Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images
Members of Lebanon’s militant Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah carry the coffin of Lebanese militant Samir Kantar (portrait), who was killed in a suspected Israeli air-raid on his home in the Jaramana district on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, during his funeral procession in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lenabon, December 21, 2015. Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images
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Honoring Terrorists: A Tale of Two Celebrations

What we can learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from how each side’s extremists valorize violence—and how their leaders respond

Yair Rosenberg
December 24, 2015
Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images
Members of Lebanon's militant Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah carry the coffin of Lebanese militant Samir Kantar (portrait), who was killed in a suspected Israeli air-raid on his home in the Jaramana district on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, during his funeral procession in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lenabon, December 21, 2015. Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images

This week, both Israel and Palestine witnessed the grim spectacle of bigots celebrating child-murdering terrorists. Depending upon which media you consume, you may only have heard about one of these incidents. But it is both important and instructive to place them side-by-side, not because they are mirror images of each other, but because they reveal key differences between how Israeli and Palestinian societies respond to extremism.

On Tuesday, Palestinians gathered in Ramallah to honor Samir Kuntar, a member of the Palestine Liberation Front who infamously murdered an Israeli father in front of his four-year-old daughter, then smashed her head in against a rock. Two others were also killed in the assault. As Newsweek put it in 2008, “the details of Kuntar’s attack are so sickening that they give pause even to some of Israel’s enemies.” Kuntar was killed last week in Syria, likely by an Israeli air strike on the Hezbollah forces he was directing. Just three days later, he was commemorated in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, in a gathering that included top officials from President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah party, one of whom addressed the attendees. As the Times of Israel reported:

During the Ramallah ceremony, Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad eulogized Kuntar and his dedication to the Palestinian cause, saying he “began his way in the ranks of the Palestinian revolution.”

Al-Ahmad vowed that Kuntar’s slaying would “not weaken the resolve and plans of the resistance.”

The next day, Israel was rocked by the release of a video clip from a far-right Jewish wedding, in which the racist revelers celebrated the murder of Ali Dawabshe, an 18-month-old Palestinian baby whose home was firebombed by suspected Jewish terrorists in July. Both Dawabshe’s parents were killed in the attack, leaving his brother Ahmed as the only survivor. The Hebrew video of this brutal act being extolled at a wedding aired on Israel’s Channel 10. The Times of Israel describes its contents:

The video, aired by Channel 10, shows revelers at the Jerusalem celebration waving knives, rifles, pistols and a Molotov cocktail during the wedding.

Amid the festivities, a photo of baby Ali Dawabsha, who was burned to death in the July 31 firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma, is shown being repeatedly stabbed.

These two incidents, reported just days apart, offer an ugly illustration of how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has fueled, and been fueled by, extremism. But the reaction of each society to the two acts—to the sight of their own brethren valorizing child-killers—also underscores a stark difference.

To begin with, according to Channel 10, the clip of the racist Israeli wedding was collected as part of an Israeli investigation into far-right extremists. The film leaked after it was shown to settler leaders by the country’s defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, who used it to emphasize the genuine threat posed by Jewish terrorists. Reported Haaretz: “The council heads, stunned by the show of support for Jewish violence, issued a statement supporting the Shin Bet in its efforts to solve the [Dawabshe] arson case.”

After the video aired, it was promptly condemned across the Israeli political and religious spectrum. Prime Minister Netanyahu slammed its contents, saying, “The shocking images broadcast tonight show the true face of a group that constitutes a threat to Israeli society and Israel’s security. We will not accept people who violate the state’s laws and do not see themselves as bound by them.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog was similarly incensed, writing, “You miserable lowlifes, you’ve forgotten what it is to be Jews. You disgrace your skullcap, your prayer shawl, and the name of God. Whoever dances at a wedding and celebrates the murder of a sleeping baby is not Jewish and not Israeli. He should be put behind bars as quickly as possible.”

Naftali Bennett, leader of the settler party Jewish Home, declared that “the vision of the murderers in Duma is the opposite view from that of religious Zionism,” and labeled those who criticized the investigation into the attack as “hypocrites.” Even settler politicians like Uri Ariel and Betzalel Smotrich, who had previously downplayed the threat of Jewish terrorism, condemned the clip. At the same time, Israeli police confirmed that they had opened a probe into the wedding and its participants.

Israel’s religious leaders were similarly outspoken. “This is a rejection and repudiation of the values of the Jewish people, of the Torah of Israel and the uniqueness of the Jewish people,” said ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbi David Lau. “Parents and educators must take it upon themselves, along with law enforcement, to do everything possible to prevent this appalling identification with such frightful acts of terrorism and murder.”

Tzohar, Israel’s Modern Orthodox rabbinic association, concurred, calling on “all rabbis, political leaders and educators and all those who claim to represent these extremist evildoers to condemn their actions and positions in all ways possible and work to expel them from our midst.”

Yet even as this cascade of condemnation for child-killing terrorists and their sympathizers was broadcast across Israeli society, there was no official Palestinian censure of the Kuntar commemoration—despite the fact that members of President Mahmoud Abbas’s own political party attended and addressed the gathering. No police inquiries have been opened into the event’s participants, and there has been no public outcry. Needless to say, Abbas has not reprimanded his own party members for their involvement.

Consider, then, the contrasting messages being sent to Israeli and Palestinian children in the wake of these ugly events. A typical Israeli youth is being told by their media, politicians, and religious leaders, that there can be no tolerance for those who perpetrate and celebrate the murder of children. A Palestinian youth is seeing their own politicians venerating those very acts.

To be clear, Israel has to do much better when it comes to combating the metastasizing cancer of Jewish racism, something I’ve written about at length. Condemnations must be a prelude to actions, or be exposed as empty platitudes. But the first step to fixing a problem is admitting that you have one, and sadly, it seems as though only Israelis have managed to make it that far.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.