Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Israel enacts widespread crackdown after 3 teens go missing

By Beth Staton - June 16, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Hebron] [Hamas] [Benjamin Netanyahu] [Addameer] [Palestinian Authority]

Israeli soldiers raiding a house in Hebron.

On Thursday night, three Israeli boys aged between 16 and 19 were travelling home from their Jewish religious schools, based in the illegal settlements of Gush Etzion and Kiryat Arba in the southern West Bank. The teenagers, Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Ifrach, were reportedly hitchhiking. They didn’t make it home.

In the early hours Friday morning, they were reported missing; that afternoon, assumed kidnapped. As the weekend progressed the Israeli government announced that the teenagers had been captured by “Hamas terrorists”, and launched a full-scale operation dubbed #BringBackOurBoys.

Now, Palestinians are facing the brutality of a search operation that’s wreaking havoc across the West Bank. Hebron is a city under siege. Homes are being raided with apparently indiscriminate force, and so far over 160 Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli authorities.

In what is so far the campaign’s only fatality, Ahmad Sabareen was shot dead by IDF forces in Jalazon last night. The 20-year-old was struck in the chest as Israeli troops conducted house-to-house searches in the refugee camp close to Ramallah, and according to medics died from his wounds shortly after arriving at the hospital. He had been released from prison just one week ago.

Targeted strategy, widespread suffering

Among the lenghty list of those detained in the past four days are Abdel Aziz Dweik, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and 9 PLC members, one of whom has since been released. Arrests have primarily targeted Hamas, along with some members of Islamic Jihad: last night alone, around 40 members were arrested across the occupied West Bank.

“This is very obviously targeting Hamas,” Gavan Kelly, Advocacy Coordinator at Addameer, told Palestine Monitor. “It’s quite clear that Hamas is the enemy of Israel, and this is the perfect pretext for a crackdown. There is also concern that they are going to target Hamas members inside the prisons.”

In Hebron, however, home raids continue to confine, injure and traumatise the whole community, not just the politically active. Throughout last night, the doors of homes were blown open as soldier forced their way inside; photographs show family kitchens turned upside down, with smashed crockery and damaged groceries littering the floor. “The situation is very tense,” Hisham Sharabati, a local human rights fieldworker, told Palestine Monitor. “In some places they are simply raiding all of the houses in the village, targeting everybody.”

In one of the most serious home incursions 8-year-old Mohammed Akram Qawasami was hit in the chest with shrapnel after the doors of his home in Khawlet al Majhabi were blasted open. “He was stuck in the house with shrapnel in his chest for 35 minutes,” Sharabati said. “His mother carried him out of the house, and Israeli soldiers were pointing their guns at her, telling her to go back inside, but she refused. Eventually they took him to Hadassah hospital.”

In another reported incident, Youfri Jamal, a former Reuters cameraman, woke up to see military in the living room as he slept in bed. He quickly shut the door, asking for a moment so he and his wife could get dressed, but says the soldiers forced their way in. “Afterwards, he was blindfolded and cuffed, and kept in the same place for some time, because they wanted to arrest his brother,” Sharabati explained. Youfri himself was not wanted by police.

“This is more than just arresting suspects,” Sharabati said. “This is collective punishment, and collective punishment is a war crime.”

A political opportunity

Hamas spokespeople have denied responsibility for the kidnappings – with one official, Abu Zuhri, even going so far as to call Netanyahu’s accusation “stupid.” But some have also praised the incident, calling for similar actions in order to exact leverage on the Israeli government. IDF officials, in turn, have focused tough PR talk on those they deem responsible for the disappearance.

“Palestinian terrorists will not feel safe,” IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner stated in an IDF blog. “They will not be able to hide and will feel the heavy arm of Israel’s military capabilities.”

Netanyahu, too, issued uncompromising, and sometimes incendiary, statements not just to Hamas but to the Palestinian Authority itself. "Those who carried out the kidnapping of our youngsters are Hamas people,” he said. “The same Hamas with whom Abu Mazen has forged a unity government, which has very serious implications." The Israeli Prime Minister has made it clear that he holds the Palestinian Authority and its officials responsible for Thursday’s incident, despite the fact that the teenagers were hitchhiking in Area C and from Gush Etzion, both areas under total Israeli control.

Neither verbal attacks nor violent crackdowns, however, have dissuaded Abbas from cooperating with Israeli authorities in the search for the missing settlers. On Monday, in the first conversation in more than a year, Netanyahu reportedly told the Palestinian President that he expected his help in finding the boys. Abbas released on a statement on Monday pledging assistance. The PA, however, has refused to accept responsibility for the disappearance.

Worse to come?

As the West Bank anticipates another night of raids and arrests, Israel has enlisted reservists for action and is considering its options for further crackdown on Hamas members. According to Haaretz, possibilities include expelling top Hamas operatives to Gaza, demolishing their homes and imposing sanctions on Hamas inmates in Israeli prisons.

The legal legitimacy of such moves is shaky, and the consequences, particularly for the newly formed unity government, could be profound. Addameer’s Gavan Kelly, however, believes even Israel’s stronger threats could be enacted in the near future. “We’re looking toward elections, which are planned, at least, to take place in the next six months,” he explained. “Israel has been watching the consequences of those elections, and the potential gains of Hamas, very carefully.”

In the West Bank, meanwhile, the crackdown continues to exert an unbearably heavy toll on the lives of ordinary Palestinians. “People are very tense and anxious,” Sharabati said, as the people of Hebron anticipate another night of violence. “Everyone is expecting their house to get raided. The children are now on summer vacation: my wife and I have to go to work, and my twelve year old son is at home. Earlier today he called me to say there is an Israeli jeep in the street. People are expecting the worst.” 

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