TIME Israel-Palestinian conflict

Palestinian Leader Says Hamas Caused Prolonged War

(RAMALLAH, West Bank) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Hamas of needlessly extending fighting in the Gaza Strip, causing a high death toll.

Abbas told Palestine TV in remarks broadcast Friday that “it was possible for us to avoid all of that, 2,000 martyrs, 10,000 injured, 50,000 houses (damaged or destroyed).”

Israel and Hamas militants fought for 50 days before reaching a truce on Tuesday.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians. Seventy one people on the Israeli side, including six civilians, were killed.

Several Egyptian mediated cease-fire attempts failed. Hamas eventually accepted almost the same truce offered at the beginning.

Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority runs the West Bank, formed a unity government backed by Hamas earlier this year. Abbas questioned the future of that arrangement in the interview.

TIME Religion

What if Palestinians Became Israeli Citizens?

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Dear Rabbi, Do you think there is any hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

“Any hope” is setting the bar quite low; we can all entertain some sliver of hope, so the answer to your question “is there ANY hope for peace” is “yes.” But I doubt peace will come the way our pundits and politicians imagine it.

They still talk about a two-state solution as if this is possible, but I have little hope that it is. Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a lose-lose scenario, and only some bold new initiative can change the status quo. Given the nature of Israeli politics, I’m not sure what that would be on the Israeli side. On the Palestinian side, however, the initiative would be Israeli citizenship.

If I were advising the Palestinians I would suggest they drop all efforts to secure a state alongside Israel, and demand full Israeli citizenship instead. I would suggest a media campaign with slogans like “Let My People In” and “Let us in or let us go.” If citizenship were granted, demographics would see Israel become a majority Palestinian state within a few generations. If it were not granted, the world would turn on Israel at it did on South Africa during the apartheid regime. The result in either case would be a democratic but no longer Jewish state. Democracy would, I imagine, lead to Islamic rule that would in time lead to Jews fearing for their lives in what was the Jewish state.

US Jews would then pressure the United States to rescue Jews from Palestine (I imagine the state would be renamed Palestine) and allow mass migration of former Israeli Jews into the United States. This may or may not work, but if it does American Jewry needs to prepare itself now to assimilate Israelis on a massive scale.

Of course I am probably wrong about all of this. Perhaps Israel will agree to withdraw to the Green Line, share Jerusalem as a capital, and repatriate Palestinian refugees; Palestine will eschew all militarization and violence, welcome the Jewish settlers in their midst with open arms as fully enfranchised citizens of Palestine, and become a secular, democratic and economic dynamo; and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad will become nonviolent social organizations helping the poorest of the poor to get into the middle class.

Or perhaps not.

A congregational rabbi for 20 years, Rabbi Rami currently co-directs One River Wisdom School and Holy Rascals Foundation.

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TIME

Israeli Ambassador: Here’s What “Proportionality” In War Really Means

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer speaks to reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor on July 22, 2014. Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

Israel's man in Washington makes the case that his country's military strikes in Gaza have been proportional to the threat

The Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, challenged critics of his country’s military operation in Gaza Tuesday morning, saying they don’t understand the legal definition of “proportionality” in wartime.

Speaking to reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor, Dermer, a former top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, argued that many are unfamiliar with the “rules of war” when they charge that his country has been disproportionate in its attacks on Gaza.

“We have to understand first of all what the rules of war are, because people don’t know them,” he said. “They throw around words like disproportionate without any understanding of what that actually means. A disproportionate response, from what I can gather in the interviews that I go to and the questions that I’m asked, disproportionate is believed to be what is the body count on both sides. So therefore if there’s 600 and something Palestinians who were killed and 25 Israelis, or a few days ago when there were 200 Palestinians and one Israeli, that is deemed to be a disproportionate response. That’s how most people deal with it.”

But Dermer said those assumptions were wrong. Dermer laid out the calculus that the Israeli government makes to justifying actions that may injure or kill civilians. He continued:

It’s important to understand what proportionality is in terms of the rules of war. There’s two basic principles that you have to remember. The first is distinction, you make a distinction between combatants and noncombatants. That’s the most important principle of the rules of war, that you have to make that distinction. And here Israel always makes that distinction. You have have Hamas that is deliberately targeting our civilians hoping to kill as many as possible. And you have Israel that does not deliberately target a single Palestinian civilian. We don’t deliberately target their civilians. For us, when a civilian is killed it’s an operational failure. And the more civilians who are killed, the greater the operational failure. And obviously a tragedy even of itself. And for Hamas, they celebrate—the greater the number of civilian casualties, for them, the greater the success of their operation.

