The IDF and Israel''s other security services have found the bodies of the missing boys. Indications are that they were killed shortly after being taken.
The operation throughout the West Bank, along with an escalation with respect to Gaza, is not only about the boys. There have been more than two weeks of low level warfare, so far with limited casualties, meant to weaken Hamas and to end its alliance with the regime of the West Bank.
Right wing politicians are threatening mass expulsions of Hamas personnel from the West Bank to Gaza, the recapture of those released for Shalit, and a general onslaught against Gaza. Settler activists are declaring the onset of a campaign to respond with the development of additional communities in the West Bank.
It will take a while before we know how much survives the deliberations begun soon after the announcement of the boys'' deaths.
Prior to the discovery of the bodies, there appeared to be widespread support for keeping up the search for the boys, and pressing on the international scene for a condemnation of Palestinian terror. Israelis are less united with respect a continued aggressive campaign against Hamas. There has been international criticism of the sweeps through the West Bank, and warnings against unwarranted aggression.
The international campaign comes up against widespread condemnation of Israeli settlements. The boys were studying in a West Bank yeshiva, and the family of one lived in a West Bank settlement.
Earlier the public identification of the likely kidnappers was part of the political theater meant to engage or satisfy the Israeli public. Their names and pictures came after an increase in the criticism of various elements in the establishment for not being more effective. Israel''s highly touted intelligence capacity, said to blanket the West Bank, reinforced by the seizure and questioning of some 500 additional Palestinians, needed more than two weeks to find their bodies. The kidnappers and those who helped them are still at large..
The timing of the kidnapping and Israel''s responses have helped to mend a conflict within the government. There had been a budget crisis between the Defense and Finance Ministries. A month ago Finance Minister Yair Lapid was insisting on budget cuts, while the Defense Ministry and the IDF were threatening national vulnerability, and saving money by cancelling training exercises, even for the hallowed air force. Since the kidnapping, Lapid has been on board a united governmental media effort in behalf of finding the boys and punishing their captors, and the IDF has already had one additional budget infusion.
Also involved is another story, of the killing some months ago of a senior police officer, by a man now identified as one of the terrorists released in the deal to free Gilad Shalit. Among the Palestinians seized in the present operation are more than 50 of those who were released for Shalit.
There have been demonstrations against releasing security prisoners, focusing on the simple arithmetic that saving one Israeli cost the lives of others.
Noam Shalit, the father of Gilad, became a media personality over the course of several years, as an effective spokesman for the campaign to release his son. Fame then tempted him to take one step too far. He declared his candidacy for the Knesset on the Labor ticket, but polled at the 39th slot down from the top in the party''s primary. The Labor Party won only enough votes to seat the first 15 on its list.
Shalit has responded defensively to the campaign against prisoner releases. He said that he did not select the individuals to be set free in order to obtain his son.
Several times now Israel has gone through a cycle of campaigns opposing releasing any prisoner for the sake of freeing Israeli captives, or a large number, or any with "blood on their hands," then caving into a contrary campaign to release what is necessary in order to win the freedom of whoever is the present victim or the bodies of those killed while being taken captive.
The campaign in behalf of Gilad Shalit was the most spectacular. It went on for five years, with street demonstrations and a tent city alongside the prime minister''s residence, brought about the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, and then a multi-national tour for the bashful young man who came home.
Involved in all of this is ancient lore, going back at least to the composition of the Talmud, of Jews being seized by pirates at sea or bandits on land, and the מצוה (commandment) to ransom them with funds raised in Jewish communities.
Now the tradition is complicated by demands for payment with the murderers of Jews, some of whom are likely to murder again.
Unlike Shalit and some of the previous victims, who came from that part of the Israeli nation that is secular, individualistic, liberal, Tel Aviv-based and likely to be soft on Palestinians, the three young men currently in the spotlight come from that part of the nation that is religious, likely to support the settlers, and in one case an actual settler family. Religious Israelis are more community oriented as compared to individualistic and secular Israelis. For some, the essential community is restricted to religious Jews, and for some of those the label "Jew" is reserved to those inside their tent. More generally, religious Israelis extend the designation of "Jew" broadly, and see the larger community עם ישראל as a sacred entity, God-Chosen, that must be protected from its enemies.
Among the religious are those who identify the Arabs with Amalek.
"Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." (1 Samuel. 15:2-3).
A mother of one of the kidnapped boys acquired prominence as an attractive and articulate speaker. She traveled to Geneva along with the other mothers and spoke before a UN forum in behalf of the three boys. All the mothers have appeared in various venues in Israel, including one mass demonstration that occurred a day before the discovery of the boys'' bodies, at a central square in Tel Aviv that drew 85,000 Israelis.
Policy makers as well as commentators will ponder the issue of whether freeing the boys was the reason for 85,000 Israelis to brave the problems of getting to the demonstration, standing for hours listing to speeches, and then getting home again, and to what extent the crowd reflects a mass concern to strike a blow at Hamas and other Palestinians.
A mother of one kidnapped boy criticized the government''s policy for being too soft on the Palestinians. She made her point as part of a presentation to a Knesset committee in which she linked her appeal to the story of the biblical Rachel.
We have now entered the month of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar, which coincides with Tamuz in the Hebrew calendar.
Ramadan is a time of daily fasts from sunrise to sunset, and then feasting. There is a great deal of travel, especially for family visits, and mass attendance at Friday prayers. Hundreds of thousands pray at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, filling much of the plateau of the Temple Mount. The Fridays of Ramadan especially tense in the best of times.
Our personal impact of Ramadan is the loudspeaker at full blast from a mosque in the nearby Arab villages between 3 and 4 AM to wake the faithful (and us) so they can pray and have their last meal before the fast that will last until sunset.
The Islamic calendar has no leap year, so the month of Ramadan moves between the seasons from year to year. This year it began in the midst of a heat wave that brought temperatures to 37 C (99 F) in Jerusalem. Nerves fray easily in the combination of heat, hunger, and religious fervor, and we can expect tempers to especially short in the presence of the continued anti-Hamas sweeps in the West Bank and the increase of mutual bombardments from and to Gaza.