Hamas unlikely to be the abductors
There is no aspect of the disappearance of three Israeli boys from a West Bank settlement yeshiva that does not touch on someone’s concerns about Palestine/Israel. What we are posting here this week is, we hope, a judicious selection, a mere drop in the ocean of coverage. Take your pick (but do read Gershon Baskin) from:
1) JPost: Encountering Peace: Who did it?, Gershon Baskin on why Hamas are unlikely cause of boys’ disappearance.;
2) Haaretz: Israeli campaign against Hamas is effort to impose new order in West Bank, Amos Harel on the wider aims of Operation Brother’s Keeper;
3) Tikun Olam: Israeli Media Deliberately Mangles Israeli Palestinian MK’s Interview on Kidnapping, Lieberman Calls for Death Sentence Against Her, Richard Silverstein on trying to make Hanan Zoabi responsible for boys’ disappearance;
4) Jewish Journal: The kidnapping dilemma: How to respond beyond the search, Shmuel Rosner tries to make sense for himself out of the noise about the disappearance;
5) Mondoweiss: Mainstream piece lays settler teen abduction at feet of ‘illegal’ and ‘indefensible’ occupation, Philip Weiss on how one man changed his understanding;
6) Mondoweiss: The Israeli crackdown on the West Bank as seen from the Qalandiya checkpoint, Raff Piccolo on the effects of the search on Palestinians;
Thousands of Israelis take part in a massive prayer at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel.Photo by Abir Sultan / EPA
Encountering Peace: Who did it?
My reason for doubting Hamas’s involvement is that the single most important thing to Hamas right now is to assure its continued ability to rule Gaza.
By Gershon Baskin, JPost
June 18, 2014
The most important thing at this time is to bring Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel home safely to their families as quickly as possible.
The fact that it is not absolutely clear who is responsible for their abduction and that no demands have been made does not necessarily mean that they are not still alive and well. There is a massive manhunt ongoing and the abductors are most likely not in the position to communicate with anyone outside of their hiding place without being discovered.
If Hamas is in fact responsible for their abduction, the chances of the boys remaining alive and well are quite high, because Hamas will clearly desire to trade them for Palestinian prisoners. In any case the captors are in no rush to announce their responsibility or to issue their demands. Time is on their side.
If it is Hamas, which I admit I have great doubts about, the operation was probably decided by the cell which undertook it, without the direct participation of either Hamas’s military wing Izzadin Kassam, or its political wing. However, even if no organizational decision was made to abduct the Israeli teens, Hamas may be forced to claim responsibility and take charge of any possible negotiations. In such a scenario, the negotiations will most likely be undertaken by Hamas personalities outside Palestine and therefore more difficult for Israel to reach.
My doubts regarding Hamas’s responsibility stem from among other things conversations with several Hamas leaders in Gaza. In those conversations, immediately after the abductions became known to the public and later as well, it was quite clear that those with whom I spoke with had no knowledge of the kidnapping.
They said they could not imagine Hamas having undertaken the operation. It also seemed to me to be illogical that Hamas was behind it.
The Israeli intelligence people I have spoken to, on the other hand, are 100 percent convinced Hamas is behind the operation. I don’t have access to the raw data that they have collected. A large part of the belief that Hamas is responsible is apparently based on the two Hamas operatives who disappeared last Thursday – the night of the abduction.
My reason for doubting Hamas’s involvement is that the single most important thing to Hamas right now is to assure its continued ability to rule Gaza. The single largest threat to its power base in Gaza is its isolation from Egypt and the total dependence of Gaza on Israel.
The Rafah crossing to Egypt is Gaza’s lifeline and Hamas believes that it is essential to have it opened.
This is so important to Hamas that they capitulated to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on every single issue in the reconciliation negotiations, that led to the national reconciliation government consisting of not a single Hamas member.
Even on the issue of deployment of forces along the Rafah border, Hamas agreed that troops loyal to Abbas would be stationed there. On the issue of the integration of Hamas military forces into the PA security apparatus, Hamas agreed to request the assistance of Egyptian President Abdel Sisi to come up with a plan. This is the same Sisi that declared Hamas a terrorist organization and shut down some 1,000 smuggling tunnels into Gaza.
