“Operation Brothers Keeper” has a nice ring to it, but the name represents months of duplicity by Israeli leaders, not only toward their own people, but toward the world, in order to perpetrate injustices on the people of Palestine.
by Kathryn Shihadah
The summer of 2014, when Operation Brothers Keeper emerged, was an exceptionally violent season in a decades-long stretch of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories – a conflict defined by the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and against confiscation of their land; a conflict that has consistently seen many times more Palestinian casualties than Israelis.
Palestinians took to the streets that summer for much the same reason they always had: to struggle against oppression. The Israeli military came out to defend Israel’s status as oppressors.
Operation Brothers Keeper (OBK) was an invasion of the Palestinian West Bank, launched after the kidnapping of three Jewish Israeli teenagers. (This presaged its massive July invasion of Gaza, “Operation Protective Edge.”)
Perhaps, in the Israeli consciousness, the West Bank invasion was an isolated event – but for Palestinians, OBK was another in a long line of oppressive tactics within a framework of illegal occupation and injustice.
In the early 20th century, massive Jewish immigration had caused concern among the indigenous Palestinians in the land; by 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and land, most to never return as it became part of a new Jewish state. 1967 saw the occupation of all remaining Palestinian territories; 2008-9 had witnessed Israel’s devastating invasion of Gaza that killed 1,400 Palestinians (and 9 Israelis). In between these events, Israel had kept the Palestinian people under constant oppression – and the Palestinian people had resisted.
In late 2012, Israel had invaded the Palestinian Gaza Strip in a conflict that lasted 8 days before a ceasefire was put in place.
At that time, Israel promised to end its attacks on Gaza by land, sea, and air, stop assassinations of Gazan officials, and lift its blockade of Gaza, then in its 5th year; Hamas leaders in Gaza vowed to end rocket fire toward Israel (rockets that had killed 21 Israelis in 12 years).
Gaza held up its end of the deal: throughout 2013, rockets from Gaza were few and far between, and just one Israeli was killed in the vicinity. (5 more Israelis were killed elsewhere.)
Israel did not keep its promises: its military invaded Gaza and shot at Palestinian farmers and fishermen; the blockade remained in place, keeping food, medicine, and other staples out of the hands of those who needed them desperately. (Read here about the “period of calm” during the first 3 months after the 2012 ceasefire, during which Israelis experienced calm, but Palestinians were attacked on a daily basis.)
Nine Gazans were killed in 2013, over 30 other Palestinians were killed elsewhere. In the first 5 months of 2014 – before the Israeli teens were kidnapped – dozens of Palestinians, some of them teens, and 2 Israelis, were killed.
The Israeli blockade of Gaza remained in place (it is still in place today).
On June 12th, the three Israelis, aged 16 – 19, were kidnapped while hitchhiking.
All three were yeshiva (Jewish religious school) students, and would have almost certainly become soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Israel practices universal conscription of both males and females at age 18 – although it is possible to delay or even avoid military service by continuing religious education after high school, as was likely the case with the older kidnapping victim. (Go here to read about religious extremism in some Israeli yeshivot.)
One of the teens called an emergency number for help. Along with his voice, the call also recorded shouting in Arabic and several gunshots.
Several hours later, parents of one of the boys reported him missing, at which point the police began to make the connection with the emergency call, which they originally believed to be a prank.
Deception and brutality
The Forward reports that the Israeli government “had known almost from the beginning that the boys were dead. It maintained the fiction that it hoped to find them alive as a pretext to dismantle Hamas’ West Bank operations.”
The prime suspects, Palestinians, were identified within hours of the incident, and known to be rogue, with “a reputation for attacking Israeli civilian targets” and regularly acting “counter to the policies being advocated by [Hamas].” Their family disclosed within a day of the kidnapping that the men had disappeared.
Instead of broadcasting photos of the suspects and preparing the country for the inevitable locating of bodies rather than hostages, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu immediately imposed a gag order on the media.
