A camera is pointed into a dark room. The shutter clicks, the flash goes off. Among the smiling faces appears a ghost. It is clear, omnipresent and frightening. Israel’s apartheid is bare for all to see. This time even the most ardent apologists will have a hard time explaining why Netanyahu is not sending IDF troops to rampage through the town or settlement from which the suspected Jewish killers of 16 year old East Jerusalem resident Mohammed Abu Khdeir came or why Israel is not demolishing their families’ homes with the blessings of Israel’s Supreme Court as was done to the Palestinian suspects’ families.
The immolation murder of 16 year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir can become Israel’s Rosa Parks moment or what the Sharpeville Massacre was to South Africa. Those incidents, which are known as momentous tipping points and are etched in history books, became famous because they crystallized the injustice and racism of the oppression. So glaring is the disparity in value that Israel attaches to Jewish versus non-Jewish life, so salient is the uneven treatment of the perpetrators, that a complete collapse of the Zionist narrative is at stake and years of advocacy may wither because of a single emblematic event.
While the murder of Abu Khdeir by Jewish nationalists made international headlines, it is worth remembering that there have been many such killings before, some on a much larger scale (notably the gunning down of 29 unarmed Muslim worshippers in Hebron in 1994 by Brooklyn-born settler Baruch Goldstein). But with the Arab teenager’s murder taking place in such close proximity to the murder of the three Jewish teenagers, Gil-Ad Shaer (16), Eyal Yifrah (19) and Naftali Fraenkel (16), and Israel’s hysterical response to those murders, the obvious unavoidable question arises: why is Israel’s government not demolishing the homes of the suspected Jewish terrorists’ families? This question is already being asked by Slate writer William Saletan and Haaretz writer Amos Harel who assured his readers, tongue-in-cheek, “it appears that the houses of the Jewish murder suspects’ families will not be demolished”. Obviously, nobody in Israel expected that to happen.
In a way, Israel’s government is a victim of its own hubris and political ambition. When the three Israeli teenagers disappeared, it could have treated it as you would any disappearance case by coordinating the investigation with Palestinian police and security forces as there was no evidence that it was anything beyond an individual initiative (that, of course, did not prevent Netanyahu from blaming Hamas and bombing Gaza), most likely a reprisal for the Beitunia killings a few weeks earlier. Instead, Netanyahu’s extreme-right cabinet decided to use the full might of its army to mete out collective punishment and wreak havoc on hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, killing nine of them and arresting hundreds. By doing so it also exposed the fiction that is the “Palestinian territories” and confirmed what everybody knew: that Israel is the lone sovereign between the Jordan river and the sea, where different sets of laws govern Jews and non-Jews. They did not expect that only a few days later they would be facing a simple question: if these are effective anti-terrorism measures, why are they not using them against Jewish terrorists?
Israel’s discriminatory nature has come to the fore in the most unambiguous manner. This is why this gruesome murder must be hushed and whisked away through the back door until it is forgotten. This is why Israel’s police, courts and government will be in cahoots with each other to make that happen. A self introspection is not on the agenda, even though it should be: a 16 year old was burned to death by Jews, with all the symbolic meanings.
The first attempt to railroad the story was a nasty rumor that blogger Richard Silverstein traced to its source: Israel’s police. The rumor attributed the murder to “family honor killing due to the victim’s homosexuality” – a calumny that had no factual basis. This slander of the victim was eagerly embraced by the Israeli public, already conditioned to believe the worst about Palestinians, including that Palestinians kill their own children to score PR points against Israel. Thus the victim’s family was honored with a double slap in the face as Israel’s police was not only dallying with the investigation and trying to dismiss it as a family feud (even though it occurred at a time when marauding Jewish gangs were seeking “revenge” on Arab bystanders) but also demonized Palestinian society for murderous homophobia. When it became clear that several CCTV footages exist that caught the kidnapping of the teen on tape with the car’s license plate and the murderers’ faces clearly visible, Israel’s police had no choice but to arrest the Jewish suspects.
Then came a second diversion by the same law enforcement arm which seems to take on itself a PR agency’s role in crisis management, well aware that they have Hasbara* kryptonite on their hands: a gag order was prematurely lifted on the investigation of the murder case of 19 year old Jewish victim Shelly Dadon from two months earlier. The murder has been solved, claimed the police, and the Arab suspect is in custody. Even though the two murders are unrelated and it is not clear that the murder of Shelly Dadon was politically motivated, the release of this information at the same time and the announcement of a joint press conference for both cases was understood by all observers as a politically motivated attempt to deflect the focus from Abu Khdeir’s murder and to create a “balance”.
Israel’s current escalation and assault on Gaza should be viewed in the same context – a cynical attempt to distract and make the Abu Khdeir immolation lynching story disappear from headlines and memory (and to a lesser extent the brutal beating of his American 15 year old cousin Tarek by Israel’s Border Police). While assaulting Gaza’s defenseless population, Israel’s government will find itself back in its comfort zone where it will be able to take control of the narrative by having obsequious Western media outlets and politicians parrot its preposterous claim that it is “defending itself”. They will also repeat the hackneyed “what would US/UK/Canada do” line, ignoring the fact that Gaza is an open air prison for dispossessed Palestinian refugees under Israel’s control. An escalation along the northern border cannot be precluded. This is what happens when you suffer two devastating PR blows in one week.
Will the subterfuge work or will history remember the immolation murder of 16 year old Mohammed Abu K’deir as Israel’s Rosa Parks moment, the moment when Israel’s apartheid could no longer be denied? Only time will tell.
* Hasbara, meaning “explanation” in Hebrew, is how Israel refers to its propaganda efforts.