Indy op-ed on Israel weaves in lethal narrative about the ‘deliberate burning of children’

Ruby Stockham, a staff writer at the blog Left Foot Forward, penned an op-ed for The Independent commenting on the Israeli prime minister’s upcoming visit to the UK (‘The two questions that David Cameron must ask Benjamin Netanyahu, Sept. 4th). Though Stockham doesn’t explicitly mention the petition circulating within radical activist circles calling on Netanyahu to be arrested for war crimes over the 2014 war against Hamas, she does claim some of the same polemical territory in questioning his state visit to London.

Stockham scoffs at the IDF Military Advocate General’s ongoing investigation into potential crimes committed by soldiers during Operation Protective Edge, not by focusing on any specific flawed mechanisms of the IDF inquiry, but by calling into question the broader capacity of Netanyahu’s government to admit fault and change policy.  As a putative example of Netanyahu’s stubbornness in the face of “international criticism”, Stockham weaves in to her op-ed the recent terrorist murder of a Palestinian child and her two parents in Dawabshe and a previous incident near Bat Ayin.

Israel has resolutely refused to change its policy, even after international criticism of the very system in which it bombed Gaza.

But Netanyahu has never been good at admitting past mistakes. In August, Israeli police seemed to be clamping down on so-called ‘Jewish terror’ after an arson attack on a Palestinian village killed two members of the Dawabshe family, including one-year-old Ali. Two ‘activists’ were detained for six months without trial, a measure usually only applied to Palestinians.

Three years before the attack on the Dawabshe family, Jewish settlers threw a Molotov cocktail at a taxi containing another family, the Riyadas, seriously burning them. In the face of incontrovertible evidence the case was closed after a two-week investigation and almost no media coverage.

Cameron should point out that Netanyahu’s different handling of these two cases shows that he agrees the Israeli legal system is not flawless. 

First, Stockham’s claim that there was “almost no media coverage” about the 2012 attack which left six members of the same Palestinian family (including two children) injured is not true. The story was covered by multiple Israeli media outlets, including the Jerusalem Post, Ynet, Times of Israel and Haaretz.  

Second, save one story (written by an anonymous writer) at the far-left site +972, it’s difficult to know how Stockham can suggest that there was “incontrovertible evidence” as to the guilt of the suspects.  Though several Israeli youths arrested and questioned about the crime were eventually released without charge, the immediate collection of forensic evidence by the police and the Shin Bet, and the aggressive tactics during the interrogation of the youths, seems to contradict the charge that the case wasn’t taken seriously.

Third, note that Stockham strangely suggests that Netanyahu ‘handled’ both cases differently.  It’s unclear what exactly she means, but it’s worth noting that the prime minister naturally didn’t personally investigate either attack.  However, certainly on a moral level, Netanyahu handled the cases very much the same. As with the firebombing attack over the summer, the prime minister strongly condemned the 2012 attack near Bat Ayin and instructed the Shin Bet to launch an investigation.  He also vowed to “closely follow the medical treatment received by those who were injured” and pledged to provide “whatever additional assistance” to the family that was necessary.

Finally, Stockham asks the following question:

Will Netanyahu admit, with benefit of hindsight, that the Riyada case was a sham – or does he believe that determining the morality of deliberately burning children is at Israel’s discretion alone? If it is the latter, does he also apply this thinking in war?

Get it? Stockham is trying to connect the release of Jewish suspects arrested for the firebombing attack on a Palestinian family near Bat Ayin three years ago with the “murder” of children in Gaza last summer.  The state’s entire attitude towards “deliberately burning children” to death, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, is – according to this line of argument – evidently now in question.

Of course, in neither Bat Ayin nor in Gaza was the morality of “deliberately burning children” in question.  In both cases, Israeli officials tasked with investigating crimes weighed the evidence and took testimony to determine (in the context of the applicable law) if criminal charges were warranted.  The mere absence of charges or guilty verdicts in such particular cases involving death or injury to children doesn’t represent evidence that such violence is condoned or tolerated by the military, judicial system or within broader society.  It merely suggests that – as in most democracies – the principles of due process and the presumption of innocence hold sway.  

You’d certainly think that liberal left commentators in the UK would understand this distinction. 

Moreover, it’s extremely disturbing that such lethal narratives, suggesting that Israel tolerates, permits or encourages the killing of Palestinian kids, are not only employed with greater frequency against Israel by extremists, but continue to find greater acceptance within “respectable” British media outlets.

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