The alleged kidnapping and murder of three Israeli settlers, in late June, was the oft-cited reason for Israel’s escalation against the Hamas government in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. But new evidence indicates that Hamas was not responsible at all for the murders, according to reporters who spoke with Israeli police.The order of events, taking into consideration that Israeli raids of the West Bank and shooting of Gazan fishermen have been daily occurrences for years, began with the disappearance of three Israeli teenagers, from a colony built on Palestinian land in the West Bank, on June 12th.
For three weeks following, Israeli forces rampaged through the West Bank, abducting legislators, politicians, and virtually anyone who was publicly associated with the political party Hamas (a Palestinian political party whose armed wing has, in the past, claimed responsibility for attacks against both Israeli soldiers and Israeli civilians), taking over 900 people into custody. Hamas officials vehemently denied any connection with the disappearance of the settlers. Palestinian officials challenged the campaign of mass abductions as a violation of international law.
It should be noted that the raids against Hamas officials came within a month after the Palestinian Authority announced the formation of a unity government that included both the more militant Hamas party and the Fateh party, which has long acted as an arm of the Israeli occupation government in the West Bank. Israeli officials had voiced alarm at this development, as it represented a unification between Palestinian factions that had long been divided. The U.S. government had even announced that it would consider working with the unity government (see here and here), raising alarm among Israeli officials who had tried to discredit the Palestinian efforts.
After the teens’ bodies were found on June 30th, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated unequivocally, ‘They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals in human form. Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay” for their disappearance. He did not, however, present any evidence to support this claim. Six weeks later, after the abduction and torturous interrogation of hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank, there has still been no evidence presented that shows Hamas involvement – or even the involvement of any Palestinians at all – in the deaths of the three youth.
Indeed, on Friday, July 25th, BBC reporter Jon Donnison published on Twitter a series of statements from a conversation he had with the Israeli police spokesperson, Micky Rosenfeld.
Donnison wrote, “Israeli police [spokesperson] Mickey Rosenfeld tells me men who killed 3 Israeli teens def[initely] lone cell, Hamas affiliated but not operating under leadership … Seems to contradict the line from Netanyahu government.”
He also wrote that Rosenfeld told him, “If kidnapping had been ordered by Hamas leadership, they’d have known about it in advance.”
In addition to implying that Israel has moles within the leadership of the Hamas party, this statement also draws into question the stated justification for Israel’s offensive into Gaza, which has already claimed up to 1,000 lives.
This is not the first time that Israeli officials have admitted that they do not believe Hamas was behind the disappearance and subsequent deaths of the teens. On June 15th, Sheera Frenkel of Buzzfeed reported, “The kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers was likely carried out by a small group of militants with no direct orders from Hamas, ISIS, or any other regional terror group, said senior Israeli and Palestinian officials Sunday. ‘What we do know, is that this was likely an opportunistic move. The men behind this may have ties to a larger terror group, but this does not have the markings of a well-planned, complex operation,’ One Israeli officer, based in the West Bank, told BuzzFeed. ‘It makes it more difficult to find them if there isn’t a larger trail of intelligence to sniff out.’”
Most analysts familiar with the issue say that the ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza has nothing to do with the three teens (or the subsequent increase in Palestinian resistance shelling that followed the Israeli raids and abductions of 800 Hamas-affiliated people in the West Bank), but was meant to challenge the Palestinian Authority’s unity government, and had been planned for months.