Hamas is well aware that if it were to carry out such a kidnapping operation, the agreement with Abbas would be over and Rafah would not be opened. It is true that Hamas would then be in the position to negotiate for the release of Palestinian prisoners, but this is not likely to occur very quickly. Hamas also remembers quite well that while it held Gilad Schalit for five years and four months, over 3,000 Gazans were killed and the entire economy of Gaza was brought to its knees. It gained the prize of 1027 prisoners, but paid a very heavy price.
We must also remember that the West Bank is not Gaza. Israeli intelligence in the West Bank is perhaps the best in the world. If the boys are alive, their captors will have to come out for supplies or have supplies delivered to them. There will have to be some kind of communication between them and those who will be authorized to negotiate.
In the meantime, I would imagine that they are hiding somewhere underground. There are hundreds, if not more, caves, wells, cisterns and other possible hiding places in the south Hebron hills. During the second intifada hundreds of wanted Palestinian combatants hid in those hills and caves without being caught. Most of those who were caught were picked up when making a visit to their families or coming back into the towns and cities for food and supplies.
My guess would be that the operation was either carried by a local group, not necessarily associated with a movement but with good organization, or by a salafi-jihadi group.
You don’t have to be master terrorist to abduct Israelis in the West Bank or in Israel proper. There are enough young Israelis traveling at all hours of the night and day all around the country. The kidnappers probably used a stolen car – one that they either stole themselves or that they bought in the Hebron area.
There are many of these stolen Israeli cars available and for sale.
They had to prepare a hiding place with supplies.
Most of the people in the region know of many such places, especially because many of the people living in the area are Beduin or have Beduin roots. They have wandered these areas for hundreds of years. The [abductors] had to have some friends pick them up from the burnt getaway car and take them to a safe, prepared hiding place.
Not terribly complicated, and they also had the advantage of an eight-hour lead.
It could also be a salafi-jihadi group that was inspired by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. There are probably at least 10,000 members of Hizb al Tahrir in the greater Hebron area. This group has not been a major target of the intelligence community because until now it has appeared to be an “intellectual” group mainly preparing the ground for a return to the good old days of the Prophet. This group has not been based on an ideology of violence, because it believes the time is not right. But the successes of ISIS in Iraq and Syria could have pushed the button.
For the sake of the boys, it would be much better if it was a local organization wanting to free relatives in Israeli prisons, or Hamas, than these salafi groups; the latter would probably be much more interested in killing Jews than freeing Palestinians from prison.
I believe that the best chance of finding them quickly is to working hand-in-hand with the Palestinian security forces whose knowledge of the area, coupled with Israeli intelligence, provides the best asset for the search. It would also be wise not to be locked into the conception that Hamas is responsible, because it could turn out that it was not Hamas.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.
Israeli campaign against Hamas is effort to impose new order in West Bank
Operation Brother’s Keeper goes beyond its initial goal to bring three kidnapped youths home; it has a political context for the Netanyahu government.
By Amos Harel, Haaretz
June 19, 2014
As the seventh day of Operation Brother’s Keeper dawns, the end is nowhere in sight. The intensive search for the three teenagers and their Hamas captors has yielded no reported breakthrough.
We know that terrorists from the Hebron region were arrested – some of whom are being toughly interrogated for quick information about the abduction.
A vital piece of information at the right moment could lead the security forces to the cell, enabling them to find the abducted youths.
The security forces’ efforts are justified. The government’s duty is to protect its people. When three innocent youths are abducted on their way home, using any proportional military means is legitimate. But it seems the time has come to say a few things about a central aspect of the operation, which is going way beyond its initial goal – the campaign against Hamas in the West Bank.
So far the IDF has detained some 280 Palestinians, mostly Hamas people, raided the movement’s offices, closed a radio station, confiscated computers and seized documents. The complete absence of armed resistance in the West Bank so far makes Israelis believe this is a low-cost operation.
“The IDF Spokesperson’s Office released footage of Tuesday’s IDF raid on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa television and radio station Wednesday, giving a rare glimpse into Israel’s crackdown on the terror organization.” From Arutz Sheva, June 18th.
Expanding the strike on Hamas has a clear strategic rationale – Israel wants to separate the Palestinian Authority and Hamas again, after their reconciliation agreement. The Israeli measures even coincide, to a certain extent, with the PA’s interest, since the latter is furious with Hamas for the damage it believes the abduction has caused the Palestinian efforts in the international arena. This was reflected in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ harsh criticism Wednesday of the abduction.
