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By Emily Gian
On Thursday evening, three Israeli teenagers were making their way home from their Yeshiva located in Gush Etizion when they were believed to have been kidnapped. Their names are Eyal Yifrah (19), Gil-Ad Shaar (16) and Naftali Frenkel (16). Naftali Frenkel is believed to hold dual Israeli and American citizenship. There has been much speculation into the events leading up to and surrounding the kidnapping, such as the boys were hitchhiking, and that one of the boys made a call to the police which was dismissed as a prank for several hours.
However, it appears that initially there was a media embargo in place in order to protect the sensitivity of the issue, so it is not my place to speculate. An IDF Spokesman stated that they need to “put things in order and speak with responsibility. Our central duty is to concern ourselves with their safety”.
Since then, a widespread search has been conducted by the IDF with the cooperation of the ISA (Shin Bet Security Service), the Israel Police and the Border Police. One of the main concerns is that the boys have been smuggled across to the Gaza Strip, which would make the search harder to conduct. IDF Chief of Staff Lt Gen Benny Gantz said, “we will continue to do what’s necessary to bring this incident to an end as quickly as possible … We will keep a close eye on events in Israel’s various sectors – whether in Gaza or in the North – even as these events unfold.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke for the first time on Saturday night and while he did not specifically place the blame on Hamas he said “I can say this: Our young people have been abducted by a terrorist organisation. This is absolutely clear; there is no doubt about this. They were abducted by a terrorist organisation”.
He placed the blame squarely on PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, for his unity agreement with Hamas. “There is no possibility of talking peace with Israel while, at the same time, establishing a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organisation that aspires to destroy Israel. Those same elements in the international community that said that the Palestinian agreement with Hamas would advance peace now see the true results of this union.”
By Sunday, he specifically placed the blame on Hamas stating, “Hamas terrorists carried out Thursday’s kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. We know that for a fact. These teenagers were kidnapped and the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas members. Hamas denials do not change this fact. And this attack should surprise no one because Hamas makes no secret of its agenda. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel and to carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians – including children”.
He is alluding here to the fact that Hamas knows the price Israel has paid in the past in order to bring their citizens home, such as the 1,027 Palestinians released in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in October 2011. Hamas has repeated on a number of occasions their desire for more “Gilad Shalits”. Logos on Palestinian sites over the past few days have indicated just as much with captions such as “1 Shalit = 1027 prisoners, 3 Shalits = 3081 prisoners”.
Referring to this, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “There will be no releases for those Palestinian terrorists sitting in Israeli prisons – not as a ‘gesture’ and not for any other reason”. While no official demands have been made as yet, it is believed that there has been a big push for Israel to ban the practice of releasing terrorists, thus taking away any “incentive” on the part of Palestinian terrorists.
Overnight, the IDF arrested around 40-50 people, bringing the total number of Palestinians arrested to 150 since the beginning of the operation. This included a large number of Hamas operatives in the West Bank, including former speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council Aziz Duwaik.
Benny Gantz stated, “we’re heading towards an extensive operation… we have one objective – find the three teens, bring them home, crack down on Hamas as hard as possible and move forward”.
PM Netanyahu has since called Chairman Abbas, stressing that he expects him to “assist in returning the abducted youths and in apprehending the kidnappers. The Hamas kidnappers came from territory under Palestinian Authority control and returned to territory under Palestinian Authority control”. Abbas denounced the kidnapping and the Israeli actions following the kidnapping.
I expect you to assist in returning the abducted youths and in apprehending the kidnappers. The Hamas kidnappers came from territory under Palestinian Authority control and returned to territory under Palestinian Authority control,” Netanyahu said.
In the meantime, US Secretary of State John Kerry also released a statement condemning the kidnapping and calling for their immediate release. He said, we continue to offer our full support for Israel in its search for the missing teens, and we have encouraged full cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian security services. We understand that cooperation is ongoing. We are still seeking details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas’ involvement. As we gather this information, we reiterate our position that Hamas is a terrorist organisation known for its attacks on innocent civilians and which has used kidnappings in the past”.
