On Thursday, June 12, the weekly edition of the IDF newspaper, Bamachane (literally, “in the boot camp”) came out. On the lower part of the cover the following sentence appeared: “Take precautions. Danger of kidnapping. A large rise in the number of hitch hiking soldiers.” That very night Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were abducted as they waited for a lift at the Gush Etzion junction.
A week has passed since then and at the time of this writing, we have no knowledge about how the kidnapping occurred, who exactly did it, where the boys are and what the abductors want. The lack of information points to a well planned operation that left no traces. It also points to an experienced organization, leading to an accusing finger being pointed at Hamas, and specifically at the Izz-a-Din Al-Kassam Brigades.
The Israeli government announced publicly that Hamas had committed the kidnapping and launched a wave of arrests of Hamas leaders and activists in Judea and Samaria. I am of the opinion that the IDF has proof of Hamas involvement, but is keeping the details under wraps at present in order to keep the investigation secret.
Moreover, the atmosphere Hamas has created also supports the supposition that it was the kidnapper. Speeches by Hamas leaders, especially Khaled Mashaal contained hints that the organization would repeat kidnappings of soldiers or civilians, as they had done with Gilad Shalit and others before him, keeping Israelis in anxious suspense, demanding exorbitant ransoms, holding tough negotiations, using emotional blackmail and demanding a massive prisoner release. The organization’s success in freeing over one thousand prisoners for Shalit taught Hamas that this is a method that works.
In addition, this method divides the Israeli public, causing controversy over whether or not to free prisoners with blood on their hands. This dispute spawns laws that address the issue of freeing terrorists, initiatives that deepen the ongoing controversy – another achievement for Hamas.
Over the last few years Israelis have come to believe that the geographic separation between Gaza and Judea-Samaria mirrors the political situation; that is, Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah rules Judea and Samaria. Even Israeli lawmakers believe this distinction, with the result that the IDF did not receive clear and unequivocal orders to fight the Hamas infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, so that until the kidnapping there were almost no activities aimed at the Hamas organizational network in the area. Coordinated activity with PA forces gave the impression that things were under control and that Israel does not have to worry about the organization or about its military wing.
The reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas also played a part. Israel believed that Hamas would turn to the political arena, to governing, elections and perhaps to taking over the PA peacefully and abandoning the continuation of warfare against Israel. The relative quiet on the Gazan front over the last few months lowered Israel’s anxiety level vis a vis Hamas military activities, certainly with regard to Judea and Samaria.
Proof of Hamas strength among the public was in evidence just last month in the student council elections at BIr Zeit University. The PLO garnered 23 of the 51 seats, Hamas 20, the Popular Front 7 and the Democratic Front 1.
There were those in Israel who saw this as a worrying sign of Hamas’ growing strength, while others saw it as a sign that Hamas is changing from a terror organization to a political entity. Israel did not realize that Hamas is doing what Hezbollah did in Lebanon: joining politics but continuing terror.
After Hamas’ electoral success, Hamas leader Hassan Youssef, appeared before the 20 elected Hamas delegates. His speech is on the web for everyone to hear his shouting and to read the following excerpts -with my comments in parentheses.
“They say Hamas is finished, there is reconciliation. But I tell you so that all the students can hear, for all the world,to hear, for all the media to hear, we are the only ones, Gaza is the only one that has new weapons. Everyone knows that one day Gaza will be, at some point, under the guise of resistance, able to be the one that takes the enemy by surprise and executes an attack with the help of Allah. (Wild applause).
“And I am not saying this without giving it serious thought (repeats this) because (Hamas) resistance in Gaza has much, and Gaza today, all of Palestine, every centimeter of the land of historical Palestine [sic] in Gaza is within reach of rockets from Gaza, glory to Allah.(loud applause and cries)…oh brothers and sisters, let me say my last words: there is no way we will accept this reconciliation (with the PLO) at any price if it entails affecting the equation of our security fist (i.e. the joint security arrangements with Israel under which the PA neutralizes terror), we will under no circumstances allow that here on the West Bank (the audience applauds)…my brothers and sisters, you are strong, you are great,you are mighty, you are laying the foundation for the next stage. You will soon see, I swear to you by Allah, that just as I see you (before me), so will you see the coming victory, by Allah’s Will, and on that day the (Muslim) believers will rejoice in the victory of Allah who supports (and brings victory) to whom he wishes to. May Allah bless you…”
The fact that the head of a terror organization appeared in an academic institution and was authorized to speak from a speaker’s podium covered with the Hamas flag did not give rise to any reaction from the lovers of “academic freedom” in Israel or the world, those who fight Israel, call her an “apartheid state” and call to boycott, sanction and divest from her.
Hassan Youssef made a strong point for connecting Hamas in Gaza with the movement’s presence in Judea and Samaria , but Israel did not see it that way, because it was easier to see everything through the perspective of reconciliation – “it is not in Hamas’ interests to engage in terror at this stage” said all those viewing Hamas with Israeli eyes, attempting to evaluate that movement’s behavior using Israeli logic.
