Jerusalem — The June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank seems to have spurred more accusations than soul-searching in Israel.
For reasons that speak to people’s fears of living in a small, embattled country, the abduction of the boys — Gilad Shaar, 16, Eyal Yifrach, 19 and Naftali Frenkel, a 16-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen — has hit home here in a very personal way. Perhaps it was because the students were on their way home from their schools in the West Bank and, evoking every parents’ nightmare, never arrived. At least one of the boys still has braces on his teeth.
As David Horovitz, editor in chief of the Times of Israel, wrote five days after their disappearance, “We hope and pray for the best. But we fear the worst. Each passing hour increases the fears. Each passing hour with no confirmed claim of responsibility, no demands.”
Israelis, Horovitz said, are also united in a “sense of helplessness.” Its leadership “deploys its troops, orders arrests, talks tough and contemplates home demolitions and deportations and the recapture of the terrorists it has set free in the past.”
While much of the finger-pointing has been aimed at Hamas, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists is behind the abduction, the blame game hardly stops there.
The country’s political left and right are blaming each other’s policies for the conditions that, they say, fostered the snatching in the first place.
The left insists the kidnapping, which, they emphasize, took place in Area C — under full Israeli security control — is the direct result of Israel’s “occupation.”
“Nothing can justify the kidnapping of 16-year-olds and using them as pawns. The Palestinians who did this committed an indefensible act,” said Larry Derfner, a left-wing blogger for +972 Magazine.
“But the occupation is ultimately responsible. The Palestinians are living under a military dictatorship and people will fight back, and they have.”
Derfner also questioned how Israel can suddenly blame the new Palestinian Fatah-Hamas unity government for the boys’ disappearance when it says that it has thwarted more than a dozen terror attacks in the West Bank when it was controlled solely by the Fatah-backed Palestinian Authority.
Knesset member Hanin Zoabi from the United Arab List party, went considerably further Tuesday, during an interview with Radio Tel Aviv.
“They are not terrorists,” Zoabi, who participated in the Turkish flotilla to Gaza and is well known for her incendiary statements, said of the Palestinians who abduct or hurt Israelis. “They have seen no other way to change their reality, and they have to resort to these measures until Israel sobers up a bit and feels the suffering of others.”
The right, in contrast, says the abduction just demonstrates that Hamas is trying to flex its muscles in the new Palestinian Fatah-Hamas unity government (and thumbing its finger at a weak Israel in the process), and that ceding any land or security responsibility to the Palestinians is a recipe for disaster.
“After this latest act of terror by Hamas it should now be clear to the U.S. that President Abbas chose a pact with a terror organization over peace with us,” said Danny Danon, the deputy defense minister, in an interview with The Jewish Week. “It was a terrible mistake for the Administration to announce that they would continue to work with the Hamas-backed government. Now is the time for action. I call on our American friends to implement the 2006 Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which prohibits funding for the Palestinian Authority if they form a government that is influenced by Hamas.”
Other right-wing Israeli politicians say the U.S. government’s ongoing pressure on Israel to make concessions, including Palestinian prisoners, emboldened Palestinian terror organizations.
The U.S. administration “pushed for releasing more and more terrorists, and the kidnappings were the result,” said Knesset member Orit Struck from the Jewish Home party. “But the Americans never take responsibility for anything. They prefer to just sling mud at Israel. They would never accept their children being kidnapped on the way home from school and their mothers worrying.”
Much of the criticism surrounding the kidnapping has been directed toward the Israel Police, which failed to launch an investigation for several hours after receiving a distress call (its contents are being debated) from one of the abducted teens. The chief of police, who was attending a U.S.-based conference, was also slammed for arriving home three days after the abduction.
The Israeli public, too, has gotten into the blame game in a very big way.
Via Facebook, blogs and tweets, people have criticized the kidnapped boys for hitchhiking in the West Bank, especially at night, and for living or simply attending school in the West Bank; others have skewered the boys’ parents and school principals for not teaching them to be more responsible and providing them with transportation.
Interviewed over the hitchhiking issue, settlers have explained that the West Bank is vastly underserved by public transportation and that few buses shuttle between the various settlements.
Sherri Mandell, the mother of Koby Mandel, who was murdered near his home in the Jewish settlement of Tekoa when he was 13, spoke to The Jewish Week just moments after leading a support group for bereaved mothers in Jerusalem.
“People often blame the victim as a way to distance themselves from the event and pretend they’re immune and that this sort of thing could never touch them. They think if they can find a reason for it they can explain it away and duck it instead of acknowledging that we have a terrible enemy.”
What Israelis need to understand, Mandell said, is that the boys “could have been kidnapped while waiting for a bus. Hitchhiking is how we get around.”
“Hamas wants to terrorize and annihilate the people of Israel. It’s sworn to the destruction of Israel and doesn’t want a Jewish state. When the Palestinian Authority aligns itself with Hamas, it is an alliance of destruction,” she added.
To alleviate their feelings of helplessness, some Israelis launched a food drive to feed the many soldiers searching for the boys; others signed petitions urging Israel to cut off water and electricity to Gaza residents; thousands joined the international Bring Our Boys Home campaign that went viral on social media; and 30,000 participated in communal prayers at the Kotel while countless others said special prayers in schools and synagogues.
“I don’t know if the prayers are working,” said a woman on Facebook, “but they can’t hurt either.”