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Israeli, Palestinian authorities appeal for calm as deaths of teens fans fire of vigilantism

July 4, 2014 at 6:11 PM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: In addition to the clashes in East Jerusalem, the Israeli air force struck targets inside of Gaza tonight after Hamas fired rockets again today into Southern Israel. The exchange happened despite word of a possible cease-fire between Israel and Hamas being mediated by Egypt.

Journalist Josh Mitnick has been reporting the story on all fronts for The Wall Street Journal. I spoke to him a short time ago.

Well, Josh Mitnick, you were at the funeral today. What would you add to what we heard from Lindsey Hilsum?

JOSH MITNICK, The Wall Street Journal: Yes.

Well, there was a real air of anger and militancy in the air. The debris from several days of riots in Jerusalem had not been cleaned up. I saw mourners praying amid shattered glass of a light-rail station, and people were — there are chants, religious chants, anti-Israel chants, chants for revenge, chants for blood.

And people were saying that they thought the Israeli police were treating this with kid gloves. They were angry that the Israeli police had not come to the conclusion that they confidently believe that this was a lynching. And they were frustrated also with the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas for not embracing them. And they accused him of collaborating with Israel.

JEFFREY BROWN: And are there signs of protests and violence spreading in the West Bank, of further escalation?

JOSH MITNICK: You know, that is the concern of the Israeli — of the Israeli army. And it’s also — I assume that is the concern of the Palestinian Authority.

And, at this moment, that has not happened. It’s — at this moment, it has been contained to Jerusalem. From what I understand, is that the President Abbas has an interest in this not spreading.

And, ironically, in the rest of the West Bank, President Abbas has his own security forces, which basically try to lower the flames of the conflict. In East Jerusalem, it is a different story, however. President Abbas doesn’t have the control, and it is more easy for the protesters to go out to the Israeli — the Israeli police and protest and engage in clashes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, the Israeli government has, of course, condemned the killing, but is there any more information on the investigation into finding who did it?

JOSH MITNICK: You know, I spoke with a police spokesperson today, and he said that they are still investigating several different motives.

Again, as I said, this is — this — the fact that the police have not classified this as a nationalist crime very insulting to the family. They have not released details of the autopsy yet. They will only say that the body of the boy was severely injured.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, in the meantime, rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli military planes in reprisal going into Gaza, what are authorities on both sides saying about that situation?

JOSH MITNICK: That right.

For the last week, there has been a tit-for-tat, trickle of rockets into Israel and Israeli planes launching reprisals. The Israeli military, in a rare appeal for calm yesterday, said that they are not interested in escalating the situation, but that if the militants in Gaza and if Hamas doesn’t get control of the situation there, they are prepared to escalate, so something of a veiled threat mixed with a message of mollification.

Hamas also has been putting out mixed signals, some of the members of its political leadership, of the government there saying that they are not interested in escalation, however, a statement from the military wing of Hamas saying that they are not willing to engage in any cease-fires and they will not impose their control on the other militant groups in Gaza Strip.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Josh, very briefly, if you would, how much fear — what is your sense of the level of fear that this could escalate to something that the region hasn’t seen in some time?

JOSH MITNICK: Well, if we compare this to different intifadas in the past, and especially 2000, the difference is that the Palestinian president, the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has consistently come out against the use of violence.

And it’s assumed that he is actively working to cool the flames. However, there is an air of vigilantism in the West Bank. There is a new, relatively recent phenomenon of vigilantism among pro-settler groups, who have carried out revenge attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank.

So, as long as this air of taking the law into one’s own hands continues, then it is anyone’s bet, and things could get — could spiral out of control.

JEFFREY BROWN: Josh Mitnick, thanks so much for joining us.

JOSH MITNICK: Thank you.