But the campaign against Hamas also has a political context. The Shalit deal is seen by Israel’s right wing as the Netanyahu’s government’s great disgrace, due to the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the abducted soldier. The deal still hangs heavy over Netanyahu. Earlier this week he was challenged by far right minister Naftali Bennett, who pushed forward the bill restricting the release of terrorists. At the same time there are increasing indications that many of the terrorists released in the Shalit deal returned to terrorist activity.
So the abduction poses a great political risk for Netanyahu. In addition to the sympathy for the youths’ families, the right wing and settlers feel great rage. The prime minister must ride this tiger if he doesn’t want to be caught in its fangs. Punishing Hamas enables the Israeli public, most of which is in favor of a military strike on Hamas, to release steam. In days like these, even usually restrained politicians tend to rant and rave.
Even MK Shaul Mofaz, of the opposition, called for the mobilization of reserve troops to smash Hamas in the West Bank, as though he were still chief of staff. But the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield was a perfectly justified operation, which came in response to the terrible terror wave and reduced the threat on Israel’s civilians. Brother’s Keeper may turn out to be a little different.
Meanwhile, enthusiasm is running high. The operation provides lots of photo ops for the prime minister and the ministers. It has also completely turned around the political agenda, in which Netanyahu had been on the defensive in the midst of a crisis in Likud, along with his failed attempts to influence the election of the new president.
At last something for the soldiers to do in the West Bank. Photo in Hebron by Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
From the IDF’s point of view, the situation even offered a few advantages. The units, which had been busy with policing duties and almost didn’t train due to the budget controversy, returned to operational activity.
But as time goes by and the abducted youths are not found, the frustration rises. The IDF is powerful and has unusual capabilities. When the result is not achieved, however, armies tend to look for other ways to express their ability.
The hundreds of Hamas people detained this week were mostly the usual suspects. If the Shin Bet had substantial information about their involvement in terrorist activity, they would probably have been arrested earlier. Most of them are members of the organization’s political wing and are indirectly associated with terror. The emphasis on striking the “civilian infrastructure” looks like an exhibition.
In the army too there must be officers who are beginning to question the benefit of such acts. In the security cabinet discussions, the attorney general is taking a moderate, skeptical approach in a bid to restrict reckless moves.
Israel had better remember that when an operation continues, things tend to get complicated and could lead to trouble — the loss of soldiers, or the killing of Palestinian civilians. Israel is trying to impose a new order in the West Bank, which is not directly associated with the abduction.
By Richard Silverstein
June 18, 2014
Israeli Palestinian MK Haneen Zoabi told Tel Avi Radio today that she understood the motivation of those who kidnapped three Israeli teenagers. What she didn’t say is anything like what is being claimed across Israel and in the U.S. Jewish media. First, the transcript of her full statement as quoted in Hebrew by Roy Peled here:
Why is it considered strange that people living under Occupation, and living lives so insane amidst a reality in which Israel kidnaps [Palestinians] daily, is it so strange that they act this way? They aren’t terrorists. Even though I do not agree with them, they are people who see no possibility of changing their own reality. So they are forced to use these means until Israel wises up and sees the suffering and feels the suffering of the other.
My translation (above) is somewhat different than the one you’ll read linked at Facebook.
This is JTA’s completely mangled version which has made the rounds of every Israeli media outlet:
They are people that cannot see any way to change their reality, and they are forced to use these means until Israeli society wises up a bit and sees and feels the suffering of the other.
That’s it. No “though I disagree with them.” No context. No nuance. That is what the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation has become for Israelis. The enemy is a cardboard cutout, a Jack in the Box clown who pops out saying the most disgusting things possible. Israelis have no patience. They don’t want to listen. They prefer bowdlerizing reality as they bowdlerize what Palestinian leaders like Zoabi say.
Here is a Twitter dialogue of the deaf between Max Blumenthal and the Jerusalem Post reporter who published the false version, in which she claims she never heard Zoabi say “even though I don’t agree with them,” as she listened to the radio show in her native language.
Israeli journalism is as yellow as it gets when Palestinians are involved. It stoops to the lowest, basest of human instincts. If the world permitted lynching, Israeli media would cheer at the prospect. Except unlike the Ramallah lynching which so rightly traumatized Israelis, this would be officially sanctioned, legal lynching. There is little difference between the National Enquirer and Israeli media when it comes to this sort of reporting about Palestinians.
