The blame game is definitely underway in the case of the three kidnapped Israeli teens. I write “kidnapped” although I have plowed my way through many articles, emails and talkbacks saying that there is no proof they have been taken hostage since no organization has claimed responsibility for their abduction.
That one of the teens called the police emergency line and whispered that he had been kidnapped, shortly after he told his parents he was on his way home, apparently is not sufficient indication of the circumstances surrounding their disappearance for some people.
Even when paired with the fact that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) thwarted multiple kidnapping plots this year.
Admittedly, even the police operator at first didn’t believe it, passing it off for a prank call. But this was no hoax. Unfortunately, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah have not been seen in person by anyone other than their abductors since June 12.
All we have are posters of two 16-year-olds and a 19-year-old – normal teens: braces, teenage spots, innocent smiles and all.
On the Palestinian street, the word is that the kidnapping is an Israeli conspiracy. What this is designed to achieve depends on who’s talking.
Hamas supporters think Israel fabricated the story to have an excuse for a “clean-up campaign,” carrying out Fatah’s dirty work for it. Fatah affiliates prefer to think that this is Israel’s way of turning itself into a “victim.” A similar theme emerged among the Israeli far-Left. No sooner had the three boys been criticized for hitchhiking home than the anti-settler movement hitched a lift on the story, warning the government was exploiting the incident.
In this respect, it is worth noticing that when Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnappings – speaking in Arabic at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – he, too, could have been warning against granting Israel world sympathy. (Conspiracy theories can be catchy.) I mentioned a campaign in my column last week that delivered a chilling message over a recording of a boy’s voice on a phone: “What if these were the last words you heard from your child? ‘Hello, Mom? Yeah, I’m on my way home...’” I have since seen this blasted as an attempt to gain international sympathy.
The message of the three mothers – Bat-Galim Shaer, Iris Yifrah and Rachel Fraenkel – has been criticized as too well orchestrated. It’s too personalized, someone complained, who nonetheless professed sympathy for the parents.
How can it be too personalized? Over the last 30 years I have seen close up more than one family trying to deal with a missing child. It is personal. It can bring a family together but it tears each member apart.
Rachel Fraenkel can’t be faulted for trying to convey to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva this week that we’re talking about three ordinary kids who like sports, music and are close to their families. Part of the tragedy is that when you’re painting a picture of two 16-year-olds and a 19-yearold, there is not a lot more you can say. They’re only beginning to carve out unique paths in life.
Emily Amrusi, a journalist with Israel Hayom, who happens to be a neighbor and close friend of the Shaer family, shared a heartbreaking story on her Facebook page: two four-year-olds trying to make sense of a situation adults find hard to explain. The son of a police officer involved in the search goes to the same kindergarten as one of the Shaers’ daughters.
The sister of the kidnapped teen said to her friend: “I heard your father is looking for my brother.”
“Yes,” said the boy.
“Then tell your dad that when he finds my brother he should bring him straight home.”
There are lots of victims in this story.
AMONG THOSE promoting the conspiracy theory is Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, who was asked in an interview with the Saudi paper Asharq Al-Awsat: “Do you agree with Israel’s claims that Hamas was behind the kidnapping?” “No,” he replied. “In the absence of any evidence pointing to Hamas, there are three possible scenarios...
The kidnapping could be a childish game Israel is playing to seek attention. It could also be part of a game through which the Israelis are attempting to rebrand themselves as victims, rather than aggressors.
Or the settlers could truly be kidnapped.
“But the question remains: Who did the kidnapping in the first place? The abductors could be Jewish criminals or Palestinian criminals. It is possible Jews carried out the kidnapping for their own purposes, or that Palestinians belonging to a certain faction did it for their interests as well.
“We do not want to predict events, especially given that Hamas has not yet issued a statement confirming or denying their involvement in the kidnapping. For these reasons, we announced our full readiness to search for the three missing men so the issue wouldn’t be exploited.”
Maliki, who repeatedly referred to the three as “settlers” and “men,” is echoing a theme that is not limited to the Arab media. The boys are also automatically but incorrectly described as “soldiers.”
Not that knee-jerk reactions and accusations are the province of the Palestinians and far-Left alone.
A CNN interview with Rachel Fraenkel was branded by the Right as “cruel,” much to the surprise of the correspondent, and, I suspect, also to Fraenkel.
The mother of a terror victim interviewed elsewhere was taken aback by criticism that the journalist had not been sympathetic, despite her own impression to the contrary. And veteran Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea triggered a campaign to boycott his paper after he wrote last week that “every family deals with a disaster of this type in its own way.
There are those who close up in silence and there are those who seek microphones; there are those who keep their distress to themselves; there are those who share them with the world. The families of the youths chose microphones.”
Hardly incendiary statements to my mind. I remember when Barnea’s son, Yoni, was killed in a bus bombing in Jerusalem in 1996; I don’t recall him choosing to use his column or any other platform to comment on it.
To a certain extent his warning that the politicians will soon disappear along with the microphones is a pertinent one. That is why the families, in my opinion, must carry on with their awareness campaign as long as it takes. (Incidentally, if any Yediot columnist raised my ire last week it was Igal Sarna, who quotes revisionist historian Idith Zertal on the “community of the victim.”) And both Left and Right should keep in mind not only who the real victim is but also who the real culprit is. Whether or not the average Israeli can be sure Hamas was behind the abductions, the terrorist organization is clearly a more relevant address than the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
Similarly, the families and their supporters should be holding rallies outside the offices of the International Red Cross and the UN, the same UN to which the Palestinians recently applied to become a signatory on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Swiss who were so swift in accepting the Palestinians as a party to the Geneva Convention should also be reminded that obligations to protect children and refrain from hostage-taking refers to them, too – PA unity government included.
To the families, I offer my open support, prayers and sympathy. If that makes me part of a conspiracy, so be it. Rather that than to be part of a conspiracy of silence.
firstname.lastname@example.org The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.