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The Israeli culture of vengeance on full display

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A soldier holding a gun. The caption reads: ‘Just mow them down!!’ (photo credit: The People of Israel Demand Vengeance/Facebook via Times of Israel)

A soldier holding a gun. The caption reads: ‘Just mow them down!!’ (photo credit: The People of Israel Demand Vengeance/Facebook via Times of Israel)

Shock and anger have engulfed Israeli and Palestinian societies since they learnt last week of the barbarous murder of children from their communities. Hours after three Israeli teenagers’ bodies were located, long after their abduction, a Palestinian youth, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped, beaten and burnt to death, apparently as revenge.

These horrifying events should serve as a lesson in the obscene futility of vengeance. As a relative of one of the murdered children observed: “There is no difference between blood and blood.”

Sadly, that was not the message implicit in much of last week’s coverage. On social media, a juxtaposition of pictures from the same day’s New York Times showed how easy it is to forget not only that our blood is the same but that grief is too.

A headline about Israelis’ “heartbreak” was illustrated movingly by the families of the three Israeli teenagers huddled together, overwhelmed by their loss. A report on the killing of 16-year-old Abu Khdeir, on the other hand, was accompanied by an image of masked youths throwing stones.

These contrasting depictions of mourning were entirely misleading. True, Palestinian youngsters have been violently protesting in Jerusalem and communities in Israel since Abu Khdeir was buried. But so have groups of Israeli Jews. They have rampaged through Jerusalem and parts of Israel, calling out “Death to the Arabs” and attacking anyone who looks Palestinian.

Nonetheless, Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, a US Jewish organisation that claims to fight bigotry, was peddling an equally divisive message. In the Huffington Post he wrote of a Palestinian “culture of hatred”.

According to Foxman, Palestinian and Israeli societies are fundamentally different. Palestinian discontent is “fanned and incited into hatred by a widespread, unfettered support for violence against Jews and Israel”.

He was echoing a sentiment common in Israel, and famously voiced in the late 1960s by the then prime minister, Golda Meir. She suggested that even harder than forgiving the Arab enemy for killing Israel’s sons would be “to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons”.

In a bout of similar self-righteousness, many Israelis berate Palestinian parents for putting their children in danger’s way by allowing them to throw stones at Israeli security forces. The implication is that Palestinians – as a result of either culture or religion – value life less than Israelis.

Strangely, Israelis rarely question the implication of the decision taken by one in 10 of their number to live in illegal colonies on stolen Palestinian land. The settlers choose to put themselves and their children on the front lines too, even though they have far more choices than Palestinians about where to live.

In fact, neither Israelis nor Palestinians can claim to be above a culture of hate. As long as Israel’s belligerent occupation continues, their lives together in one small patch of the Middle East will continue to be predicated on bouts of violent confrontation.

But that does not mean Israeli and Palestinian culpability is equal. The reality is that Israelis, unlike Palestinians, have a sovereign state that represents them and protects them with a strong army.

Last week, the Israeli army announced that it had arrested several soldiers who posted online photographs of themselves vowing revenge against “Arabs” – part of a flood of calls for vengeance on ­Hebrew social media. The arrests played well with Israel’s image as a country that enforces the rule of law, but they concealed deeper truths.

The first is that the Israelis thirsting for reprisals are simply echoing their politicians and religious leaders whose statements for vengeance surpassed even the ugly grandstanding of Hamas, which had praised the Israeli teenagers’ abduction.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the way, citing a famous line of Hebrew poetry: “The devil himself has not yet created vengeance for the blood of a small child.” His economics minister, Naftali Bennett, urged Israel to “go mad”, while a former legislator vowed that Israel would turn Ramadan into a “month of darkness”. An influential and supposedly moderate rabbi hoped for “an army of avengers”.

Last week, left wing Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv to castigate the Netanyahu government for “incitement to violence”. But even this underestimated the problem.

Israeli leaders’ threats are not simply stoking an ugly mood on the street. The huge muscle of the Israeli security apparatus is flexing at their behest too. That was given graphic illustration in video footage of armed police in Jerusalem relentlessly kicking and punching a child – a 15-year-old American relative of Abu Khdeir – as he lay cuffed and helpless on the ground.

The cabinet is plotting a more subtle revenge. It plans to build new settlements – violence against Palestinian life on the little slivers of territory left to them – specifically to honour the three teenagers. Guarded by the army, settlers have already set up a new encampment in the West Bank.

The army, meanwhile, launched a series of strikes on Gaza, culminating in a new large-scale attack dubbed Operation Protective Edge. It has also revived a policy of demolishing the homes of relatives of Palestinian terror suspects. Backed by the courts, soldiers blew up the family homes of two men it accused of being behind the teenagers’ abduction.

