Skip to main content

Teens' slayings call for justice, not escalation

By Alan Elsner
July 5, 2014 -- Updated 1429 GMT (2229 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Deaths of three teens a terrible tragedy for Israelis and people everywhere
  • Alan Elsner: Punish the killers but not families, others in a general offensive
  • Expanding settlements, harming families has never worked as a deterrence, he says
  • Elsner: How Israel reacts will be decisive turning point for both Israelis and Palestinians

Editor's note: Alan Elsner is vice president of communications for J Street, a nonprofit group advocating peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- This is a moment of terrible tragedy for Israelis and people of goodwill everywhere following the discovery of the bodies of three teenagers who were abducted and killed while hitchhiking in the West Bank.

It is also a moment of high danger.

When an entire nation -- and the entirety of the Jewish people -- is stunned and in deep mourning, it might be understandable that some among us would call for retribution. Understandable -- but not necessarily wise. What we need is justice and to avoid a downward spiral of violence, not retribution.

Alan Elsner
Alan Elsner

In the Jewish world, we are all hurting right now, all angry. It is as if we have all suffered a death in our own family. Those of us who are parents are imagining how we would feel if the victims had been our children. The funerals of the three teens were unbearably sad. As Finance Minister Yair Lapid said at the funeral procession of Gilad Shaar, "Let us remember that today we are burying a child. We are burying a child, who could have also been ours, and therefore he is also ours. We are not burying a settler or a soldier in the inevitable battle for this land."

Opinion: Teens' killing hurts Israelis, bad for Palestinians

At a time like this, it is more important than ever to remember our heritage and our values. "Justice, justice, shall you pursue," declares the Book of Deuteronomy 16:20.

Israelis in Tel Aviv mourn the deaths of three teenagers.
Israelis in Tel Aviv mourn the deaths of three teenagers.
The slain Israeli teens, from left, are Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach.
The slain Israeli teens, from left, are Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach.

Justice means finding those responsible and punishing them to the full extent of the law. It also means tracking down anyone who enabled them by planning this operation or by hiding the perpetrators or helping them escape. If they acted on orders from the highest levels of Hamas, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said, they too should be held accountable.

But justice also means not punishing those who were not responsible. Measures that simply make more miserable the lives of the 1.7 million people who live in Gaza and whose lives are already very tenuous should be avoided. The same applies for the 2.2 million people who live in the West Bank.

Israel's government doubtless feels a need to provide a tough response, partly to re-establish a deterrence against such heinous acts, partly to satisfy the demands of its own grieving people. It should resist the temptation to act just for the sake of acting or from entering into a violent escalation with Hamas. Israel is justified in responding to rocket attacks from Gaza but should avoid any offensive that would put millions of civilians, both Israeli and Palestinian, in the firing line.

The Israeli army's demolition of the family homes of two named suspects without any due process is an unwelcome return to a policy that Israel abandoned in 2005. As a deterrence, it has never succeeded in the past. It is simply a way of punishing people who happen to be related to suspected terrorists.

Worst of all would be to react as Israel has responded so many times in the past by announcing a massive new expansion of settlements. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has already suggested building a new settlement in memory of the teenagers. Not only would this lose Israel the world's sympathy, it would also weaken the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been a welcome voice for reason and moderation and whose security forces have maintained cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces throughout the crisis.

Additionally, it would drive another stake into the heart of the two-state solution -- which remains the only sane and just way of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until that conflict is ended through negotiations, tragically we will see more horrific acts of violence and more martyrs on both sides.

Israeli teens found brutally slain
Israeli military strikes Hamas targets

We are seeing some of the consequences of the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry's peace initiative in April. The absence of any movement toward peace has created a vacuum in which extremism can flourish. That's why it is so important for the United States not to walk away, but to remain engaged with both parties.

This could be a decisive turning point for both Israelis and Palestinians. If Israel undertakes targeted measures designed to punish those responsible for this terrible crime, the world will be with it, and the crisis will be surmounted. If it turns its understandable anger into a general offensive, we could be in for a sustained period of violence claiming the lives of more innocent people on both sides.

Lapid, the finance minister, expressed the right policy: "We will find those responsible and we will punish them. The real revenge is our ability to bridge the gaps within us."

Israeli PM at teens' funeral: 'Broad moral gulf' between us, enemy

The Israeli teens killed: Promising lives, grieving families

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT