Commentary Magazine


Two Crimes and the Myths of the Intifadas

Today’s news of the arrests of six Jewish extremists in the murder of an Arab teenager last week will likely only add to the anger fueling violent Arab protests both inside Israel and in the West Bank. As Seth Mandel and Eugene Kontorovich ably pointed out earlier today, there is no excuse for this heinous crime and no comparing it to the murders of Jews that are widely cheered by Palestinians. But this atrocity could turn out to be the event that sets a third intifada in motion.

As the Times of Israel’s Elhanan Miller writes today, the gruesome death of 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir brings to mind the alleged justifications for the events that were used to exploit Arab anger and begin both the first and second intifadas. Like the 1987 traffic accident that took the lives of Palestinian laborers and Ariel Sharon’s stroll on the Temple Mount in 2000, the murder of the Palestinian teenager is merely an excuse for Arabs, both in Israel and the West Bank, to vent their spleen at the Jewish state rather than a protest focused on a specific grievance or injustice.

Miller rightly points out that those intifadas didn’t come out of a void. Both had the appearance of a spontaneous uprising but were exploited by the Palestinian leadership. In particular, the second intifada was a calculated response by Yasir Arafat to a peace offer that cynically plunged the country into a war that cost thousands of casualties to both sides and did incalculable damage to the Palestinian economy and Israeli faith in the peace process. While an intifada isn’t in the interests of Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, the bloodletting could be exactly what his new partners/rivals of Hamas want to rebuild their tarnished political brand.

As such, the rioting that spread throughout Israel and the territories over the weekend must be understood as being more than a natural reaction to a horrendous crime against an Arab. Like previous rationales for Arab violence—whether taken out of context or pure fabrications such as the claim that Sharon’s walk was a prelude to the destruction of the mosques on the Temple Mount—Abu Khdeir’s death is well on its way to becoming part of the Palestinian martyrology used to justify violence against the Jewish state.

To state this fact is not to minimize the disgusting nature of the murder of the Arab teenager or the revulsion felt by Jews around the world at the thought that some of their co-religionists have sunk to such barbarism. This senseless act may, for once, justify efforts to treat competing Arab and Jewish actions events as morally equivalent. Unlike comparisons such as the one attempted by the New York Times that I wrote about last week, which treated the death of kidnapping victims as no different from that of an Arab who took to the streets to fight Israeli forces attempting to find/rescue the teens, Abu Khdeir appears to have been the innocent casualty of an act of terror. That most Israelis condemn the murder of Abu Khdeir while most Palestinians mocked the plight of the three Jewish teenagers will not prevent the world from treating these two incidents as essentially cancelling each other out.

But the manner in which the Palestinians are exploiting this crime has little to do with these specific circumstances. If indeed this is to be the start of a third intifada, it will have no more to do with one Arab teenager than the incidents that allegedly set them off. Just as the murder of the three Israeli teens did not justify any attacks on individual Arabs, the riots that broke out today are not really about the death of a Palestinian boy or even generalized grievances against Israel. Rather, it a violent expression of resentment against Zionism and the existence of a Jewish state that they would like to see disappear.

It should be remembered that Palestinians took to the streets in large numbers to protest after the kidnapping but before the news about the death of the Abu Khdeir. In the first round of demonstrations, the Palestinians were seeking to oppose the efforts of Israelis searching for kidnapping victims. In the current riots, they are expressing anger in a way that actually seeks to target individual Israelis within reach who had nothing to do with what happened to the Arab victims. The rocket fire from Hamas terrorists that is raining down on southern Israel the last few days also is motivated by their desire to exact a price for the arrests of their operatives in the wake of the kidnapping, not a protest about one Arab teenager.

The unbalanced nature of this conflict remains. A two-state solution in which both sides would accept each other’s legitimacy remains more popular among Jews than Arabs. The force motivating Palestinian political efforts remains a belief in the struggle to eliminate Israel, not a desire to rectify any particular misbehavior on the part of their antagonists. In Palestinian eyes, every act of terror against the Jews remains justifiable if not heroic. Their objections about Israeli misbehavior, even when their complaints are genuine, are not about redressing grievances but an excuse to exacerbate the conflict so as to make their own attacks more effective. If, as many fear, another round of violence that will be dubbed an intifada will follow these tragic events, no one should confuse it with a genuine protest. Instead, it will be, as was the case with the first two intifadas, a mere pretext for more violence. When seen in that light, even when we acknowledge the horror of the murder of the Arab teenager, the mythology of this intifada will be just as much of a lie as its predecessors.

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