As a result of this scandalous, deliberate bit of character assassination, Zoabi is being skewered on TV and in print media. They call her terrorist. They call her traitor. They call not only for her to be expelled from the Knesset, but to be killed. No less a figure than Avigdor Lieberman, always one who may be counted on to make colorfully provocative statements about Arabs, called for a virtual death sentence for Zoabi:
Not only the kidnappers are terrorists, but Haneen Zoabi is one as well. The judgment against the kidnappers is the same as the judgment against the inciter Zoabi, who encourages kidnapping, must be identical.
Yes, there will be pro-Israel apologists who will remind us there is no death sentence in Israel, so Lieberman couldn’t possibly have meant she should be killed. But we all know that Lieberman doesn’t give a fig for judicial sentences. He’s referring to the death sentence the IDF will mete out to the kidnappers when it catches them. Just as Obama ordered the summary execution of Osama bin Laden, Netanyahu has told the IDF that they should kill the kidnappers if they find them. Perhaps he doesn’t even have to tell the IDF. It is understood between them with a wink and a nod that this will be the outcome.
Every Israel remembers what happened to the Bus 300 kidnappers captured alive and then executed by having their skulls crushed by rocks like bugs by Shabak executioners. This was wasn’t even the first such summary execution. But it grabbed the attention of the entire nation. Now such an execution wouldn’t cause the scandal it did back then. Now the executioner would be praised to the heavens and made a Shabak chief.
Of course, the IDF will say the kidnappers were armed and fired at them when apprehended. There will be a firefight, the terrorists will throw bombs. The army had no choice but to liquidate them. And it’s a good thing they did. Bringing honor to the army and restoring the dignity of the nation. And some of this may even turn out to be true. The perpetrators of the kidnapping may indeed resist. But the reason they will is that they know their fate is to be executed when captured.
Similarly, this is the fate Lieberman is wishing for Zoabi. He’d love for the IDF to put a bullet through her skull. Of course, he can’t say this. So he cleans it up a bit and says she deserves to share the kidnappers fate. But every Israeli knows what he really means.
Returning to Zoabi’s interview, what she said is indeed precisely what all Palestinians feel about the abduction. They wish it didn’t have to happen. But given their misery at the hands of Israel, and the seeming permanence of their suffering, one could anticipate such feelings. But her omitted demurrer conveys the sense: just because one understands them doesn’t mean that one shares them.
Of course Zoabi’s statement was provocative. It was meant to be. What does she care what Israeli Jews think about her? They don’t vote for her anyway. That, in a nutshell is the problem with the Israeli political system. It rewards politicians and parties for carving out their ethnic niches and protecting them fiercely, even if it means stoking the hatred of other groups. There is, of course, a way to stop this dysfunction and fragmentation. But it’s a solution most Israelis treat just as Count Dracula views garlic or the rising sun: the one-state solution. A single state would force all Israeli parties to cobble together inter-ethnic coalitions. It would force Israeli Jews and Palestinians to find common ground at least to a greater extent than they do now.
On a related matter, I’ve accused Bibi Netanyahu of lying in blaming Hamas for the kidnapping. Now, a former Mossad unit chief, Rami Igra, tells the Jerusalem Post that he too believes Bibi is wrong. The reason that the former is blaming Hamas, Igra says, is purely political:
“The facts are very simple,” he said by phone. These kids have gone missing…but no one has claimed responsibility, and their bodies have not been found. There have been no facts presented to the public that they have been abducted by Hamas, so we need the correct information.”
…“The fact that he is naming who abducted these kids is more political than based on fact,” he said. “Netanyahu says that the people who did this are part of a terrorist organization, and we all agree. But at this point, while it could be true, it is premature.”
Igra continued: “At this stage, there are only indications that they have been abducted but no evidence. They could have been killed. We hope this is not the case and that they were abducted, but we don’t know yet.”
Make no mistake. I am not claiming Igra is an angel sent from on high to tell us all the truth. He is after all a former Mossad officer and willing to lie for his country when it suits. But in this case, he is telling us the truth because that is what suits. We have a grizzled veteran of Israel’s intelligence wars telling us that his Mossad contacts tell him that the prime minister is the emperor with no clothes. We should take notice.
