by Mitchell Plitnick
The saga of the three kidnapped Israeli youths in the West Bank took a tragic, if expected, turn today, when their bodies were discovered near Hebron. None but the most starry-eyed optimist thought the young men would be found alive after all this time. But the story is far from over.
Even before the announcement was made that the bodies were found, clashes were reported between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the town of Halhul, where the grisly discovery was made. A massive Israel Defense Forces (IDF) presence was reported, roads were closed and the area was generally closed down. The Israeli security cabinet is meeting at this writing to decide on further measures.
The only thing that seems certain right now about the Israeli response is that it will be unjust and have nothing to do with addressing the terrible crime that has just been confirmed. For the moment, at least, it appears that the perpetrators, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, are beyond the reach of Israel. Since Israel cannot punish those who so profoundly deserve punishment, they will punish those that they can. This, sadly, is the calculus of occupation. There is already violence reported by residents of Hebron. Some might see justice in that, but ask yourself how you would feel if your son, brother or father – or just a neighbor— was a murderer and you were the one who had to pay for their crime.
There is still no evidence that the two killers, who were apparently members of Hamas, did not act alone. Nonetheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that he will hold Hamas responsible and has repeatedly called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to sever the unity government that he only recently forged with Hamas. Now, Netanyahu has declared, in a meeting of Israel’s security cabinet that “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.”
What might that mean? Well, earlier, some members of Netanyahu’s Likud party described the response they wanted to see.
Danny Danon, the Deputy Defense Minister said “This tragic ending must also be the ending of Hamas! The nation is strong and ready to absorb [attacks] for the sake of a mortal blow against Hamas. … [W]e have to destroy the homes of Hamas activists, wipe out their arsenals everywhere, and stop the flow of money that directly or indirectly keeps terror alive… make the entire Palestinian leadership pay a heavy price.”
For Danon, it is not even enough that Hamas pay for this, but the Palestinian Authority as well. Yet there remains no evidence Hamas, as an organization had anything to do with this. The Shin Bet, Israel’s intelligence service, issued a very telling statement about the murders: “Following intensive operational intelligence work by the Shin Bet, less than 24 hours after the kidnapping it became evident that two Hamas activists, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha, are those behind the kidnapping of the three teens.” No mention made of Hamas’ involvement; merely that the two men were members. If Bibi really has anything connecting Hamas to this crime, he’s keeping it inexplicably secret.
No matter to the outspoken Tzipi Hotovely of Likud, who said, “The despicable kidnapping and murder of the students cannot go by in silence, and those responsible in Gaza must pay the price. The government of Israel must declare a war to the death on Hamas, which is responsible for the murders, and return to the policy of [targeted] assassination.” Like Danon, Hotovely expresses no concern about the Israeli lives this will put at risk, much less those of innocent Palestinians. Nor do they care about the consequences of such actions.
One might think that these Likud members might have some interest in actually tracking down the murderers. But no, they’d prefer to cynically use this despicable crime to further a political agenda of the worst kind—one that legitimizes intense violence that will mean a far greater loss of innocent life. In this, they are joined by their fellow travelers of the American right wing. The extreme pro-occupation forces took to Twitter even before Netanyahu made his announcement to politicize and distort these events.
Whatever the two killers were thinking, their monstrous crime will yield no positive results for anyone. The PA is crippled, quite likely permanently, by its response to the initial kidnapping. Hamas has been devastated in the West Bank by the Israeli response, leaving it unable to take advantage of any political opening that might be created. The people of the West Bank will see a major crackdown, and Israel will surely follow the call of Housing Minister Uri Ariel for more settlements to be built in response. Gaza will be hit by more missiles. The only victors might be the most radical elements in the Occupied Territories, the ones Hamas has been in conflict with in Gaza and who have generally laid very low in the West Bank.
There seems to be little interest in capturing the perpetrators of the crime, and a great eagerness to make Hamas in particular and the Palestinians in general suffer for this outrage. And I’m sure that is just what will happen. The question will then become how Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even the PA will respond.
Will they attempt to hit Israel back with more attacks on civilians? If they do, we may well have witnessed the beginning of a third intifada. Will they make a mere show of firing a few rockets that land harmlessly as most do? If they do that, there may be a backlash of rage that strengthen the more radical groups in the Territories. There are ISIS- and al-Qaeda-like groups there, which have seen little support among the Palestinian people, but this could change if the existing groups are seen as doing nothing in the face of Israeli aggression.
Whatever the outcome, the episode demonstrates yet again the futility of acts of violence. No one will gain from any of this, even if they think they will. And lost in it all, the murder of three young men, a heinous crime which everyone condemns, while everyone who gets hurt on both sides will have had nothing to do with it.