And then you have the issue of proportionality.

Let’s say there’s a legitimate target because when a schoolhouse, hospital, mosque is turned into a military command center or a weapons depot, or a place where you fire rockets, it becomes by the rules of war a legitimate target. You cannot turn a hospital into a military command center. You cannot do that according to the rules of law. It’s a war crime for Hamas to do that. You cannot turn an UNRWA school into a weapons depot, that’s a war crime. You cannot use a Mosque as a missile manufacturing facility. It becomes a legitimate target. Then the question is okay, but can you target it in this specific instance.

There you get into the question of proportionality. Meaning, just because it’s a legitimate target doesn’t necessarily give you the right to hit it. Because for that, for you to be able to do that, you have to show that the gain you will get from the military action you take is worth the potential loss of lives that you might even foresee ahead of time. So I don’t want to get into theoretical examples but if you had you know 1 rocket that was sitting in a school somewhere and there are 50 kids in a classroom, then you cannot actually target to get to that rocket and kill those kids. That would be disproportionate because the gain that you have by hitting that one rocket would not justify killing 50 kids in the school. By the same token if you had 200 rockets in place and you had one civilian, by the rules of war, you could target that place even if you knew ahead of time that the civilian would be hurt.

Now there are all sorts of judgment calls that happen in between. Can you target that same target tomorrow or in an hour or in three hours? And Israel is always making these calculations.

To date, more than 500 people have died from the fighting, according to a count by the Washington Post Tuesday morning. That includes 25 Israeli soldiers, 2 Israeli civilians, 86 armed Palestinian militants and 406 Palestinian civilians. Of those Palestinian civilians, 129 were children.

TIME Israel

Watch: This Is How Israel Blows Up Tunnels in Gaza

Footage released by the Israeli forces shows how underground passageways are destroyed

In the video above, posted on the official YouTube page of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), soldiers are shown inserting a charge into a tunnel said to be in Gaza, then detonating it.

According to the IDF, soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade found the tunnel in a residential area of Gaza.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the Israeli armed forces uncovered 34 shafts leading into about a dozen underground tunnels, some as deep as 30 meters, that the military said could be used to carry out attacks, according to the AP.

Last week, Israel began a ground invasion of the Palestinian territory with the goal of destroying tunnels linking Egypt and Gaza and thus striking a “significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure,” according to a statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Over 500 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have died in the recent fighting.

TIME Israel-Gaza conflict

From Ceasefire to Ground Invasion: A Day In the Life of Israel and Gaza Residents

TIME asked residents of Gaza and Israel to chronicle their lives on the day Israel's forces started a ground offensive in the Palestinian territory.

In the city of Herzliya, Israel, Guy Gutterman woke up to the sounds of sirens, ate a bowl of cereal and rode on an empty bus to the university where he teaches.

Meanwhile in Gaza, some residents felt safe enough to venture out into the streets for the first time in days, thanks to a 5-hour ceasefire brokered between Israel and Hamas.

On Thursday, four young residents of Gaza and Israel documented their daily lives from different sides of the border with videos and photos: from waking up with the news of a ceasefire, and going to sleep with the rumbling sounds of an Israeli offensive of the Palestinian territory.

Their first person narrative of the unfolding crisis reveals a rarely seen perspective from the ground.

TIME Israel

Hamas Steps Up Rocket Fire, Israel Says Ready for Escalation

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Abu Obeida, right, the official spokesperson of the Palestinian militant group Ezzedine al-Qassam brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, give a press conference on July 3, 2014 in Gaza City. Mohammed Abed—AFP/Getty Images

Hamas stepped up rocket fire at southern Israeli towns and Israel called up reserve troops on Monday in anticipation of a possible escalation of hostilities with the Islamist group that dominates the Gaza Strip.