The kidnapping dilemma: How to respond beyond the search
By Shmuel Rosner, Jewish Journal
June 18, 2014
On Oct. 10, 1994, not long after midnight, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) office got a call from the brother of a soldier, Nachshon Wachsman: The soldier was supposed to come home but never made it. The brother was somewhat concerned. Six hours later, the mother also called. Wachsman was still missing. It took the military five more hours or so, until, at 11:35 a.m., it activated the procedure for locating missing soldiers. A friend was quickly located. He had dropped Wachsman off around 5 p.m. the previous day. The next day, a demand was made by a Palestinian group that Israel release Palestinian prisoners, or else. The demand, in blunt language, was addressed to the “dog Rabin” — then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Ronen Bergman’s “By Any Means Necessary: Israel’s Covert War for its POWs and MIAs” tells the Wachsman story in great detail. It began much like the kidnapping of three young Israelis this week, and ended in heartbreak. The military was successful in locating the place where Wachsman was being held. It was less successful in getting him released — both Wachsman and an IDF special unit officer, Nir Poraz, were killed. No Palestinian prisoner was released. No demand was met.
Three groups of IDF soldiers participated in the break-in to the house where Wachsman was being held. Poraz was heading one of them, his friend, Yair Lotan, a second force, and the third force commander was Nitzan Alon — now an IDF general and commander of Israel’s Central Command, the man in charge of the forces now searching for 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach and 16-year-olds Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar.
Just three weeks ago, an Israeli cabinet meeting became tense over the issue that has suddenly became relevant in the last couple of days: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, backed by the attorney general, decided to postpone a vote on legislation he had committed himself to passing. The law — which was approved by the government a couple of days later — would enable the courts to sentence murderers for life in a way that would prevent their future release for any reason. The authors of the new legislation, members of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi Party aim to prevent Israel from ever again releasing prisoners in exchange for peace talks, as it did last year. The legislation would also prevent the government from exchanging prisoners for abducted Israelis.
Writing for Slate two weeks ago, I explained that Israel’s “need of such legislation is testimony to the slippery slope that the releasing of terrorists can become.” The list of such releases is long, and the story of Wachsman is the exception, not the rule. Three years ago, Israel got the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit back from Hamas captivity in exchange for releasing 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. In 1985, Israel released 1,150 prisoners to get three soldiers back. Israel, as I reminded Slate readers, “has repeatedly paid heavily for information, for bodies of dead soldiers, for a drug-dealing Israeli colonel kidnapped by Hezbollah. It got used to paying.” Bergman, in his book, claims that the “trauma of the failed attempt to release Wachsman remained a scar in Israel’s collective memory.” He even seems to believe that it contributed somewhat to Israel’s reluctance to initiate a similar military operation in an attempt to release Shalit — a more complicated case, as Shalit was being held in the Hamas-controlled territory of the Gaza Strip.
As I am writing this article, the fate of the abducted youngsters is not yet known. It is interesting to note, though, that in Israel the public seems to have toughened its position regarding possible deals with the kidnappers. The pendulum that tilted toward more accommodation following the Wachsman tragedy, might be edging back toward a less compromising stance following the heavy price paid in the Shalit deal.
On June 15, two Knesset members demanded to quickly adopt the recommendations of a committee to set an uncompromising criteri[on] for exchange deals. In 2008, a committee headed by former High Court Chief Justice Meir Shamgar was appointed by then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, following a heavily criticized deal in which Israel let murderers go in exchange for body bags. The committee pushed to limit the price Israel pays in prisoner swaps, but Israeli governments were reluctant to fully adopt the recommendations, fearing that such a move would tie their hands in future situations that they could not foresee.
Tying the hands of the government is exactly what the above-mentioned Knesset members now intend to do. One of them, Ayelet Shaked of Habayit Hayehudi, was also behind the legislative initiative that enables the courts to sentence murderers to life without release, no matter the circumstances. The other, who publically called on the government to adopt the Shamgar recommendations and apply them to the current case of abduction, is Elazar Stern of the Hatnua Party. Curiously, Shaked is a member of a party that gets most of its votes from the community of settlers and settler supporters to which the abducted teens also belong. Stern, more of a political pariah, is also a member of the Zionist-religious community. So their call for restraint is clearly based on strong belief, and not rooted in lack of care for the families and the kidnapped teens.
A lot of ink was spilled during the week on this question of care and carelessness. Following days of fruitless searching, and lacking in information of ability to assist, Israelis turned to self-reflection: Are we being too patriotic? Too cynical? Too hateful? Too polarized? Do we hate the settlers, do we love them, do we care enough about the three boys? A right-wing writer was furious to discover that the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade on June 13 had not been canceled because of the abduction. When, in synagogues, one nation of Israelis gathered to say prayers for the missing teens, he wrote, the “other nation ended its gay parade in a hangover.”
