Friday, October 17, 2014

A comment on the fate of the three kidnapped youths

On June 12th 2014 three Israeli youths - Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach - were kidnapped on their way home from school on the West Bank. Their bodies were discovered buried in a field 18 days later. In between Israel carried out a massive search for them, which included the arrest of some 400 Palestinians, most of them affiliated with Hamas. This operation was the backdrop for an escalation of rocket firing from Gaza. After the discovery of the bodies three Israelis allegedly kidnapped and murdered Muhamad alKhdeir of Jerusalem (they have been indicted and await trial).

Once the bodies were found it was clear they had been murdered almost immediately after the kidnapping. Since the event proceeded the Gaza war of this summer, many of Israel's usual enemies have made the claim that Israel knew the boys were dead all along, and cynically hid this fact to justify its broad action against Hamas on the West Bank, thus provoking Hamas to retaliate from Gaza, thus enabling Israel to kill lots of Palestinians, as is it likes to do.

Not every idiotic claim made by Israel's enemies needs to be responded to, and this one was never particularly convincing. Any kidnapping anywhere in the world could cause a manhunt - that's why the English language has a word for it - and certainly one in which the kidnappers belong to an organization known to engage in lethal kidnappings. Even had the Israelis known with certainty that the three youths wee dead, they still would have needed to find the bodies, and, at least as important, to apprehend the perpetrators before they acted again. Or even not before they acted again: simply as a matter of law and order. Isreal's enemies would have us accept that the correct response to a triple murder which is no longer a kidnapping, is to go home and go to sleep.

The other day, however, there was an interview in Makor Rishon with Brigadier General Tamir Yedaya, the ranking IDF officer in charge of the search. Makor Rishon, in case you've never heard of it, is the main newspaper of the settlers. It is published only in Hebrew, and only on paper. There's no online version. This is an interesting phenomenon, which I'm not going to get into today, but it should be said that it's a high-quality publication, easily the intellectual counterpart of the only other Israeli newspaper which aims at the intelligence of its public, Haaretz. And Makor Rishon is no more driven by its ideology than Haaretz is, so that it can be fun to read both.

Anyway. Since most readers won't have the ability to read Makor Rishon, here's a synopsis of that interview with the General. He was repeatedly asked what he knew, and when. He repeatedly explained that by the morning after the kidnapping he knew there was a high likelihood at least one of the youths was dead. Indeed, many of the efforts made by the searchers were in places only a dead body could be found in, such as the bottom of water reservoirs. And yet, he said, one is not three. And a high likelihood is not certainty. And into that crack of uncertainty you can insert large doses of hope. Throughout the days of the search, he says, he repeatedly had dreams of bringing home one, or perhaps two, of the youths. Even once the bodies had been discovered, he said, even as they were being exhumed, he still had a last sliver of hope that it wouldn't turn out to be three bodies they were exhuming, but fewer.

So what's the moral of the story? That human beings, and hence their actions, are complex. That we can operate on conflicting assumptions simultaneously. That knowledge and hope aren't always compatible, and yet they can co-exist. 

That Israel's enemies like to pretend that we're malicious cardboard figures, not real people. But then, that part you knew all along.