Kidnapping and Revenge: The Latest Chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
It’s an all too familiar occurrence: violence has broken out between Israelis and Palestinians. This time, the fighting is over the murder of three Israeli boys and the apparent subsequent revenge killing of one Palestinian boy. Read on to learn more about the latest chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Why is there tension between Israelis and Palestinians?
Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting for nearly a century over the rights to the land known today as Israel. Like many contemporary Middle Eastern conflicts, Britain shoulders some of the blame.
It all started in 1916 when Britain convinced the Arab people to turn against the Ottoman Empire during World War I by promising them an independent Arab state, including Palestine. One year later, however, British Foreign Minister Lord Arthur Balfour declared that Britain supported a Jewish state in the land of Palestine. These contradictory promises laid the groundwork for the current fighting. The two have fought violent battles ever since the United Nations gave Israel the majority of land in 1947, and Israel has gradually gained more land through these wars.
For a full recap and explanation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, click here, or watch the video below.
Today, Israelis and Palestinians fight over a variety of issues. Palestinians argue that the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank are a violation of human rights, and that Jewish settlements in these lands are illegal acts by Israel to gain more land from the Palestinian people. Israelis argue that they live under constant fear from Hamas rocket strikes and terrorist attacks from Gaza and the West Bank, and that these occupations are meant to protect themselves.
Who are the major players in this conflict?
There are three major organizations interacting with each other in this story.
First is the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It has control over the Jewish portions of Israel.
Second is Fatah, also known as the Palestinian Liberation Organization. This is the largest political party in the Palestinian regions of Israel, mainly the West Bank. The West Bank is land east of Israel that belongs to the Palestinian people. Jewish people have routinely settled in the West Bank. The legality of these settlements often come under question and are a major sticking point in peace negotiations
Third is Hamas, which took large control over the Gaza Strip after intense fighting with Fatah. Gaza is a small strip of land on the Western border of Israel. Hamas is labeled a terrorist organization by many governments across the globe and is responsible for rockets fired from the Gaza border into Israel.
Recently, Fatah and Hamas created a unity government to more effectively branch the West Bank and Gaza together. This has infuriated Netanyahu, who was previously working with Fatah to try to maintain peace.
What happened to these three Israeli boys?
On June 12, 2014, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel went missing in the West Bank. A massive search ensued to find the boys. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which led the search, detained 400 Palestinians suspected of terror activities in the process.
The boys were found buried in shallow graves on June 30 in the West Bank city of Hebron, apparent victims of an execution.
One of the teenagers made an emergency phone call shortly before he was killed. You can listen to parts of that call here:
Who kidnapped and killed them?
Israel has identified Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisheh, two members of Hamas, as primary suspects. The two have since fled and are being searched for by Israeli and Palestinian forces. For a good profile on the family deemed responsible for this tragedy, click here.
Hamas has denied responsibility for the attacks and is claiming that the two men acted alone, not as representatives of the organization.
How has Israel’s government responded?
The Israeli government does not believe Hamas’ claim distancing itself from the killing. Netanyahu has said that Hamas will pay and referred to the killers as “beasts.” Watch his full statement below:
Hours after the boys’ bodies were found, Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip. Israel says that these are retaliation for both the murder of the three Israeli boys and for the resumption of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. The homes of the suspects were also destroyed.
Israel has moved ground troops to the Gaza border, but claims it is not seeking escalation, but rather that this is a defensive tactic.
How have the Israeli people responded?
The majority of Israelis and Palestinians have not reacted to this tragedy with racism and violence; however, those who have reacted this way are threatening to ratchet up tension and violence in a country that already has high levels of both.
On July 2, 2014, 16-year-old Palestinian boy Mohammad Abu Khieder was found murdered and badly burned in a forest section of Jerusalem. Authorities in the area have concluded that Kheider was most likely killed by Jews in an act of revenge.
Many Israelis have come out strongly against the killing, including family members of the Israeli victims. The Frenkel family released a statement that said, in part, “There is no differentiating between blood and blood, murder is murder, whatever the nationality or age.”
Shelly Yachimovich, an Israeli politician, referred to the killing as “a barbaric challenge to the sovereignty of the state, to the army, the police, the courts, and the government.”
This revenge killing is not the only example of a visceral reaction from Israeli citizens. Watch this rally of mourners turn into an angry protest. The protesters are screaming “death to Arabs.”
Thousands of Israelis have posted on a Facebook group calling for vengeance over the death of Israelis. The moderators of the group claim that they are not calling for the murder of innocents, but for the murderers of the three boys to be brought to justice. Some comments, however, appear to support the revenge killing of Khieder.
This, along with reports of random attacks against Palestinians by Israelis, has created a very tense environment.
How are Palestinians responding?
Palestinians are outraged over the revenge killing of Khieder, and the protests are already getting violent. Some have responded by clashing with Israeli security forces. Protesters have been throwing molotov cocktails and stones at security, who have been responding in kind with tear gas and stun grenades.
Watch this Associated Press report about the clashes:
There are also reports that hundreds of Palestinians lit train stations on fire in east Jerusalem.
Hamas has stated that they are also uninterested in escalating the conflict, but are having trouble convincing rogue militants to hold their fire.
The execution of three Israeli children, the revenge killing of a Palestinian boy, and the return of Gaza rockets are all dangerous developments for Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides need to exercise caution and restraint in order to spare more lives.
On July 8, Israel began Operation Protective Edge, a military offensive that has attacked more than 450 targets in Gaza. Different sources report different casualty numbers, but according to public health officials in Gaza, 35 people have been killed by these attacks, including 16 children.
This operation is a response to a massive number of rocket attacks on Israel coming from Hamas in Gaza. Hamas has fired more than 160 rockets at Israel in the past week. These rockets are reaching further into Israeli land than they ever have before. Warning sirens have sent Israelis running for bomb shelters, and many schools have canceled classes.
All observers agree that this is the worst violence the region has seen since 2012. The Israeli military has called up 40,000 reserve troops, 10,000 more than were called up in 2012. With Netanyahu’s supporters pressuring him to use ground troops and Hamas trying to prove they can stand up to Israel, the death toll and number of rocket strikes are likely to rise.