THE ISRAELI REACTION to the revelation that an Arab teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was allegedly murdered by Israeli Jews has ranged from denial to — more commonly — disgust and depression that Jews could be responsible. Israeli ministers, either genuinely shocked or to show how different they are to the Palestinian leadership, have rushed to disavow the crime in the strongest terms.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to treat Jewish terrorism as harshly as the Arab variety. “We do not distinguish terror from terror,” he said. Even according to the hawkish minister Naftali Bennett: “Abu Khdeir’s murder is a heinous act that is anti-moral and anti-Jewish.”
These sentiments are appropriate. But the official response has lacked one important element: cheshbon nefesh, or soul-searching over the Israeli authorities’ own responsibility for the horrific events of the past month.
Specifically: did the government deliberately, and needlessly, help create the almost hysterical atmosphere which ultimately led to Abu Khdeir’s murder?
On Thursday night, June 12, three Israeli boys were kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. At 10.25 pm, one of them, Gilad Shaar, phoned the police to report that he had been captured. Seconds later, while still on the line, there was a burst of gunfire, and the sound of boys moaning. Then, silence, save for the Israeli radio in the background; and several seconds after that, a Palestinian singing happily, and crying out: “Three!”
This tape was heard by the highest authorities the very next day — the same day that the car in which the boys were taken was found torched, containing bloodstains and the boys’ DNA. Anyone with access both to the recording and the physical evidence would have reasonably concluded that, while there was no definitive proof they were dead, the chances were very, very high. .
That is not what the public was told, though. While teams quietly ploughed Hebron fields for bodies, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon publicly declared that “our working assumption is that they are alive”.
The phone call was kept under wraps through a gag order, and successive officials explained that the call was very hard to understand (not true).
Israel stoked the mass delusion that the boys were alive
Meanwhile, concerned citizens launched a campaign to “Bring Back Our Boys” — the implication being, “alive”. Rallies were organised; schoolchildren prayed; everywhere you looked, on Facebook, on t-shirts, the faces of these three poor boys — by now long dead — stared back.
It was an emotional frenzy. As a result, when the bodies were found, the collective shock and grief was almost unprecedented. Is it really a surprise that mobs bayed for revenge?
All this, while the government knew with 99 per cent certainty that Naftali, Gilad and Eyal were dead. Yet even if, for operational reasons, they could not say so outright, they did nothing to calm the national mood, said nothing to temper people’s hopes. On the contrary, government ministers and president-elect Reuven Rivlin spoke at the rallies, stoking the mass delusion that the boys could yet be saved.
Why? Perhaps pretending they were searching for live captives gave the army more leeway to work in Hebron, and to sustain international pressure on Hamas. These may be worthy causes, and the prayers generated comforting to the three families but the deception was not harmless. The bond of trust between the government and its people has frayed for many. And another innocent boy has died.
Yes, Mr Bennett, the murder is “anti-Jewish.” When are you going to recognise that your government helped create the conditions that made it possible?