The aunt of one of the three Israeli teens who went missing June 12 coming home from school was on Capitol Hill this week, standing with lawmakers to call on the White House to help Israel and to call on the world to stand united against terrorism.
Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were kidnapped from the kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the West Bank. 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.
Leehy Shaar, the aunt of Gilad, noted that her nephew has “a smile that brings light to the world” and a heart that loves to bake cookies for his five sisters. “He loves to bring happiness to others,” she said, adding that he’s an “extremely bright” youth who excels in his studies.
“We want him home where he belongs with his family,” Shaar told a news conference Tuesday while flanked by members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Yes, this happened in Israel, but we all know that the terrorists can make this happen any place in the world and to anyone,” she said. “We must stand strong against all the terrorists and all the terrorist organizations… the terrorists will not break us, no matter what they try to do.”
Shaar met with committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), both at the press conference along with Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), and Grace Meng (D-N.Y.).
Royce said the kidnappings can be traced to “decades of demonization of Israelis by the Palestinian Authority” and the “genocidal aspirations of Hamas.”
“We as members of Congress feel that it is important to stand beside these three teens and call upon our government to work with the government of Israel in every way,” the chairman said.
Engel stressed that “as long as we don’t do anything to combat terror, we are in essence condoning terror.”
“Those who perpetrated this heinous crime will be brought to justice. We will track them down. We will work with our Israeli allies and partners, and track them down. People who use terror as a political means will never succeed because we are determined,” said Engel. “Right now, the first thing we need is let’s bring our boys home. Three wonderful boys, one of whom, as you know, is an American citizen. But it really transcends any kind of nationality. Because again, as the aunt to one of these boys says, this could happen to anyone and it is every parent’s nightmare. So let’s bring our boys home.”
Bass said the members assembled shared a fear that the abuse of children — from the Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria to the disappearance of the yeshiva boys — would become a “standard act of terrorism.”
“No parent should ever have to suffer like this … children are blessings not to be used in a conflict they did not create,” she said.
“We are hoping that our voices will continue to raise awareness and put pressure on whomever is responsible for kidnapping these children.”
Engel said the committee hasn’t been presented with any evidence about the responsible party, but it “certainly looks and smells like Hamas.”
“We must continue to press Abu Mazen… these boys could have been home days ago if Abu Mazen was a real leader,” Ros-Lehtinen said, adding that the U.S. government should be supplying Israel with whatever assistance is needed to locate the boys.
There has been little news from the administration about a U.S. role in the effort to find the boys. Israeli authorities confirmed this week that they’ve narrowed their leading suspects to two known Hamas militants, Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said this week that his Security Cabinet “decided to continue wide-ranging operations in the field in order to locate the three abducted youths.”
“We are in the midst of a continuing and focused effort to – first of all – bring the boys home. This effort entails a certain friction with the civilian population in Judea and Samaria; we have no intention of deliberately harming anyone but our forces are acting as necessary for self-defense and from time to time there are victims or casualties on the Palestinian side as a result of the self-defense actions of our soldiers,” Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.
“We are focusing on returning the abductees, on finding the kidnappers and on striking at the organization to which they belong. We have unequivocal proof that this is Hamas. We are sharing this proof and information to this effect with several countries,” the prime minister continued.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki accused the Israelis of possibly staging the kidnapping, arguing it “could be a childish game on the part of Israel to draw attention to it, it could be part of a larger game to turn the Israelis from aggressors to victims, or maybe they were really kidnapped.”
Rachel Frankel, the mother of Naftali, appealed to the UN Human Rights Council this week, telling the world body that since the kidnapping “we’ve heard nothing — no news, no sign of life.”
She thanked the UN Security Council for condemning the abduction. “At the same time, I believe much more can be done — and should be done — by so many. That is why we three mothers have come here today — before the United Nations, and before the world — to ask everyone, to do whatever they can, to bring back our boys,” Frankel said.
“Mr. President, it is wrong to take children, innocent boys or girls, and use them as instruments of any struggle. It is cruel. This council is charged with protecting human rights. I wish to ask: Doesn’t every child have the right to come home safely from school?”
Shaar recently penned an open letter for the Jewish Journal in an effort to help American parents relate to what her family is experiencing since her nephew’s kidnapping.
“You can only imagine what Gilad’s father, Ofir, is going through, and the thoughts going through his mind. I pray that you will never have to experience this,” she wrote. Where are they keeping Gilad? In a tunnel? Is he tied up? His hands or his legs? Or both? Is there a bag over his head? A blindfold on his eyes? Are they feeding him? If so, I’m sure the food is not kosher.”
“Are they letting him sleep? Are they hurting him? Is he, God forbid, in pain? Is Hamas allowing Gilad, Eyal and Naftali to stay together? Or did they separate them? Is he even still alive?… For God’s sake, he’s only 16.”
“For most of the world, it might be just three pictures, but for us, it’s our boys,” Shaar told the conference on the Hill. “Please don’t forget them.”