While Angelenos were complaining about the unseasonably hot weather on Wednesday, 16-year-old Hussein Ghwadreh of Palestine stabbed 19-year-old Israeli soldier Eden Atias to death in Northern Israel.
Ghwadreh stabbed Atias several times on a bus driving from Nazareth to Tel Aviv. Police have told several news outlets that Ghwardreh claimed revenge for some of his family members held in Israeli jails as his motivation for killing the recently conscripted soldier.
In a region torn by decades of fighting, one instance of violence rarely stands out. Atias’ killing should not become absorbed in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, but rather serve as a reminder of exactly what is at stake in the Middle East.
Atias’ death sparked such a reaction in the international media not because it was rare, but because of the teenagers’ youth. Though many in the United States can often write off these tragedies as symbolic of the crisis, a 16-year-old feeling the urge to kill another teenager should not be seen as normal, even in a restless nation.
The United States has become used to its role as a sort of “world police,” intervening here and there when it sees a global humanitarian crisis. And yet, American society has grown so accustomed to the decades of violence between Israelis and Palestinians that we barely notice the death toll.
The United Nations Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East estimated that 711,000 Palestinian refugees were initially displaced when Israel was founded in 1948. The agency estimates that those refugees’ descendants number close to 4,950,000. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that at least 13,000 Israelis and Palestinians have been killed in the conflict between 1948 and 1997. Other approximations give even higher numbers of casualties.
With plans to build more permanent housing for Israelis in the contested West Bank on the horizon, the conflict is far from over. Palestinian negotiators recently resigned from their jobs, noting the lack of progress towards a peaceful resolution. As the fighting and violence continues, peace can seem further and further away.
It is tempting for Americans thousands of miles away from Gaza or the West Bank to write off the crisis. The relationship between Israel and Palestine is deeply rooted in historic, cultural and religious motivations as well as the more obvious political problems, and can appear unsolvable. Citizens outside of the region can lose interest in a conflict that seems never-ending or impossible to solve.
Many times, a lack of cultural understanding leads to the inability to care about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Few understand the historical background of the region or have more than a passing awareness of the differences between the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Palestinian National Authority or the Gaza Strip. The mainstream media largely ignores the religious or cultural differences between the factions, instead focusing on their international political implications.
And though the politics of the region of course constitute an important part of the conflict and the peace process, there is more to the Israeli-Palestinian story — the people.
Though the average American’s life experience likely differs greatly from the average Israeli’s or Palestinian’s, neither side can forget their similarities. Even the most sheltered, suburban American can empathize with how it must feel to fear for your safety on a daily basis. From a humanitarian standpoint, the conflict between Israel and Palestine has been one of the most consistently devastating crises of the 20th and 21st centuries.
When a 19-year-old is stabbed to death by a 16-year-old, the world should not view this killing as yet another act of violence or something that is to be expected in a region fraught with conflict. The international media, governments and citizens from every country in the world should see it as a tragedy, and another reminder of the need for a peaceful settlement. Atias’ death must not be perceived as just another casualty in an ongoing conflict, but a loss of a life on the world stage.
Annalise Mantz is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. She is also the Editor in Chief of the Daily Trojan.
Follow Annalise on Twitter @asmantz