Cultures Of Hate: Israelis, Not Palestinians, Excel At Vengeance
10 July 2014
Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
Shock and anger have engulfed Israeli and Palestinian
societies since they learnt last week of the barbarous
murder of children from their communities. Hours after
three Israeli teenagers' bodies were located, long
after their abduction, a Palestinian youth, Mohammed
Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped, beaten and burnt to death,
apparently as revenge.
These horrifying events should serve as a lesson in
the obscene futility of vengeance. As a relative of
one of the murdered children observed: "There is no
difference between blood and blood."
Sadly, that was not the message implicit in much of
last week's coverage. On social media, a juxtaposition
of pictures from the same day's New York Times showed
how easy it is to forget not only that our blood is
the same but that grief is too.
A headline about Israelis' "heartbreak" was
illustrated movingly by the families of the three
Israeli teenagers huddled together, overwhelmed by
their loss. A report on the killing of 16-year-old Abu
Khdeir, on the other hand, was accompanied by an image
of masked youths throwing stones.
These contrasting depictions of mourning were entirely
misleading. True, Palestinian youngsters have been
violently protesting in Jerusalem and communities in
Israel since Abu Khdeir was buried. But so have groups
of Israeli Jews. They have rampaged through Jerusalem
and parts of Israel, calling out "Death to the Arabs"
and attacking anyone who looks Palestinian.
Nonetheless, Abraham Foxman, the head of the
Anti-Defamation League, a US Jewish organisation that
claims to fight bigotry, was peddling an equally
divisive message. In the Huffington Post he wrote of a
Palestinian "culture of hatred".
According to Foxman, Palestinian and Israeli societies
are fundamentally different. Palestinian discontent is
"fanned and incited into hatred by a widespread,
unfettered support for violence against Jews and
He was echoing a sentiment common in Israel, and
famously voiced in the late 1960s by the then prime
minister, Golda Meir. She suggested that even harder
than forgiving the Arab enemy for killing Israel's
sons would be "to forgive them for having forced us to
kill their sons".
In a bout of similar self-righteousness, many Israelis
berate Palestinian parents for putting their children
in danger's way by allowing them to throw stones at
Israeli security forces. The implication is that
Palestinians as a result of either culture or
religion value life less than Israelis.
Strangely, Israelis rarely question the implication of
the decision taken by one in 10 of their number to
live in illegal colonies on stolen Palestinian land.
The settlers choose to put themselves and their
children on the front lines too, even though they have
far more choices than Palestinians about where to
In fact, neither Israelis nor Palestinians can claim
to be above a culture of hate. As long as Israel's
belligerent occupation continues, their lives together
in one small patch of the Middle East will continue to
be predicated on bouts of violent confrontation.
But that does not mean Israeli and Palestinian
culpability is equal. The reality is that Israelis,
unlike Palestinians, have a sovereign state that
represents them and protects them with a strong army.
Last week, the Israeli army announced that it had
arrested several soldiers who posted online
photographs of themselves vowing revenge against
"Arabs" part of a flood of calls for vengeance on
Hebrew social media. The arrests played well with
Israel's image as a country that enforces the rule of
law, but they concealed deeper truths.
The first is that the Israelis thirsting for reprisals
are simply echoing their politicians and religious
leaders whose statements for vengeance surpassed even
the ugly grandstanding of Hamas, which had praised the
Israeli teenagers' abduction.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the way, citing
a famous line of Hebrew poetry: "The devil himself has
not yet created vengeance for the blood of a small
child." His economics minister, Naftali Bennett, urged
Israel to "go mad", while a former legislator vowed
that Israel would turn Ramadan into a "month of
darkness". An influential and supposedly moderate
rabbi hoped for "an army of avengers".
Last week, left wing Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv to
castigate the Netanyahu government for "incitement to
violence". But even this underestimated the problem.
Israeli leaders' threats are not simply stoking an
ugly mood on the street. The huge muscle of the
Israeli security apparatus is flexing at their behest
too. That was given graphic illustration in video
footage of armed police in Jerusalem relentlessly
kicking and punching a child a 15-year-old American
relative of Abu Khdeir as he lay cuffed and helpless
on the ground.
The cabinet is plotting a more subtle revenge. It
plans to build new settlements violence against
Palestinian life on the little slivers of territory
left to them specifically to honour the three
teenagers. Guarded by the army, settlers have already
set up a new encampment in the West Bank.
The army, meanwhile, launched a series of strikes on
Gaza, culminating in a new large-scale attack dubbed
Operation Protective Edge. It has also revived a
policy of demolishing the homes of relatives of
Palestinian terror suspects. Backed by the courts,
soldiers blew up the family homes of two men it
accused of being behind the teenagers' abduction.
As Human Rights Watch warned, Israel's recent actions
mass arrests; armed raids; the killing of
Palestinians, including minors; lockdowns of cities,
house demolitions; and air strikes amounted to
"collective punishment", international law's euphemism
for revenge, against Palestinians.
In the face of the enduring violence of Israel's
occupation, and the licence it provides soldiers to
humiliate and oppress, ordinary Palestinians have a
stark choice: to submit or resist. Ordinary Israelis,
on the other hand, do not need to seek revenge on
their own account. The Israeli state, military and
courts are there every day doing it for them.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize
for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the
Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to
Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and
"Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human
Despair" (Zed Books). His website is