Even the parents of the kidnapped teens were led to believe that the boys were still alive.
Publicly, Netanyahu consistently claimed that he knew “for a fact” that Hamas was behind the kidnapping – in fact, at no point did any evidence point to Hamas’ participation in the incident; its leaders consistently denied involvement.
Meanwhile, ironically, the Israeli police cautioned the public against “spreading rumors on social media.”
On June 15th, Netanyahu launched Operation Brothers Keeper, characterizing it as a “hostage rescue operation.” Behind the scenes, however, he commissioned 2,500 Israeli soldiers, plus special forces, on a rampage through the West Bank in search not of hostages, but of Hamas members. According to The Nation:
Israel arrested approximately 800 Palestinians without charge or trial, killed nine civilians and raided nearly 1,300 residential, commercial and public buildings.
As far as Israeli citizens knew, the killers could be anyone, anywhere; the vast majority were therefore supportive of whatever measures their leaders chose to take. All over Israel, and in Jewish communities around the world, rallies and prayer meetings sought – in vain – the boys’ safe return – even while the Israeli government knew they were already dead.
In Gaza – where Hamas is the duly elected governing party – Hamas leaders watched as Israel used them as an alibi for the spate of arrests. Hamas had restrained itself and other resistance factions since the end of the 2012 conflict, waiting for Israel to fulfill its promise to end the blockade. But now, Israel was blaming Hamas for the kidnappings, re-arresting Hamas prisoners who had been freed, and maintaining the blockade. Hamas began allowing rockets to fly out of Gaza again.
On June 17th, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, spoke to the Security Council. In his speech, he blamed Hamas for the kidnapping (without proof) and demanded international pressure on Hamas to release the boys. Prosor displayed the hashtag that Israel and its partisans all over the world were using to draw attention to the fabricated crisis: #BringBackOurBoys.
On June 21st, Netanyahu repeated his canard to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “the information in Israel’s hands unequivocally indicates that Hamas is responsible for the abduction of the youths”; Netanyahu went on to falsely link the Palestinian resistance with ISIS when he said “we are witnessing the unrestrained brutality of Islamic terrorism, both in Israel and around us.”
On June 23rd, the U.N. Security Council attempted unsuccessfully to pass a resolution condemning the kidnapping of the Israeli teens: some countries wanted to add strong language condemning Israel’s violent security sweep; the US insisted that it would not sign any statement that included a reference to Israeli actions.
On June 24th, the mother of one of the kidnapped boys addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC), pleading for international assistance in bringing the boys back. (Her trip was paid for by UN Watch, a group that monitors what it calls “the continuing discriminatory treatment of Israel in the UN system” and pushes for “the removal of UN personnel who are considered critical of Israel.”)
In the same UNHRC session, many delegates and representatives from human rights organizations criticized Israel’s human rights record, especially its recent crackdown.
Kidnapped boys’ bodies found
On June 30th, 15 days after the Israeli leadership started its deceptive “campaign” to bring the boys back alive, the bodies were located ten minutes away from where they had last been seen.
The discovery was made not by the thousands of Israeli military or police – they were as much as 130 miles away, still ransacking Palestinian homes and arresting Palestinians – but by a volunteer search party.
The shallow grave was on the property of one of the suspects, whose identity had also been known for weeks, and whose property should have been considered suspect.
Within hours, Israeli forces demolished the family homes of the two suspects, an illegal but common practice in Israel.
The next day, July 1st, a funeral was held for the three teens. PM Netanyahu eulogized,
A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies. They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion. This is the secret of our strength; it is the foundation of our unity.
This fraudulent profession of Israeli innocence flew in the face of facts that Mr. Netanyahu surely knew: the Israeli army had killed 19 Palestinians in the first quarter of 2014, and more in May and June. (Before the deaths of the three teens, two Israelis had been killed in 2014.)
