On June 30, the Embassy of Israel announced: “With great sadness we must announce the bodies of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali have been found near Hebron. Our thoughts are with their families.”
Their tragic end wasn’t inevitable, but almost so.
Hamas kidnapped three Israeli teenagers returning from school to their parents’ homes for the Sabbath because it could; because they were there; because the experience with Gilad Shalit was an almost unadulterated “win” for terror. After Hamas held the IDF soldier for nearly five years without a single visit by the Red Cross, Israel released 1027 prisoners responsible for the deaths of 569 Israeli civilians to get him back.
The “unity government” Hamas forged with Fatah in May — openly approved by the United States government, which declared that ascension of an organization on the U.S. list of terror groups to a position of government authority was not cause for alarm or sanction — appears to have given Hamas the idea that what it could do in Gaza, it could do in the West Bank.
The scenario looked familiar at first. Hamas claimed it had nothing to do with the abductions, but if it had, it would be a great thing. Fatah claimed that most Palestinians supported the abduction. Parents gave their children candy and celebrated the “capture” of “vermin” or “soldiers” (the abduction was acted out many times with three figures in IDF uniforms). Palestinians walked past Israelis waving three fingers for the three teens and taunted Jews at the Temple Mount. The hapless Mahmoud Abbas said one thing in English and another in Arabic.
The UN urged Israeli restraint in the search for its abducted citizens, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said there was “no concrete evidence” the boys had been kidnapped. He didn’t have the nerve to say it to the face of Rachel Fraenkel, Naftali Fraenkel’s mother, when she testified at the UNHCR. In a moment of transcendent grace, she thanked Ban for his support.
But it wasn’t the same. Hamas was the dog who caught the bus; once he had it, what was he doing to do with it? Having abducted the teens, Hamas had to a) put them somewhere; and b) find a way to make a Shalit-like deal. But the West Bank isn’t Gaza. Because Hamas doesn’t have control of the territory, it was unable to burrow in and wait. It couldn’t bargain and, increasingly couldn’t hide.
The IDF, in fact, has functional security control of all of the West Bank — as it should and despite the howling of Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah about violations of “sovereignty” and “collective punishment.” The IDF arrested 350 Palestinians, including 51 who were freed in the Shalit deal, one of whom used his freedom to kill an Israeli police commander on his way to a Passover Seder. They found underground tunnels and explosives factories in Hebron. Behind his indignation, Abbas knew he was made safer by the rousting of Hamas cells in his fiefdom.
In the end, the IDF couldn’t find the boys before Hamas decided it had better cut its losses, toss the bodies and abandon the effort. The search for the kidnappers goes on even as the mourning begins.
The bitter experience leaves lessons for Israel, but also for the West:
- Ungoverned, undergoverned, or terrorist-governed spaces lend themselves to terrorist activity. The withdrawal of Israel from southern Lebanon in 1990 led to the rise of Hezbollah and its war against Israel and its role in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Assad and Iran. Lebanon itself is experiencing an upsurge in violence, with a suicide bombing in a downtown Beirut hotel and floods of armed refugees along the Lebanon-Syria border. The withdrawal of Israel from Gaza led to the rise of Hamas in closed quarters. The West Bank without the IDF would be no different.
- This is the story of the Sunni areas of Iraq under the relentlessly pro-Shiite Maliki government; it is the story of Mali, of Libya, of Yemen, of Sudan and of Chechnya. It is the story of the disintegration of Syria. It is likely the story of Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves. Without serious intervention by the authorities, it may be the story of French “banlieus” and quarters of Germany where the government believes Salafists have integrated themselves among the German Muslim population — if the government doesn’t govern and doesn’t control space, someone else will.
Palestinian apologists in the U.S. are already squealing about “Israeli revenge” and “collective punishment” and unwarranted Israeli hatred coming and how the poor Palestinians will have to defend themselves from the “vicious IDF.” (Check Twitter if you want to see it; I’m not giving any of them publicity.)
Nothing can bring Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali back. The Israeli government will have to do what it can to ensure the safety and security of the citizens of Israel, who have faced the fact of a parent’s worst nightmare, and who have been under siege from Gaza in a barrage of rocket fire.
Here another story needs to be told.
Last week, another Israeli teen was riding with his father to a job site when a Syrian missile struck their truck, killing the boy and another person, and injuring the father. There was an immediate burble about “settlers” and “Zionists” from some of the usual candidates — until it was understood that the teen was an Israeli Arab from the Galilee. The president-elect of Israel, Ruby Rivlin, visited the family in their home.”Your son is everyone’s son,” Rivlin told the boy’s father, Fahmi Karaka. “I came here to express my condolences in the name of all citizens of the State of Israel, Jews, Druse and Muslims.”
Until the Palestinians, or ISIS, or Iran, or Bashar Assad, or Nouri al-Maliki, or the Ayatollahs or the Taliban take that view, the larger war continues with Eyal, Gilad, Naftali, Mohammed and their parents as only its latest victims.