Last Wednesday in Jerusalem, a three-month-old American baby was killed, and eight other people injured, when a car plowed into a crowded sidewalk; the driver, a 20-year-old Palestinian named Abed a-Rahman a-Shaludi, was killed by police when he tried to flee the scene. The family of the driver insisted it was an accident, but Israeli officials immediately called it a “terrorist act.” Some Israelis speculated that it was in retaliation for the killing in the West Bank of a 5-year-old Palestinian girl days earlier by an Israeli settler who ran his car into her (and another Palestinian girl, seriously injured) and then fled the scene (Palestinian officials denounced that incident as “terrorism”).

Yesterday, a soldier in the Israeli military shot and killed a 14-year-old boy in the West Bank who was participating in a protest against the 5-decade Israeli occupation. The boy, Orwah Hammad (pictured above at his funeral), was a U.S. citizen as well as a Palestinian; he was born in New Orleans and moved with his family to the West Bank when he was 6. The IDF claimed he was throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and that another man was preparing to throw a Molotov cocktail, and that this justified the live ammunition they fired.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement about the two incidents. Here’s the one it issued about last week’s Jerusalem incident where the Palestinian driver killed the American baby, issued on the very day the incident took place (i.e., prior to any investigation):

Terrorist Attack in Jerusalem

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem. We express our deepest condolences to the family of the baby, reportedly an American citizen, who was killed in this despicable attack, and extend our prayers for a full recovery to those injured. We urge all sides to maintain calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of this incident.

Here’s the markedly different statement the State Department issued last night about the fatal shooting by an Israeli soldier of the 14-year-old American boy:

Death of a U.S. Minor in Silwad

The United States expresses its deepest condolences to the family of a U.S. citizen minor who was killed by the Israeli Defense Forces during clashes in Silwad on October 24. Officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem are in contact with the family and are providing all appropriate consular assistance. We call for a speedy and transparent investigation, and will remain closely engaged with the local authorities, who have the lead on this investigation. We continue to urge all parties to help restore calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of the tragic recent incidents in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

There is certainly nothing wrong with waiting for the results of an investigation before making definite statements, but that’s not what the State Department did in the Jerusalem incident, which was instantly labelled a “despicable” act of “terror.” Moreover, when the U.S. calls for a “speedy and transparent investigation” of the West Bank shooting, what they mean is that they want the IDF – the occupying force which killed the American teenager – to investigate (and inevitably clear) itself (Rania Khalek today documents how reflexively Israeli authorities clear Israeli settlers and soldiers while instantly finding Palestinians guilty in similar circumstances). As the driver’s family told Israeli media:

A few days ago a Jewish settler knocked over two girls near Ramallah. He killed one and the other is in serious condition. The police immediately said it was a car accident. In our case they said the opposite in seconds. This is because the driver was an Arab driver. When a Jewish driver was involved in an accident the attitude was different and no one shot him.

Whatever else is true, IDF soldiers should not be in the West Bank given that the occupation they are there to enforce is regarded as illegal by virtually the entire world.

Most importantly, the U.S. Government has a remarkable history of exhibiting indifference, or even support, when Israel kills American citizens. The State Department never uttered a peep of protest over the Israeli bulldozer killing in 2003 of peace activist Rachel Corrie, and then implicitly endorsed the killing by Israel of the Turkish-American teenager Furkan Dogan aboard the anti-blockade Mavi Marmara flotilla (in stark contrast to the Turkish government, which – acting as most governments would – was furious that Israel had killed its citizens).

In general, countries become indignant when other nations kill their own citizens. But all of the normal rules are inapplicable when the countries in question are the U.S. and Israel. Thus, when a Palestinian runs his car into an American child, this is instantly declared a “despicable act” of “terrorism” which is condemned in “the strongest possible terms”: no investigation needed. But when an Israeli occupying soldier shoots and kills an American child, the most tepid, nonjudgmental and careful language is used to politely call for an “investigation” by the very occupying military responsible for the killing.

Photo: Majdi Mohammed/AP