After several hours in captivity, American-Jewish student Benjamin Bright-Fishbein was released unharmed early Sunday morning after he was kidnapped by Palestinian gunmen while visiting Nablus on Saturday.
The incident came while security forces were on high alert over the weekend fearing retaliatory attacks to an explosion - possibly caused by an IDF-fired artillery shell - on Friday which killed seven innocent Palestinians picnicking on a crowded Gaza beach.
A US exchange student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Bright-Fishbein - who had spent the past month working as an intern at The Jerusalem Post - went to Nablus on Saturday because he said he had heard it was an "interesting city."
But while sitting in a coffee shop sipping Nablus-brewed coffee and smoking a nargila water pipe, Bright-Fishbein said he was approached by a man named Ahmed who at gunpoint kidnapped him.
To read a recent article written by Bright-Fishbein about the Jewish community in Egypt, click here
News of the abduction reached the defense establishment late Saturday night and fearing that the captive was an Israeli Jew, the IDF alerted elite units who were put on standby in preparation for a possible rescue operation. Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) field officers began frantically calling their sources and contacts in the Palestinian territories to try to uncover Bright-Fishbein's whereabouts.
Earlier in the night, the kidnappers had transferred a videotape to Reuters which showed the 20-year-old student wearing a kippa, holding his Hebrew University ID and saying that he had been abducted. On the tape, Bright-Fishbein said his captors had threatened to kill him if Israel did not release Palestinian prisoners.
In the end however, at close to 2 AM, after apparently realizing they were holding a US citizen, the captors handed Bright-Fishbein over to the PA Preventive Security Service which then transferred him to the IDF at the Hawara Checkpoint.
"He (Ahmed) had a pistol, a grenade and a machinegun," Bright-Fishbein recollected following his release. "I didn't want to be in his company, but it seemed I didn't have any choice at that point."
"I had the feeling they were in over their heads," he told Israeli security officials after he was released into their custody a bit shaken-up but unharmed and in overall good condition. The kidnappers, the IDF said, were affiliated with the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party.
An IDF source said that Fishbein's US citizenship had saved his life since the "last thing the Palestinians want is to open a new front against the Americans." Had the kidnappers succeeded in abducting an Israeli national the outcome, the source said, would have been very different. "Their decision to release him was because they didn't want to deal with the hot potato otherwise known as the US," the source added.
Commander of the Samaria Brigade Col. Yuval Bazak called Sunday morning on all foreigners to refrain from entering the Palestinian territories. Israelis are forbidden from entering Palestinian-controlled cities like Nablus but foreigners are allowed to visit although at their own discretion. Bazak said that the threat of kidnappings was a "real danger" throughout the entire West Bank but particularly in the Nablus area.
While the IDF geared up for a possible rescue operation, Bazak said that the ultimate goal was to avoid a military incursion into Nablus. "We didn't want to have to launch a military operation which could have placed pressure on the kidnappers and brought about dangerous results," he said. "Threats of kidnappings continue to be real and Nablus they have already materialized. This case could have ended differently if the captors been under pressure or assumed that they had a bargaining chip in their hands."
|Hailing from the Bronx, Benjamin Bright-Fishbein graduated Horace Mann High School in 2003, continuing on to Brown University, where he is majoring in Political Science and Anthropology.
From August-December 2005, he studied at the American University in Cairo before moving across the Canal for another semester abroad, this one at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Bright-Fishbein also has an extensive background in theater and writing. During high school, he was heavily involved with his school's theater company as Technical Director. At Brown, he wrote opinion columns for the Brown Daily Herald as well as contributing to the "Brown Daily Squeal," a political blog on campus.
His interests include "acting, writing inflammatory columns in the midst of a homogenous political culture, and being the guy with the multi-tool at the exact right moment."|