Context, or, Why pro-occupation Israeli politicians’ condemnation of Ali Saad Dawabshe’s murder are not really condemnations at all

I just got home from the rally at Zion Square, and the parts of the rally that addressed the murder of 18 month-old Ali Saad Dawabshe left me feeling deeply upset, rather than hopeful.

Indeed, such condemnations have come from virtually every corner of the Israeli political spectrum, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s branding it as “terrorism,” to Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog’s statement that “Jewish terrorists” should have their homes demolished and put be put under administrative detention “just like Muslim terrorists” [further emphasizing how radically undeserving he is of the title “Opposition Leader” or “Left-wing;” as if suggesting an increase in horrid, draconian acts of collective punishment is somehow a progressive position to take…].

But such condemnations are not heartening. They are the opposite: They are nauseating.

This murder – like the murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir last summer – was so horrific as to be virtually un-un-condemnable. And condemnation, at least at a surface level, is easy. Fingers can be pointed at a still-faceless and free-roaming group of violent, law-breaking kids. Vague comparisons to ISIS can be made. It can be chalked up to religious extremism. To a few bad apples at war against a righteous orchard, to paraphrase Mr. Yair Lapid.

But Ali Saad Dawashbe wasn’t murdered simply as the result of a few bad apples. He was murdered as the result of a 48-year military occupation which treats Palestinians as if they are worth less than Jews, and employs extreme and constant violence in order to maintain this system of inequality. Were the people who carried out this murder truly “straying from the path?” Or were they just enacted a vigilante form of the policy of collective punishment that characterizes the occupation?

In other words, was there truly such a difference between the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir and the murder of Yusuf Abu Shawamreh? Why is it that the Ali Saad Dawabshe’s killers are immediately decried, whereas those who killed Muhammad al-Kasbeh or Falah Abu Maria were barely noticed, and even supported? What is the difference between a Price Tag bombing of a building in Nablus and an Israeli Air Force Bombing of a power plant in Gaza?

All of the above are acts which are predicated on the belief that Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli Jewish lives, and/or which are aimed at teaching the Palestinians a “lesson” through violence.

A condemnation that seeks to ignore or obscure the context of occupation is not really a condemnation at all.

I cannot and will not take part in any more public actions regarding Ali Saad Dawabshe’s murder that refuse to hold responsible the Occupation and its supporters.

I understand that this is not the strategy many will take. But I do not think one can justify the omission of the word “occupation” in order to rally a wider audience. Think about last summer, when horror at the grusome murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir quickly melted into frightening enthusiasm for a devastating war that left over 500 Gazan Palestinian children dead.

The ”wider audience” already gets that killing a baby is a horrible thing. What I think they don’t get (or perhaps refuse to get) is that this murder took place in a context in which we have established that Palestinians are worth less than Jews. That context is given either active-massive or activte-tacit by Benjamin Netanyahu, Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid alike. That context is called the Occupation.


[Update, August 2nd, 3:10 PM. After writing this post, I was grateful to come across a statement by T’ruah, whose emphases were very similar to some of mine (including the specific ‘bad apples’ metaphor). Here is part of their statement (emphasis mine):

”Just as we do not dismiss Palestinian terrorists as “bad apples,” we cannot ignore the systems that have produced these perpetrators. These include first and foremost the occupation, which trivializes Palestinian lives and destroys Israel’s soul; the privileging of the demands of settlers over both Palestinians and other Israelis; an educational system that teaches only one side of the story; rabbis and communal leaders who preach hate; settlements and yeshivot that cultivate people who feel empowered and entitled to carry out horrific crimes; and different legal systems for Palestinians and Israelis, within which perpetrators of price tag attacks are rarely arrested and even more rarely convicted.”