Unfortunately, the situation was quite different out there as the PA security system did not expose the kidnappers’ plans, or ignored them so as not to interfere with efforts for reconciliation. Under the “watchful eyes” of the Palestinian security apparatus, a massive Hamas infrastructure developed, one that carried out an almost perfect kidnapping, escape, concealment of the boys or their transport elsewhere. Almost perfect, because of the fact that one of the victims was able to call the police and whisper something that was not understood properly. A perfect kidnapping would have prevented the victims from connecting with any outside source.
Following the kidnapping, Israel decided to do what the PA did not: Israel imprisoned a good many of those freed in the Shalit deal once again, using plain logic: their release was conditional on the release of an Israeli, and abducting Israelis justifies returning them to prison. Israel also arrested Hamas parliamentary representatives, shut down “charity” organizations and means of communications belonging to Hamas. In brief, Israel is doing what she must do in order to prevent Judea and Samaria from becoming a Gaza-style state.
Israel’s actions are taking place in a relatively benign international climate, because the entire world is focused on Iraq, whose lands are rapidly being conquered by ISIS, and the organization poses a threat to the northern Iraqi oil industry. Iran is involved, the US is sending troops and the world is hoping that Iraq will survive as a united country. What is going on in Ukraine also takes center stage, more so since the rebels managed to down a Ukranian aircraft and kill close to 50 government troops. In Kenya, the Somalian “Shabbab Almujaddin” militia slaughtered masses of people, and the World Cup games in Brazil are much more interesting than the kidnapping of three Israelis and Israel’s actions against Hamas in Judea and Samaria.
There is escalating tension at the Gaza border and there are already those who warn of an impending Intifada. Last week’s events are another proof that when it comes to security, Israel can rely only on itself, not on the PA and not on the most amicable of treaties with Arab countries. No Arab regime will act with the determination needed to protect Israel from terror organizations the likes of Hamas, which is why Israel must remain in Judea and Samaria forever and ever. It is possible to leave the cities in order to allow the rise of emirates based on the large families in them, but the rural areas must remain under Israeli control.
The collapse of the Iraqi army in the face of the “Islamic State” fighters proves to all that in the Middle East one cannot rely on artificial powers, even if the Americans created them, armed them, trained them and funded them. The same script will be playing in Afghanistan as soon as coalition forces leave, which means that Israel must tell the Americans in clear and direct language: “We live and would like to continue to do so in an area in which we understand – better than anyone – how to behave and how to run things. We are not in Europe or America. please leave us alone to do what needs to be done, and if you consider yourselves our friends, help us instead of encouraging terror organizations like Hamas.” in Congress and among the American publics here are many people who will identify and agree with this statement.
Previous Kidnapping Attempts
After the abduction, it was recalled that there were scores of kidnapping attempts in the past year and that this is the reason for the cover of “Bamachane” featuring a warning on the dangers of kidnapping. Our problem is that we don’t pay attention to failed attempts and don’t deduce operative conclusions from them. A failed kidnapping must merit the same attention as a successful one: thorough investigation, arrests, elimination of infrastructure and standing trial. The media also do not consider failed attempts to be worthy of its attention, because if they failed, nothing actually occurred. Nothing happened? Quite the opposite! the abductors who failed analyze their failure, find their mistakes, correct what needs correcting, improve their plans and keep trying until,they succeed. As a result, it seems they used yellow Israeli citizen license plates, wore kippot (skullcaps), had Hassidic music on and spoke Hebrew to their victims so they would feel it was safe to go into the car.
Hitchhiking as a Cultural Phenomenon
Ever since the kidnapping, the media have been discussing the topic of hitchhiking (“tremping”) non-stop and the point that has arisen over and over again is that in Judea and Samaria, as well as in places far away (called “periphery”) from the main urban centers, people have no choice besides relying on “tremps” due to the lack of adequate public transportation. A bus that reaches a town twice a day does not meet the needs of someone who has no car. The whole issue of “tremps”, long gone from the main cities but going strong outside of them, especially in Judea and Samaria, came under discussion. The residents of the “State of Tel Aviv” strongly criticize the phenomenon for leading to kidnappings, but the residents of the “State of Judea” defend it passionately because “there is no other choice”.
What is unsaid is that this argument has deep cultural underpinnings: in the “State of Tel Aviv” everyone lives for himself and by himself, works and finds entertainment in the many spots the city offers – coffee houses, restaurants, cinemas, theaters and concert halls. The lack of connection between the populace creates a situation where everyone finds his own way from place to place and cannot fathom why people would need to depend on “tremps”. In the “state of Judea and Samaria” the atmosphere is entirely different – there is a strong feeling of community, solidarity, mutual trust and openness, and the “tremp” is based on the hitchhiker’s feeling that the driver is “one of us ” and would never harm him, as he would never harm the driver.
The difference is that of two groups of citizenry, both living in the same small country, but culturally, worlds apart.
Reprinted with permission from Arutz Sheva