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Blood feud [updated]

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The murder of three Israeli teenagers is being justly mourned today. It was an appalling crime, and it cannot under any circumstances be excused. Context -- the never-ending Middle East conflict, the military occupation and the slow but steady colonization of the West Bank -- seems wildly irrelevant. This was an act of barbarism against children. Two of them were only 16 years old. Whatever side of the conflict holds our sympathies, we need to pause and reflect about the humane values to which the better fractions of each side claim to adhere.

The struggle between the occupiers and the occupied is spiralling further into little more than a blood feud. One can argue about which of the two, overall, has justice on its side. My own position has been, and remains, clear. Occupation is by nature violent. I oppose it, without equivocation. But I will not, and can not, explain away acts of barbarism by anyone in such conflicts. The Chechens were brutalized by the Russians, for example, but nothing justifies the retaliatory hostage-taking and mass-murder of children in the name of resistance. So, too, the killings of children proceed apace in the Middle East, and excuses will be found, but there can be no excuses. None.

This is the present moment, not history and not the future. We know that much more blood will flow. We can and will place these deaths on an endless line of cause and effect. But we need to step back, every time a crime like this occurs, and weigh the purely human costs. We can't afford to flee from this reality into abstractions, or we risk destroying a vital part of ourselves.

Three is a number, but 1,400 is a statistic. Yet every time a child is murdered in the name of whatever cause, we need to unlock our empathy and compassion -- for the children themselves, for their families, for their communities. And we should feel them equally, and be as loud in our condemnations, regardless of our politics and alliances.

That this isn't happening is a human tragedy in itself. The murder of Palestinian teenagers goes almost unnoticed by media, world leaders and diplomats. Perhaps it is because it is such a common occurrence in that conflict zone, or because the geopolitical stakes are too high for notice to be taken. Three of them were killed recently. There was no global outpouring of grief and anger.

There is video footage of two of these inexcusable acts, backed by CNN coverage of the same event. The security cameras that recorded the deaths were seized in a Israeli military raid -- in fact, recording equipment was confiscated in the entire neighbourhood -- but the clip is now on the Internet, where it is out of reach. Immediate claims that only rubber bullets were fired, followed by further claims that the footage was forged, and that the bullets were likely fired by Palestinians anyway, are contradicted by an Israeli human rights organization.

But these three deaths do not cancel out the three others. That's not how the math works. Six teens are dead, murdered and every one of them matters.

"Hamas will pay," says Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Israel will pay," says Hamas. Oh, they will, over and over: there can be no doubt about that. Blood will have blood. But blood has no politics, and no ideals. And it is the only victor here.

UPDATE: (July 2) And already it's begun. A 16 year old Palestinian youth has been kidnapped, tortured and killed by Israeli settlers. Meanwhile, this crudely-stated call for mass retaliation by a world Jewish youth leader should gladden the heart. Hamas, meanwhile, is calling for vengeance for the Palestinian kid's murder. Further updates will hardly be necessary.

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