Moment that mattered: Three Israeli teenagers are kidnapped in the West Bank
“My first reaction on hearing the news of the abduction was to hope that the boys were still alive. Past experience shows that having an abducted Israeli in their hands provides the Palestinians with an effective bargaining chip to demand the release of Palestinians jailed in Israel.
The killing of the boys shocked me to the core. It was wrong, unhelpful and inhuman. I knew the Israeli army would retaliate with force. It is very aggressive. But when you serve in it – I served for six years, participating in the 1982 Lebanon war – you don’t feel like you are being aggressive at all. ‘You’re only doing your duty,’ as the saying goes, and you feel that you’re serving your country, which has the power – most soldiers believe – to absolve you from evil.
The suspected revenge killing of a Palestinian boy a couple of weeks later heightened the tension. The Jews who abducted the Arab boy forced him to drink petrol and then set him on fire. They were Jews affiliated with the far right of Israeli politics, which has been responsible for many of the politically motivated killings in Palestine and later in Israel. The assassination of Count Bernadotte by the Stern Gang in 1948, the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, the killing of many innocent Palestinians, particularly during the years of the intifada – all have been done by the right. The Israeli right contains dangerous, violent elements.
Lots of small, previously unknown Islamist groups claimed responsibility for the original killings of the boys. They do this to impress their people and the world and show that they are effective. That’s how the twisted minds of terrorists – Jewish and Arab alike – work.
By insisting that Hamas were responsible from the start Netanyahu was, in my mind, trying to take advantage of the abduction to promote his own agenda. We should recall that at the time of the abduction Mahmoud Abbas – the Palestinian leader in the West Bank – and Hamas in the Gaza Strip seemed to be on the verge of forming a united Palestinian government. But Netanyahu hated the idea; he wanted the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to remain divided, as it would make it easier for Israel to control the two Palestinian areas on the principle of divide and rule. The abduction was Netanyahu’s opportunity to blame Hamas, depicting them as terrorists and spoiling the attempts of Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas to work together.
Operation Brother’s Keeper [the operation to find those responsible for the abductions and killings, which resulted in five Palestinian deaths and over 350 arrests] humiliated Hamas and drove its fighters in Gaza to war. I wondered whether the abduction and the expected violent Israeli reaction – this vicious circle of attacks and counter attacks – would eventually spark a third intifada, whether it would trigger an all-out Palestinian uprising against the occupation. In the end it was not a third intifada, but a violent trading of blows between Israel and Hamas.
The kidnapping was not the cause of the latest Gaza conflict, but the trigger – the spark leading up to the big explosion. Conflict in the Gaza Strip was inevitable because of the Israeli blockade of the Strip since 2006, which became unbearable for the Palestinians and motivated them to try and break the siege. In time I don’t think anyone will remember how this latest conflict started. Even now most people don’t really remember that it was sparked by the murder of three settlers and a Palestinian boy. They are the forgotten victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and there are many like them. Only their mothers and fathers will remember it and carry the pain of losing them for the rest of their life.”
Ahron Bregman is the author of Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories, published by Verso
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