What did Israeli officials know about the abducted and murdered teens, and when did they know it?
We’re beginning to get some answers to that question, and they point in the direction of Israel knowing for a good while before today that the teens were harmed by Palestinian militants. But the Israeli authorities maintained a gag order on the details about what happened to Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah. It was a bid to exploit the uncertainty about the youths and strike a blow against Hamas and the unity deal the Islamist movement struck with Fatah. In the process of the Israeli operation across the occupied West Bank, hundreds were arrested, at least five Palestinians were killed and the economy–especially Hebron’s–took a big hit.
Last week, Mondoweiss published a story reporting that the Israeli gag order imposed on local media was meant to stop details of the youths’ abduction from coming out. One of the important details was that an Israeli said he listened to a phone call one of the killed youths’ made to the Israeli police, and that a gunshot could be heard. News of the phone call emerged almost immediately after the June 12th kidnapping, though the Israeli news media–subject to the military’s censorship–did not report on the gunshot. But that means that Israeli authorities, at the very least, knew the teens were being harmed by armed men. Blogger Richard Silverstein’s Israeli sources told him on June 25th that the teens had been murdered, and that the military knew it.
Yesterday, with the gag order lifted on journalists, more confirmation that Israeli authorities knew something terrible had happened days before the bodies were found has emerged. BuzzFeed‘s Sheera Frenkel reported:
Previously under gag order were details that a shot could be heard in the background of the phone call to police, and that forensic evidence found in the Hyundai indicated that there had been foul play.
“We have been operating, for some time now, with evidence that these boys were killed,” said the officer in Hebron. “It is with a heavy heart that we realized we were looking for bodies.”
How much “time” is unclear at the moment. But the assumption the Israeli media, and its leadership, conveyed was that the teens may still be alive and the army was searching for them in a rescue operation.
Under the cover of that hopeful assumption, Israel launched its #BringBackOurBoys campaign and its wide-ranging military operation–an operation condemned as “collective punishment.” The cost, in Palestinian lives, infrastructure and cash, has been severe–and it’s likely to get worse in the coming days.
The other claim that should be questioned now is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that Hamas was responsible. Here’s Sheera Frenkel’s reporting again:
In a later statement, Netanyahu said, “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay.”
Israeli intelligence officials, however, remained divided over whether Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha — two men named as wanted suspects behind the kidnapping — had direct ties to Hamas. The Qawasmeh family, one of the better-known families in Hebron, had recently distanced itself from Hamas.
“What we do know, is that this was likely an opportunistic move. The men behind this may have ties to a larger terror group, but this does not have the markings of a well-planned, complex operation,” one Israeli officer, based in the West Bank, told BuzzFeed earlier this month.
If Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians are to be believed–and there’s no reason they shouldn’t when it comes to war–the Hamas leadership and movement as a whole will be targeted even more-so now, though the Islamist group already took blows during Israel’s raids over the past two weeks.
But if the Hamas leadership didn’t have anything to do with the kidnappings–a possibility that is very likely–then it has become even more clear that Israel is exploiting the deaths of three youths to carry out a political goal: destroy Hamas, its most tenacious adversary. Yet most of the costs will be borne by Palestinian society writ large–people who had nothing to do with the kidnapping and murders.