Immediately after reports emerged that three Israeli teens, Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, had apparently been abducted last Friday, speculation began as to who was responsible, and where blame lay for this crime. While most discussion focused on the suspected perpetrators – Hamas according to the Israel government – some chose to use the opportunity blame to Israel for allegedly bringing this on itself through policies which harm Palestinian teenagers and some others chose to focus on the teenagers themselves. In a twisted outburst of victim-blaming, they were ‘berated’ in-absentia for hitching rides home from their Yeshiva (religious school) on a Thursday night, and for supposedly being “settlers”.
There is one aspect though, in the background of this unfolding tragic event, which also deserves our attention – the disturbing reaction of official outlets of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the Fatah movement to this unfolding tragic event. This can best be described, unfortunately, as gloating.
Take for example the caricature that appeared last Sunday in the PA’s official newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, which depicted a distorted version of the original logo of the 2014 soccer World Cup, the image of three hands forming a globe. In the Palestinian version, the three hands are holding thee Jewish males, who are holding their hands up in surrender. Instead of the word ‘Brazil’, the word ‘Khalil’ appears, the name of Hebron in Arabic, to indicate the location where the abduction took place.
The image was also posted on Fatah’s official Facebook page, and it wasn’t the only one. Another cartoon to appear on the page, this time de-humanising the three missing boys, depicting them as three rats wearing yarmulkes on their heads and Stars of David on their backs, caught on a fishing line (There is of course a significant tradition of depicting Jew as rats in antisemitic propaganda.)
Judging by its Facebook page, Fatah seems shameless about its support of the kidnapping, even celebrating it as a victory. A third cartoon on the page depicted the famous victory sign with one significant change- three fingers held up instead of two, to symbolise the three kidnapped teens. The tagline on the post read: “For your interpretation :)”.
These examples, unfortunately, are a result of widespread propaganda which both implicitly and explicitly encourages support for abductions of Israelis among the Palestinian leadership.
In January 2014, during the last round of peace talks, Deputy-Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, Jibril Rajoub, publicly stated on official PA TV that he supports Hamas’ attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers:
“If Hamas wants to kidnap soldiers, let them kidnap soldiers. Let them kidnap. Let them kidnap if they [the Israelis] don’t want to release prisoners… The Israelis need to understand. It’s clear that kidnapping is the language they understand. On the contrary, we encourage them [Hamas]. “
In 2011, upon the release of prisoners as part of the Shalit deal, both Rajoub and Abbas congratulated Hamas and expressed support for the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit.
Hamas, clearly, is even more enthusiastic. Just a few weeks before the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement was reached in May, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh recommitted Hamas to their abductions policy:
“The kidnapping of Israeli soldiers is part of the agenda of the Palestinian resistance and of the Hamas movement, and will continue as long as there are Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli prisons.”
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, April 16, 2014]
Israeli columnist Nadav Shragai wrote in Israel HaYom about the constant propaganda in both Gaza and the West Bank that arguably encouraged these abductions:
“the atmosphere in the PA and in Hamas is one that encourages terrorism, speaks of the coming end of the Jewish state, lionizes the suicide martyrs and sees them as a model, and even denies the existence of Israel.
The boys’ kidnappers, who came from Palestinian Authority territory, were exposed — like tens of thousands of other young people — to this slanderous, hateful propaganda…”
The link between hateful propaganda and support for terrorism against Israeli civilians was expressed through yet another disconcerting example of sheer glee about the kidnapping of three civilian teenagers – this time from extremist pro-Palestinian activists headquartered abroad – the Executive Director of the extremist website Electronic Intifada (EI), Ali Abunimah, and his Gaza-based EI colleague Rana Baker, who rushed to twitter to gloat publicly.
“Wonderful wonderful news that three settlers have been kidnapped,” Baker rejoiced, “Celebrations celebrations. Cheers everybody (Zionists excluded)!”
The depth of Baker’s bigotry and hatred was further exposed when she later added she felt “disgusted” by comparisons between Palestinian and Israeli children saying “My god, have we really reached the stage at which the children of the oppressor are equated with the children of the oppressed?” She made it clear she sees the former as legitimate targets in the name of the violent “resistance”.
Abunimah’s own tweets were more subtle than Baker’s but seemed to broadly share the same sentiments:
“Occupation gangs, ” he writes, referring to the Israeli army, “continue storming Palestinian villages in search for missing settlers.”
Abunimah is not the only one to criticise Israel’s attempts to find the missing boys. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry also published a condemnation on WAFA (the Palestinian news agency) of Israel’s searches, calling them “a fierce attack” against the Palestinians and their leadership. So it would seem that by some bizarre logic, not only should the abductions be celebrated, but Israeli attempts to rescue the teens from the hands of their captors is the real crime.
In his tweets, Abunimah attempts to legitimise the kidnapping by referring to the abducted youths as “settlers”. But this was the most flattering of names he used to describe the Israeli teens, as in a later tweet he referred to them as “Boers” – a reference to his ongoing efforts to depict Israel in terms of South African “apartheid”.
Sadly, the morally indefensible effort to justify or excuse this kidnapping by labelling the victims “settlers” was not confined to known extremists like Abunimah and Baker. Even prominent figures in the international NGO community, such as Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth, did something similar. One would expect the director of such a leading human rights body to see beyond what has sadly been a tradition of strong anti-Israel bias and unequivocally condemn the kidnapping of minors, as, for example, the UN Secretary-General and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) both did. This turned out to be a false hope. After much criticism of his refusal to comment, Roth eventually published a weak and back-handed comment simply calling for the boys to be freed without condemning the perpetrators of the kidnapping, as both the ICRC and Ban Ki-Moon had done:
“Attending school at illegal settlement doesn’t legitimize apparent kidnapping of #Israel teens” Roth wrote, “They should be freed.”
Here again was a focus on the teens’ link to settlements is an attempt to “explain”, if not legitimise, why they were targeted. Roth, as observed by UNWatch’s Hillel Neuer, also failed to mention that the kidnapping is in violation of international law and basic human rights. Pressed to do so by Neuer, Roth’s response was to concede that such kidnapping was “wrong” only if he could simultaneously condemn Israel, writing “Kidnapping 3 Israeli boys is wrong. So is killing 2 Palest’n boys posing no imminent threat. Join me to condemn both?” But the allegations he was referring to, in which two Palestinians were killed during a demonstration under circumstances still being investigated, happened over a month ago on May 15, and had already repeatedly been condemned by Roth and HRW. Whatever happened back then is totally irrelevant to whether or not it is wrong to kidnap Israeli civilian teenagers. But Roth apparently finds it impossible to condemn Palestinian human rights violations without finding a way to make it clear he condemns Israel even more.
I did not know that studying in a settlement strips one of one’s very humanity, but in Roth’s world, it apparently does.