THE BLOG

The Kidnapping of Three Israelis Has Brought Attention Back to Palestinian Conflict

The kidnapping of three Israeli religious settlers in an area under the total administrative and security control of the Israeli army has partially brought back attention to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but for the wrong reasons.

While it is natural that the phone calls by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focused on ways to help find the missing settlers, both Israeli and US officials must understand the context of the case and their own responsibilities for the way things ended up.

It is a basic strategic recipe. If you take away hope for a political solution, you have to expect a spike in violence. Add to this formula a hunger strike by over 100 Palestinians imprisoned without charge or trial, that has lasted almost two months without a single attempt to negotiate or hear the prisoners' demands and you have trouble.

If the above is not enough consider downtown Hebron, Palestine's second most populated city, where settlers run amok and a major commercial street (Shuhada) is blocked since 1994 (after 29 worshiping Palestinians were gunned down) for no reason.

Furthermore, there is documented daily harassment of Palestinians by settlers, which goes without punishment by the ruling Israeli power.

The absurdity of the situation allowed to fester in Hebron has led a major pacifist Christian organisation (Christian peace makers team) to send volunteers to help Palestinian children cross the street to go to school.

In its first reaction to the disappearance of the Israeli settlers, the Israeli leadership put the blame on the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

While Netanyahu put the blame on President Mahmoud Abbas for allowing progress towards reconciliation and long overdue elections, he was also asking the Palestinians for help.

Ironically, the Palestinian security forces have, for years, helped bring back Israelis, including soldiers and settlers who had disappeared in Palestinian-controlled areas without Israel publicly crediting them for it.

A few days later, the Israeli prime minister added to the public discourse the accusation that Hamas was behind the kidnapping.

Netanyahu's finger-pointing without proof led many to state that Israel is using the kidnapping as a means of revenge and intimidation.

Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids any acts of collective punishment.

The arrests of hundreds of members of parliament, including the sick and aged speaker Abdel Azziz Dweik and pardoned prisoners in the West Bank, as well as restricting the movement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the Hebron district, is clearly collective punishment forbidden by international humanitarian law.

Article 42 of the 1949 conventions states: "No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible."

While Hamas has publicly denied participation in the kidnapping and Israel provided no proof to the contrary, it is not hard to wonder what the Israeli political goals were when it initiated this massive dragnet that has included hundreds of noncombatants.

Some argue that it is merely aimed at pacifying an angry Israeli public who want quick answers or acts of revenge.

Others suggest that the kidnappings are part of a long-term plan by which Israel will trade these newly arrested persons, if and when an exchange takes place for the three Israeli settlers.

Some also suggested that Israel is trying, through its massive arrest of Hamas supporters, to weaken the Islamic movement before the elections, due before the end of this year.

Once again one is baffled by the absence of any strategic thinking or lessons learned by the Israelis.

If anything, such mass arrests only strengthen the popularity of a movement like Hamas, not weaken it.

Solving this particular case without looking at the political context means that once again no one seems to want to learn any lessons from history.

Violent spikes are almost always guaranteed to happen when political horizons are blocked.

Search for the missing Israelis is useless if it does not include a serious attempt to address the underlying causes of the violence that is the result of a sense of helplessness and despair.

As Palestinian areas enter the 48th year under a foreign military occupation that has along with it a colonial settler campaign, one should not be surprised by violent acts here and there.

The sooner all parties reflect on the larger lessons of this act the sooner we can begin the process of moving towards independence for Palestinians and security for Israelis.