The armed wing of the Palestinian group said it fired dozens of rockets within about an hour, after hundreds since mid-June. Israel said more than 40 rockets were launched as militants’ funerals were held in Gaza. Thirty struck inside Israel and the rest were shot down by rocket interceptors, the army said.

Read the rest of the story at NBC News

TIME foreign affairs

Israel Will Show the World It’s Willing to Hold Its Own to Account

Clashes over slain Palestinian teen in Jerusalem
Clashes occurred between Israeli security forces and Palestinian youths during the funeral ceremony held for Muhammad Abu Kdear in Jerusalem on July 4, 2014. Salih Zeki Fazlioglu—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Israel has not always been tough on prosecuting Jewish, non-lethal revenge attacks. But the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir should change that.

The vigilante revenge murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir will test the Israeli legal system to its core. The vast majority of Israelis, and all of its leaders, have condemned the murder in the strongest terms, but there are some Israelis—how many is unclear—who were so outraged at the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, that they were prepared to understand, if not justify, revenge.

A Facebook page was set up, after the murder of the Israeli youngsters but before the murder of the Palestinian youth, calling for revenge, but there was sharp disagreement within the page as to the nature of the revenge sought. The group’s “managers” explained their agenda: “Killing innocents? No. [T]he group’s purpose is to avenge the kidnapped teens’ blood. To catch the terrorists that abducted and killed them and to exact revenge.” But some on the page made the racist argument that “there is no such thing an innocent Arab.” The Israeli Army and Minister of Justice condemned the page and threatened to take actions against those who expressed racist views or called for revenge against innocent Palestinians.

The call for revenge was muted among Israelis by the horrible murder of Khdeir, but amplified among Palestinians. Riots have ensued both within Israel-Arab cities and on the West Bank.

Now, following the arrest of half-a-dozen Jewish Israelis, and the reported confession of three, the Khdeir case is in the hands of the Israeli legal system. I know this system well, having consulted on several high-profile Israeli prosecutions. I also know the Minister of Justice, the Attorney General and many of the judges. They all pride themselves on the fairness of Israeli justice. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed to treat all murders—those committed by Israelis as well as those committed against Israelis—as equally reprehensible, demanding equal justice. “We do not differentiate between terrorists,” he declared.

In other contexts, the Israeli legal system has shown that it can be very tough on its own. A former president now sits in prison, having been convicted of rape and sexual harassment. A former Prime Minister has pledged to appeal his six-year prison sentence, having been convicted of corruption. Another former Prime Minister lost his job following an investigation by the Attorney General.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that when it came to investigating, prosecuting and punishing Jewish, non-lethal revenge attacks, primarily against Palestinian property—the so-called “price tag” vigilantism—the Israeli legal system was not always as tough as it should have been. But the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir may change that.

I believe the Israeli legal system will be fair, or perhaps even bend over backwards, when it comes to the brutal murderers of Khdeir. Criminal trials in Israel do not involve juries. Accused criminals are tried by professional judges, who are in general selected on a non-partisan basis. Verdicts and sentences are less likely to be influenced by popular opinion than in the United States, where judges are either elected or politically appointed, and where jurors are supposed to reflect the views of the people.

Even if some Israelis might have more sympathy for Jews who killed a Palestinian than for Palestinians who killed Jews, that sort of public bias will have little impact on the trial of those accused of killing Khdeir. The age of the defendants, however, might. There are reports that some may be minors, and Israeli law does take account of the age of accused criminals. But older vigilantes may well be involved as well, either in planning, inciting or protecting the actual killers. The investigation is ongoing and will not stop until everyone who has played a culpable role in the murder is apprehended and brought to justice.

The Israeli government, which rightfully complains that it is often subjected to a double standard of justice by international institutions such as the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, must show the world, and its own citizens, that it is capable of imposing the same standard of tough justice on Jews who murder Palestinians as it does on Palestinians who murder Jews. Justice demands no less. I predict that Israeli justice will pass the test.

Professor Alan Dershowitz’s latest book is Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.

