Leveling the Playing Field

Funny, how when the person killed is an Israeli Jew, the rules change immediately. Twenty-five year old Ben Joseph Livnat has suddenly become an “innocent worshipper, killed only because he is a Jew.” Those are just some of the words used by fellow Israelis describing the Jewish settler killed on April 24 in Nablus, apparently by a Palestinian policeman.

Some of the facts are undisputed. That Livnat entered Nablus with a group of 15 Israelis without prior coordination is fact, despite an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel that any Jews wishing to visit Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus must be upon security coordination from both sides. That Livnat comes from a family of ardent settlers is fact. Although presently living in Jerusalem, he was born and raised in West Bank settlements, living among the most notorious and ideological of these settler groups in the heart of Hebron. That he and his fellow settlers disregarded a Palestinian roadblock set up outside the tomb before the police opened fire is also fact. Palestinian security sources say the cars, which were “suspicious” refused to stop at the barricade. Only after firing warning shots in the air did the officers shoot at the cars, killing Livnat and wounding four others.

The scene sounds awfully familiar. Many a time, Israeli soldiers manning the hundreds of checkpoints in the West Bank and around Jerusalem have shot and killed Palestinians because of their so-called suspicious behavior or because they did not stop at a checkpoint. Why is there no uproar, no demand for an investigation, about these deaths? Is this not hypocrisy at its worst?

Joseph’s Tomb has always been a point of contention between Israelis and Palestinians. Since 2000, after bloody clashes, Palestinian police were handed security responsibility for the site. Since then, Jews are only supposed to enter upon joint coordination with the Palestinians and the Israeli army.

However, typical of the self-righteous attitude of ideological Israeli settlers, many sneak in at night without informing the Israeli army or the Palestinians on the arrogant assumption that the entire country is the land of Israel and that they will claim it one way or another.

What matters is that if the Palestinians did shoot warning shots in the air before shooting at the cars, they would have taken at least one precautionary step more than Israel’s trigger happy soldiers at many checkpoints who follow the mantra of “shoot first, ask questions later.” Still, the situations are never deemed as comparable. Israel will always market itself as the victim of Palestinian “terror” even when the “terrorist” is an unarmed civilian trying to cross a checkpoint that leads to home, to work, to school or to a hospital. The “victim”, on the other hand is the heavily armed soldier protecting a checkpoint on occupied land in order to control an occupied people.

Let us not forget that the group which entered Nablus included ideological Israelis whose presence alone in Palestinian territory is illegal. Livnat’s parents live in Elon Moreh, a Nablus-area settlement where Livnat grew up. During the funeral procession, settlers from the settlement attacked Palestinian cars, smashing windows and wounding a Palestinian boy. No doubt, that “incident” will not be investigated.

The killing of a Palestinian or Israeli, Muslim, Christian or Jew, is in principle, wrong. A human life should be valued, if for that reason only. However, one life should not be valued over another and one killing cannot be justified while another is condemned. Israeli soldiers and settlers kill Palestinians far more often and for far less reason than that of the settler sneaking into Nablus. If the tables were turned, Israel would have said the soldier/policeman was just doing his job, protecting his country’s citizens and carrying out the duty his government expects from him.

The only solution to this never ending vicious cycle of violence is for Israel to extricate its illegal squatters from Palestinian land. Once the playing field is leveled, once Palestine and Israel are on equal ground, then can there be talk of “coordination”. Before that, like this incident has shown, it is all for naught.