As Israel prepares to send ground troops into Gaza, it becomes increasing evident that we have been led into a war against Israel’s interests. No sooner had the American-coaxed peace talks disintegrated, with the formation of the Fatah-Hamas government attempting to bridge the artificial Gaza-West Bank division as the final nail in the coffin, did the kidnapping of the three yeshiva students occur.
Netanyahu led the world to believe that the boys were alive, deceiving their desperate parents and planting false hope that their children would be returned safely when they had compelling evidence – Gil-ad Shaer’s call to the police, the audible gunshots, the kidnappers joyful shouts that they got “three”, the 8 bullet holes, blood and the boy’s DNA in the scorched kidnapping vehicle – that the boys had almost certainly been murdered. Netanyahu’s government launched a massive public relations campaign, including sending the deceived parents of the kidnapped children to the UN to enlist the world in securing their release, and social media campaigns like #BringBackOurBoys to earn the world’s approval for an unapologetic rampage through the West Bank. Vigils were held in Jewish communities in Israel and around the world. The Jewish world unified in hopes of finding the boys alive.
For 11 days during Operation Brother’s Keeper, the IDF turned over every stone in the West Bank, arresting 350 people, including much of Hamas’ West Bank leadership, raiding hundreds of homes and institutions with tenuous connections to Hamas, re-arresting 51 Hamas operatives released in the Shalit prisoner exchange and killing 5 Palestinians who were not involved in the kidnapping. The IDF also illegally confiscated $ 3 million in valuables, including $370,000 in cash and as $2.5 million worth of cars, computers, mobile phones and jewelry from homes, universities, medical facilities, NGO’s, businesses and currency exchanges. Yet, the IDF was so busy sending troops all over the West Bank to destroy Hamas infrastructure, it didn’t actually find the missing boys, whose bodies were located by Israeli civilians on a property owned by one of the suspected kidnappers just a few miles from the site of kidnapping.
Netanyahu exploited the kidnapping of three children to justify the destruction of Hamas in the West Bank, claiming to have indisputable evidence that Hamas is responsible, though no evidence has been offered to counter Hamas’ claim not to have ordered the kidnapping nor to have known where the boys were held. Shlomi Eldar reported that the kidnappers Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha not only didn’t act under orders from Hamas leadership, but are actually a rouge cell that has broken numerous ceasefires Hamas leadership has agreed to abide by and caused Hamas leadership to be assassinated in response. Not even the rockets launched at Israel since November 2012 have been fired by Hamas, but by the PRC and Islamic Jihad.
Yet, Netanyahu insisted that Hamas was responsible for the kidnapping, and Hamas would pay. When the boys’ bodies were discovered, Israeli society went into a period of national mourning. Israel was in anguish and grief. The strong emotional reaction was due in part due to horrific nature of their killings and in part because the Israeli public had been led to believe that the boys were alive, and many expected them to be brought home safely. Then the public realized that the boys had been dead all long, and the politicians and generals knew it. The public had been deceived. Israel’s national trauma turned vengeful. The environment quickly deteriorated into anti-Palestinian incitement, and hundreds of Israelis rioted in East Jerusalem. This culminated in the brutal murder of Muhamud Abu-Kheidar by Jewish vigilantes, who kidnapped the boy and burned him alive in a Jerusalem Forest. When Abu-Kheidar’s body was discovered, hundreds of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Triangle and Wadi Ara took to the streets, reigniting protests that had been going on throughout the 11 day military operation in the West Bank.
The cease fire with Hamas in Gaza, brokered by the US and Egyptian governments on November 21, 2012 with both Israel and Hamas claiming victory, ended on June 29 when Israel killed a Hamas man and Hamas responded with the first rockets in 19 months. Yet, Netanyahu probably did not intend to escalate the crises into war. Reengaging Hamas in Gaza was not Netanyahu’s intent and negated Israel interests. Since Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, Hamas hadn’t fired a single rocket, and had even suppressed fire from other jihadists. 2013 rocket fire against Israel was dramatically lower than previous years. Despite an increase in rocket firings in 2014, in 2013 “only” 41 rockets were fired against Israel, compared with 2248 in 2012. Neither side truly wished to end to cease-fire. Yet neither Israel nor Hamas is willing to stop shooting first.
Now, with 160 Palestinian casualties in the first week of Operation Protective Cliff, as 40,000 IDF soldiers prepare to be called up, we need the government of Egypt to broker a cease fire that will enable both sides to claim victory and resume the tense quiet. Now, with Israel under fire, and rockets falling on Israel in places we never thought they’d reach, it’s time to internalize that there is no military solution to this conflict. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians can bomb the hatred out of their adversaries. They can only address one another’s legitimate concerns and engage in a diplomatic process towards a solution.