New Internationalist

How many Palestinians will die in the search for missing Israeli youths?

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Hundreds of homes have been raided since the start of Operation Brother's Keeper. © Ella David

Mustafa Aslan died on Friday afternoon after being shot in the head by an Israeli soldier at Qalandiya refugee camp near Ramallah a few hours previously. He was 22-years-old.

Mustafa is the third Palestinian victim of the Israeli authorities’ ‘search’ for three missing teenagers – two Israeli and one US-Israeli – who went missing on 12 June after leaving the illegal Israeli settlement bloc of Gush Etzion near Hebron. 

Earlier on Friday 20 June, 14-year-old Mahmoud Dudeen was killed in a village near the southern West Bank city of Hebron. 

The Israeli authorities claim that Palestinians kidnapped 16-year-olds Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrah, aged 19, when the three while hitchhiking back to their home near Jerusalem.

The anguish of the parents of any missing child is impossible to comprehend. But the Israeli government has not launched Operation Brother’s Keeper out of concern for the families.

The alleged abduction is being used to justify the largest Israeli military operation in the West Bank since the bloody second Palestinian intifada (uprising) of 2000-04.

Pouncing on an opportunity

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the supposed attack. This hasn’t stopped the occupying government from jumping to conclusions: ‘Those who carried out the kidnapping of our youngsters are Hamas people,’ says Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu.

The timing is not coincidental.

Israeli officials are working to break up the Hamas party in the West Bank. This is a way to undermine the recently formed Hamas and Fatah unity government, which poses a real threat to Israel’s ‘divide and rule’ strategy of occupation. This is no secret. ‘We have two efforts ongoing in parallel,’ said Israeli military spokesperson Peter Lerner in a press conference on 18 June. ‘First is to bring back the boys, and the second is to take a toll on Hamas for its actions.’

Hamas greatly embarrassed the Israeli government when Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in 2006 in Gaza and released in 2011 only under a deal that saw the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier.

Another reason for the occupying government’s escalation of violence is the growing resistance inside Israel’s prisons. Around 300 Palestinian political prisoners are on hunger strike, 100 of these entered their 58th day today. The panic of Israeli Prison Service has resulted in a bill speeding through parliament that, if it gets final approval on 23 June, would allow the force-feeding of the hunger-strikers – widely considered a form of torture.

An iron grip

Since Operation Brother’s Keeper began on 12 June, over 300 Palestinians have been abducted – a hundred for each missing Israeli.

Among those arrested are students, professors, activists, politicians, elderly Palestinians, and the director of the Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies. Palestinians living in Israel have also been arrested and harassed. None of those arrested have so far been charged.

According to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, 77 administrative detention orders have been issued, and this number is expected to increase over the coming days. Israeli Prison Service (IPS) last used this tactic during the second intifada, states Addameer’s report, when thousands of Palestinians were held without charge or trial.

Hebron has been the target of much of this week’s aggression. Always a site of tension, it is home to 300,000 Palestinian residents, while a few hundred Israeli settlers occupy parts of the old city heavily protected by the military. Despite no leads, Hebron has been in lock down over the past week; Israeli soldiers are trawling the streets. Some 800 homes have been raided and one home demolished.

Temporary checkpoints and road closures are impeding Palestinians’ already restricted freedom of movement within and between cities. A curfew has been imposed on Nablus and there are daily raids on homes, civil society organizations and offices across the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  

Numerous Palestinians have been injured, including 17-year-old Yazan Yacoub who was shot in the chest and stomach with a live bullet at Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah. He is in a critical condition.

The first Palestinian to die in Operation Brother’s Keeper was 23-year-old Ahmad Asabarin on 16 June. He was shot by Israeli forces in Jilazoun refugee camp near the city of Ramallah for throwing a stone at soldiers.

Air strikes are pounding the already besieged Gaza Strip resulting in injuries and the destruction of homes. The latest to be injured by strikes were four children and two adults early on 20 June.

Despite these punitive tactics the teenagers are still missing. The longer they are missing, the more Israeli officials can break down Hamas, imprison key community leaders and strain the already fragile relationship between leaders of the unity government.  

These three missing boys are pawns in a political game, and Israel is holding all the cards.

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