There is no such thing as a “Revenge Attack,” Updated.

This morning, two Palestinian men went on a rampage in a West Jerusalem synagogue in the neighborhood of Har Nof. Wielding an axe and a gun, they murdered four Jewish worshipers and injured many more.

Immediately after hearing of this horrific attack, I reposted on this blog a piece I’d written this past summer, right after Muhammad Abu Khdeir was murdered. In follow up comments, it was pointed out to me that this post was confusing and that some readers thought that I was referring to a new event. First off, I apologize for the confusion, and I am going to take the opportunity to reformulate the piece more clearly and in a way that more directly relates to the events of today.

This past summer, I was sharply critical of Israeli news outlets, ranging from the Times of Israel to Haaretz, for framing Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s murder as a “revenge attack.” I wrote:

There is no such thing as a “revenge attack.” 

While it seems logical, it is in fact an absurd, inappropriate and meaningless way to frame what happened. The Times of Israel, in the article linked above, writes that the police suspect that the event, in which there are suspicions that the 15-year old Palestinian boy named Mohammad Abu Khdeir who was kidnapped near a grocery store in the Shuafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem was the same boy whose body was found brutally murdered and left in the Jerusalem woods, and that this was a “revenge attack” carried out by “Jewish ultra-nationalists.”

Which sounds logical, until you think about it for a moment: The framing of this horror as a “revenge attack” buys into a narrative of collectivist Eye-for-an-Eye-ism, ie., The Arabs killed Jews so The Jews take revenge on The Arabs. That’s it. As if, somehow, this boy who was killed had any connection to the Palestinians who killed the three Israeli boys [in June 2014]. It is the same logic used by Hamas to justify their bombing of a passover seder filled with elderly Holocaust survivors (Baruch Goldstein had recently committed his own act of massacre against Palestinians). In this logic, there are no individuals, no human beings, and everyone is pared down into two groups. And if this is a “revenge attack,” then the kidnapping and murder of the three Jewish boys was also surely a “revenge attack” for something done by The Jews at some juncture. Everyone who murders other people has grievances for which they are exacting revenge.

I posted this piece today in response to what I was seeing, this time, from parts of the Palestinian media and the Pro-Palestine online community. One example came from Sabeel, a progressive Palestinian Christian organization that does important work, in general, but who framed the events as follows:

”Lord, a Palestinian bus driver who works for an Israeli bus company was found dead and hanged in his bus earlier this week. There is strong suspicion and anger in the Palestinian community that this was a result of a terror attack by Jewish extremists and not suicide.”

This seemed fair to me– they are careful to note that it is still a suspicion, and then explain that many indeed think it was a terror attack. But then, they continue:

On Tuesday, several people died and several were injured in a seemingly retaliatory attack on a West Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinians.

It took me a moment to realize that they were even referring to the Baruch Goldstein-style attack on unarmed people in a place of holy worship. “Several people died?” Is that all they can muster? And, of course, they point out that it was a seemingly “retaliatory attack.” It is shocking how easy it is to rationalize the wrongdoings of our “own” and minimize the suffering of the “other.” Sabeel’s piece actually reminded me of Ari Shavit’s writing in “My Promised Land,” which I critiqued harshly, noting particularly his use of the phrase “scores of Arabs were killed”:

When I read scores, I think… “A bunch. A bunch of anonymous Arabs are left dead when understandably angry Jews take revenge for the massacre of eleven children.” In other words: too bad, but not too bad.


(My full take on Cohen’s 1929).

So to reiterate. I do not think that there is such a thing as a “revenge attack.” Not when carried out by Jews, not when carried out by Arabs. Murder is murder. I ask everyone, in these awful times, to please do all they can to put out the “they were getting even” discourse. It will only lead to more horror.