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An Israeli apology is in order - Suhail Khalilieh

March 19, 2011 8:08 P.M. (Updated: March 21, 2011 2:44 P.M.)
By: Suhail Khalilieh
The Palestinians have been struggling for their rights and independence for more than 60 years with honor and pride. While Palestinians recall their own list of infants and children murdered by the Israeli army -- it was no picnic for the Palestinians -- what happened in Itamar is plain murder, and Palestinians do not condone the killing of children.

The hideous crime in the illegal Israeli settlement Itamar in the northern West Bank revealed how quickly the Israeli community and state reacts to accuse Palestinians.

Furthermore, Israeli authorities publicized the attack worldwide and used it as a pretext to justify approval to build more than 500 housing units in several Israeli settlements in the West Bank (in Gush Etzion, Kiryat Sefer, Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel).

The Israeli government and settlement councils quickly started a campaign to capitalize on this crime with a new wave of settlement construction and incitement against Palestinians. The brother of the murdered settler said at the cemetery, "A person is born for himself, to his parents and siblings, and dies for himself. He is not a symbol or a national event, and death must not be allowed to become an instrument of something."

He professed that the funeral should have been a private affair and not exploited by right-wing politicos, ministers, Knesset members and West Bank rabbis who turned the scene into a political episode.

The funeral was quickly turned into a pre-election campaign as the Israeli Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin declared that Israel "shall continue to build anywhere and at any time." Gershon Mesika, Samaria Regional Council chairman said, "All the talk of peace delusions must stop." And Israeli Minister of Interior Eli Yishai demanded the construction of 5,000 homes in settlements.

While the blame was targeted toward the Palestinian Authority for not dealing with incitement, the funeral was an opportunity for many to spread their incitement promoting Jewish control over the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River using words like "transfer" to suggest moving Palestinians to the other side of the Jordan River.

Ultimately, the funeral was a chance for many to disclose their real thoughts, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who declared during his condolences that "We shall build our land." After all, his ultimate plan remains that of his mentor and predecessor, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: "to annex as much of the Palestinian land as possible" before a real and final negotiation actually begins.

Among all of this, it seems that the voice of reason is missing, that it is inevitable that Palestinians committed the act and that the entire population is at fault. But what about the Israeli crimes against Palestinians? How come some people value the life of one person over the other -- in this case the life of one Jew over the life of one Palestinian Muslim or Christian?

Stop Israeli incitement against Palestinians

The incitement campaign against Palestinians operates on all levels. Palestinians expect it from Israeli government officials, from rabbis and from settlers. But the impact of this campaign is used to fuel hatred within Israeli society itself, not that they need any encouragement.

That the Israeli government indifferently perpetuates racism and violence against Palestinians is a simply repellent, offensive and scandalous aspect of their policy toward Palestinians.

Condemnations of the attack came swiftly from many nations and different sources.

In contrast, the condemnations of the Israeli massacre of 2002 in Jenin refugee camp or the Israeli Cast Lead operation of 2008-2009 in the Gaza strip (to name a couple) came late, and with provisions that correlated Palestinians and the Israeli army. These are not isolated examples but typical reactions to injustice against Palestinians.

With this in mind, director of the Israeli Government Press Office Oren Helman filed a formal complaint against CNN for putting "terror attack" in quotation marks when it reported the killings. The complaint rebuffed CNN for seemingly having doubts that the killing -- the Itamar massacre -- was anything but a terror attack. Even though no decisive evidence was brought forward to concur such a claim, CNN agreed to remove the quotation marks (talk about media reporting facts).

The killings are undoubtedly dreadful but they are, after all, murder. Terror attack is a straight forward accusation to Palestinians. Obviously, and as reported by Israeli sources, Palestinians had nothing to do with it: it was a murder. An unfortunate one, because it involved children, nevertheless it was a case of murder.

Still that did not stop dozens of attacks on Palestinians, their land and properties all over the West Bank under the protection of the Israeli army, who for its part carried out dozens of random arrests in the occupied West Bank.

In any case, instead of exploiting this crime to further stereotype the Palestinians, and patronize hate, Israel should have exhibited leadership to curve the hate and embrace peace. Sadly, not even such a horrific crime is capable of hindering the wave of incitement.

Netanyahu was quick to refuse Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' denunciation of the crime, even though the perpetrator is not yet identified, although Israel has less than little to say when such a crime happens to a Palestinian.

When Israelis commit crimes, Israel says they were psychologically disturbed, as has happened with many settlers who killed Palestinian children. Or they say it was a mistake, like when the Israeli navy annihilated an entire family who were picnicking on Gaza beach on 9 June 2006. Israel gunboats opened fire on the beach, literally destroying a Palestinian family with what Israel lamely called "an errant shell" that killed seven and wounded over 40 people.

The victims were Ali Ghalia and his 26-year-old wife Rye Ghalia, and their children Sabrina, 8, Haitham, 1, Zebren 8, Anadia 2, Ilham 7, and Halia, 15.

Later at a conference, the Israeli "Defense" Minister at the time Amir Peretz retracted any insinuation that this could have been an Israeli attack. "The intention to describe this as an Israeli event is simply not correct," he said.

In parallel, the perpetrator of Itamar has not been identified. Moreover, there are strong suspicions that the perpetrator of the murders may be one of the laborers brought from abroad to work in settlements. According to unofficial testimonies the suspected perpetrator had a financial dispute with the deceased over 10,000 NIS ($2,817).

However, it seems it was much easier to blame the Palestinians and turn it into a political event, an opportunity to unleash settlers' rage on Palestinians, and a chance for Netanyahu to pass pending decisions to build hundreds more illegal housing units in settlements all over the West Bank.

Netanyahu and Israelis are sure the air in the West Bank is filled with hatred from Palestinians toward the Israelis. This is true to an extent, and justifiable because it was built over years of injustice against the Palestinians. But what about the hate coming from the Israeli side and their categorical denial of the injustice forced upon Palestinians throughout the decades since the establishment of the state of Israel?

The bottom line is that the perpetrator of Itamar is unidentified and only assumptions command status on the ground today. Fact finding -- the truth -- is no longer the subject of interest to anyone anymore.

The Israelis are demanding justice for what happened in Itamar but what about justice for the Ali Ghalia family and thousands others? The saying goes that "justice is blind" with no consideration for ethnicity, religion, politics, social status etc. But what is happening on the ground is otherwise and this is why a remedy of this selective justice to include everybody in its spectrum may be the first step to peace.

Hence, an Israeli apology for the accusation, and the stereotyping, of Palestinians is in order. We demand it. We are entitled to it.

Suhail Khalilieh heads the Settlements Monitoring Department at the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem

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