The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists is a UN-recognized pro-Israel advocacy group. It so happened that on June 24, 2014, 12 days after the abduction and murder of Gilad Sha’ar, 16, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, and one week before their bodies were discovered, the UN Human Rights Commission was conducting a hearing focusing on human rights in the Occupied Territories.
The UN should not be looking at Israel’s Occupation at a time like this, argued AJLJ. They provided the following statement:
“Today’s general debate is dedicated to the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Golan Heights. However, it is impossible to focus on such issues in light of recent events. The kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinian terrorists and the killing of a 13 year old Israeli boy by a guided missile fired by Syrian forces, fired across the border. Kidnapping and hostage taking, and the targeting of unarmed civilians are all international crimes. Apart from the legal aspects of these acts, the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists is disappointed by the inaction and apathy of the international community.”
In an apparent effort to shame the world community away from considering the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the AJLJ brought to Geneva the three mothers of the teens kidnapped on the West Bank to share their pain. It was not a friendly forum in Geneva. Rachel Fraenkel, who has become the spokesperson for the mothers, was less confident, less impressive here than in interviews we have seen with her since. The young lawyer representative of the Association was also ill at ease. She spoke too fast. She tripped over her scolding words. She projected anger at the world community: How dare they question Israel’s human rights record when it’s so clear that Israel is the victim here. The emotion was heartfelt.
There is, however, a gulf of difference between the emotion expressed by Rachel Fraenkel, and the emotion expressed by AJLJ in its role as defense lawyer for Israel’s occupation. The mothers’ loss is real, deep, universal and deserves our sympathy. Their sons, cruelly cut down, were bright young students, full of life and joy. It matters not that their Yeshiva is on occupied land. It matters not that we may disagree with the mothers’ world view. They deserve, and the world needs, that we offer them our immediate and unconditional comfort and love. But the occupation doesn’t get to ride the coattails of this sympathy.
As Amjad Iraqi points out in his article “Our Problem with Selective Sympathy for Young Victims”, apathy towards “the other” child’s suffering is painful to watch. It’s painful when we watch Netanyahu objectify Palestinians as “wild beasts;” it’s painful when we observe it in Palestinians; and it should be painful if we catch it within ourselves.
Here’s Amjad Iraqi:
“In the two to three weeks following the abduction of the three Israeli boys, at least eight Palestinians were killed during Israel’s military responses in both Gaza and the West Bank. Among them were 10-year-old Ali al-Awour, 15-year-old Mohammad Dudeen and 22-year-old Mustafa Hosni Aslan. Ali died of wounds from an Israeli missile strike in northern Gaza; Mohammad was killed by a single live bullet in the village of Dura; Mustafa was killed by live bullets in Qalandiya refugee camp during clashes with an Israeli military raid.
I write the names of those three Palestinian boys not to belittle the horrific deaths of the three Israeli boys. I write their names because, while everyone will remember Gilad, Naftali and Eyal, no one will remember Ali, Mohammad or Mustafa. In the coming days, Israeli and international media will be filled with stories of the Israeli boys’ upbringings, the cries of their loved ones, and the fiery promises of political leaders. The same will not be done for the latter; their existence will merely be recorded by a digit in a casualty data collection, nameless and faceless additions to a chart or a graph. Their killers will never be named or brought to trial.
Even if many of the thousands who attended the funeral may not return the favor, and the occupation continues its collective punishment, our sympathy for victims must cut across partisan lines.
The occupation and those who carry it out, by contrast, don’t deserve protection or sympathy any more than the kidnappers themselves. It’s not “impossible” to focus on human rights violations “because of recent events” as the ALJC spokeswoman argued. To the contrary, it’s more important than ever to do so. And yes, it is perfectly appropriate for AJLJ to bring the mothers of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal to testify. It’s part of the story. But only a small part. UNHRC should likewise bring to Geneva the mothers of Ali, Mohammad, and Mustafa. Hearing testimony from the victims of Israel’s collective punishment is not unseemly at a time like this.
Targeting of unarmed civilians with guided missiles is an international crime whether it comes from Syrian forces, Hamas, or Israeli soldiers, tanks, and F-16’s. Killing of unarmed civilians is an international crime whether it is done by Amur Abu Aysha and Marwan Kawasme, or by an IDF sniper. AJLJ has it exactly backwards: by conducting hearings on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the world community is not engaged in “inaction and apathy:” it’s the only way the world can engage and show its concern.