While you were watching the devastating quake in Japan

Mar 16, 2011
*Special to asia!

Something hideous happened in Israel. A family of five were murdered in their home and that was just the beginning.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: (As he visited the members of the Fogel family) They murder, we built.

Right as the words came out of his mouth, one of the girls burst into tears. (Watch the video here)

On the surface, these seem like resilience and a display of defiance in the face of a terror attack. (It should be noted that the perpetrators have not been arrested and it is still only suspected to have been Palestinians behind it.)

After all, the Prime Minister's office was careful to emphasise that construction would be “measured”   and only in places which would likely remain under Israeli control, when a peace treaty is concluded with the Palestinians.

...building more Jewish homes on occupied Palestinian land is a step in the wrong direction.

But consider the context.

Prior to this, Israel's international standing had already taken a severe hit. Its prime minister was denounced internationally for not being serious about peace with the Palestinians. Continued settlement construction reinforced this sentiment. In fact, Israel narrowly escaped being the target of a UN resolution condemning the settlements, thanks to a US veto.

All things considered, it seemed bent on continuing its occupation of the Palestinian people and their land.

In the face of all of this, the Israeli leadership somehow became so misguided about why they were criticised that they believed the international community would somehow justify the innocent killing of the Fogels.

Because like in the Bush doctrine, you were either for them or against them. No grey areas.

Thus the first thing Netanyahu said in his statement, and what Foreign Minister Lieberman instructed his diplomats to do : demand a condemnation.

And this is what the rest of the Israeli government's “to-do” list looked like:

- Point the finger at the Palestinians.

- Release bloody pictures of murder victims to media for publication *

- Build more settlements.

- Push through with the establishment of an incitement index to “professionally and transparently” monitor the level of Palestinian incitement against Israel.

"Achieving an historic peace with the Palestinian people requires a change of approach by the [Palestinian] Authority and the recognition of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People,” explained Netanyahu.

But it is hard to find where peace figures on the Israeli government's list of priorities.


Whose interests?

For Netanyahu, announcing more settlements surely creates the sense domestically that the government is fighting back in the aftermath of this attack. But in the larger pursuit of peace with the Palestinians, building more Jewish homes on occupied Palestinian land is a step in the wrong direction.

It is exactly the thing to do to incite more hostility towards Israel. Really, who's going to believe you are sincere about negotiations with the Palestinians if you keep taking their land?

Instead of lashing out, could the Israeli government not have taken a hard look at long term solutions on how to extract the country from this untenable state vis-à-vis the Palestinians? After all, is not the point of leadership to say, lead?

Leadership is tested in times of crises. In Japan, the government is scrutinised for how it handles the potential nuclear fallout from the earthquake. In Israel, this government will be judged by how it reacted to prevent such killings and in the long run, secure a peaceful future for the country.

Tragically, Israel's leadership are failing their people with actions that run counter to the goal of peace, and because of this, both Israelis and Palestinians will suffer for it.

The chance to act - so that the tragic deaths in Itamar would have not been in vain - would have been lost.

With the enemies it already has, one can hardly imagine this is the kind of leadership Israel need.

* As pointed out by Richard Silverstein in his Tikun Olim blog:

Israel's Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs was asked by the ha'aretz newspaper why his ministry released the graphic crime scene shots of the murdered family.

His response: "I know that on the Internet the images are really catching on and circulating. It’s hard to talk about in terms of success (in changing Israel's image), because we all understand that this is an unbelievably heinous crime. But it does have an important impact."

So perhaps it seems the deaths did serve a greater national interest.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi

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