JERUSALEM — The narrow hallway of Jerusalem’s court house was stuffed with journalists, cameras, and other international observers as fifteen year-old American Tarek Abu Khdeir was led down the hallway to his hearing room, hands and feet in chains, his face still unrecognizable from the brutal beating he received at the hands of Israeli police two days previously.
Several days earlier, Tarek’s cousin Muhammad had been kidnapped and burned alive, his body dumped in a forest outside Jerusalem, which many suspect was a revenge attack for the three murdered Israeli teenagers whose bodies were found in the West Bank on Monday (Israeli news reported today that arrests had been made in Muhammad’s case). Demonstrations broke out during the funeral procession in Muhammad’s Shuafat neighborhood, during which Tarek was arrested by three masked Israeli policemen and beaten while in custody. The attack was caught on video. Israel’s Justice Ministry has opened an investigation into the incident.
Fifteen minutes after entering the courtroom, Tarek was lead out. His mother and father later told reporters that Tarek was released on NIS 3000 bail (about $880) and placed under house arrest for his remaining time in the country. A condition of the house arrest was that it must be served outside of Shuafat, where his family lives. He is currently charged with no crime.
Suha Abu Khdeir, Tarek’s mother, said that the family had received good support from the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. Asked whether the family had been contacted by either their member of Congress, Rep. Kathy Castor, or their Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, with words of support, she said they had not.
While this latest round of violence in Israel-Palestine began with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli boys, Naftali Frankel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar, after which roving gangs of Jewish Israelis attacked random Palestinians in revenge, it’s important to see it in the broader context of military occupation and the still-unresolved conflict between Jewish and Palestinian nationalism. Though there may be periods of calm, the occupation creates a situation in which the potential for violence is always just below the surface. “There is massive popular discontent in the West Bank, and I would say in Gaza, with the status quo. When that gets translated into mass mobilization is a different question,” Brookings Institution analyst Khaled Elgindy told me last year. “It’s not so much about the spark as it is the kindling.”
Israel’s own security professionals seem to understand this much better that their politicians do. In a recent private talk to businessmen in Israel, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said that the irresolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict posed the biggest threat to Israel:
Pardo said, according to the source, that the major threat to Israel is the conflict with the Palestinians. When some of the participants asked him to repeat what he said, he answered: “Yes, the biggest threat is the Palestinian issue.”
“[A]nyone who thinks the situation can tread water over the long run is making a mistake, and a big one,” former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin wrote recently. “What’s been happening in the last few days can get much worse — even if things calm down momentarily.”
Don’t be fooled for a moment, because the enormous internal pressure will still be there, the combustible fumes in the air won’t diminish and if we don’t learn to lessen them the situation will get much worse.
As the Obama administration steps back from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the wake of the collapse of the most recent round of talks in April, this current surge in violence should be seen as yet more evidence that the United States cannot simply feed the meter on this conflict. If left unresolved, it will continue to assert itself, unpredictably and tragically.