The New York Times is not shouting about it, but reports are emerging that point to rogue actors, not Hamas, as the culprits behind the abduction and death of three Israeli teenagers whose bodies were found last weekend.
This should be big news. Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, have been blaming Hamas from the start, vowing to crush the movement in Gaza and the West Bank. In the course of more than two weeks, they have tried to do just that.
During an aggressive search operation condemned by human rights groups, Israeli forces have arrested 335 persons affiliated with Hamas, according to data reported in the Times. They have also ransacked offices of charitable organizations and other groups , often confiscating and trashing their contents.
The Times has been reporting the threats and charges against Hamas ever since Netanyahu announced on June 15 that Israel knew “for a fact” that the Islamic movement was responsible for the kidnapping. He vowed to produce the evidence and repeatedly called for the secular Fatah movement to break its bonds with Hamas and end the alliance recently formed in a new Palestinian unity government.
In spite of Nethanyahu’s promises, the only evidence linking the crime to Hamas so far has been the announcement that two Hebron men, identified as “Hamas activists,” are prime suspects in the crime. Now reports inform us that the men were part of a family group that includes extremists who frequently defy Hamas directives and act on their own.
In BuzzFeed, Sheera Frenkel reports that rather than possessing proof of Hamas culpability, Israeli officials “remain divided” over whether the two men had direct ties to the organization at all. She also writes, “Israeli and Palestinian officials told BuzzFeed it was more likely that the teens were taken without the knowledge of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or any other senior militant movement.”
Shlomi Eldar, the author of a book about Hamas, writes in Al Monitor, “Palestinian security forces attribute the abduction to the Qawasmeh clan of Hebron specifically.” The group, Eldar says, is known to act “counter to the policies being advocated by [Hamas]” and to deliberately disrupt Hamas ceasefires and other arrangements. (A third media report noted that the clan includes members of Fatah and respected professionals as well as some rogue individuals.)
The Times manages to report some of this in a July 2 story, but the message is muted. Although the article quotes Eldar and others who have cast doubt on the charges against Hamas, this news is buried under a misleading headline, “A Trail of Clues Leading To Victims and Heartbreak.” The selected quotes also leave open the possibility that Hamas at least inspired the crime.
Readers should expect more. They deserve a story that takes the new developments head on and challenges the official narrative of Hamas culpability. Times reporters should be asking tough questions of Netanyahu and other officials: How long have they known that members of the Qawasmeh clan are the prime suspects and not Hamas? In the light of this latest information, what is their justification for detaining more than 300 persons affiliated with the movement?
Other developments should also be prompting questions. Israeli media report that security forces knew within a few days that the boys were dead after forensic evidence from a burned car revealed blood, bullet shells and some items belonging to the teens. Moreover, in a taped phone call from one of the teens a bullet shot can be heard, but this information was kept under a gag order until recently.
The question now is why we were told this was a rescue operation well beyond the time the victims were considered dead. The Times makes no mention of the gag order, and it seems its reporters are unwilling to challenge officials to ask the obvious question: Was this order meant to give cover to the hundreds of arrests and raids carried under the guise of a desperate bid to rescue the boys?
Readers should also take note of a claim in the July 2 story that Israeli soldiers “killed six Palestinians who confronted them, with the latest a wanted man who threw a grenade as they approached Tuesday morning in Jenin.”
These murdered Palestinians included a mentally disabled man, Ahmad Said Suod Khalid, shot when he was on his way to a mosque for morning prayers; Mahmoud Ismail Atallah, killed by an Israeli sniper as he stood on a rooftop in Ramallah; and Mohammad Dudeen, 15, who was throwing rocks at soldiers as they stormed his village of Dura. In every one of the six cases, it was the soldiers who invaded, not the victims.
The Times, however, would have you consider the Israeli killings as justified actions, taken only because the Palestinians had “confronted” the soldiers.
It would also like to give nothing more than cursory notice to the new information about who was behind the kidnapping. If challenged, Times editors can now say that they have reported these developments. But just barely. Readers may have read the article about “A Trail of Clues,” but only the most disciplined will get the full import: Hamas is no longer the prime suspect in this tragedy.