By Zack Beauchamp
On Monday night, between 5 and 12 people were killed in Israeli airstrikes in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, from which Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel. Israeli’s cabinet authorized the military to call up 40,000 reservists, and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that “we are preparing for a battle against Hamas which will not end within a few days.” Tensions between Israel and the Palestinian militant group were already at a high point, but now there’s a real chance of the first full-blown war between the two sides since 2012. Meanwhile, Palestinian protests in the West Bank are growing, and a number have ended in violent clashes with Israeli security forces.
Why is this happening? It all started with the killings of four young boys, three Israelis in the first incident and one Palestinian in the second. The fallout of these murders has devolved into a crisis that’s challenging some of the most important features of Israeli and Palestinian society.
About a month ago, three teenage Israeli students — Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel — disappeared in the West Bank, where they were studying at a yeshiva. Israel conducted a massive manhunt for them in the West Bank, on the basis of intelligence that they were kidnapped by Palestinian militants. Thousands of Israeli soldiers swept the Palestinian territory, arresting hundreds of Palestinians and shutting down Palestinian movement in wide areas.
The boys were found, dead in apparent gunshot executions, last Monday. The leading suspects are Hamas members, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that the entire group bears responsibility, though Hamas itself denies any role in planning or carrying out the killing. Israel responded with a limited bombing campaign in Gaza. Palestinian militant groups (though, notably, not Hamas) in Gaza fired rockets into Israel.