The Kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, while hitchhiking, North of Hebron, does not possess the characteristics of a terror attack. Terrorism is a tactic in which a group attacks random civilian targets for political motivation and media attention. Sub-state groups are rational actors, which use various tactics, including terrorism, within an asymmetric conflict with a state, in order to achieve their political goals.

Hamas, as well as other Palestinian organisations, have adamantly denied the murders, while typically, sub-state actors claims responsibility and indeed take pride in their actions. Attacks are designed to terrorize a population in order to cause them to capitulate and make political concessions. This is only possible when the cause and reason for an attack is publicly stated, otherwise the action is devoid of meaning. Attacks are used in order to spread the awareness of a certain political cause, communicate a group’s willingness to achieve it by any means necessary and to gain media attention for that cause. The action only has political significance if the group claims responsibility and explains its motives. There is simply no point in carrying out an attack if a group is not forthcoming and its reasons are unknown.

Since 2005, Hamas has shifted away from such tactics and refrained from the use of seemingly random suicide bombings, targeting Israeli civilian. Hamas was democratically elected as the political representative of the Gaza strip and has in recent years attempted to re-models itself as a paramilitary resistance movement, favouring reactionary but indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli territory.

Hamas is not fighting in order to achieve a total victory but instead to increase its strength and achieve some parity with Israel at the negotiation table. As Clausewitz’ famous maxim goes, ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’, thus, victories on the battle field are converted into political concessions. Thus having the material capabilities to adversely affect Israeli security will strengthen their bargaining situation.

When sub-state actors engage in kidnapping, the purpose is usually to make a prisoner swap. Prisoner exchanges have been commonplace within the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict, with successful swaps being completed between Israel, and both Hamas as well as Hizbullah. Even in situations when the kidnapped individuals are deceased, their bodies are retained with the express purpose of exchanges in mind. Alternatively, in situations such as in Yemen, sub-state groups kidnap individuals from economic motivations, in order to ransom them. However, militant groups do not simply kill and then discard politically valuable bodies ten minutes away from the scene of the crime.

The teens were probably the victims of a spontaneous attack by a single or small group of individuals, who probably suffered some specific injustice or were violently lashing out against the generalised daily humiliation of the occupation. Lacking the capacity to strike the state, their frustration was vented on these defenceless and innocent boys, whom they may have perceived to be symbolic of the occupation. The tragic act was inexcusable cold blooded murder, but not a terrorist attack by definition.

Israel, since has used this heinous crime as an excuse to collectively punish the Palestinians in order to resign them to the status quo of the occupation. More specifically, the use of the states asymmetric military capabilities is designed to undermine the fragile peace talks and is seemingly a rebuke of Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, for agreeing to a reconciliatory deal with Hamas, which after seven years of Palestinian division,  has merged the Gaza and West-Bank administrations.  The political union of the two discrete Palestinian territories should be heralded as a progressive step toward peace talks. It allows the Palestinians to have unified representation and a single negotiating position. In the past, Israel dragged its feet during peace talks due to legitimate complaints that negotiations were useless while its opponents were fractured and unable to agree to terms between themselves.

Since the murders, a renewed cycle of violence has commenced with disproportionate Israeli attacks on Palestinian property and territory triggering symbolic reactionary rocket fire on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other Southern Israeli sites. The boys’ tragic murders should not be utilised as an excuse to pound Palestinians into submission. The brutal attacks on Gaza and the West Bank only serve to push more Palestinians towards militancy and violence, further negating Israel’s long-term security.

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