Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Terrorist kidnappings in Israel: A personal tragedy for 3 families, a major setback for peace

In June of 2006, a day before I arrived in Israel to spend the summer, a young Israeli soldier by the name of Gilad Shalit was kidnapped near Gaza and three other soldiers were killed and two kidnapped by Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon. What followed was a war that sent Israelis fleeing the previously  peaceful north of the country, and many years of captivity for Shalit, whose plight preoccupied a nation intent on bringing him home. 2006 was also the year that Israel withdrew from Gaza, an action that was supposed to further the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In the eight years since that turbulent summer Israelis have been the victims of rocket attacks, terrorist acts ranging from a bus bombing in Tel Aviv to knife attacks in the West Bank and reportedly many attempts by terrorists to kidnap Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Five days ago terrorists succeeded again kidnapping Israelis, only this time the victim was not an Israeli soldier, but three teenagers on their way home. The deal which freed Gilad Shalit was not without controversy in Israel since it resulted in the release of terrorists who had blood on their hands. When I lived in Jerusalem in 2009 I actually had a chance to meet and speak with some of the families who had relatives murdered by some of the people Israel was considering releasing at the time, and their pain and suffering was very real. Ultimately the deal was made, and Gilad Shalit came home.

Now Israel, and the world are eagerly watching for any clue as to the whereabouts of Eyal Yifrach,  Naftali Frankel and Gil-ad Shaar. This kidnapping is not only a personal tragedy for the families involved and a security threat to the State of Israel, but I would argue, a disaster for the Palestinians. Despite stories about ordinary Palestinian citizens  handing out candy and celebrating the kidnappings, I find it hard to believe that there are not some on the Pakestinian side, perhaps among the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, which has no great love for Hamas, who don't realize that this terrorist act will not only lead to more friction with Israeli security forces but could also cause irreparable harm to their stated goal of achieving a viable, independent state of their own. And I'm guessing that these might be the same people in the Palestinian Authority who might now seriously question the decision to form a "unity" government with Hamas, if they ever thought it would would work in the first place.

While the outpouring of support for the three missing teenagers from world leaders sends an important positive message, and Jewish communities around the world are rallying to show support, the fact that there has been no word from the kidnappers is deeply troubling. Israel will surely do whatever it can to bring them home, but those of us who care about peace have a job to do as well.

Just as Gilad Shalit was not forgotten outside of Israel, we have a responsibility to make sure that the plight of these three does not disappear from the minds of world leaders or drop out of the news cycle. The more the world sees this act for what it is - a terrible crime that has victimized three teenagers and their families, a cynical ploy by terrorists to exploit Israel's commitment to protect its citizens and an action that harms, not helps, Palestinian national aspirations - the more we can help to legitimize kidnapping as a political tool. It's the least we can do for the cause of peace and for Eyal, Naftali and Gil-ad.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.

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