It turns out the the Israeli government knew almost immediately that the three teenagers kidnapped June 12 in the West Bank had most likely been killed. Officials also quickly identified the likely kidnappers/killers. These individuals were known to be operating independently of the Palestinian Hamas organization. But instead of acknowledging these things publicly, the right-wing government issued a gag order barring reporting of any details about the investigation. Then it lied to the public. A nationwide emotion-laden "Bring Back Our Boys" campaign was launched, with a massive military search-and-destroy operation in the West Bank, titled "Brother's Keeper." From Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on down, Hamas was linked to "Satan" and targeted for attack. The aim? To use the opportunity to wreck the recently formed Palestinian unity government and thereby divert any pressure for an Israeli peace pact with the Palestinians.
Israelli journalist Noam Sheizaf said in a June 19 Facebook posting (in translation) that the gag order was being maintained in order to "preserve the local and international legitimacy for the policy objective in the areas (breaking down the unity government)" aimed at Hamas - it was "manipulation" of the media, and the media accepted it. In a later article, Sheizaf called it "large-scale public manipulation," saying, "The government-led campaign calling for [the youths'] release helped the legitimacy of Israel's military operation in the West Bank. Local and even international media played along."
On the night of the kidnapping one of the teenagers, Gilad Shaer, 16, managed to place a 2-minute call to Israel's emergency phone number. After hours of delay that are now the subject of hot dispute, the recorded message got to Israeli security services the next morning. On the tape, writes J.J. Goldberg of the Jewish Daily Forward, Shaer "was heard whispering 'They've kidnapped me' ('hatfu oti') followed by shouts of 'Heads down,' then gunfire, two groans, more shots, then singing in Arabic. That evening searchers found the kidnappers' abandoned, torched Hyundai, with eight bullet holes and the boys' DNA. There was no doubt."
But officials lied even to the victims' families, telling them that the shots heard on the tape were blanks, and that no DNA was found on the burnt car.
The government "maintained the fiction that it hoped to find them alive as a pretext to dismantle Hamas' West Bank operations," Goldberg writes.
Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, writing on June 20 and pushing the boundaries of the gag order, hinted that the military believed the youths were dead because its operation in the West Bank days after the apparent abduction had nothing to do with the missing teens. In fact, according to the article, even Israeli military personnel felt the operation was targeting Hamas rather than really helping find the kidnapped teens.
Daniella Peled, an editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and a regular contributor to Haaretz, wrote, "As well as taking advantage of the horrific murder of three Israeli teenagers to torpedo the Palestinian unity government and cut a swathe through Hamas, Israel's government also used them as a particularly shoddy way of shoring up the bond between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora."
Beyond this, says Goldberg, Netanyahu's inflammatory rhetoric "raised expectations that after demolishing Hamas in the West Bank he would proceed to Gaza. Hamas in Gaza began preparing for it. The Israeli right - settler leaders, hardliners in his own party - began demanding it." Israeli media reported that the government was readying plans to call up reservists for a possible ground re-invasion of Gaza.
Thus began the cycle of rocket firings from Gaza into Israel and massive Israeli aerial attacks on Gaza, leading to wide condemnation of Israel for its disproportionate use of force and mounting destruction of civilian lives, homes and infrastructure in the densely populated Gaza Strip. While no deaths have been reported in Israel as a result of the rockets from Gaza, some 200 deaths have been reported in Gaza, including families, old people and children.
In a July 11 statement, the Communist Party of Israel said, "[T]he real motivation of Netanyahu's administration was never to achieve security for the people of Israel but solely to obstruct the Palestinian unity government and absolve itself from responsibility for the failure of the peace negotiations.
"The present assault on Gaza also serves the Israeli government in yet another two ways: (1) it reconsolidates Netanyahu's coalition in times of domestic unrest ... and (2) it puts all questions of poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, and discrimination off the table, and marginalizes all struggles for social justice and democracy
"Everybody knows now that Netanyahu and his co-bullies in the government and the military were aware that the three young settlers were murdered on the very first day they were kidnapped. What was the cause of Israeli invasion and mass arrests in the West Bank if not to set the whole region on fire and promote the said goals?"
Photo: Israel soldiers conduct the so-called "Brother's Keeper" operation in the West Bank, June 17, days after government officials knew the teenagers were dead. Israeli Defense Forces/Wikipedia