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Photo: Palestinians detained in Hebron by Israeli soldiers (2002).
On June 12, Israel began its largest military operation in the West Bank in at least a decade.
These operations began after three Israeli teenagers disappeared while hitchhiking between settlements near Hebron in the West Bank. It is suspected that the three youth were abducted by unknown Palestinians, and the Israeli government has blamed Hamas for their disappearance. However, no clear information regarding the young men’s location or status has emerged, Hamas has repeatedly denied involvement in their disappearance, and Israel has offered no proof of Hamas involvement in their disappearance.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is concerned for the safety of the missing Israeli youth, and we hope for their safe and speedy return to their homes and families.
At the same time, their disappearance must be placed within the larger context of the occupation. And it cannot be spoken of as disconnected from the Israeli military operations in the occupied Palestinian territory that have followed.
Hours after the three teenagers disappeared, Israel initiated large-scale military operations in Hebron and surrounding areas, sealing off communities, conducting house-to-house raids, carrying out a mass arrest campaign, and demolishing homes. Israeli military actions have since expanded to all major cities and many small villages in the West Bank, with Israel conducting a massive arrest campaign across the West Bank and raiding nongovernmental organizations, media offices, public institutions, and universities.
Palestinian movement has been restricted into, out of, and within the West Bank. The Israeli military has also launched a series of bombing raids on Gaza and banned movement into and out of Gaza by all Palestinians.
These actions cannot be justified by the ongoing search for the three missing youth. Rather, they constitute collective punishment under international law and must end.
As of June 23, four unarmed Palestinians, including two children, have been killed since the start of the raids.
Over 500 Palestinians had been detained, including political and human rights activists, members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, students, academics, and ex-prisoners released as a part of the 2011 prisoner exchange. According to the Palestinian human rights organization Addameer, as of June 19 administrative detention orders had been issued against 77 of the detainees. It is expected that many more administrative detention orders will be issued in the coming days.
Individuals with connections to Hamas have been disproportionally targeted during these raids. This, taken in combination with Israeli government rhetoric attacking Hamas, makes it clear that these actions are a part of a concerted effort to attack Hamas, undermine the ongoing Palestinian reconciliation process, and escalate the conflict.
Governments around the world have demanded the return of the young Israelis, revealing a widespread public concern for them that must be matched by concern for Palestinians living under occupation—and by demands for an end to the ongoing military operations.
It must be made clear that the disappearance of these young men cannot justify ongoing attacks that kill Palestinians. Concerns over the disappearance of three Israelis cannot justify the detention without charge or trial of hundreds of Palestinians. Concern about the safety of three Israeli teens cannot justify collective punishment against the whole of the Palestinian population.
The current Israeli military operations in the occupied Palestinian territory must end. The occupation must end. Only justice and equality will bring peace.