So, Israelis wondered: Is this a good time to talk about the occupation, or the worst time to talk about it? Are the residents of the “state of Tel Aviv” disengaged from the sorrow of the rest of the country? Is it OK to keep broadcasting reality shows and the World Cup on TV?
The answer to all of the above is — yes and no. The need for all of the above was the need of the powerless. There was nothing Israelis could do throughout these four days, except to pray, to go on with their daily lives, or to bicker (or all of the above). A vocal minority chose bickering. The media, which needs to fill hours and hours of broadcasts with something, turned to this minority to see some action.
The bickering comes from all sides:
From the left: It is about the settlers, about the irresponsible habit of hitchhiking, about the inevitability of violence because of the collapse of the peace talks.
From the right: It is about the settler-hating left, about how the left excuses terrorism, about the cruelty of Hamas — an ultimate proof that no peace process has any future.
From the center: It is about Israeli society’s lost ability to show solidarity, about the vile conversation, about the Facebook-made radicalization of Israeli culture.
Most of these complaints are overstated, or false.
In the “state of Tel Aviv,” where I live, I could hardly find neighbors who are unsympathetic or uncaring about the abducted boys. If there are such Tel Avivians, they are a small minority. Ignoring them would be the better policy.
And I also refuse to be shocked by people who wonder if the culture of hitchhiking should not be seriously discussed. Wondering about hitchhiking doesn’t necessarily amount to a “blame the victim” mentality. In fact, the opposite is true: Those who agree that the enemy is heartless and cruel are also those who might want to be pragmatic about making life more complicated for kidnapers and murderers. Is the right to hitchhike so sacred that we should stand up for it at any cost? Telling teenage girls not to hitchhike because of the fear of sexual predators doesn’t amount to surrendering to predators, and telling teenage settlers not to hitchhike because of the fear of terrorist predators doesn’t amount to surrendering to terrorism. It’s a pragmatist stance that’s worth hearing out.
A very frustrating feature of the abduction is that Israelis have to deal with its meaninglessness. Its sheer, meaningless cruelty. The abduction is not going to prove to anyone that Palestinian terrorism is merciless and abhorrent — we know that already. We’ve seen buses blow up; we’ve seen families slaughtered in their sleep; we’ve seen heads smashed, youth murdered. It is also not going to teach us a lesson about the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian situation — we know it’s complex, and we suspect it will remain complex for many years to come. And it is not going to convince Israel that the occupation isn’t viable — continuing the occupation is problematic, but Israel isn’t yet certain there is currently a better alternative.
That there is a debate within Israel about these questions is understandable and healthy. That such debates become more fierce and emotional when the country is searching for three lost boys is to be expected. And yes, it is also natural for many Israelis to miss the long-lost days of unity and harmony. Thirty years ago, it was easier to be unified. The country was much smaller, 3 million strong, not 8 million. The issues were less controversial; the occupation still young; the hope for a coming peace still alive. The press was less garish. The culture was more naïve.
And yet — and yet — if this horrid crime of abduction is a test for Israeli society, I see no reason for great worry. The debate, the anger, the nonstop bickering, the fiery exchanges on social media, are all a sign of strength. Israelis truly care; Israelis are highly engaged; Israelis feel the need to say something, to do something. Yes, at some moments this has an aftertaste of a superfluous quarrel — but is that not the case with almost all family feuds?
On June 17, the three families of the abducted youngsters gathered together for the first time. They, too, could do very little as the search continued. Their short TV and radio appearances were admirable. Content and subdued, they demanded little and asked mainly for other Israelis to keep praying for their sons. Other Israelis were not always as restrained in their response. As usual, the mix of emotion, drama and politics bequeath radical suggestions and objectionable comments.
As Israel was searching for the missing boys, it was also acting with greater means than usual against Hamas’ infrastructure in the West Bank. The new Palestinian government provided Hamas with an opportunity to better its position in this Fatah-dominated area, a process that Israel was following with great concern. Alas, up until the abduction, the calls from Israel for the international community to take action against the new government and refrain from working with it fell on deaf ears — not even the United States was willing to put its relations with the Abbas administration on hold because of the formation of the Hamas-backed government. The kidnapping gave some Israeli officials a hope that its concerns can be communicated more clearly now, and will provide more legitimacy in taking action against Hamas.
