Israel mourns the death of three teenagers after their bodies were found yesterday. Photo: Getty.
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“Hamas will pay”: Israel responds to the killing of three teenagers

Israel is preparing to retaliate for the killing of three teenagers, but an increase in violence will hurt both sides.

What is a proportionate response to the killing of three innocent teenagers? There is no easy way to reply to this question, because how can you possibly weigh up one human life against another, or against a set of political goals? Still, it’s a question I can’t help asking.

On 12 June, three Israeli teenagers – Gilad Shaer (16), Naftali Fraenkel (16) and Eyal Yifrah (19) – went missing while hitchhiking south of Jerusalem. After weeks of searching, their bodies were found under a pile of rocks in a field. They had been shot dead, just hours after they went missing. Their story gripped Israel. Their deaths are a tragedy.

But then things get a little bit more complex and political. Israeli intelligence have long maintained the teenagers were kidnapped by Hamas, and they have named two key suspects – Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha – who disappeared from their homes on the night of the kidnapping and have not returned since. Hamas denies responsibility and claims Israel is using the tragedy as an excuse for another offensive in Gaza.

Either way, five Palestinians have been killed in the course of the search operation (according to the Guardian), over 400 Palestinians – mainly Hamas members – have been arrested, 34 locations in Gaza have been hit by airstrikes and Israeli troops have raided over 1,300 sites, sparking riots in some towns. Family members of the dead Palestinians, some of whom were teenagers, have complained that their deaths did not receive the same media coverage, and were not met with the same outrage. That’s an indictment of the political climate in the Middle East: a teenage death is not seen as a tragedy by everyone. Meanwhile, Hamas is fighting back: Israel say at least 26 rockets have hit their territory in the last four days.

The tensions on both sides are only likely to increase, and the violence will escalate. Concerns are mounting of another full-scale invasion by Israel of parts of Gaza and the West Bank. During the 2008-9 Gaza war, 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.  

Would this be a proportionate response? Israel will argue that its armed retaliation is crucial to maintaining national security and combating terrorism. Palestinians will say the move amounts to collective punishment. Both are to some extent true – yet ultimately, an increase in violence will hurt both sides. Palestine will bear the heaviest losses, and Israeli violence will embitter and radicalise populations in Gaza and the West Bank.

“Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay,” the Israeli prime minister has said. But it will not only be Hamas that pays the price. There is no proportionate response to the killing of children, but a violent retaliation will ultimately be a counter-productive one.  

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Emmanuel Macron can win - but so can Marine Le Pen

Macron is the frontrunner, but he remains vulnerable to an upset. 

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is campaigning in the sixth largest French city aka London today. He’s feeling buoyed by polls showing not only that he is consolidating his second place but that the voters who have put him there are increasingly comfortable in their choice

But he’ll also be getting nervous that those same polls show Marine Le Pen increasing her second round performance a little against both him and François Fillon, the troubled centre-right candidate. Her slight increase, coming off the back of riots after the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man and Macron’s critical comments about the French empire in Algeria is a reminder of two things: firstly the potential for domestic crisis or terror attack to hand Le Pen a late and decisive advantage.  Secondly that Macron has not been doing politics all that long and the chance of a late implosion on his part cannot be ruled out either.

That many of his voters are former supporters of either Fillon or the Socialist Party “on holiday” means that he is vulnerable should Fillon discover a sense of shame – highly unlikely but not impossible either – and quit in favour of a centre-right candidate not mired in scandal. And if Benoît Hamon does a deal with Jean-Luc Mélenchon – slightly more likely that Fillon developing a sense of shame but still unlikely – then he could be shut out of the second round entirely.

What does that all mean? As far as Britain is concerned, a Macron or Fillon presidency means the same thing: a French government that will not be keen on an easy exit for the UK and one that is considerably less anti-Russian than François Hollande’s. But the real disruption may be in the PR battle as far as who gets the blame if Theresa May muffs Brexit is concerned.

As I’ve written before, the PM doesn’t like to feed the beast as far as the British news cycle and the press is concerned. She hasn’t cultivated many friends in the press and much of the traditional rightwing echo chamber, from the press to big business, is hostile to her. While Labour is led from its leftmost flank, that doesn’t much matter. But if in the blame game for Brexit, May is facing against an attractive, international centrist who shares much of the prejudices of May’s British critics, the hope that the blame for a bad deal will be placed solely on the shoulders of the EU27 may turn out to be a thin hope indeed.

Implausible? Don’t forget that people already think that Germany is led by a tough operator who gets what she wants, and think less of David Cameron for being regularly outmanoeuvered by her – at least, that’s how they see it. Don’t rule out difficulties for May if she is seen to be victim to the same thing from a resurgent France.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.