As Human Rights Watch warned, Israel’s recent actions – mass arrests; armed raids; the killing of Palestinians, including minors; lockdowns of cities, house demolitions; and air strikes – amounted to “collective punishment”, international law’s euphemism for revenge, against Palestinians.

In the face of the enduring violence of Israel’s occupation, and the licence it provides soldiers to humiliate and oppress, ordinary Palestinians have a stark choice: to submit or resist. Ordinary Israelis, on the other hand, do not need to seek revenge on their own account. The Israeli state, military and courts are there every day doing it for them.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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15 Responses

  1. Basilio on July 9, 2014, 10:24 am

    Israelis and their supporters keep saying they’re more civilized, but when you’re an occupying power you have no high moral ground. Of course, Israelis play with words and say there’s no occupation, but the fact of the matter is that there were few Jews in the West Bank in the 1940’s. Yes, there were Jews in some parts like Hebron, but they were a small fraction of the population. For decades Israel has been taking land by force from Palestinians, and Zionists have the gall to claim they are part of a higher, more civilized culture. In what universe? There’s a lot of arrogance at play here.

    • MHughes976 on July 9, 2014, 11:46 am

      I often bore you by saying that Occupation is not morally wrong, provided that there is from the beginning a clear intention to return the territory in question either to its former government or to a new one representing the inhabitants who were there when the occupation occurred. What we have here is not really occupation but conquest.

    • chet on July 9, 2014, 1:41 pm

      The following is a comment I saved from CiF that seems appropriate here:

      Ethnic Cleansing is defined as the mass expulsion or killing of members of one ethnic or religious group in an area by those of another.

      What exactly don’t you understand here?

      “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.”
      – David Ben-Gurion, May 1948, to the General Staff.
      From Ben-Gurion, A Biography, by Michael Ben-Zohar, Delacorte, New York 1978.

      “Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”
      – Theodore Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, speaking of the Arabs of Palestine, “Complete Diaries,” June 12, 1895 entry

      “The blood of the Jewish people is loved by the Lord; it is therefore redder and their life is preferable.”
      – Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg, head of the Kever Yossev Yeshiva (school of Talmud) in Nablus

      “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”
      – David Ben Gurion, quoted in The Jewish Paradox, by Nahum Goldmann, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978, p. 99

  2. iResistDe4iAm on July 9, 2014, 11:00 am

    Two Palestinian teenagers murdered in cold blood in the West Bank on May 15 by suspected Israeli snipers:
    – No suspects identified.
    – No arrests or charges in spite of security camera and news footage implicating Israeli forces.
    – Palestinian owner of security cameras arrested and threatened by Israel, and cameras confiscated.
    – Deaths: 2 Palestinians / 0 Israelis
    – Arrests: 1 Palestinian / 0 Israelis
    – Home Invasions: 0 Palestinian / 0 Israeli

    Three Israeli teenagers kidnapped in West Bank on June 12 by suspected Palestinian militants:
    – Israel immediately blames Hamas for the kidnapping while Hamas denies any involvement.
    – Israel starts a massive collective punishment rampage against Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
    – The collective punishment rampage lasts 18 days and results in the death of 10 Palestinians, the wounding of more than 90, the detention of more than 540, the ransacking of 1000+ homes, and 100 bombing raids (airstrikes, shellings) on the Gaza Strip.
    – Deaths: 12 Palestinians / 0 Israelis
    – Arrests: 541+ Palestinians / 0 Israelis
    – Home Invasions: 1000+ Palestinian / 0 Israeli

    One judicial policy for Jewish Israelis, a different judicial policy (collective punishment) for non-Jewish Palestinians = Israeli apartheid

    The three missing Israeli teenagers found dead in the West Bank on June 30:
    – With the 2 Palestinian suspects still at large, the Israeli collective punishment rampage continues with demolition of the family homes of the suspects, and the arrest of their relatives.
    – Repeated calls for vengeance from Israeli officials including the Prime Minister.
    – No tear gas nor rubber bullets used by Israeli forces during funeral for murdered Israeli teenagers.
    – Israelis hold anti-Arab rallies in Jerusalem chanting “death to the Arabs” and attacking Palestinian passers by.
    – No tear gas nor rubber bullets used against Israeli riots in spite of anti-Arab violence of the mobs.
    – Deaths: 12 Palestinians / 3 Israelis
    – Arrests: 560+ Palestinians / 0 Israelis
    – Home Invasions: 1010+ (with 2 demolished) Palestinian / 0 Israeli

    A Palestinian teenager kidnapped in East Jerusalem found dead in West Jerusalem on July 2, in a suspected act of Israeli revenge:
    – Israel immediately casts doubts as to motives for the murder by spreading rumours of a family feud/honor killing.
    – Israel detains and interrogates the father of the dead Palestinian boy and forces the boy’s mother to take a DNA test.
    – Israel arrests 6 Israeli suspects.
    – No collective punishment of settlers in the West Bank and no punitive demolitions of the 6 Israeli suspects’ homes.
    – No calls for vengeance from Palestinian officials.
    – Tear gas, rubber bullets & stun grenades used by Israeli forces during funeral for the murdered Palestinian teenager, with 170 Palestinians wounded in protests that followed, and another 11 wounded in Israeli air raids on Gaza.
    – Israeli forces brutally beat and detain Palestinians for allegedly throwing stones, with some beatings captured on video footage.
    – Deaths: 13 Palestinians / 3 Israelis
    – Arrests: 571+ Palestinians / 6 Israelis
    – Home Invasions: 1010+ ransacked & 2 demolished Palestinian / 0 Israeli

    One judicial policy for Jewish settlers, a different judicial policy (collective punishment) for non-Jewish Palestinians = Israeli apartheid

    Q: If Israel can arrest 6 alleged Jewish Israeli terrorists WITHOUT demolishing their family homes, killing 10 other Israelis, wounding 90+ others, detaining 540+ more, ransacking 1000+ Jewish settler homes and bombing settlement blocs with 100 bombing raids, then why can’t it arrest 2 alleged Palestinian terrorists the same way?

    A: Israeli apartheid demands collective punishment.
    Israeli supremacism demands “a thousand non-Jewish lives” for “a Jew’s fingernail”.
    Israeli fascism demands “death to the Arabs”.

    • eljay on July 9, 2014, 11:50 am

      >> iResistDe4iAm @ July 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

      A thorough and damning post. Well done.

    • Egbert on July 10, 2014, 4:23 am

      You can add the murders of the Oshrenko and Fogel families to your list. In both cases, both parents and all the children, including an infant, were murdered in the sleep by the assailants. In the first case, the assailant was Jewish so there was a normal police inquiry, arrest of suspect and trial for murder. In the second case, the alleged assailants (whatever happened to them? Have they been tried yet?) were Palestinian so a repeat of the rampages by military, mass publicity and Jewish outrage around the world etc, etc.

  3. seafoid on July 9, 2014, 12:11 pm

    The ugliness of Israeli society on full view today. All those civilians murdered in Gaza . Yedioth readers sated for today. Zionists will claim self defence. That’s enough for Dershowitz.

    And that’s today’s Israel with a sizeable “secular” proportion. 52% of kindergartners are Orthodox/Haredi. Imagine the hell Israel will be when they turn 25.

  4. Sumud on July 9, 2014, 1:47 pm

    Last week, the Israeli army announced that it had arrested several soldiers who posted online photographs of themselves vowing revenge against “Arabs” – part of a flood of calls for vengeance on ­Hebrew social media.

    Any follow-up on these arrests? Israel announces all kind of things which they don’t ever follow through on – like saying they would return ALL the equipment and footage stolen from the Free Gaza Flotilla activists in 2010…

  5. Danaa on July 9, 2014, 2:51 pm

    Just today, an image popped up on a facebook page of an israeli, showing the mangled body of a bombed palestinian loaded onto an ambulance in gaza. Comments underneath it, ranged from “more of the same please” to “‘why are they loading unto ambulance? for chips?” or something like that. Then there is the ubiquitous ” they would be worse”. This is quite typical for the commentary one sees in Israel. The sheer blood-lust displayed on israel’s social media – and in conversations on the street (as recounted by some brave souls) are truly disgusting as well as overwhelming. Even if it’s “only” 20% of the so-called jewish population that actually express these sentiments, there’s another 40% that feel the same but have enough sensibility to not express the hatred openly. But it’s there, percolating just barely under the surface – and at least in Israel – they know it. As does max Blumenthal whose indefatiguable documentation in “Goliah” is driving the mainstream good jews of America quite crazy with distress.

    I said before and I can only repeat again – what you see in Hebrew is 100 times worse than anything you read in English. Israel gets to hide its extremely ugly side behind an obscure language that most of the world does not speak or comprehend (including the vast majority of jewish Americans). Had even a fraction of the average Hebrew conversation/postings/ramblings been on display for the world to see, as they are in Israel, I doubt that even some of the greater supporters of israel’s brutal conquests would not avert their eyes in utter shame and discomfort.

