RAMALLAH, West Bank — The disappearance of three settlers on June 12 near the city of Hebron, and the discovery of their murdered bodies on June 30, was extensively analyzed and debated in the Palestinian street concerning the identity of the culprits. Some considered the story a carefully prepared “theater” by Israel, while others saw the operation as evidence that the Palestinian resistance could still carry out operations against Israel in the West Bank.
Those who held the first opinion thought they were proven right by developments in the West Bank. They believe Israel fabricated the operation to attack the West Bank and Gaza and end the reconciliation. The holders of the second opinion said that had Israel planned this, today it would not be almost powerless to control the situation and facing an uprising that is gaining strength.
On July 2, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, from the town of Shuafat, north Jerusalem, was kidnapped by Israelis, two of whom were settlers, and burned alive. Since then, towns inside the Green Line, Jerusalem and the West Bank have been witnessing daily violent confrontations not seen since the Al-Aqsa intifada, which erupted in 2000.
This debate among the Palestinian has also spread to social media.
University student May Ramzi told Al-Monitor that the story of the teenagers’ disappearance was “fabricated” even though they were found dead “so that Israel can have a pretext to wage a campaign of arrests against Hamas deputies and the freed prisoners.”
Walid Assi, a taxi driver in Ramallah, told Al-Monitor as he was leaning on his taxi waiting for customers, “If the resistance did it, we don’t regret it, but indications are that it was a trap by Israel against the PA and the [Palestinian] people.”
He said the story was an “Israeli trap to allow Israel to continue attacking us and for it to have a pretext in front of world public opinion to pass the settlement projects, torpedo the reconciliation, break out of its isolation internationally and recruit world public opinion to its advantage.”
For his part, Alaa Mohammed, a barber in Ramallah, told Al-Monitor that Israel was behind the operation to “wreck the Palestinian arena, make the factions collide with each together, and launch a military operation in the West Bank and Gaza. … The settlers may have been dead before the operation and then Israel claimed that they were kidnapped and killed. … Perhaps they died in a traffic accident.”
Hamdan Abdul Rauf, an accountant, agreed with Alaa, telling Al-Monitor that Israel did the operation and that “this is not new for it. It once blew up a Jewish ship that was carrying immigrants to Palestine in order to win world sympathy and push Jews to immigrate to [Israel]. Today, it did the [kidnapping operation] to strike a blow to the reconciliation between the PA and Hamas.”
In contrast to the skeptics, other Palestinians think that the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping indicate that resistance fighters carried it out to set up a prisoner exchange, especially in light of the hunger strike by Palestinian administrative detainees, which ended June 25.
Journalist Aysar al-Barghouthi, who works for a local media outlet, told Al-Monitor that what happened in Hebron was “an individual kidnapping operation, without a decision from the leadership bodies such as Hamas or any other organization.”
Of the skeptics, Barghouthi said that they “have not come up with real evidence. The occupation doesn’t gamble with the security of the Israeli people by planning such a scenario.”
Similarly, a history professor at a West Bank school who declined to be named told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian resistance in the West Bank has a long history and said it is likely that the operation was carried out by the resistance, and that the operation was “different from the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit because of the different objective conditions between the West Bank and Gaza.”
Researcher Khaled Awdallah told Al-Monitor that “being skeptical about the operation is due to the existence of a class of Palestinians who think that resistance acts are against their interest, so they fight a direct war against [the resistance] through arrests, targeting resistance [fighters], as well as by psychological warfare and by questioning any resistance action and any possibility of any resistance action.”
He said that a part of the skepticism campaigns is “systematic,” adding, “Leading these campaigns is an elite driven to do this by its relationship to the authorities. So we find similar terms and analyses to the incident, and in the same way. Then [the terms and analyses] are re-promoted to the people, which are affected by this effort. But in contrast, there is a countereffort that stresses the ability of the resistance and has hope and confidence.”
Awdallah asserted that “there is a constant promotion of a culture of skepticism toward any resistance act. And that’s not strange. It was used against the rockets in Gaza.”
On the debate about who was responsible for the murder of the Israeli teenagers, writer and political analyst Khalil Shaheen told Al-Monitor that two reasons stand behind the skepticism about the Israeli story. First, the story was not convincing to the Palestinian public because the operation took place in an area that the Palestinians consider an Israeli military barracks. That strengthened the possibility that the incident was an Israeli plan to provide a pretext to launch operations in the West Bank and Gaza, hit Hamas, thwart the reconciliation, and gain the sympathy of world public opinion. And second, no Palestinian major faction claimed responsibility for the operation, with some Palestinian parties, such as Hamas, praising the operation.
The three teenagers disappeared at the intersection of Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem, which is one of the oldest settlement blocs in the West Bank and enjoys great security from the Israeli occupation. Israel is continuously expanding it at the expense of Palestinian land. In addition, the settlement has a heavy security presence including watchtowers and military patrols.
Despite the disagreements and skepticism in the Palestinian street about the disappearance and murder of the three teenagers, the Palestinians agree that six settlers did kidnap the Palestinian teenager, Abu Khdeir, from Shuafat, burned him alive, then threw his body in a forest within the territory of the village of Deir Yassin, the site of an Israeli massacre of Palestinians in 1948. This event sparked clashes in several areas in historic Palestine, clashes that may escalate into a third Palestinian intifada.
Editor's note: this article has been updated since first published.
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