A day after the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped in the West Bank on June 12 were found in a field north of the Hebron-area Palestinian town Halhul, they were laid to rest in adjacent graves in the Modi’in cemetery. Separate services were held yesterday for each teenager in his respective hometown: in Elad for Eyal Yifrah, 19; in Talmon for Gilad Shaar, 16 and in Nof Ayalon for Naftali Fraenkel, 16.
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Israeli military and intelligence forces continued to search yesterday for Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh, two Hamas militants who are considered the main suspects in the abduction and murder.
Yesterday evening, Israel’s security cabinet met to discuss the wider response to the conclusion of the abduction episode. Speaking at the start of the meeting, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, “Even in these hours, we continue to strike Hamas, a terrorist organization that takes pride in hurting Israel just because it is Jewish … We will hunt them until we lay our hands on them.” While emphasizing that the operation against Hamas is not over, he added, “This is a time to act decisively, wisely and with good judgment.”
Speaking at a media briefing before the meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will continue to act against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “We will weaken Hamas in the West Bank and stop the rockets being fired at Israel from the territory,” he said, adding, “We will expand our operation as necessary.”
Earlier in the evening, both Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres spoke at the burial service in Modi’in. Speaking first, the prime minister said: “Over the past 18 days, the images of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali have been etched into our hearts and that of the nation. Israeli citizens came to know their faces, and even if we regretfully didn’t have the privilege to encounter their gentleness, their youthful joy, to meet them as we had hoped and prayed — we were drawn into the magic of the smiles of three gifted, pure and upright youths. Murderers whose cruelty has no bounds did not bat an eye when they violated the ancient command: Do not lay a hand on the young.
“An entire nation stood together and reminded us who we are, why we are here and, no less, what great strength lies inside us. Today spontaneously turned into a national day of mourning.
“I wish to thank all the country’s citizens for the spirit of volunteerism and citizenship. I especially wish to thank Israel Defense Forces soldiers and members of the Shin Bet security service, officers of the Israel police and border guard personnel and all the volunteers for their unending efforts,” Netanyahu said.
Addressing the mourners after Netanyahu, Peres said, in part: “These three wonderful boys exposed the depth of our people and illuminated the peaks of its history.”
The fact that a police hotline mishandled a call from Shaar, costing five precious hours to be lost until his father reported the boy missing, has been known for weeks. But as Haaretz reported yesterday, even after Gilad Shaar’s father filed his report, at about 3:30 A.M. on Friday June 13, it took several more hours before the army and the Shin Bet security service really began searching for the boys. The tapes revealed by Channel 10 television last night explain why.
At around 6 P.M. yesterday, less than an hour after the now-notorious call was leaked to the Internet, the gag order on the recording was lifted. In it, Gilad Shaar is heard whispering, “I’ve been kidnapped.” The operator, evidently struggling to understand, says “Hello?” a number of times. One of the kidnappers yells, “Head down!” and gunfire is heard, along with a Hebrew-language talk-radio program in the background. The voice of a police officer is then heard, asking the caller, “Where are you now?”
It turns out that Gilad’s father Ofir Shaar had to talk with hotline operator after hotline operator before he could convince anyone to take the issue seriously. Altogether, 54 separate conversations took place, between Shaar and various hotline operators and between operators at different hotlines. The elder Shaar understood what had happened; he even predicted – correctly – that the kidnappers would have traveled in the direction of the South Hebron Hills. But the system responded apathetically.
At 3:18 A.M. that Friday, Shaar called the hotline of the Binyamin Regional Council, the area of the West Bank where he lives, and reported his son missing. “This is extremely unusual,” Shaar insisted. “Maybe he fell asleep,” the operator responded. “It’s impossible to know. That’s how kids are.” She then called the hotline in Efrat, the main town in the district where Gilad attended school, to see if he had been seen in the area.
At 4:56 A.M., Shaar called the Binyamin hotline again, wanting to know if any action had been taken, and was told it hadn’t. He once again voiced his concern, and the operator said she had referred the matter to the Israel Defense Forces hotline.
At 4:58 A.M., the Efrat hotline called the IDF hotline to ask if anything was being done, and was told the information had been passed to all army units and checkpoints. “There’s nothing more we can do,” the IDF hotline operator said, adding, “If we’re talking about two boys from the yeshiva, they surely stopped at a friend’s to sleep ... I assume this [riddle] will be solved come morning.”
Only at 5:06 A.M. did the Efrat hotline connect Shaar directly to the IDF hotline, where he demanded helplessly, “Why isn’t the army in the picture?”
An internal police investigation conducted in the days following the abduction led to the dismissal and reassignment of several police officers.
Meanwhile, right-wing protesters demonstrated in Jerusalem against the teens’ murder. Clashes broke out last night between police and demonstrators. In one incident, dozens of protesters stormed a McDonald’s restaurant, searching for Arab workers. Police arrested at least 18 protesters, most of them minors, for damage to property, assault and the assault of police officers.
On Monday night, after the cabinet convened for an urgent meeting, Israel launched a massive air strike on the Gaza Strip, hitting 34 targets, which the IDF said were terror-related. In the West Bank city of Jenin, a Palestinian was killed in clashes with Israeli security forces.
Following the kidnapping of the teens, who went missing from a hitchhiking station at the Gush Etzion intersection, the IDF launched Operation Brother’s Keeper, a massive search for the three throughout the West Bank and conducted operations against Hamas, which Israel held responsible for the abduction.