Three Notes on the Abduction
I. In 1996, a taxi driver tried to kill me following a fare dispute. I stood in front of the car until he returned the money I felt he owed me, and he hit the gas and tried to run me over. I wrote down the taxi licence and licence plate numbers and pledged to file a criminal report the following day.
Wasn’t quite that easy. My day started out at the police station at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem, where I was told I had to go to another precinct near the Mahane Yehuda open market. There, I was shuttled around to three or four individuals, the last of whom sent me back to the Russian Compound. Eventually, an officer finally told me I could not file a report because… I can’t remember his convoluted reasoning that the individual who had tried to kill me had not actually committed a crime. But I remember distinctly the feeling of frustration and helplessness that a useless, uninterested police force had no interest, and no competence, to serve my needs.
The story is relevant today in light of the multiple indications that police incompetence – from ignoring an SOS call from Eyal Yiftach to waiting nearly five hours to report the abduction to the IDF – defined the initial hours of the current crisis last Thursday night. Similar stories are commonplace in the Hebrew-language media.
Having passed the lion’s share of the search for Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shayer and Naftali Frenkel to the Shin Bet and IDF, the current should serve as a catalyst to deal with Israel’s essential lack of an effective police force. The Knesset must act, first by firing both Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich and Police Comissioner Yohanan Danino, then by commissioning a parliamentary committee to reform the police from the top down.
II. No adjective could adequately describe the depths of MK Hanin Zoabi’s moral depravity. Zoabi’s remarks about the abduction speak for themselves. They are an awful comment about her, and about the Arab society that spawned her.
Zoabi may well be, in the words of Likud MK Miri Regev, a traitor. There may well be justification to disqualify her from future Knesset elections (such as her participation in the 2010 Mavi Marmarra flotilla).
But her moral support for the kidnappers is not illegal or seditious. It is important to recall that there is no need for the state to protect agreeable, non-controversial speech. Freedom of speech is meant to protect objectionable comments from legal censure, based on the notion that ultimately truth will conquer untruth
This is particularly relevant in light of calls from right-wing individuals such as Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin (Likud), who has asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to investigate Zoabi for “incitement to terror,” and Regev again, who said Zoabi should “be expelled to Gaza and her immunity stripped from her.” But right-wing and religious politicians would be wise to consider that the slope to censor objectionable views is a slippery one, one that could easily end in criminal charges for individuals who oppose prisoner releases or territorial withdrawals.
III. Five days after the abduction, one is left with a sinking feeling that Israelis officials’ repeated assertion that Hamas is behind the attack is little more than the automated response of an individual who was caught off guard and who has been provided with no concrete intelligence about the incident.
There are many reasons to question Hamas’ involvement with the current crisis. Primarily, the theft of Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shayer and Naftali Frenkel bears none of the telltale signs of a Hamas operation: Hamas normally exploits its victories over Israel. This time, however, the organization has denied involvement. Hamas kidnappings are typically followed with a video of the hostage, who is then forced to read a list of demands. Five-and-a-half days after the current incident, there has been no sign of life from the victims, no credible claim of responsibility, no demands issued.
All of which leaves a stark question: If not Hamas, then who? Security agencies have warned for years that global jihad groups have quietly set their sights on the Palestinian issue, while maintaining a low, non-violent profile in Judea and Samaria. In a background conversation earlier this week, one security official said jihadi groups “that will make Hamas look moderate” have been putting down roots amongst Palestinians both in Judea and Samaria and Israeli Arab communities, biding their time for the right moment to draw the Israel-Palestinian issue into the global jihad.
The consequences of that possibility are far from clear. To the left, the emergence of al-Qaeda or other radical Sunni groups in Judea and Samaria (or in Arab Israeli cities) could well mean the end of the land-for-peace illusion, for the simple reason that there will truly be no one on the other side to even contemplate the notion of negotiating with Jews.
For the rest of Israel, the current situation could also have far-reaching consequences: Israel’s largest military incursion into Palestinian cities in Judea and Samaria in years has put Hamas well-and-truly on the run. As of yet, the kidnapping story has yet to have made major headlines outside Israel. Same for the retaliatory smash of Hamas infrastructure in Hebron, Jenin and elsewhere.
With Gods help, the current manhunt will lead Israeli troops to the hostages quickly, and they will return to their families healthy and sound. But the current crisis affords Israel another opportunity to decimate Hamas once-and-for-all, regardless of whether or not that organization was involved with the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shayer and Naftali Frenkel. That is an essential, and possible, secondary goal for the current mission.