Over the last few weeks a steadily rising number of Jewish citizens of Israel have been attacked by Palestinians. Many have been stabbed. At least one Israeli Defense Force member has been shot and killed.
Since the beginning of the month, at least nine Israelis have been killed, along with 41 Palestinians, 20 of whom Israeli authorities have identified as attackers. The remaining 21 Palestinians died in clashes with Israeli troops.
The soldier, killed in an attack at a bus station in Beersheba, was one of two who died there. The other, an immigrant from Eritrea, was mistaken for an assailant.
[S]ix other Israelis were also injured as an Eritrean was shot by an Israeli security guard who reportedly believed the African was a second assailant.
In cellphone videos from the bus station, a lynch mob descends on the Eritrean after he was shot, lying on the ground. Bystanders kick him, throw a bench at him and pin him to the ground with a chair as he bleeds profusely.
Before Hamas (or the media) morphs the violence into a Third Intifada, here are a few things to remember.
The violence is not one sided, and has not been. Many Americans, including Evangelicals, seem to believe Palestinians are the only ones in the decades old conflict who commit violence. This is patently false. Israelis commit violence against Palestinians and even Israeli Arabs. The torching of the Tomb of Joseph, a Jewish holy place, by Palestinians made the news. The torching of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, was committed by two Jewish men, but was little reported.
Some of the motivation of the Palestinians to carry out terror attacks is due to the violence of right-wing elements in the West Bank.
The occupation, nearing its 50th year, cannot be dismissed as a contributing factor to violence. From the Los Angeles Daily News:
The emerging generation of Palestinian young people has few opportunities and sees little in the way of a future.
“You have a generation that has lost hope,” said [Khaled] Elgindy [fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution]. “There is no horizon for them, nothing that could give them any hope. There’s no Palestinian state coming. The settlements keep swallowing up more of their land. The future is evaporating before their eyes.”
Less freedom of movement between Israeli and the Occupied Territories has meant less mixing between Palestinians and Israelis in day-to-day life, which many say makes it easier for one side to dehumanize the other.
“They have far less contact with Israelis than the older generation,” said Nathan Thrall, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. “You used to have much more intermingling. It’s a generation that knows Israelis much less than older ones. They know them primarily through their interactions with an occupying army.”
Sharief Badran, an 18-year-old resident of Buriej in Gaza, joined a public demonstration after an early October clash. He said,
[W]e can’t take it anymore.
Settlement building cannot be overlooked. For many years settlements have been used to expand Israeli presence in the Occupied Territories. The obvious effect is to make a potential Palestinian state impossible. Settlements are the pre-eradication of a two state solution. Settlements and outposts divide existing Palestinian towns from each other while consuming ever more land for Jewish residents. While much has been made over the years of Arab threats to push Israel into the sea, some Israeli higher-ups have made no secret of their desire to displace the rest of the Palestinian population. Ongoing confiscation of lands for settlements is evidence that some in Israel’s government intend to see it happen.
The confiscation of land by an occupying force is a violation of international law, as held by most countries. It’s a war-time act after the war has ended.
Settler violence should be equated to Palestinian violence, but often is not. A “settler,” in the Israeli-Palestinian context, is a Jewish person who moves onto land forcibly taken from Palestinians, i.e., into settlements. It can also refer to Jewish residents who move into homes from which Palestinians have been forcibly evicted. In many cases, these homes have belonged to Palestinian families for many years, if not multiple generations. Land for settlements is taken by the government. Land for “outposts” is taken by settlers.
Jewish settlers have been responsible for physical attacks on Palestinian houses, property, livestock, fruit and olive trees, automobiles and Palestinians themselves. The human rights organization Yesh Din reported 246 incidents of settler destruction of Palestinian fruit trees (which equals assaults on their income) in the West Bank between 2005 and 2014. Last week a settler with a knife attacked Rabbi Arik Asherman, the president of Rabbis for Human Rights, as he attempted to protect Palestinian farmers during an olive harvest.
Israeli settler violence is woefully under-reported in the U.S. media.
Police responses are not equal, which enflames the situation. In multiple instances Palestinian assailants with knives have been killed during or just following reported assaults on Israelis. Israelis caught in recent acts of violence have been arrested, not killed. Between 2000 and 2011 only 23% of reported settler violence acts were investigated by Israeli police. An opinion piece in Haaretz notes:
[T]he trend of shooting people who have stabbed others to death should concern us because of what it says about our leaders’ attitudes, as well as its ramifications for Israeli society in general and innocent bystanders in particular.
The author agrees with oft-stated concerns as to what shoot-to-kill policies, vigilantism, and the PTSD brought on by so much killing means for Israeli democracy.
The complexity of violence between Palestinians and Israelis is more than can be examined in a single post. It is a cycle with each blaming the other for the violence. Aggression and retribution are commonplace with both sides guilty of initiation at various times.
Perhaps the “I support Israel” memes popular on Facebook should say, “I support Israel when she’s aligned with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Since, you know, Messiah and all that. In many instances Israel’s government does not even obey the Old Testament.
The secular government of Israel is not above specific critique for sinful acts, nor are the Israelis themselves. American Christians who think calling out Israeli injustice is tantamount to touching “the apple of God’s eye,” are wrong. Bibi Netanyahu is only an instrument of God generally as all kings and presidents are. He, nor any other prime minister of the land, is no more or less God’s instrument specifically than Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Idi Amin, or King Tut.
For followers of Jesus in the American context this means, more than ever, we need to be deliberate, even-handed, and consistently biblical when issuing condemnation in this constantly roiling situation. Criticizing Palestinians solely while ignoring obvious Israeli transgressions is clearly problematic. It is an injustice all its own.