Israel launched air strikes against the occupied Gaza Strip in the early hours of Tuesday morning and reports from Hebron in the West Bank say that occupation forces damaged or destroyed the homes of the families of two men Israel claims were behind the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths.
Israel says its bombing of Gaza is in “retaliation” for rocket fire from the territory, but Israel has escalated the situation in recent days with an upsurge of extrajudicial executions. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Israeli politicians have called for blood, one demanding that Ramadan be turned into a “month of darkness.” Meanwhile the United States has called for “restraint.”
The latest Israeli violence followed the discovery of the bodies of the three youths near the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Monday.
They went missing on 12 June while hitchhiking between Israeli settlements.
Israel has claimed that Hamas was responsible for the killings, an accusation the group has denied.
Twitter user @Pal_1948 in Hebron posted this image of an area resident attempting to put out fires in one of the houses that Israeli forces blew up:This video shows the home of the Abu Eishe family after it had been ransacked, but not demolished: Israel recently announced that it planned to resume punitive home demolitions after suspending the practice a decade ago.
Palestinians braced for worse to come as Israeli leaders began to call for blood in response to the teenagers’ deaths.
Calls for revenge
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the pack, calling the killers of the youths “human animals” and stating “Hamas is responsible. Hamas will pay.” Netanyahu specifically used the word “revenge” hinting at what he may have in store. But many went even further.
We are living in a “jungle,” Ben-Ari said, calling Palestinian children “little terrorists.”
He called for a rally in Jerusalem on Tuesday demanding: “Death to the enemy, evacuation, and wiping off of [their] smile. And start with Haneen Zoabi, let her go help in Syria,” he said, referring to the Palestinian lawmaker in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
Housing minister Uri Ariel called for the extrajudicial executions of leaders of Hamas and for Israel to “start a wave of construction in the settlements in response to the murder of the abductees.”
Limor Livnat, the minister for culture and sports, wrote on Facebook, “May God avenge their blood.”
Tzachi Hanegbi, a former cabinet minister from the ruling Likud party, speculated, “I don’t know how many Hamas leaders will remain alive after tonight.”
Tzipi Hotovely, another Likud lawmaker and deputy minister, wrote that “Israel must declare a war of annihilation of Hamas, which is responsible for the murder, and return to the assassination policy.”
Economy minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultra-anti-Palestinian Jewish Home party, declared “Murderers of children and those who direct them cannot be forgiven. Now is a time for actions, not words.”
Agriculture minister Yair Shamir took the news as an opportunity to incite against Palestinian citizens of Israel, whom he accused of defending the kidnapping. “It will not be long before history settles the account with you,” he wrote on Facebook.
Calls for any sort of restraint were virtually absent. Alarmed by the atmosphere of incitement, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem called on the government to “refrain from acts of vengeance” and warned of “revenge” attacks by settlers.
Incitement on social media
From the moment news broke that the Israeli youths’ bodies were found, Israeli social media, including Twitter and the Facebook pages of major Israeli media outlets such as Walla! News, were quickly filled with pervasive and lurid calls for bloodshed that have become all too familiar.
Some examples included Facebook users Kobi and Karen Haddad, who demanded that Israel “incinerate Gaza and Hebron.”
Lior Banay demanded that Israel “destroy Hebron.”
“These Arabs,” wrote Yuval Efrat, “We should eliminate them all, just go in and spray them. Enough!”
Calls for “Death to the Arabs” were too numerous to count, but some went further. Twitter user Daniel Ronen, for instance wrote “Death to the Arabs! We must incinerate them and hang up their bodies in front of their children.”
Facebook user Lior Aminov took part in a discussion with several other people apparently organizing to go and carry out vigilante attacks on Arabs. He posted this picture of an Israeli army uniform and weapons he intended to use against his victims.
There were reports of several instances of reprisals and protests by Israelis.
In Jerusalem, dozens of people “converged on a pizzeria in the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo to protest the employment of an Arab worker,” according to Ynet.
The worker was reportedly “rescued” by police.
US urges “restraint”
US President Barack Obama issued a statement of condolences to the families of the three youths and condemned their killings as a “senseless act of terror against innocent youth.”
Obama has never expressed sympathy or condolences for any of the more than 1,400 Palestinian children murdered by Israeli occupation forces and settlers.
But with the dire situation across the region, the US appears eager to avoid further escalation and Obama urged “all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who also ignores Israel’s frequent killings of Palestinian children, also condemned the killings of the Israeli youths and hoped that the “perpetrators of this barbaric act will swiftly be brought to justice.”
Ashton also surely knows that Palestinians cannot get anything resembling “justice” in Israel’s military court system.
Following Obama, Ashton also urged “restraint of all parties concerned in order not to further aggravate the fragile situation on the ground.”
Invasion of Gaza doubtful
In Ynet, Ron Ben-Yishai, a writer close to intelligence and military sources, speculated that Israel would not carry out a large scale invasion of Gaza.
The cabinet will be required to consider a severe military blow to Gaza. This kind of operation is a necessity at the moment, not only because Hamas is responsible for the abduction, but also because it does not prevent intense rocket fire into Israel.
However, if the option of an operation in Gaza is raised, it is likely that most cabinet ministers will refuse. Why? Because Hamas in Gaza wasn’t involved in the kidnap, and an IDF invasion of the Strip would be perceived as collective punishment, which the international community would not understand and even condemn. One of the things that the State of Israel cannot lose is international legitimacy for its actions, and cannot be perceived as a country that punishes an entire population with no justifiable cause.
It remains to be seen which voices Israel’s leaders will heed: those demanding blood in Palestinian streets, or Israel’s international sponsors who don’t wish to be embarrassed and inconvenienced by another of its wild and vengeful killing sprees at a time when the rest of the region is in particularly dire shape.
With thanks to Dena Shunra for assistance with research and analysis.