    There is a great evil that’s taken root in the very souls of the israeli public, and especially among the younger generations. That evil hides behind a [very] foreign language at the moment – so what is visible to the English world is but a tiny echo – and that is already repulsive plenty. Enough so that Jewish publications like NYT labor mightily to couch whatever is happening in “cycle of violence” language and other white washings. Making sure we see masked Palestinian youth throwing stones, rather than photos of grieving mothers and broken, leveled orchards and destroyed homes. As for people who know and see how israelis actually speak, witnessing the culture of pure distilled hatred that grew up among the sand dunes and hilly country-sides of the holy land is so discomfiting that they choose to turn away, as we all tend to do when confronted with the darkest side of our human capital. It’s just too plain unbearable.

    I would like to call upon more Hebrew speakers to share with us all what is really happening in Israel and what has really happened to israelis. I know people can easily find counter-examples (there was a photo of the uncle of one of the murdered Israeli teenagers hugging the father of the murdered palestinian boy that was shared on facebooks too), but these are a small subset of the total – oftentimes used as cheap Hasbara to illustrate that – “hey, we have good people among us”. Of course there are good people among Israelis. But there were good people in Germany too when the nazis were raging about, and there were certainly some good people when the Palestinian/Hindu massacres happened in 47-49 and there were good Spaniard and Portugese people who were appalled at the misdeeds of the conquistadors, and probably some Turks who were quite taken aback by what was done to the Armenians. But those were not the ones who carried the day – did they? for example – we don’t even know the names of those Turks who spoke up against the Armenian genocide – history has relegated their names to near-obscurity, hasn’t it? the only saving grace at the moment, and frankly the only thing that’s holding back the full madness of israel from being unleashed, is the world out there, with its internet, blogs like this one (and many more) and a growing legion of stubborn truth-tellers.

    I guess that’s what I am trying to warn about – beware that those good people in Israel – and many we know here on MW – and there are no doubt many more we don’t know – may not be on the winning side. They certainly aren’t in israel at the moment or we would hear that much more from their ranks rather than the few highly laudable – and visible – groups, like breaking the Silence, B’tzelem and others. Once Pandora’s box is opened and the furies are let loose, a few good – and brave – men and women is just not enough to hold the dam. We all have to step up and help, at least by holding the mirror, as steadfastedly as we can.

    For that we need many more articles like this one. Kudos to Jonathan Cook.

  6. crone on July 9, 2014, 4:42 pm

    this excerpt from 972blog

    “… Let’s talk about the racist valuation of blood. In the Zionist blood market, the cheapest blood is Arab. You can spill it like water, bomb it, shoot it, fence it in, choke it, or burn it with gasoline or white phosphorus. Slightly less cheap blood, although still pretty cheap, is that of someone who hasn’t managed to find a way into the exclusive “salt of the earth” club: Mizrahim, Ethiopians, Russians and people who ride public buses and live in public housing apartments, many of which are dangerous enough even if they aren’t located within rocket range. So let’s talk about blood that isn’t cheap. Blood that requires revenge. The blood of those who’s deaths are the cause of national mourning, who are born not only as Jews, but the right type of Jew, of the right color and in the right place.

    And let’s talk about the fact that that racist valuation exists for all Israeli Jews — for the cultured and educated, and especially for leftists. A wounded Jewish person at a protest against the separation barrier unites us in a show of solidarity that we wouldn’t give for even thousands of wounded Palestinians or dozens of killed. And if the Left was to react to the news of each and every one of the 1,520 Palestinian children that Israel murdered since 2000 in the same way that it reacted to the deaths of three settler youths, it would no doubt long ago have drown in its own sorrow and statements of condemnation.”

  7. tinywriting on July 9, 2014, 7:50 pm
  8. traintosiberia on July 9, 2014, 11:30 pm

    Foxman knows how to shape emotion by playing on words. Golds Meir knew . So did Abba Eban.
    But essentially , Jewish people always excelled without fail in creating emotion laden false narrative by language .
    The world run by the elite still depend on the Logo and on the exclusive acceess to theodium from where those cant are transmitted . Any effort to turn it around and throw those very words back at Israel will be derided as antisemite or Hate Speech.
    Europe would bar the entry of any person if he or she used those very words against Israel . But Foxman knows the rule won’t apply to him . Actually any attempt to stop him would be labeled as the weakness of the western society and triumph of restriction of free speech . Among various reasons offered by the ADL,one would be that the Islam in Europe is poisoning the openness of European mind .

  9. Chu on July 10, 2014, 3:07 pm

    how does Israel want to be perceived, in the east and west, if and when their occupation ever ends? Because I get the feeling they are burning every bridge on their island and no nation will want to ally with them because they’ve cheated the system every step of the way.

    Is anger & vengeance the core of their being? It seems like a place to avoid visiting.
    I’d rather visit Prague, Copenhagen or some normal place where people are in tune with their surroundings. The Israel project has went off the rails decades ago, but critics were told to not look at the derailment, as the crazy train floated into the sunset.

  10. Chu on July 10, 2014, 3:12 pm

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