Yesterday, we all learned what Israeli officials had privately suspected for over a week: that three Jewish-Israeli teenagers, kidnapped while hitchhiking in the West Bank on June 12, had been killed, their bodies dumped in a cave.
When the news broke, as it did via mainstream outlets and social media alike, I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach, overcome by a grief shared by so many of my friends and loved ones. No parent should be made to mourn for a child, and here were three more mothers and fathers – Jewish, like me – whose lives have been devastated forever.
After my initial grief, though, I immediately felt something else: fear. Fear for the vengeance I knew would come. Fear for innocent Palestinians who had already been collectively punished by soldiers who, looking for the missing teens, had raided over 1,600 sites in the West Bank, indefinitely detained hundreds, and – just as tragically – killed five Palestinians, including a teenager whose death was scarcely noted in Israel or America, much less mourned.
Hours after the tragic news of the Israeli teens broke, things began to unravel. Israeli lawmakers called for retribution and for the building of settlements in memory of the lost teenagers. Israel's military bombed Gaza and killed a Palestinian teenager in Jenin. Reports of mobs attacking Palestinian citizens surfaced, as did word that a settler had run over a nine-year-old girl in the West Bank.
Then today, after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, "Palestinians sanctify death, we sanctify life," a mob of hundreds of Israelis began hunting for and beating Palestinians in Jerusalem, chanting, "Death to Arabs" and vowing revenge as police arrested scores.
Now, tragic word has come that those threats chanted this afternoon were not idle.
Mob on Jaffa Road, Jerusalem chanting "death to the Arabs." Man tells me, "after sundown we will attack them." pic.twitter.com/ehx7E3BCyS— benwedeman (@bencnn) July 1, 2014
It is being reported that a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped from East Jerusalem by Israeli settlers, and his charred body has been found by police. While reports are still early, most outlets in Israel and Palestine are suspecting and assuming the same thing.
I have no words.
The last 36 hours have been madness, and I fear for what is to come for both Israelis and Palestinians, and am uncertain what is unfolding will be contained. I'm uncertain the center – whatever center there actually is left in this conflict – is going to hold.
However, I do know this: what is needed from without is empathy for both sides. What is needed is for the full, unmistakable humanity of both sides to be shown.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, recently published by Oneworld Publications.
I have awoken today to find that the pain from the last two days continues. I'm not going to update all that is going on – I don't have that in me. I will just leave with these words from the family of one of the slain Israeli teens (my loose translation):"If indeed an Arab teen has been murdered, we're talking about a horrible and shocking thing. There is no difference between our blood and theirs. Murder is murder."