It is always an interesting exercise to see the way that official international bodies respond to crises such as these. For example, the International Red Cross stated, “we are very concerned by the fate of the teenagers. International humanitarian law prohibits abduction as well as the taking of hostages … They must be treated humanely, and their lives and dignity protected and respected”. The statement is fine and the sentiment is great, but unfortunately we are dealing with brutal terrorist organisation which does not care about humane treatment or international law for that matter.
Then we have the United Nations, with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who seems to say all the right things in terms of condemnations for the kidnapping, and calling for their immediate release. However, he also “urges all to exercise restraint”, a line that has become all too familiar when dealing with the UN and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch was being urged to make a statement on the abductions but what eventually came out was a rather despicable response in the circumstances with Executive Director Kenneth Roth tweeting “Attending school at illegal settlement doesn’t legitimise apparent kidnapping of Israeli teens”.
This brings me to the heart of the issue as it has been depicted in the media. The focus has continually been three teenage “settlers” from the “occupied West Bank”, as if their home address in some way justifies what has happened to them.
HonestReporting exposes some of the worst reporting in the international media, but our local media has been just as bad.
Sadly, there are some Israeli journalists who also perpetuate this and worse. Ha’aretz’s Gideon Levy takes this even further by giving legitimacy to violent opposition. In one of the most vile pieces I have ever read from this individual (and there have been some truly shocking pieces over the years), he says, “in killing the peace process, Israel shut the gates of its prisons, and the Israeli message to the Palestinians was razor-sharp: The only way your sons will be freed is through a violent operation. On Thursday night, the conclusions were taken.”
Gideon Levy believes that citizens of Israel are fair game because the peace process is failing (never mind the question of who is responsible for this is open to debate). Hamas does not discriminate based on postcode so if you live in Hebron or Hadera it doesn’t really matter in the minds of the world’s Gideon Levys.
I was more impressed with those who stated that during times such as these, we need to put politics aside. There will be plenty of time to talk internal politics when the boys are safely at home.
Not surprisingly, the view in Gaza was pretty much on song with Levy and we saw Palestinians taking to the streets handing out candies to “celebrate” the kidnappings much as many did when news of 9/11 broke. A spokesperson for families of Palestinian security prisoners said, “we have always called for the kidnapping of soldiers. We view this as the only just solution for freeing our sons from the occupation’s prisons”. The fact that those who were kidnapped are not soldiers but unarmed teenagers seems to be irrelevant.
And just for good measure, Hamas fired a few rockets from Gaza into Israel.
PA controlled media also celebrated the kidnapping, with the official PA newspaper printing a cartoon which distorted the World Cup 2014 logo to show three people holding their arms up in surrender. Fatah also posted a picture of a hand doing a victory sign with three fingers up instead of two.
One wonders how can images such as these be projected by official PA channels and be accepted or tolerated throughout a world which seems to be prepared to look away and ignore such disgraceful conduct?
Ironically, in the same time frame as the search was taking place, surgeons in a Tel Aviv hospital where performing surgery on Mahmoud Abbas’ wife. Earlier this month, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s mother-in-law was taken to a Jerusalem hospital to receive cancer treatment. So despite the incitement and glorification of violence against Israel in PA circles and while Hamas’ genocidal Covenant states “Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it”, there is no hesitation even in the highest places among these groups to avail themselves of Israel’s medical expertise!
Naftali Frankel’s mother fronted the media for the first time yesterday and called for people to stand in solidarity with them by continuing to pray for their safe return home. She said that the professionals will continue to do their job too and they trust in that. Later Gil-Ad Shaar’s mother also made a statement, thanking Israelis – “we feel your embrace and it gives us the strength in these difficult days and we are passing on all of your positive energy to our Gil-Ad… We know that from the Prime Minister to the last soldier, they are doing everything possible. I want to give strength to everyone and say thank you very much”. I admire their strength and hope with all of my heart that their boys are returned safely to them without harm.
We will continue to bring you information as it becomes available to us. For those on social media, please “Like” the Zionist Federation of Australia for more updates. Join the social media campaign to raise awareness for their plight by using the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys