The abduction of three yeshiva students in the West Bank last Thursday was ordered in advance – by Israel. At the time of writing, Saturday, their fate was unknown and concern for their welfare outweighed all other issues connected to their disappearance. But no matter what happens in the end, whether they return home safely or not, God forbid, whether the responsible party turns out to be global jihad or the local kind, the context of the action cannot be ignored.
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Perhaps the operation took Israel’s oh-so-sophisticated espionage agencies by surprise, but it could not have been a real surprise to anyone.
Those who stubbornly refuse to release Palestinian prisoners, some of whom have been incarcerated for decades, from before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and some of whom Israel has promised to set free; those who imprison detainees without trial for years; those who ignore the hunger strike by 125 “administrative” detainees, some of whom are dying in hospitals; those who intend to feed them using force, and those who planned to pass sweeping laws to prohibit their release – these people cannot pretend to be surprised or shocked by the abductions. They arranged for them in advance.
Israel, which is so worried about the welfare of every one of its citizens, has for years arrogantly ignored the Palestinian concern for the welfare of their prisoners.
Israel holds the copyright to concern for its people, as it does for the worship of the heroes of the national struggle. Meir Har-Zion [a founding member of Unit 101, who in 1953 led a retaliatory raid against a Bedouin tribe after his sister and others were killed while making an illegal trip to Petra] was a national hero; Ahmad Sa’adat [the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] is a base murderer.
Gilad Shalit was all ours, but the fate of Walid Daka, who has been imprisoned in Israel for more than 30 years, for the crime of membership in a militant cell that killed an Israeli soldier – without a single furlough or conjugal visit – is of no interest to anyone here.
No one here cares about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Last week, Israelis were much more interested in Meir Sheetrit’s housekeeper than in 125 hunger strikers who have been slowly starving to death for 53 days now.
Among the thousands of Palestinian prisoners are some base murderers, but also many political prisoners – and all of them are seen as heroes of the Palestinian national struggle. It’s the same in every national struggle. Behind them stands an entire society, which is no less worried about their fate than Israelis are for that of their loved ones.
In killing the peace process, Israel shut the gates of its prisons, and the Israeli message to the Palestinians was razor-sharp: The only way your sons will be freed is through a violent operation. On Thursday night, the conclusions were taken. But the context of the abductions extends far beyond the prisoner releases.
The curtain has come down on the peace process, however fruitless that process may have been, and with it the last Palestinian hope for national liberation through negotiations. Life in Israel and the West Bank settlements is back on track, a life of freedom and accomplishment, reality shows and circuses, entirely untouched by the occupation.
The same cannot be said for the Palestinians: They have none of this, and for them every delay in a solution to the conflict only extends their suffering, humiliation and tribulations.
Anyone who thought the Palestinians would sit quietly and wait until Israel deigned to change its tune or government was deluded. Anyone who thought the settlers would continue to live in security in the territories suffered a grave disappointment: Thursday’s abduction was merely a wake-up call, a taste of what could lie ahead.
The only way still open for the Palestinians to remind the Israelis of their existence and their plight is the way of violent struggle. All other paths have been blocked. If the Gaza Strip doesn’t fire Qassam rockets at Israel, the Gaza Strip doesn’t exist. And if, in the West Bank, yeshiva students aren’t abducted, then the West Bank disappears from Israel’s consciousness.
Abductions or murders are aimed at puncturing Israel’s intolerable complacency, and as such they should surprise no one. In the past few months, this complacency has reached new, inconceivable heights.
Just look at the nonsense that has captured Israel’s attention. The terrifying reminder that has landed on our heads is only the trailer for what we could expect if we continue to live between Benjamin Ben-Eliezer’s safety-deposit box and the kiss of Ahi and Anna on the Israeli version of “Big Brother.”
That’s the annoying nature of the occupation. It will chase after us, even if we bury our heads even deeper into the sand.