According to today’s New York Times there’s a debate going on in Israel about the “conduct” of the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped last week by Hamas terrorists and whose whereabouts and safety remain unknown. While the Times conceded that the overarching concern of Israeli society today is the fate of the three boys, the story claimed that the victims’ decision to try and hitchhike their way home from the Hebron area was a “cavalier practice” that had endangered others because of the price their country might have to pay to obtain their return.
But the impulse here to blame the victims rather than the criminals seems to have more to do with a desire by some on Israel’s far left and foreign critics of the country to demonize any Jew who lives or studies in the West Bank. No matter what mode of travel these youngsters chose, they had a right to be able to move about the country without fear of being kidnapped or killed. Though West Bank Jews have recently come in for a great deal of criticism about the actions of a tiny minority that have committed acts of vandalism and violence against Arabs, the truth is that the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish inhabitants of the settlements have done no harm to their Palestinian neighbors. Except, that is, by committing the sin of living where Arabs believe no Jew has the right to exist.
Rather than focusing on whether Jews have a right to travel without an expectation of being attacked — something that is so commonplace that the Western press only reports the most spectacular instances — what is needed now is an examination of why it is that Palestinian society not only doesn’t condemn such kidnappings but treats them as national achievements. The widespread applause for the kidnapping, similar to the cheers other acts of terrorism draw from Palestinians, is a significant story that the Times and most of the Western press continues to ignore. And it is that imbalance in the coverage of this story that is at the heart of the question of why Middle East peace remains nowhere in sight.
As the Times of Israel notes today, when Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas belatedly condemned the kidnapping, he found himself a minority of one in Palestinian politics. The Palestinians have now adopted a ubiquitous three-fingered salute — mocking the plight of the three kidnapped boys — as their new symbol of “resistance” against Israel. Support for the kidnapping isn’t confined to extremists or the most violent elements of terrorist groups but seems to cut across Palestinian society from street demonstrations to social media as a symbol of national pride.
Despite some comments from PA officials about holding Hamas responsible for the crime uttered only to Western and Israeli reporters, the kidnapping seems to have revealed that the Fatah and Hamas are generally unified but not for peace but in support of terrorist acts against Israelis.
Apologists for the Palestinians claim this is a natural reaction to the imprisonment of some 5,000 Arabs by Israel for security offenses. The only way to free these prisoners is, they say, for Palestinians to seize Israelis and to trade them for their compatriots. Abbas has claimed that the fate of the Palestinian prisoners is the number one issue for his people and it is no surprise that he bartered his willingness to return to peace talks for the freedom of some 100 imprisoned terrorists
But the problem here is that this is not simply a matter of Palestinians wishing to redeem those held by Israel. While there are some among the 5,000 in Israeli jails who may not have shed blood, most are there because of participation in the campaign of murder and mayhem aimed at Jews that Palestinians and the international media dubbed the second intifada. The core of this issue isn’t a matter of prisoner exchanges but the overwhelming Palestinian support for the atrocities that landed most of the objections of their concern in Israeli jails. The cheers from Palestinian crowds that greeted some of those released last fall was not in spite of the fact that they had shed Jewish blood but because of it. Indeed, there is no way to explain the glee that is being displayed among Palestinians about the kidnapping of three teenagers other than as a function of their belief that Jews, whether young or old, secular or religious, living inside the ’67 lines or “settlers” are all legitimate targets for violence.
Abbas, who personally embraced many of the murderers he helped liberate, claimed when speaking to Western audiences that kidnapping and other acts of terrorism are “not part of our culture.” But everything we have seen from the Palestinians the last few days, as well as during the last two decades of peace processing, tells us that it is very much part of Palestinian culture and national identity. So long as that is the case, and no matter what the Israelis do or offer, the conflict will go on.