The latter conclusion has proved right, at least in the days following the abduction. Israel was operating in areas of the West Bank into which it doesn’t usually enter with massive forces, and the world seemed to accept the necessity of taking such action when the lives of three civilians are hanging in the balance. As for the other hope — that the world will suddenly rediscover its distaste for Hamas as a result of the kidnapping — the result was mixed. Soon after the abduction, Israelis started to notice and complain that this highly dramatic story failed to make huge headlines abroad. The world, they were forced to realize, is currently interested in the much bigger story of Iraq, and the much more positive story of the World Cup. The world is also not going to base its policies on the sporadic tragedies that befall Israelis (and Palestinians) from time to time.
Mainstream piece lays settler teen abduction at feet of ‘illegal’ and ‘indefensible’ occupation
By Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss
June 17, 2014
Max Fisher, formerly of the Washington Post and the Atlantic, doesn’t use the word apartheid in this piece about the West Bank for his new shop, Vox, a startup led by Ezra Klein; but he doesn’t use the words “two-state solution” either. He says bluntly that the occupation is the source of unending oppression, and it produced the abduction of the settler teens that took place on Thursday.
what of the national Israeli policies that created the occupation — this most damaging aspect of the conflict — and then inserted three teenagers onto its front lines?
The headline and deck are great:
“The end of ‘both sides’
“Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is indefensible”
You can say that’s old news, but it’s good that this intelligence is entering the inner courts of the establishment. The piece itself is distinguished by its sensitivity to the Palestinian point of view; Fisher even reckons that there is no logical response to unending occupation but violence. Here he goes, walking in the shoes of the Palestinians:
But to many Palestinians the scale of the reaction [to the teen abduction], and its severe impact on thousands of civilians, looks an awful lot like collective punishment, the practice of punishing an entire population for the crimes a few individuals, which is barred by the Geneva Conventions that regulate international conflict. Many of the 100,000 Palestinians who commute to jobs in Israel have been prevented from crossing the border to get to work, much less see family on the other side of the line, and in Gaza most gas stations have had to shut down for lack of fuel imports…
Here he tiptoes up to the line of acceptable speech on oppression breeding violence:
And while it would be wrong to blame the Israeli victims for their own kidnappings, one would still think that Israelis might want to question the role of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. As children, the kidnap victims surely cannot and should not be held personally culpable, but they could be considered an extension of the occupation, which has been far from a peaceful endeavor. And what of the national Israeli policies that created the occupation — this most damaging aspect of the conflict — and then inserted three teenagers onto its front lines?
He is careful to speak of a cycle of violence and both sides being to blame. He’d lose his license if he didn’t. But he knows who is primarily to blame.
There has always been, and there remains, plenty of culpability to go around in this conflict, plenty of individuals and groups that squandered peace and perpetuated suffering many times over. Everyone is complicit and no one is pure. The crisis over the kidnapped students shows all this. But it is also highlights what has become perhaps the most essential truth of the Israel-Palestine conflict: for all the complexity of how it came to be and why it’s continued, for all the shared responsibility for this week’s crisis and everything that led up to it, the conflict predominantly matters for the human suffering it causes. And today the vast majority of that suffering comes from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Today, the suffering has become so disproportionately administered by the occupation and so disproportionately felt by Palestinians that, in a conflict famous for its complexity and its gray areas, this is an issue that looks less gray all the time: the occupation is wrong, it is the problem, and Israel is responsible…
And he doesn’t let up.
But while it’s accurate to say that “both sides” participate in this awful cycle, that “both sides” indulge their worst habits in ways that perpetuate the conflict, there is an essential truth that is not about “both sides”: it is utterly disproportionate. Only the Palestinians are under military occupation. While the conflict hurts everyone here, any one Palestinian is far more likely to be hurt than any one Israeli, and is apt to be hurt more deeply.
More evidence that the discourse is shifting. Soon politicians will be able to say this.
Raff Piccolo, Mondoweiss
June 17, 2014
Office workers, labourers, students and the elderly often pass through Qalandiya checkpoint near East Jerusalem on a daily basis. They are often placed far away from the violence of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Yet that distance has become notoriously smaller as they are often made the subject of punishment for a crime in which they had no involvement or knowledge.
