school near a West Bank settlement. For 18 days, Israeli forces searched the Hebron area for the teens, arresting hundreds of Hamas members. Although Hamas denied official responsibility for the kidnappings, its leaders publicly praised the act and passed out candy to Palestinian children in celebration. As it turned out, the three Israelis had been shot in the head shortly after being taken. The kidnapping and murder was recorded on one of the victim's cellphones. The Palestinian terrorists can be heard congratulating themselves and singing songs after shooting the boys.
Two days after the three bodies were found in a field near Hebron, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy from the Jerusalem area, was kidnapped and then burned alive, his body dumped in a forest. Israeli police arrested six Jewish extremists, some of whom have confessed. The Palestinians who killed the Israeli teens remain at large.
In both cases, the boys' only crime was being from the "other side" in the conflict. Innocent young lives were extinguished because of hate. In Palestinian society, hatred of Israel, demonization of Jews, and the honoring of "martyred" terrorists has long been commonplace - not just by Hamas, but in Palestinian Authority television programming and school textbooks. In Israel, while the extreme hate that fueled the revenge murder can be found more on the margins than the mainstream of society, the extremist fringe has been gaining ground, and militant Jewish settlers have long been able to get away with vandalism against Palestinians in the West Bank.
In Israel, last week's act of Jewish terrorism has sparked outrage and soul-searching. Rachelle Fraenkel, the mother of 16-year old Naftali who has become a national hero for her dignity in grief, quickly denounced the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed. "Even in the abyss of mourning for Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, it is difficult for me to describe how distressed we are by the outrage committed in Jerusalem," Frankel said.
This "shedding of innocent blood," she said, was "in defiance of all morality and the Torah." Fraenkel declared that, "No mother or father should ever have to go through what we are going through, and we share the pain of Mohammed's parents."
David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel, wrote that, "We can try to comfort ourselves by claiming that our thugs and killers are aberrations, reviled by the mainstream, while their thugs and killers are widely exalted heroes. But our aberrations are multiplying - our killers and our thugs, our Jewish terror groups and our uniformed assailants, our race hate attacks. And unlike the Palestinians, we cannot claim the ‘occupation' in our ostensible defense - for we are masters of our own destiny, and we must urgently reassert our higher values."
Israelis understand that they must confront the Jewish extremism in their midst. But as they seek refuge in bomb shelters with sirens blaring and missiles falling, they must also combat Palestinian extremism.