Netanyahu’s eulogy also ignored the fact that Palestinians – specifically, Hamas – had been relatively subdued since 2012. As The Forward stated in “How Politics and Lies Triggered an Unintended War,” “The staged agony of the kidnap search created, probably unintentionally, what amounts to a mass, worldwide attack of post-traumatic stress flashback.”
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) reported that late on July 1st, after the bodies were found, several Palestinians were killed. Israeli settlers also started constructing two new illegal outposts. Some settlers (and politicians) believe “the settlement enterprise is the most appropriate response to Palestinian terror…Our enemies will incite and we will establish” – not making the connection that building on stolen Palestinian land is incitement itself.
From the moment the bodies of the missing teens were discovered, Israeli leaders incited their people to revenge, as described by Electronic Intifada:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the pack, calling the killers of the youths “human animals” and stating “Hamas is responsible. Hamas will pay.”
Former Israeli lawmaker Michael Ben-Ari posted a video and a statement…”We are living in a “jungle,” Ben-Ari said, calling Palestinian children “little terrorists”…
(Elsewhere, Ben-Ari called on Israel to “kill terrorists in public hangings.”)
Housing minister Uri Ariel called for the extrajudicial executions of leaders of Hamas and for Israel to “start a wave of construction in the settlements in response to the murder of the abductees”…
Tzipi Hotovely, another Likud lawmaker and deputy minister, wrote that “Israel must declare a war of annihilation of Hamas, which is responsible for the murder, and return to the assassination policy.”
Economy minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultra-anti-Palestinian Jewish Home party, declared “Murderers of children and those who direct them cannot be forgiven. Now is a time for actions, not words.”
With this highly visible incitement, it came as no surprise that after the funeral, crowds of Israelis – including young children – chanted “Death to the Arabs.” Mobs marched through the streets, attacking Palestinians as they went.
On July 2nd, a Palestinian teenager named Mohammad Abukhdeir was kidnapped and burned alive near Jerusalem.
At first, Israel’s leaders imposed another gag order; meanwhile, Israeli police started rumors that Abukhdeir had been killed by his own family for being gay.
It wasn’t long before the truth had to come out: the torture/murder had been committed by three Jewish Israelis – two of them teenagers themselves. They eventually faced trial and in 2016 received sentences from 21 years to life. Their family homes were not demolished.
PM Netanyahu’s condolences to the Abukhdeir family condemned the murder and promised justice; then he went on to address his constituents, again claiming Israeli innocence:
I know that in our society, the society of Israel, there is no place for such murderers. And that’s the difference between us and our neighbors. They consider murderers to be heroes. They name public squares after them. We don’t. [editor’s note: this is false.] We condemn them and we put them on trial and we’ll put them in prison.
Al Jazeera reminded its readers that Abukhdeir’s abduction was not an isolated incident: “for Palestinians, the detention of their children, running into thousands, is experienced as kidnapping at an Israeli-state level.” The vast majority of these events – which frequently include torture – go unpunished.
In 2014, Israel’s military kidnapped 6,059 Palestinians. A spokesman for the Palestinian Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees stated on December 29th, 2014,
“There hasn’t been a single day that did not witness the abduction of Palestinians. On average, the army has kidnapped 505 Palestinians each month; approximately 17 a day.”
Since 1967, Israel has detained more than 50,000 Palestinian children; the Palestinian government has never detained an Israeli child. Additionally, a total of over 2,400 Palestinian children and 139 Israeli children have been killed since 2000.
Israeli teens’ killers tracked down
On August 5th, one suspect in the kidnapping and killing of the Israeli teens was arrested.
On September 23rd, the primary suspects were surrounded by Israeli military forces in a building in Hebron. An IDF spokesperson later stated, “We opened fire, they returned fire and they were killed in the exchange.”
At that point, Operation Brothers Keeper was officially closed.
Stay tuned for “war”
On July 8th, the Israel launched an incursion into Gaza, which in 50 days would bring about the deaths of 73 Israelis (9% civilians) and 2,250 Palestinians (65% civilians, 501 children). This travesty will be discussed in an upcoming post.