TIME Foreign Policy

Israeli Official: Kidnapped Teen Murders Show Hamas Is Like ISIS

Developments In Case Of Missing Israeli Teenagers
Israeli settlers hold flags on June 30, 2014, at the entrance to Halhoul, north of Hebron, West Bank Lior Mizrahi—Getty Images

The murder of three teenagers should make the new Palestinian government a pariah, Israel's Intelligence Minister argues

A senior Israeli government official on Monday likened Hamas to the brutal fighters sowing chaos in Iraq and said there could be no dealing with a Palestinian government that includes the group, just hours after three Israeli teenagers believed to have been kidnapped by Hamas were found dead.

“This is just a reminder that Hamas is a cruel terrorist organization that sent 100 suicide bombers, terrorists, into Israel in the past, and has now executed three teenagers, three young boys,” said Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence.

“I don’t see much difference between these Hamas terrorists and the people from ISIS who executed the Iraqi soldiers,” Steinitz told a group of reporters in Washington, D.C., referring to the latter group’s mass execution of hundreds of captured Iraqi security forces during its mid-June blitz into northern Iraq.

The three boys were abducted while hitchhiking on June 12. Their fate consumed Israel as a massive hunt was conducted, but their bodies were discovered in an open field near Hebron Monday.

Steinitz said that the killings reinforce Israel’s position that it could not negotiate with a Palestinian unity government combining the Palestinian Authority, which holds power in the occupied West Bank, and Hamas, which has ruled over Gaza since 2007. Despite Israeli protests, the Obama Administration continues to work with and fund the Palestinian government, led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, on the grounds that it does not include any cabinet ministers affiliated with Hamas.

U.S. and Israeli officials say Abbas’ June 1 deal forging a unity coalition between the two long-divided Palestinian factions was the final blow to an already faltering Middle East peace process. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the Palestinian deal, insisting that Israel refuses to negotiate with “terrorists.”

Though both ISIS and Hamas are Sunni radical groups, they have very different identities and agendas and ISIS employs violence on a much larger scale. But Steinitz hopes that the killing of the teenagers will “remind the world” of Hamas’ true nature, and insisted Abbas “cannot proceed with this unity government with this terrorist organization.”

U.S. officials have not publicly confirmed that Hamas is behind the abductions and killings. On Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki wouldn’t say whether that conclusion would lead the Obama Administration to sever ties with the Palestinian government.

Steinitz also argued that Abbas himself bears responsibility for the killings, noting that the abductions took place near that Palestinian Authority–controlled town of Hebron. “Those Hamas terrorists came from Hebron and are under total control of the Palestinian Authority,” Steinitz said.

Steinitz is in Washington as part of an Israeli delegation of nine, including officials from the Mossad, Israel’s national security council and its atomic energy agency. They met Monday with senior Obama officials who are negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, including the State Department’s Iran lead negotiator, Wendy Sherman, and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

The meeting was arranged on short notice, a day before the U.S. delegation leaves for a final round of talks with Iran in Vienna, Steinitz said. He reiterated Israel’s position that Iran should not be allowed to retain domestic uranium-enrichment capability or to operate a “heavy water” nuclear reactor whose fuel can be fashioned into bombs. He cited the removal of chemical weapons from Syria as a model of deal that involves total dismantlement of a weapons capability.

The current interim nuclear deal between Iran and the U.S. expires on July 20. Few observers expect the two sides to reach a comprehensive agreement by then; many expect an extension that could range from a few weeks to several more months, although even an extension will be politically complex proposition for both sides. U.S. officials have given no indication that Iran might be willing to surrender its domestic nuclear program entirely as Israel wants.

Despite all the chaos in the region, including in Iraq and Syria, he said, “we regard the Iranian nuclear issue as the most important in the Middle East — and the world.”

Steinitz was also skeptical about Iran’s potential to play a positive role in stabilizing Iraq. “It doesn’t seem to me that Iran is eager to cooperate with the U.S. or the West as regards Iraq, because Iran’s goals are different,” he said.

TIME Israel

Bodies of Missing Israeli Teens Found in West Bank Field

ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS-CONFLICT-KIDNAPPING
Israelis mourns and light candles in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on June 30, 2014, after the announcement that the bodies of the three missing Israeli teenagers were found Oren Ziv—AFP/Getty Images

After 18 days of searching, Israeli soldiers find the remains of the three kidnapped youths, not far from where they were last seen

The bodies of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped while hitchhiking this month were found on Monday afternoon in a field a few miles south of where they were last seen, the Israeli military said.

