I remember watching movies like the Ox-Bow Incident as a young boy. In those movies, innocent men were always being lynched, despite the intervention of good guys like Henry Fonda. Of course, when the real suspects were found, there were often bad consequences for members of the lynch mob. Some sort of retributive justice applied to them. But I was never sure of the moral of the movie. Was it that lynching was bad because mistakes could be made? But what if we knew that the guys about to be hung were the bad guys? What if they really had raped and murdered that little girl? Would we say, well, it wasn't pretty, but on the frontier that's how justice was done? Or would we hold out for decency and due process?
Lynching guilty people is unjust, but so is arresting and convicting guilty people without due process. Due process is not a luxury; due process is a right. A society that tolerates making widespread arrests on the basis of ethnicity, forcing men and women who are not suspects to give DNA samples, sowing fear in a civilian population through nighttime entries, and smashing and looting property in order to "teach them a lesson" and to snuff out suspects – all of which have been alleged by the residents of Awarta, the Palestinian village neighboring Itamar, among whom the murder suspects have been found, and none of which has been denied by the IDF – such a society is not a decent, law-abiding society. It is a Wild West society, at best.
And so I am puzzled by the silence of the decent folk here. Even if one is convinced that the Itamar murder suspects actually committed the murder – and given the justice system on the West Bank, that is hardly to be taken for granted – the manner of apprehending the suspects clearly involved massive violations of their due process, not to mention collective punishment of innocents.
Would we tolerate this sort of "investigation" if it were conducted against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship within the Green Line? And if a serial killer was discovered in Tel Aviv, would we tolerate the police going to a neighborhood where the murdered was known to have lived, rounding up people with no criminal record, or with no reasonable tie to the murders, arresting them in the middle of the night, at times, and questioning them, taking from men and women DNA samples forcibly, and damaging their property – so as to apprehend murder suspects? Would we tolerate this in murder cases where settlers are suspects?
Even if the murder suspects get a fair trial – and knowing West Bank justice, the likelihood is low -- we already know that justice will not be done in the Itamar murder case.