It’s tempting to treat last week’s tragic murder of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh, burned alive in his bed as the result of a firebomb thrown by suspected Jewish settlers, as somehow separate from the occupation through which Israel has ruled the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza since 1967. Israeli officials have certainly been at pains to make that case, condemning the murder and promising swift action. But we should note that Ali was the fourth Palestinian killed over the previous week and a half. The reality is that Ali’s murder is only a particularly shocking expression of the violence that Israel’s occupation exacts upon Palestinian civilians every day. And any genuine effort to put a stop to extremist violence in the West Bank, by Israelis or Palestinians, requires a fuller awareness of how that extremism is driven by the occupation, and of the role that the U.S. has played in sustaining it.
Don’t expect acknowledgement of the deeper problems here from the current Israeli government—it’s all in behind the occupation and settlements. While there’s no reason to doubt the government’s regret over the death of a child, it’s reasonable to ask how much that regret is actually worth while it remains committed to the policies that led to that death. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon announced, “We intend to fight Jewish terror with our full might, without any leniency.” But of course he has no plans to end the system of radical institutionalized inequality that affirms and empowers Jewish extremists while containing Palestinians within a series of disconnected, impoverished cantons.