KFAR ETZION, Israel — The kidnapping of three Israeli teenage boys on June 12 has prompted more difficult relations between Israel and Palestine that were already unstable due to years of conflict and broken peace talks. The boys remain missing as the tensions heighten and the Israeli military response escalates.
Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Sha’er, 16, and Naftali Frankel, also 16, were last heard from on a Thursday night when one of the boys called an emergency line stating they had been kidnapped, but investigation did not start until early Friday morning. It is believed the boys were abducted while hitchhiking home from school and taken from near the Israeli settlement of Kfar Etzion in the Heborn hills. This area is part of occupied Palestine in the West Bank and is under Israeli surveillance.
In the days following the kidnappings in Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been vehement that “[the]boys were kidnapped by a terrorist organization, there is no doubt about that.” Specifically, the Israeli government has accused the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas of the crime. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization to both Israel and the United States.
Hamas denies that it was involved in the abduction, but three other groups have stepped forward, two of which are jihadist organizations operating in the area. The West Bank branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) says it abducted the three boys to avenge the deaths of three of its members. The Liberators Battalion of Hebron contacted Israeli media claiming responsibility and the Brigades of Global Jihad also cried involvement, but later withdrew the statement. The claims are being evaluated, but are presumed false with the understanding that extremist groups often take responsibility for traumatic events for their publicity rather than actual participation. At this point, Hamas is the lead suspect.
The kidnapping has prompted the biggest Israeli military occupation of the West Bank in some time. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stresses that the “working assumption is that [the boys]are still alive.” The operation has the primary goal of keeping the boys from being moved, especially to the Gaza Strip, where there is less Israeli presence and the boys will be harder to find. The Israeli military is also capturing any Palestinians suspected to be involved. Specialized troops have arrested over 200 Palestinians at this point, some of which are senior Hamas members.
There have been many other attempts at abduction of Israelis with the goal to capture hostages to trade for Palestinian prisoners, and Israel has reacted drastically to these kidnappings in the past. For example, the 2006 Lebanon war was in part the result of Israel’s reaction to the capture of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based terrorist organization. More recently, in 2011, Israel traded 1,000 captive Palestinians for the return of soldier Gilad Shalit. Both of these incidents are ample evidence that Israel will not take this kidnapping lightly and will likely react with significant force.
Even before the abduction, relations between Israel and Palestine were already shaky after peace talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry collapsed in April. Talks fell through when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the formation of a new Palestinian government that is a unity between Fatah, the secular faction led by Abbas and Hamas. Israel is openly displeased with the new government and refuses to compromise with a government backed by what Israel claims is a terrorist organization. Netanyhau holds the Palestinian government culpable for the kidnapping of the three teenagers, stating that putting Hamas in charge allowed for the abduction and “the dangers of that pact should now be abundantly clear.”
The kidnapping and subsequent military response have heightened tensions between Palestine and Israel, and indicate the continuing complexity and instability of relations between the two nations. The huge detentions of Palestinian civilians and the use of strong military force in the search for the boys shows that Israel and Palestine still have significant kinks to work out in their affairs before peace talks will be successful and an end to the conflict is foreseeable. At the same time, it is becoming obvious that the Israeli military will be coming down hard on Palestinian terrorists.
The whole situation has become a blame game. Netanyahu holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the abduction since the boys were taken on Palestinian territory. But because the kidnapping occurred in an area of the West Bank called Area C that is under Israeli surveillance, the Palestinian Authority claims it cannot have police present and thus shifts accountability back to Israel. The two groups are working together to find the boys but are shrouding their actual obligation by holding the other group responsible.
Ultimately, time will tell if Hamas is culpable for the kidnapping, but the Israeli government is right about one thing: a Hamas-backed Palestinian government is not helping peaceful relations between the two nations.