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Benjamin Netanyahu's lack of mercy is encouraging Israelis to take matters into their own hands

He might have told citizens not to take revenge, but his reprisal attacks on Gaza are fuelling vigilantism

When Lee Rigby was brutally murdered in Woolwich just over a year ago the Met Police took care to wound rather than kill Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebolawe although they were armed.

Their identities were widely known from the start and feelings ran high in Woolwich, but there were no lynch mobs on the streets and the men’s families were not attacked before or after the two were convicted of murder.

By comparison, when three Jewish teenagers were abducted on the occupied West Bank and found dead 18 days later, the country’s leaders sought to whip up racial tensions not just in Israel but around the world - with predictable results. On Tuesday morning a Palestinian teen was bundled into a car in East Jerusalem and his body was later found burned and mutilated.

Speaking at the triple funeral, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu denounced the killers, saying “They sanctify cruelty, but we sanctify mercy”. But during his speech, and following an intense bombing of Gaza by his air forice, his army was blowing up the homes of two murder suspects, who were not there. The wanted men are still presumed innocent and may never be found, but their clearly innocent families are now homeless.

Israel has been using the demolition of “terror” suspects’ homes as a deterrent for decades, and, like many of its other ideas, it has never worked, and there is no reason to believe it will. Equally, building yet another illegal settlement to commemorate the three dead boys, as has been proposed by Israel’s Defence Minister, is adding fuel to the flames, and not doing anything to put them out.

In Woolwich the forces of law and order were mobilised to prevent riots (which did not materialise) and the fortunes of the English Defence League waned rather than waxed following the brutal murder. In Jerusalem, on the other hand, the Jewish rioters sensed which way the official wind was blowing.

While Netanyahu made a speech urging people not to take the law into their own hands, groups of young Israelis, intent on revenge, rampaged through the city, attacking Palestinians at random and spraying “Price Tag: Death to Arabs” as they went.

The sentiment went international when the secretary-general of the youth movement Bnei Akiva, Rabbi Noam Perel, called for revenge on the movement’s Facebook page shortly after the bodies were found.

”The government of Israel is gathering for a revenge meeting that isn't a grief meeting”, he wrote. “A government that turns the army of searchers to an army of avengers, an army that will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins,“ he added, alluding to the biblical tale of David, who killed 200 Philistines and gave their foreskins to King Saul as the bride price for his daughter Michal. “The disgrace will be paid for with the blood of the enemy, not with our tears.”

When it was pointed out to the rabbi that most Palestinians are Muslims, and would already have been circumcised, he removed the post. But not before dozens of social media groups calling for revenge for the murders of teens, were launched in the last two days. One of them, a Facebook group named “The people of Israel demands revenge,” already has over 35,000 likes.

Outpouring of burning hate fill the Palestinians’ social media too, but in Jerusalem only one side has the big guns – literally. And that is the side that claims to sanctify mercy, but shows little of it.