The discovery brought to a tragic close the intense search and nationwide vigil for Eyal Yifrach, 19; Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaer, both 16, all students at Jewish religious schools located on the occupied West Bank. It also shifted to the foreground the question of how Israel will respond to the deaths, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blames on Hamas, the militant Islamist group. After news that the bodies had been found in an open field north of Hebron, Netanyahu summoned senior ministers to an emergency meeting of the so-called security cabinet.

Netanyahu made some brief remarks at the beginning of the meeting. “They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals,” he said, according to Haaretz. “In the name of the whole of Israel, I ask to tell the dear families — to the mothers, the fathers, the grandmothers and the grandfathers, the brothers and sisters — our hearts are bleeding, the whole nation is crying with them. We will bring the boys to be buried according to Jewish rites.”

“Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay,” the Prime Minister added.

Israel already has struck hard at Hamas, tripling the number of troops on the West Bank in what was the largest military operation in the area in a dozen years. Officials said they wanted to wound Hamas as an organization — by arresting scores of its activists and shuttering its social-service outlets on the West Bank, while pounding militant targets in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas has governed since 2007. In recent days, rockets from the Gaza Strip have been flying toward Israel.

Netanyahu made clear he also wanted to coerce the more moderate Fatah party to dissolve a governing partnership that had been put in place only two weeks earlier, in the form of a cabinet of technocrats at the Palestinian Authority (PA). But the effort to influence Palestinian politics was greeted skeptically on the West Bank, where the Israeli military operation was seen more as a bludgeon than an effort to recover the missing teens. PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads Fatah, was criticized for condemning the kidnapping and directing Palestinian security services to assist in the search.

In Israeli security circles, the investigation turned grim early. The discovery of a burned sedan outside Hebron the morning after the teens went missing was received with foreboding: fires can erase evidence, and Hebron would be the likeliest direction abductors would head. Other directions would take them closer to concentrations of Israeli security, and the city is both the largest on the West Bank, and a stronghold of Hamas. Forensic examination of the vehicle produced spent bullets and traces of blood. The amount could not be detected, however, nor the type, let alone DNA. Absent the presence of bodies, the news was initially withheld from the families. But investigators hypothesized that at least one of the youths had been killed within minutes inside the car, and likely all three.

Authorities also zeroed in on suspects soon after the abduction — two young Palestinians who were known to be active in Hamas, and had disappeared the night the teens went missing. Marwan Quasma, 29, and Amar Abu Eisha, 32, are thought to be in hiding separately. Quasma is from a notoriously militant Hebron clan that, in the past, has reportedly been known to operate beyond the control of Hamas leaders.

U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement on Monday extending his condolences to the three teenagers’ families. “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth,” he said. “I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation. As the Israeli people deal with this tragedy, they have the full support and friendship of the United States.”

— With reporting by Aaron J. Klein / Tel Aviv

TIME Middle East

Palestinians Warn Israel That Crackdown on Hamas May Backfire

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man during a search for three missing Israeli teens, feared abducted in the West Bank last week, in the village of Beit Kahil near the West Bank city of Hebron on June 21, 2014.
Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man during a search for three missing Israeli teens, feared abducted in the West Bank last week, in the village of Beit Kahil near the West Bank city of Hebron on June 21, 2014. Majdi Mohammed—AP

Warnings that a search for missing teens could have unintended consequences

Shortly after three Israeli teenagers disappeared in the West Bank late on June 12, the effort to locate them shifted from a search to a broader campaign aimed at punishing Hamas.

Israeli officials say the militant Palestinian faction is responsible for the abductions of Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel, but no one pretends the thousands of Israeli soldiers who swarmed the West Bank for the last two weeks as part of “Operation Brothers’ Keeper” were only looking for them. The troops also swept up 371 activists and politicians, shut down 64 social welfare operations maintained by Hamas and, along the way, made every effort to thwart the only weeks-old unity pact bringing together Hamas and the more secular, peace-oriented Fatah faction.

