Spurt or Spark?

A spurt of angry speech and activity that leaves little behind, or a spark of change in direction?

After the Sabbath killing of five members of the Fogel family in the settlement Itamar:

  • Israeli politicians across the spectrum from right to left expressed revulsion and rage
  • The Prime Minister, in a public address soon after the end of the Sabbath on Saturday evening, called the condemnations of the killings issued by the Palestinian President and Prime Minister lukewarm, and said that incitements against Jews and Israelis in Palestinian schools, media, and mosques must stop as a pre-condition for peace talks
  • Prominent setters bristled on talk radio Sunday morning against Ha’aretz. The paper they viewed as an enemy and the media of the secular left had devoted the most prominent section of its front page to Japan. The slaughter in Itamar only occupied on that half of the page below the fold.
  • The government approved the construction of 400 housing units in major towns east of the 1967 border. The Prime Minister called the action “measured,” and noted that construction would be in locations that would remain under Israeli control in any accord
  • SHAS Interior Minister Eli Yishai called for the construction of 1,000 housing units for every Israeli killed
  • 20,000 attended the funeral in Jerusalem Sunday afternoon
  • The major radio station gave full coverage, beginning with interviews of those who knew the victims and proceeding to numerous eulogies and political calls for action over a period of more than two hours in mid-day
  • At the funeral, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi endorsed the construction of housing as a fitting response to the killings
  • Groups of settlers entered Palestinian communities and vandalized property.
  • The Council representing settlers departed from the long standing policy of major media outlets not to publish photographs of dead bodies, and prepared a video including graphic pictures. Council members asserted that the campaign for public support against efforts to delegitimize Israel justified their action. http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150422673745005&comments
  • Settler leaders, as well as individuals gave expression to what they viewed as their isolation by an insensitive government beholden to hostile foreign governments, and Israeli media hostile to the justice of settler concerns. Groups of settlers protested their feelings toward what they viewed as indifference and hostility by tying up a major intersection on the road to Jerusalem, and several intersections in the Tel Aviv area.
  • Commentators complained on Monday morning about the coverage provided by international media. It was hard to find amidst the emphasis on Japan, and often with headlines about the government’s response with new construction for settlers.

We did not lack for dispute, or contrary messages.

  • Personalities associated with major media outlets objected to the publication on the internet of graphic pictures from the murder scene.
  • A well respected security professional noted that incitement continued in Palestinian media, schools, and mosques, but emphasized that the Palestinian Authority had greatly improved its security forces, its cooperation with Israel, and had reduced the incidence of incitement. He said that the Authority made a significant contribution to the most recent two years of relative quiet,
  • An Israeli journalist, who specializes in covering Palestinian communities, expressed his surprise at the revulsion he recorded from individuals encountered at random in Nablus. He noted that the city had been a major source of Palestinian violence before Palestinian authorities began to act against lawlessness.
  • Monday’s Israeli press took note of the condemnation of the killings that appeared in the Palestinian press on Sunday. One paper called them not acts of bravery, but of heartlessness.
  • Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as close as there is to a left of center voice in the Netanyahu government, appeared on prime time news to urge restraint and moderation. He warned about the movement to paint Israeli actions–or Israel itself–as illegitimate, and talked about the likelihood of more national governments recognizing the independence of Palestine within borders of 1967.

Leaders of foreign governments and officials of the United Nations condemned the killings, urged calm rather than dramatic steps, and expressed reservations about the decision to build more housing.

A senior Palestinian official (Nabil Abu Rudaineh) emphasized the aggression of construction and other Israeli actions, and did not mention the killings in a brief statement broadcast on prime time Israeli television.

It is too early to know if settler demands and actions will affect anything significant, or peter out after some days of rage. Previous experience is that most such events, even those especially ugly, do not cause a major shift in the actions of the Israeli government. But occasionally the unusual does happen. The suicide bombing at a Passover Seder brought about an escalation in IDF activities, although that came after a series of previous incidents. Palestinians may lie low, and wait for tempers to cool. Indications are that many of them perceive that they are likely to lose more than they gain from violence. But small groups may respond to settler actions with additional incidents. On the Palestinian side, the first intifada began in 1987 with a traffic accident that seemed routine. Americans might think of Rodney King, whose beating by the Los Angeles police may have resembled countless other events, but in his case went from a chance videotaping to a significant riot.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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