My recent travels in Israel and Palestine this summer played out over the backdrop of three missing Israeli youths that were eventually found dead, after which point the young cousin of a Palestinian friend of mine was killed in an apparent act of collective revenge.
The story of the three Israeli teens was a constant presence in the news and in conversations, while my travels in the West Bank were constantly disrupted by Israeli military operations there in a purported effort to find the youths.
Over the few days during which I was there, 10 Palestinians were killed in these operations, 130 wounded, and 600 arrested, according the Ma’an News Agency .
One of my nights in Ramallah was disrupted by scattered gunshots and explosions every minute or so, for hours. This inspired a crowd of hundreds of Palestinian stone-throwers a block away from my hostel.
Prior to this last summer, over 1,500 Palestinian children had been killed by Israel since the year 2000, according to the Ministry of Information in Ramallah, as reported in the Israeli Ha’aretz .
According to the Geneva-based Convention on the Rights of the Child, Palestinian teens as young as 12 are regularly arrested in the dead of the night without legitimate charges by Israel Defense Forces in an effort to scare them into becoming informers .
With those facts in mind, it’s easy to imagine how strange it was to witness such intense emotion for one side and not the other. Though, the vengeance killing of the Palestinian youth took Palestinians to the breaking point, and the stones began to fly.
To paraphrase from the Qur’an, when we kill one person, we kill the world. Every death is a tragedy, but not counting the dead is a recipe for more tragedies and disproportionate responses.
Psychological studies have demonstrated that we actually care more for smaller as opposed to larger numbers of suffering individuals.
The face of the one hungry child evokes a stronger response than that of several, even than that of several faces alongside statistics about the millions of hungry children, according to Paul Slovic, President of Decision Research at the University of Oregon . This makes it hard for us to bring due attention to truly massive problems, like world hunger and climate change.
So, there was something natural in grieving for these three innocent looking teens, especially when they were so easily identifiable. But the whole experience appeared a bizarre exercise in national unity and the build up to a war which has devastated Gaza, killing 2,200 Palestinians—the vast majority of whom were civilians.
The Israeli youths who were killed were deep in occupied territories in a settlement, which like most settlements, demanded a strong Israeli military presence.
The settlements in the West Bank are everywhere, making the thought of removing them seem fantastical to ordinary Palestinians, and hence, inordinately complicating the hopes of a two-state solution.
Palestinians often reject offers of a state because the offers are unviable. They are seen as unviable because they include these settlements and, hence, demand the military presence (and with it, all of the subsequent abuses). All of this breaks up the contiguity of any future Palestinian state, and thereby sustains the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
The Israeli youths were part of a project that is destroying Palestinian lives.
To speak of the three Israeli teens or the Palestinian youth while ignoring the background conditions in which their deaths took place—not to mention the disproportionate death toll between the two sides—is morally amiss. What is interesting and seldom mentioned is the fact that teenagers regularly hitchhike through this occupied zone in which settlers are (for good reason!) hated.
Even in the aftermath of the kidnappings, I saw settler teens hitchhiking alone on roads shared with Palestinians.
The standard policy of the militant Hamas is to kidnap Israelis and then offer them up in exchange for prisoners. In past cases, Israel immediately blamed Hamas and yet offered no proof.
So, all of this looked like an effort to use a tragic situation to go after the enemy, Hamas, though in reality it was more a sloppy and senseless murder—the kind of thing more likely to come out of the alienation of an American suburb.
And yet, the three Israeli teens were, amidst all of the perceptual manipulations, real human beings with hearts that ached for life. To even engage this truth, though, is to give them disproportionate attention.
Even writing about this critically has meant I have given it more attention than my Palestinian friend who was shot by a settler in an argument, the Palestinian I met in Hebron whose pregnant wife aborted after being beaten by settlers, the farmer I met who was forbidden from digging wells and building dwellings and thus had to make his home in a series of caves.
This is far from a case of moral equivalence. Israeli abuses vastly outnumber those of Palestinians.
As this article was being completed, I received word that the cousin of my Palestinian friend who I had hoped to see in the next few days had been murdered outside Jerusalem. And the world did stop to pay attention. Unfortunately, it was as if they could only take in one Palestinian death—the hundreds upon hundreds of Palestinians who have been killed in recent years were too overwhelming. And this just made the Palestinian reaction look all the more baffling.
What most Israelis and Americans saw was three Israeli teens and one Palestinian being murdered, with Palestinians erupting in stone throwing. And yet, it was weeks of collective punishment against the Palestinians, following almost half a century of military occupation and rule by military decree that brought on the outbreak of protests.
There is a temptation under such circumstances to speak a language of moral equivalence, but the violence is nowhere near equivalent. While six Israeli civilians were killed in the recent Gaza war, the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that 1,473 Palestinians civilians were killed, a ratio of 245 to one .
My question is this: how to grieve for both sides when everything is stacked up so as to make us favor the primary abuser and ignore the side that is most abused?
References: 100 Palestinians Killed in Israeli Assault on Sunday Alone  Palestinians Say Over 1,500 Children Killed Since the Year 2000  Palestinian Children Tortured Used as Shields by Israel  Psychic Numbing and Mass Atrocity  Occupied Palestinian Territory: Gaza Emergency Situation Report
Author: Theo Horesh
Editor: Emma Ruffin