“The mission has developed beyond the primary target of bringing the boys home to striking a substantial blow to Hamas,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said last week. Israeli troops were targeting “all levels of Hamas, from tactical operatives to its institutions all the way up to its strategic leadership,” Lerner said. “They must pay the price for openly declaring their intent to carry out such attacks.”

But Hamas is not the only casualty of the Israeli campaign. Among the approximately 400 Palestinians detained by Israel were 58 earlier released from prison in exchange for another captive, Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas in 2009 and freed after five years. Most of the 1,027 freed prisoners were exiled overseas or to the Gaza Strip, but 110 were permitted to live on the West Bank. Taking a majority of them into custody on grounds of violating the conditions of their release serves as a drag on the political fortunes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who critics say created incentive for future kidnappings in the bargain that freed Shalit. One of those released for Shalit turned out to be behind the last major unsolved case in the West Bank, the highway shooting of a senior police official on his way to Passover dinner in April, according to Israel’s domestic security agency.

“We have reversed the equation of ‘you kidnap, and we release terrorists,’ to one of a kidnapping followed by terrorists going back to serve out their sentences,” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home Party, told the mothers of the missing teens on Wednesday.

Israeli officials say the teens’ abduction gave the country’s military license to scour West Bank with more resources – triple the usual number of troops–than have been deployed there in a dozen years. But the home searches, flying checkpoints and roadblocks are aggravating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, a situation that historically generates support for Hamas at the expense of the moderate Palestinian Authority, which has been helping in the search. On Sunday night, after Israeli troops entered the city for another round post-midnight raids, residents gathered outside a Ramallah base and hurled stones at its shuttered doors, shouting “collaborators.”

“Strikes, deaths and Israeli brutality will only bring out resistance from the people to end the occupation,” said Fairouz Shram, a secretary from the northern West Bank city of Jenin. “The Palestinian Authority is also loosing credibility and support from the people because of the PA’s lack of authority and ability to protect its people within the West Bank as seen during Israelis latest invasions.”

Though Israel moved to ratchet back its West Bank campaign this week in anticipation of the weekend start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Palestinians say a good deal of damage is already done. The number of Palestinians killed during Operation Brothers’ Keeper –six, according to the Palestinian Authority–is double the number of missing Israelis. The total includes a young refugee camp resident who has been declared brain dead, and a man who suffered a heart attack during a home search and was prevented by soldiers from being taken to the hospital, according to the PA.

“What will I tell the families of the three Palestinian teens who were killed?” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked Israeli reporters, when the death toll stood at three. “Why were they killed? We’re human beings, just like you. Can the Israeli government demonstrate the same feelings and say they are human beings and deserve to live?”

Common ground—always difficult to find in the intractable Israeli-Palestinian—is growing even scarcer since the abductions. Inside Israel, the search for the teens has unified Jewish society with an almost painful ardency. In the West Bank, however, Palestinians have been pre-occupied by the hardships imposed by the search—which both local and international human rights groups warn may veer into “collective punishment”—and its expansion into a general crackdown on Hamas. Facts that Israelis take as ominous—there’s been no ransom demand or proof of life since the disappearance—are viewed by many Palestinians as absence of evidence a kidnapping even occurred.

“Who knows,” says Muna Zaghiar, 42, of Ramallah, “maybe there was never any kidnapping and this is all part of Israelis tactics to put away Hamas and dissolve it’s support.”

In the search for the missing teens, the alternative explanations are encouraged by Israel’s effort to leverage the incident to alter the makeup of Palestinian leadership. After Abbas publicly condemned the kidnappings at a high-profile meeting in Saudi Arabia last week, Netanyahu pushed him to disavow the unity government with Hamas as well. “If he is truly committed to peace and to fighting terrorism, then logic and common sense mandate that he break his pact with Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

As time passes, security officials warn that the chances of finding the missing teens alive steadily diminishes. But analysts say the net effect of their disappearance—and all that has followed—has been a boost in sympathies toward Hamas, the very organization Israel is trying to diminish. “What we can see is that the Palestinians in general are very sympathetic to the Palestinians who are either in prison or taken to jail or arrested, and that in itself is an indicator that it boosts Hamas’ popularity,” Jamil Rabah, a Ramallah pollster, tells TIME. “And it seems it did.”

—Additional reporting by Rami Nazzal in Ramallah

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