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21.12.2014
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Obama urges restraint for Israel, Palestinians
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Clifford D. May

Jerusalem: One city, 4 murders

"I think it goes to flames." Nuha Musleh, a Palestinian who earns her ıliving as a "fixer" -- a guide/translator/arranger for foreign reporters -- stage-whispered that in my ıear. We were standing on a sidewalk in Shuafat, a Palestinian neighborhood of east Jerusalem, ıwatching a loud and angry demonstration in support of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old ıboy abducted and murdered two days earlier. The demonstrators blamed Israelis: an act of ırevenge, they presumed, for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers last month, ıcrimes Israeli officials have linked to Hamas.ı

Musleh was working for an Italian television crew whose camera was focused on young men ıwith keffiyehs covering their faces. Some had knives tucked into their belts. Many carried flags: ıPalestinian nationalist flags; flags of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist-ıLeninist terrorist organization; flags of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamist group intent on ıestablishing a new caliphate; black flags similar to those al-Qaida displays. A few wore Guy ıFawkes masks -- the kind favored by members of the nihilist/activist/ hactivist movement that ıcalls itself Anonymous.ı

Shuafat does not appear to be a hopeless place. The home of the Abu Khdeir family -- a ıprominent family -- is large and stately, constructed of stone. Nearby are shops and a mosque. A ısign advertises an orthodontist's office. ı

But now the neighborhood is in shambles: strewn with rocks, teargas canisters, broken glass and ıgarbage. The blisteringly hot air is redolent with smoldering tires.ı

A light rail line runs down the main street. It took years to build and cost millions of dollars. It ıwas intended to serve as a bridge between Palestinian east Jerusalem and other sections of the ıcity where some residents of Shuafat work, shop or visit friends. That bridge has now been ıburned -- literally. Equipment has been torn out and the shelters smashed as well.ı

How long before the line is repaired? Possibly never. Radical Palestinian groups say they won't ıallow it. Expect other Palestinian groups to charge that, without the rail line, they are being cut ıoff, that the Israelis are separating them, imposing "apartheid." ı

The reason Musleh was predicting a further escalation of violence and destruction: ıMuhammad's body was just then being carried to the mosque where the funeral would be held. ıAfter that, she told me, the shabaab, the young people, would be even angrier. It didn't help that ıthis was the first Friday of Ramadan, a period when, from sunup to sundown, observant Muslims ımay neither eat nor drink. ı

As the body arrived, in an open casket and wrapped in a Palestinian flag, there were sudden ıexplosions. These turned out to be firecrackers, loud and smoky but not dangerous. ıDemonstrators chanted -- praising those who sacrifice for Palestine, and vowing to "explode the ıskull of the Zionist."ı

After the funeral, some demonstrators sought out Israeli soldiers and police -- who had prudently ıstayed blocks away -- and threw Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs and rocks at them. Teargas, stun ıgrenades and rubber bullets were fired in return. People on both sides were hurt but, according to ıpress reports, no one lethally.ı

It may have helped that Palestinian leaders, including PA President Mahmoud Abbas, had called for restraint, ıand that Israeli leaders, not least Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had unequivocally condemned the murder ıof the Palestinian teenager, promising to bring to justice "the criminals responsible for this ıdespicable crime, whoever they may be. Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism -- they have no ıplace in our democracy."ı

On Sunday, Israeli authorities arrested six suspects. An Israeli official described them to a French ınews agency reporter as members of an "extremist Jewish group." According to other reports ıseveral were "soccer hooligans" with criminal records. It was not clear whether they belonged to ıa loose network of vigilantes known as "price tag" -- the name signifying that its members intend ıto make Palestinians pay for acts of terrorism. In the past, however, price-taggers have generally ıgone no further than spray-painting mosques with hostile slogans, uprooting trees or puncturing ıthe tires of Palestinian cars. Kidnapping a teenage boy, burning him alive and leaving his body in ıa forest would represent an astonishing escalation. ı

A friend, an Israeli college professor, called this latest development -- let's not mince words: this ıbrutal terrorist act committed by an Israeli -- "devastating," causing "paroxysms of self-ıexamination" within Israel. A prominent writer called it "the lowest moment in the history of ıIsrael."ı

It's also true, however, that Israeli authorities investigated the crime aggressively and made ıarrests quickly. The prosecution that follows is expected to be unsparing. The vast majority of ıIsraelis will not regard anyone found guilty as a hero or martyr. Salaries will not be paid to them ıwhen they are incarcerated (as is the case with Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons.ı

By contrast, the murders of the three Israeli teenagers have been widely celebrated in the West ıBank and Gaza -- places where streets are named for suicide bombers. Palestinian media have ıcompared the Jewish boys to vermin -- therefore deserving of extermination. Netanyahu has ısuggested that the Palestinian Authority is doing little to help Israeli law enforcement locate and ıapprehend the killers.ı

Many pertinent facts have yet to emerge about both cases. When they do, it may not make much ıdifference. Many people believe what they choose to believe, regardless of the facts. In ıJerusalem, an ancient city built on beliefs and believers, that may be especially true.ı

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security, and a foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Times.

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