The kidnapping on Thursday night of three Jewish religious school students: Gil-Ad Shaer,16, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Naphtali Fraenkel, hitchhiking in Gush Etzion (south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem) can be felt right across Israel and Palestine including the Qalandiya checkpoint.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) response, dubbed ‘Operation Bring Back Our Boys’ has seen about 150 people arrested. The sweeping arrests began in Hebron on Friday and have continued into the wider Judea area. Most of the arrested were members of Hamas, including its leadership.
Whist Israel has the right and duty to seek the safe return of the young boys, it has unfortunately taken the position ‘that what is relevant is not where the attack took place, but where the attack originated, and that the terrorists set out from areas under PA control.’ Thus every Palestinian will ostensibly be held responsible until the boys are safely returned or found.
As a result not only has Hebron, and the greater Judean region come under an increased IDF presence in recent days, but even remote places have come under greater surveillance. This is not to say that the lack of proximity to Gush Etzion wholeheartedly rules out any given location. However the IDF must only act if and where it has reliable information that requires them to expand their increased sphere of presence. A case in point here is the Qalandiya checkpoint.
Every day I make the journey from Ramallah to East Jerusalem for work. Being less than 20 kilometres in distance it would ideally take about 20 minutes to get to work. However that is not the case, the trip is made to last about an hour each way by the checkpoint.
The checkpoint features as a gateway in the Israeli constructed Wall (also known as the ‘Security Fence’, ‘Separation Barrier’ or ‘Apartheid Wall’) dividing Ramallah from East Jerusalem. It is one of the busier checkpoints given the high population density of the area. It well known that most of those who travel between the checkpoint do so, so as to make their way to work, school or carry out other basic daily tasks (such as attending a doctor’s appointment). Experience corroborates these observations. Every day, whilst lined up at the checkpoint, I see people carrying their lunch (presumably going to work like me), children dressed in their uniforms and carrying their books (presumably going to school), and elderly men and women (presumably going to see the doctor).
Given the early hour that I travel through the checkpoint on a daily basis, it does not normally take me so long to pass through, usually ranging from 2 to 10 minutes. During religious holidays, such as Ramadan, passing through the checkpoint is also known to be delayed as people attempt to get home to be with family and friends.
The time it takes is very much dependent upon the mood of those staffing the checkpoint. Sometimes not all four gates will be open. Other times the guards may be eating their lunch, in clear view, forcing people to wait until they have finished. Or they could be busy sending an SMS, again people just have to wait until they have finished. Sometimes they are not even interested at all and you can simply pass through without them even looking at your ID.
In the shadows of any incidents of violence or otherwise, elsewhere in the country, the checkpoint is not spared from feeling the brunt of the response. With the kidnapping of the young Israeli Jewish students hitchhiking in Gush Etzion the checkpoint suddenly ground to a halt. Long lines of students, labourers, office workers and the elderly, lines which had not previously existed at this early hour, suddenly appeared over night.
The sudden change in circumstances could be felt. One elderly gentleman had become visibly distraught with the situation, yelling and arguing with others waiting in the line. At times he attempted to turn around and leave the line but found his exit blocked by fences and locked gates. At the other end, in the line up to one of the gates, people began to complain that the line was not moving, despite the path ahead being clear.
As conceded above, Israel has the right and duty to secure the safe return of these three young boys. However they must ensure that their actions are targeted and based upon reliable intelligence, especially the further they move away from the immediate scene of the crime. With the Qalandiya checkpoint, the case is thin. The area surrounding Qalandiya is not known for its support of Hamas (the group accused of the kidnapping), so how does it and the people that pass through on a daily basis suddenly come into the equation?
Either the sudden increase in time it takes to get through the checkpoint is unrelated to the kidnapping of the young boys or the people passing through the Qalandiya checkpoint were being collectively punished for the kidnapping of the young Israeli Jewish students, a crime of which they had no knowledge or involvement.
It is from the Qalandiya checkpoint that the fear reverberates. Palestinians have clearly received the message.
The trip home at the end of the day is normally at least an hour. But today it takes no more than five minutes. Palestinians are staying clear of the checkpoint and the IDF. As I make my way into the city centre of Ramallah it is the same. Shops are normally open until 7 or 8 at night, however today many are unusually closed. People have abandoned the daily travel through the checkpoint, and closed their shops. They have left to be with their family, seeking refuge in their homes. The only crime for which they are being punished; they are Palestinian.