In London on Friday, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni pulled Secretary of State John Kerry aside with a special request: Help find the three yeshiva boys.
Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were kidnapped Thursday night from the kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the West Bank. Israel’s Army Radio reported that Livni pressed Kerry on the urgency of the matter — stressing that the hunt for the boys needed rapid action.
Naftali is a dual citizen with an American passport.
The youths were walking home from their yeshiva about halfway between Jerusalem and Hebron, possibly hitchhiking as public transportation in the area is scarce. One of the boys reportedly got a call into Israeli police to say “we’re being kidnapped” at about 10:30 p.m. before the line was disconnected.
The Israeli government quickly began using the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys, a gender variation on the hashtag that went viral after Boko Haram seized more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria. Supporters also have been using the hashtag #EyalGiladNaftali.
“Our goal is to find the boys, bring them home and strike Hamas as hard as possible,” Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said at an Israel Defense Forces press conference.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Jerusalem had established beyond a doubt that Hamas terrorists carried out the kidnappings.
“We know that for a fact. These teenagers were kidnapped and the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas members. Hamas denials do not change this fact. And this attack should surprise no one because Hamas makes no secret of its agenda. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel and to carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians – including children,” Netanyahu said.
“When an attack takes place in Tel Aviv or in London or in New York – all these places have been attacked by terrorists – the question is not where the attack takes place. The question is where it originated. The kidnappers in this case set out from territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and the PA cannot absolve itself of its responsibility.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman said in a statement “the Palestinian Authority hopes the boys will be found and we will help Israel in searching for them.”
“The incident occurred in Area C and in previous cases in which Israelis entered the territory of the Palestinian Authority, security personnel helped transfer them safely back to Israel,” the statement added.
In fact, as Israel tried to stir outrage over the kidnapping of three teens, some tried to highlight the youths as occupiers.
“Any Palestinian armed groups unlawfully holding three Israeli teenagers should release them immediately and unconditionally,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “Israeli forces searching for the three should respect the laws of war with respect to the Palestinian population in the occupied territory and not carry out mass, arbitrary arrests.”
“Israeli security forces responding to the missing youth have arrested up to 150 Palestinians in the West Bank since June 14, including 80 Palestinians that night alone, according to Israeli and Palestinian news reports and the Israel Defense Forces website. Israeli forces have imposed closures or restricted movement in the southern West Bank, especially in the Palestinian city of Hebron, Israeli and Palestinian news media reported. No one taken into custody should be arbitrarily detained,” Human Rights Watch said today. “Anyone arrested should be released unless promptly brought before a judge and charged with a credible offense.”
Kerry said in a Sunday statement that the U.S. “strongly condemns” the kidnapping.
“We continue to offer our full support for Israel in its search for the missing teens, and we have encouraged full cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian security services. We understand that cooperation is ongoing,” Kerry said.
“We are still seeking details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas’ involvement. As we gather this information, we reiterate our position that Hamas is a terrorist organization known for its attacks on innocent civilians and which has used kidnapping in the past.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters today that they’ve conveyed concerns about the treatment of Palestinians as the IDF searches for the boys.
“There’s obviously a great deal of emotion in Israel given the fact that we have three missing teenagers,” Psaki said.
Of Naftali Frenkel, Psaki would just say that U.S. diplomats “have been in touch the family of one of the kidnapped boys.”
Reaction began to grow on Capitol Hill, particularly as an American is among the missing.
“I urge the White House to continue doing everything within its power to help bring these teenagers home, and call on those responsible for the kidnapping to release them immediately,” said Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), noting that “the kidnapping of three teenagers, one of whom is an American, is upsetting and the United States is deeply grateful for the swift response of one of our closest allies, Israel.”
“While the world collectively joins together to pray for a safe and quick recovery of these teenagers, I are comforted by the fact that the Israel Defense Forces have shown an unwavering commitment to bringing these young men home safely,” he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the Obama administration, which refused to disconnect aid to the Palestinian Authority after it entered into a unity agreement with Hamas, should immediately cut off financial assistance to the Palestinians.
“This act of terrorism should also alert the Obama Administration to the fact that working with, recognizing, and/or funding any ‘unity’ government that includes those that seek the destruction of the Jewish State is naive and foolish. Such legitimization of the enemies of Israel and the United States only invites more violence,” Cruz said in a statement.
“…This most recent vicious attack on innocent young civilians demonstrates beyond any doubt that the PA is not fulfilling these conditions, and not one more U.S. taxpayer dollar should be sent to support them until they do.”
The first concern on the minds of the Israelis is to find the teens as quickly as possible.
“Share their names, share #Israel’s reality. Our boys #EyalGiladNaftali are still kidnapped,” the IDF tweeted today. The Defense Force also gathered reports of Palestinians celebrating the kidnapping by passing out candy and making a three-fingered signal on social media — signifying their “three Gilad Shalits.”
Shalit, an IDF soldier kidnapped by Hamas in a 2006 cross-border raid, was released in 2011 for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners — more than a quarter of those with life sentences on their heads for terrorism.
“Israel will act in all ways under its province, in all ways under our control, to bring home the three kidnapped teenagers,” Netanyahu promised. “Israel will act against the kidnappers and their terrorist sponsors and comrades. We will do whatever needs to be done to protect our people, our citizens, our children and our teenagers from the scourge of terrorism.”
— Peter Lerner (@LTCPeterLerner) June 16, 2014