“Cursed be he who says, ‘Avenge!‘ “ —Chaim Bialik, from “On The Slaughter”
From the moment three Israeli teens were reported missing last month, Israeli Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahuand the country’s military-intelligence apparatus suppressed the flow of information to the general public. Through a toxic blend of propaganda, subterfuge and incitement, they inflamed a precarious situation, manipulating Israelis into supporting their agenda until they made an utterly avoidable nightmare inevitable.
Israeli police, intelligence officials and Netanyahu knew within hours of the kidnapping and murder of the three teens that they had been killed. And they knew who the prime suspects were less than a day after the kidnapping was reported.
Rather than reveal these details to the public, Israel’sShin Betintelligence agency imposed agag orderon the national media, barring news outlets from reporting that the teens had almost certainly been killed, and forbidding them from revealing the identities of their suspected killers. The Shin Bet even lied to the parents of the kidnapped teens, deceiving them into believing their sons were alive.
Instead of mounting a limited action to capture the suspected perpetrators and retrieve the teens’ bodies, Netanyahu staged an aggressive international public relations campaign, demanding sympathy and outrage from world leaders, who were also given the impression that the missing teens were still alive.
Meanwhile, Israel’s armed forces rampaged throughout the occupied West Bank and bombarded theGaza Stripin a campaign of collective punishment deceptively marketed to Israelis and the world as a rescue mission.
Critical details that were known all along by Netanyahu and the military-intelligence apparatus were relayed to the Israeli public only after the abduction of more than 560 Palestinians, including at least 200 still held without charges; after the raiding of Palestinian universities and ransacking of countless homes; after six Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli forces; after American-trainedPalestinian Authority policeassisted Israeli soldiers attacking Palestinian youths in the center ofRamallah; after the allegedtheftby Israeli troops of $3 million in US dollars; and after Israel’s international public relations extravaganza had run its course.
The assault on theWest Bankarrived on the heels of the collapse of the US-led framework negotiations, for which the US blamed Netanyahu, and immediately afterHamas’ratification of a unity deal with theFatah-controlled Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu was still smarting from the US recognition of theunity governmentwhen news of the kidnapping reached him. Never one to miss an opportunity to undermine the Palestinians, he and his inner circle resolved to milk the kidnapping for maximum propaganda value.
Weeks after the incident, it is now clear that the Israeli government, intelligence services and army engaged in a cover-up to provide themselves with the political space they required for a military campaign that had little to do with rescuing any kidnapped teens.
The disinformation campaign they waged sent a heavily indoctrinated, comprehensively militarized population into a tribalistic frenzy, provoking a wave of high-level incitement, the shocking revenge killing of an innocent Palestinian teen and rioting across East Jerusalem.
Where the chaos will end and how far it will spread is unknown. But its origins are increasingly clear.