Israel’s foes finally admit that rocks can kill

Rock-throwing has always been depicted as a harmless act of symbolism used by the powerless, but after an alleged settler attack, it’s time to agree that it’s an act of terror.

A Palestinian man winds up a slingshot before throwing a rock towards Israeli soldiers in the West bank village of Dura near Hebron, on March 11, 1998. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.
A Palestinian man winds up a slingshot before throwing a rock towards Israeli soldiers in the West bank village of Dura near Hebron, on March 11, 1998. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

As far as the mainstream media is usually concerned, when rocks are thrown in the Middle East, it’s nothing to get too worked up about. When Palestinian mobs throw rocks at Israeli soldiers at the Gaza border fence as part of their effort to cross into the Jewish state and commit mayhem, such actions are generally depicted as a nonlethal form of protest.

A Palestinian man winds up a slingshot before throwing a rock towards Israeli soldiers in the West bank village of Dura near Hebron, on March 11, 1998. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.

Ever since the Palestinians launched an intifada—a “national uprising”—in December of 1987, rock-throwing has been treated as a popular form of protest against Israel. Indeed, the act of throwing rocks at Jews has long since become an iconic symbolic of the “resistance” to Israel, glorified in Palestinian culture, poems and songs. Throwing rocks at soldiers and settlers or their cars and buses has become something like a national sport, as well as a rite of passage for Arab youth.

Incidents of stone-throwing at Jewish targets are a daily occurrence, and so numerous that Israel barely bothers to keep statistics on them. But we do know that at least 14 Israelis have been killed as a result of car crashes caused by rock-throwing or direct blows. When Palestinians are arrested in connection with such crimes, they are either depicted sympathetically as legitimate combatants using the only weapons available to them or as children who are unjustly harassed or even tortured by the Israeli army and police for what is, at worst, nothing more than so-called teenage mischief-making.

But after more than 30 years of such stories in the media, the international press has finally decided to treat this “harmless” activity in the West Bank as a crime.

A Palestinian woman was killed in October when she was struck in the head by a stone thrown by what police believe was a group of Israeli teenagers. Aisha Rabi, a mother of eight, was with her husband and two of their children driving in a car when the crime occurred. The suspects are students at a West Bank yeshivah high school—one of whom remains in custody since being arrested in December due to the fact that, according to Israeli authorities, traces of his DNA was found on the stone that killed Rabi.

The case raises a lot of uncomfortable questions for both Arabs and Jews.

While Palestinian rock-throwing is considered a routine event, if even a small group of Jews now think it is acceptable to behave in a similar manner, then a dangerous line has been crossed.

The constant attacks on Jewish-owned vehicles seem to have normalized an act that in any other context would be considered a horrendous crime. The belief that the Israel Defense Forces don’t do enough to protect the residents of Jewish communities in the territories, coupled with anger about Palestinian terror, is widespread among the settlers. That has, at least for a small minority of radical Jews, legitimized the notion that there is nothing wrong with taking revenge—so-called “price tag” attacks—on random Palestinians.

Such toxic ideas are immoral and a threat to the rule of law. They also help to paint the hundreds of thousands of peaceful and law-abiding Jews who live in Judea and Samaria as radical law-breakers intent on spilling Palestinian blood when, in fact, only a tiny minority is involved in attacks against Arabs.

But while the radicals accused of violence against Palestinians aren’t representative of the settler population or Israelis in general, it is troubling that the murder of Rabi wasn’t condemned by all of the settler leadership and even seems to have been condoned by some extremist rabbis. Rather than disassociating their movement from such a despicable act, these leaders have concentrated their efforts on defending the accused and claiming that Israeli intelligence personnel investigating the incident are guilty of mistreating the suspects. That some of the same people protesting such behavior from the authorities are not opposed to it as long as it is only applied to Palestinian terror suspects is an irony that is lost on them.

While the case remains under investigation and those accused are entitled to the presumption of innocence, the overwhelming majority of Israelis rightly think that there can be no tolerance for anyone who would throw rocks at vehicles, no matter who is behind the wheel. Just as importantly, those who might condone or excuse “price tag” attacks don’t deserve to be in places of public trust. There should be no debate about the need to stamp out such misbehavior, even if it’s marginal.

Outrage about the murder of a Palestinian mother is necessary. But those heaping abuse on the settler movement as a whole should also stop and think about whether this should impact their views about the routine rock-throwing at Israeli vehicles that goes on every day—resulting in damage to property, injury and in the worst cases, death.

If it’s wrong for an isolated few Jewish teens to allegedly commit such a terrible crime, then there should be no hesitancy about labeling the daily instances of similar Palestinian attacks on Jews as being equally criminal.

Whatever your thoughts about settlements or what the ultimate resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ought to look like, if—as the international media seems to think—it’s wrong for Jews to throw rocks at Arabs in the hope of causing injury and/or death, then it’s just as wrong for Arabs to do the same. If you disagree, then you are basically justifying terrorism against Jews.

Those who killed Aisha Rabi deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law. In that same vein, those who think that anyone seeking to injure, maim or kill Jews is the act of a freedom fighter or harmless youths is setting up a double standard indistinguishable from anti-Semitism.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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