United in mourning, divided over response

Outrage at the murders of Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar have reverberated across Israel’s political spectrum, with left-wing opposition parties condemning them as forcefully as the right-led government.

Labour party chairman, head of the opposition, called the abduction and murder an “unforgivable and despicable crime”, and said that there is no “justification or excuse”.

These sentiments were echoed by activist groups and human rights organisations which stand further to the left. The act of terror was a “crime deserving all condemnation”, said former Knesset member Uri Avnery, a leader of the Gush Shalom movement. “No political cause can justify such an act, and among other things the perpetrators caused grave damage to the Palestinian people.”

The B’Tselem human rights group stressed that its strong opposition to Israeli presence in the West Bank ­doesn’t reduce its outrage that youngsters were abducted from this territory and killed. “Deliberate targeting of civilians undermines all moral, legal and human principles,” it said in a statement. “The deliberate killing of civilians is defined as a grave breach of international humanitarian law, and cannot be justified, regardless of the circumstances.”

While the left’s outrage matches the government’s, its emphasis on what should happen now is different. B’Tselem warned the government to keep its response in check, cautioning security forces “to avoid harming the innocent Palestinian population, or abusing the public atmosphere in Israel with the discovery of the bodies, to impose collective punishment, as was done in the past two weeks as part of the searches”. It added: “The deliberate harming of an entire civilian population as punishment for the actions of individuals is both illegal and immoral.”

In a similar vein, Avnery said: “It is a stormy moment, when inflammatory cries are made for revenge … It would be a grave mistake for the State of Israel to take such a route, which would lead only to bloodshed and more ­bloodshed, revenge and counter-revenge and counter-counter-revenge.”

He added: “Only peace between Israelis and Palestinians, between the existing State of Israel and the state of Palestine which will arise at its side, bears the hope that these three boys will be the last victims.”

Zehava Gal-On, leader of the Meretz party, said the abduction and murder constituted a “war crime” that must be punished, but said the lines of responsibility mustn’t be blurred. In her opinion it is “imperative” that a line is drawn between the perpetrators and the Palestinian Authority, whose President, Mahmoud Abbas, denounced it.

There is strong opposition on the left to the idea that Israel should defiantly establish a new West Bank settlement in memory of the boys. Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon and others have proposed this, but Justice Minister Tzipi Livni poured scorn on the idea, saying it could cause internal conflict in Israel and “hurt our international legitimacy for a military operation against Hamas”.