In Israel-Palestine, A Tragic Murder That Demands More Than Words


With the Arab-Israeli conflict, tone can be quite revealing. This past weekend was no exception.

On Sunday, Israel mourned the slaughter of five family members – including two children and an infant – who were stabbed to death Friday night by terrorists in the Israeli town of Itamar in the West Bank. At the same time, in the West Bank town of Al-Bireh, members of the Palestinian Authority publicly named a town square after Dalal al-Mughrabi, the leader of a 1978 bus hijacking that killed 38 Israelis, including 13 children. Meanwhile in Gaza, residents of Rafah hit the streets in a Hamas-backed celebration of the horrific attack in Itamar, handing out candy and pastries.

One Gazan was quoted saying that the massacre was “a natural response to the harm settlers inflict on the Palestinian residents in the West Bank.”

This is not the first time we’ve seen the glorification of terrorism by Palestinian leadership as supposedly a mere reaction to the “greater crimes” of Israel’s settlement policy and IDF military action. But it should not be allowed to continue.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad did eventually issue conciliatory remarks in English regarding the Itamar murders, and have often condemned the use of terrorism – even cooperating at isolated times with Israeli security forces. But as the deemed “moderate” Palestinian leadership, the PA has not done nearly enough to clamp down on its own institutions that for years have presented terrorists as role models to children, extolled violence through cultural events and popular music, and built an attitude of hatred and demonization of Israelis, especially settlers, through mosques, TV, radio, and children’s textbooks.

Just two months ago, Abbas awarded $2,000 to the family of a terrorist who was killed trying to detonate a pipe bomb against IDF soldiers. Last week, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the PA’s official newspaper, announced a youth soccer tournament named after Wafa Idris, the first female Palestinian suicide bomber, and only three weeks ago, the PA’s official TV station, broadcasted a show honoring a terrorist who in 2002 murdered three Israeli students in of all places, Itamar. 

The list only continues and highlights a lack of promised reform by the PA to end incitement against Israel, demanded in every peace plan since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

Meanwhile, many have sought to frame the recent murders of Israelis within the context of Israel’s presence in the West Bank, decrying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval of hundreds of new housing units in settlements as only adding fuel to an endless fire.

It’s still unclear whether Israel’s move was the wisest, but what should be clear is that building new homes cannot be equated on any level with deliberately stabbing children to death. Those who look at Israel’s recent settlement construction and question if the Israeli government is serious about peace should do the same of the Palestinians and demand more than a few nice words from the PA.

For too long, the international community has condemned Jewish settlements as the core issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with little condemnation of Palestinian actions. The White House has also been guilty of this mistaken strategy, and found in December that pushing Israel to extend a self-imposed construction freeze would still not lure Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Abbas and Fayyad claim they are interested in a two-state solution with Israel, yet both have proven unwilling to make any hard concessions for that solution – let alone negotiate without preconditions.

If the Palestinian goal is to eventually achieve a legitimate state based on, as Fayyad has said, “openness, tolerance, coexistence … and full sensitivity to the rights, needs, and concerns of others,” Palestinian leadership must set expectations for itself. And the world must hold the PA accountable for them. 

Issues such as borders, security, refugees and settlements are all political elements to be negotiated in the peace process. Incitement is something else.

Beginning with a long over-due visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah, President Obama, along with his EU counterparts, should make it clear to the PA that if it wishes to continue working with the U.S. (and receiving funding), directly or indirectly promoting violence will not be tolerated.

If not, the PA will likely continue to condone – and do little to erase – institutional messages of bloodshed, hatred, and “martyrdom,” preventing its children from learning the meaning of lasting peace. 

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