The discovery of the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists last night in Israel brought to a heartbreaking close the IDF’s exhaustive search which began on June 13, some seven hours after they were taken while trying to make their way home from Gush Etzion by hitchhiking.
The bodies were found in a field belonging to the family of Marwan Kawasme. Back on June 26, the Israeli authorities had released the names of Hamas members Kawasme and his co-conspirator Amer Abu Aysha as the prime suspects.
Israeli authorities, it must be remembered, were very careful not to jump to any premature conclusions over who was responsible for the attack. Two days after the kidnapping, on June 14, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that “our boys were kidnapped by a terrorist organisation,” though he did not specify which, possibly for operational reasons.
Only at his cabinet meeting the following day did Netanyahu confirm for the first time:
“This morning I can say what I was unable to say yesterday before the extensive wave of arrests of Hamas members in Judea and Samaria.
Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas.”
In a separate statement that same day, he said:
Hamas terrorists carried out Thursday’s kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. We know that for a fact. These teenagers were kidnapped and the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas members. Hamas denials do not change this fact. And this attack should surprise no one because Hamas makes no secret of its agenda. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel and to carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians – including children.
Yet Hamas did deny it, and some of Australian coverage of the kidnapping has maintained a level of scepticism of Israel’s allegations that continues even in the face of mounting levels of evidence.
For example, on twitter on June 18 – three days after Netanyahu unequivocally confirmed Hamas’ involvement based on hard intelligence – former ABC producer and current Lowy Institute blogger Lisa Main unfairly promoted her submission to ABC’s The Drum on the subject as “Kidnapping: Netanyahu goes after Hamas & Abbas’s unity govt. without knowing who is responsible.”
Her submission itself was only slightly less cynical.
When three teenage boys went missing late last Thursday from a settlement in the occupied West Bank, Netanyahu wasted precious little time in pointing the finger. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was the first to be singled out when Netanyahu said he “bears responsibility”.
Next, he blamed Hamas for carrying out the kidnapping, something the PM said he knows “for a fact”.
Main ended the paragraph with the deadpan observation of “He [Netanyahu] didn’t present the evidence” – ignoring the obvious fact that the release of evidence during an active investigation can often jeopardise the outcome.
This morning, it was ABC Newsradio‘s turn to play the sceptic. Host Glen Bartholomew ran the audio of a BBC interview with Netanyahu’s Spokesman Mark Regev that seemed to be more concerned about trying to undermine Israel’s claim that Hamas was responsible than report on the trauma the discovery of the bodies has inflicted on Israeli society. While Bartholomew’s segment is not available online, BBC posted the same clip on their website.
Mark Regev: Well, unfortunately, all of Israel tonight is united in mourning. We are mourning the three young teenagers who were brutally murdered by Hamas, by the Hamas terrorists. Unfortunately, Hamas has showed us once again that they see every Israeli civilian – man, woman, and in this case, children also, as a legitimate target in their war of terror against Israel.
BBC News anchor: What evidence do you have that it was Hamas that did this?
Mark Regev: It’s crystal clear. The people behind this are well-known Hamas activists from the city of Hebron. They don’t even deny that these people were involved. It’s clear that Hamas is behind this. Hamas has a history of kidnappings and murders. That’s why Hamas has officially been declared a terrorist organisation – not just by Israel – but by the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, the United States, Japan, Australia. So many countries who know Hamas have officially declared it a terrorist organisation precisely because of its history of conducting these sorts of operations.
BBC News anchor: Hamas has denied being involved. The evidence you’ve just said is circumstantial.
Mark Regev: I disagree. I disagree. The information is clear, and I think even Palestinian security people would confirm exactly what I’m saying.
BBC News anchor: But I still can’t see the evidence on which this assumption is based.
Mark Regev: When you know who the killers are, and those killers are members of Hamas, so it’s clear that Hamas is behind the attack. I think that’s clear to anyone who looks at the facts objectively. I’d also remind you that Hamas leaders have openly praised and called for these sort of attacks. You can get out the BBC video file and you’ll see hundreds of examples of that.
Regev, of course, is right. Hamas leaders have openly praised and called for these sort of attacks. However, this fact might not be obvious to Australians – even journalists – who aren’t aware of these statements by Hamas because they haven’t been well reported in this country.
For everyone’s benefit, it would be worthwhile to take a moment to review the large body of evidence showing Hamas’ open strategy of kidnapping Israelis – soldier and civilian alike. In order to keep the blog short, we’ll focus only on some of the material collected since the middle of last year.
The big story last year was the discovery by the IDF of Hamas’ “terror tunnels”. But what were they?
On October 14, 2013, Haaretz‘ published a feature by its military commentator Amos Harel (subscription required) titled “Hamas’ strategic tunnels: Millions of dollars to spirit kidnapped Israelis into Gaza” detailing how the terror group had poured money and resources into the construction of elaborate tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Israel for the purposes of kidnapping Israelis inside Israel and holding them hostage in Gaza.
Once the jig was up, Hamas decided to show off their tunnels rather than keep them under wraps – even taking al-Jazeera for a tour.
Lest you think the strategy has been abandoned, as recently as March 21, 2014 the Israeli news site Ynet ran a feature story about the IDF’s latest “terror tunnel” discovery.
The following day, Hamas sent text messages to many Israelis, as well as foreign journalists, threatening them with violent acts – including kidnapping – saying that they would be the next [former kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad] Shalit.
Hamas’ support for kidnappings have been communicated at the highest levels and showcased as part of Hamas’ policies. In an April 15 press conference announcing Hamas’ reconciliation pact with Fatah, senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh reiterated Hamas’ support for kidnappings, saying, “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.”
Furthermore, and most importantly, Hamas has been caught red-handed planning kidnappings with increasing frequency in recent months.
On June 1 – just days before the three students were taken – Israel’s internal security services, the Shin Bet, revealed it had thwarted 11 terror kidnapping plots since September 2013 alone.
Finally, it is also important to note that Hamas’ kidnapping strategy cannot be seen as the act of the extremist terror group alone, but also enjoys a large level of support from other groups, even among its political rivals in Fatah.
For example, as Palestinian Media Watch reported, Deputy-Secretary of Fatah Central Committee, Jibril Rajoub, endorsed Hamas’ kidnapping strategy in an interview broadcast on official PA TV on January 2:
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, but want them as prisoners forever, so [the prisoners] will come out as ghosts and skeletons. The Israelis need to understand. It’s clear that kidnapping is the language they understand. On the contrary, we encourage them [Hamas]. When they kidnapped [Gilad] Shalit, we congratulated them. When they concluded the Shalit [exchange] deal, in spite of our having a few reservations about it, we also congratulated them.
In conclusion, Israel’s former Prime Minister Menachem Begin was famously reputed to have told Prime Minister Levi Eshkol on the eve of the Six Day War that “If any of the enemies of the Jewish people state that they are going to destroy Jews, believe them.”
Hamas has an ongoing, consistent record of kidnapping and murdering Israelis – not to mention the war crime of launching of thousands of rockets into Israel’s population centres. But more than that, they have been exposed on many occasions planning these despicable acts of terror and investing millions of dollars in the creation of tunnels to facilitate them.
When their leaders have said that kidnappings and the murder of Israelis are their goals, we should believe them. For journalists, the scepticism then should be directed at Hamas’ refusal to take credit for the operation, rather than on Israel for placing the blame where the weight of evidence shows it belongs.