Israel found itself in conflict with an American relief organization Sunday after suggesting that the kidnapping of Chris George in the Gaza Strip may have been staged.
George, 35, head of the West Bank-Gaza section of the Save the Children Foundation, was released unharmed Friday 29 hours after he was abducted from his Gaza office by three armed Palestinians.
Israeli security sources, claiming George is hostile to Israel, said there was a large measure of cooperation between the victim and his kidnappers, who were known to him.
Neal Keny, regional director of Save the Children, was quoted by the news media as calling the insinuation of collusion “outrageous.”
Other American relief workers reportedly accused Israel of trying to discredit George as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was praised in Washington for its prompt condemnation of the kidnapping.
Israeli security forces, which conducted an exhausting and fruitless search for the relief worker, backed up their suggestion by noting that George was acquainted with one of the kidnappers, whom he identified as Mohammad Abu Nasr, a resident of the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza.
But Israeli authorities said George refused to identify the other two men who abducted him, and refused to say where he had been held.
After interrogating him for a third time on Saturday, authorities dropped the accusation that George helped stage the abduction, but they still accused him of cooperating with his captors.
George was well known for his sympathy with the Palestinian cause, and it seemed unlikely that a terrorist organization would target a sympathizer for kidnaping, the Israeli sources said.
George was released in good condition.
After the kidnapping was reported Thursday, the abductors allegedly gave the International Red Cross a list of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel whom they wanted released in exchange for George.
Several notes reportedly surfaced making additional demands of the Israel government.
One note in Arabic attributed the kidnapping to a group calling itself the Palestinian Popular Army.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared that Israel would not give in to any demands by kidnappers.
In Washington, the State Department reacted to the kidnapping saying it “strongly condemned” the unknown Palestinian group responsible.
After George was freed, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said “his release” to the Red Crescent Society — the Moslem equivalent of the Red Cross — was “extremely good news.”
Asked about a statement from the PLO condemning the kidnaping, Tutwiler termed the PLO reaction “responsible.”
In Tunisia on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Robert Pelletreau met with Hakam Balaoui, the PLO’s representative in Tunis, “to make him aware of the situation that had just happened in the Gaza (Strip),” Tutwiler said.
It appeared in Israel that the PLO scored another victory in its image-enhancement campaign, having claimed to have secured the release of George.
George’s abduction was the first of an American in the Israeli administered territories, and it introduced a new, potentially dangerous element to the 18-month-old Palestinian uprising.
Abduction is a political weapon used extensively in Lebanon, where kidnappings and the taking of foreigners as hostages is endemic.
That, and other recent developments have raised fears among Israelis of the “Lebanization” of their country.
As for George, while authorities would like to see him leave, Israel cannot deport him.
But the authorities hinted Sunday that he would depart voluntarily within a short time by tacit agreement with the Israelis.
(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.