Cross-posted from Gush Shalom
For the freedom fighter, achieving the release of imprisoned comrades is a sacred duty, for which he is ready to sacrifice his life. One of the most daring exploits of the Irgun underground (of which I was for a time a very junior member) was to attack in force the British prison in the Crusader's castle in Acre and release hundreds of prisoners. For our colonial masters, this was considered a dastardly terrorist act.
This should be clear to our present government, based on the Likud party, which was originally founded by former Irgun fighters. However, these are long gone, and present Rightist politicians and military officers are just a bad copy of our former British colonial rulers. They have no idea how the militant's mind works.
This is the core of the incident that has dominated Israel's life for the last two weeks.
AT TEN o'clock pm, two weeks ago, three teenagers from a settlement yeshiva near Hebron stood at a lonely road crossing, trying to hitchhike to their settlement homes. Since then they have disappeared.
It was immediately assumed, quite logically, that they had been snatched by a Palestinian group in order to carry out a prisoner exchange. Until now, no known organization has claimed responsibility and no demands have been presented.
Thus it is not the same as the capture of the soldier Gilad Shalit some years ago. Shalit was held in the Gaza Strip, which is densely populated by Palestinians and controlled by Hamas. The West Bank, on the other side, is riddled with Israeli settlements, and it is only a slight exaggeration to say that every tenth Palestinian there is an Israeli informer. Forty-seven years of occupation have given the Israeli Security Service innumerable opportunities to press Palestinians into their service by blackmail, bribery and other means.
Yet so far, no sign of the captors or captured has been detected -- an extraordinary achievement by the perpetrators.
THE NETANYAHU government immediately saw in the incident an auspicious opportunity.
Without the least evidence (as far as we know) it accused Hamas. The next day (there was a slight delay because of police incompetence) a huge double operation went into action. Many thousands of soldiers were employed to comb the countryside and conduct house-to-house searches. But at the same time an even bigger operation, that had obviously been prepared a long time in advance, started an attempt to eradicate Hamas in the West Bank.
Night after night, everyone with the slightest connection to Hamas was arrested. Groups of heavily armed soldiers burst into people's homes, pushed away the frightened children and women, dragged the men from their beds, and took them away, handcuffed and blindfolded.
They numbered many hundreds -- social workers, teachers, preachers, everyone belonging to the large social and political network of the Hamas movement.
Among the arrested were many released in the Shalit prisoner exchange. The Israeli political and intelligence leadership had agreed to that lopsided exchange (one hostage for more than a thousand prisoners) only under immense public pressure, and had obviously decided even then to return them to prison at the earliest opportunity.
Not by accident was it disclosed this week that one of these released prisoners had been accused of killing an Israeli some months ago. It must be assumed that, while most prisoners are grateful to return to their families after decades of incarceration, some of the most determined indeed returned to militant activity.
The effort to eliminate Hamas is foolish. Hamas is a religious movement that exists in the hearts of its adherents. How many can you arrest?