By Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org
As the days pass following the abduction of three Jewish teenagers near Hebron, the boys’ families are refusing to succumb to despair despite the uncertainty surrounding the situation.
Hamas terrorists kidnapped Gilad Shaar, 16, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, Thursday night, June 12, while they were hitchhiking home from school, according to sources in Israel. A massive manhunt was launched the following morning to rescue the teens.
“I know that our children are on their way home,” Iris Yifrach, Eyal’s mother, said Sunday. “I feel it. I am very serene because God is watching over our children.”
The Shaar and Frenkel families thanked the people of Israel for the waves of support they have received.
“We are going through a difficult time in these last few days and I want to hug the people of Israel with a big embrace, an embrace of gratitude. An embrace of prayer,” said Bat-Galim Shaar, Gilad’s mother.
“I want to ask the people of Israel to continue praying and being together. Continue giving that strength to our children, and with the help of God, with the power of this togetherness, we will succeed.”
Earlier on June 15, Naftali Frenkel’s mother, Rachel, spoke to reporters, saying, “We are enveloped by a very warm circle of wonderful family and community. We know and feel that every effort is being made to bring the children home. We are grateful to every soldier in the field, every Shin Bet operative, the members of Knesset, the mothers and fathers of the soldiers in the battlefield, all the media personnel who are here, in the hot sun, to bring our story to the world. Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Directly addressing her absent son, she said, “Naftali, your father and mother and siblings love you to no end. The nation of Israel is turning the world upside down in order to bring you home.”
Israeli Knesset members and ministers flocked to the families’ homes on Sunday to offer their support. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, also visited the homes of the families on Sunday, telling the parents that she was deeply moved by the strength of their spirit.
“On behalf of myself, my husband, and the entire people of Israel, I want to give you strength and offer you my embrace,” she said. “We are all praying for the rapid and safe return of the three precious boys.”
The Prime Minister, who had contacted the families when the abduction first came to light, also spoke with them again on June 17, assuring them that “the government and the military are sparing no effort” to retrieve their sons. Netanyahu convened Israel’s diplomatic-security cabinet for a special session on June 16 to discuss the scope of the rescue operation.
World leaders also expressed outrage over the abduction of the three teens.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a statement released on June 15, said he “strongly condemns” the kidnapping and called for the teens’ “quick and safe return home.” Kerry added that the U.S. government would continue to “seek details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas’ involvement.”
One of the abducted teens, Naftali Frenkel, holds a dual American-Israeli citizenship. A delegation of 40 French members of parliament, who were touring Israel, visited with the Frenkel family on Monday. “The kidnapping shows more than anything else Hamas’ intentions,” said French MP Meir Habib, the head of the delegation, the Jerusalem Post reported. “It is important that this message is relayed in France, too: Peace cannot be made with terrorists.”
Other Israeli allies, including Canada, Great Britain, and Spain, also condemned the kidnappings. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the teens’ immediate release and for both Israel and the Palestinians to “exercise restraint.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas is behind the kidnapping, following widespread arrests of Palestinian terrorists on Saturday near Hebron.
“This morning I can say what I could not reveal yesterday, before the wave of arrests,” Netanyahu told his cabinet Sunday, June 15. “The people behind this abduction are members of Hamas, the same Hamas with whom [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas has established a unity government.”
Overnight Saturday, June 14, Israeli security forces conducted a wide-ranging arrest of 80 Palestinian suspects, including senior Hamas leaders – Hassan Yousef, Wasfi Qabaha, Khaled Abu Arafeh and Mohammed Totah – as well as several Islamic Jihad members. But during the raids, security forces were unable to locate two Hamas terrorists who are believed to have not been seen since the day of the kidnappings.
In the aftermath of the kidnappings, Netanyahu spoke to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas for the first time in more than a year, telling him that he expects Abbas to aid the effort to rescue the three Jewish teens Israel says were abducted by Hamas. “The Hamas kidnappers came out of Palestinian Authority-controlled territory, and returned to Palestinian Authority-controlled territory,” Netanyahu told Abbas.
The PA presidency issued a statement on the kidnapping that invoked the release of Palestinian prisoners. “The presidency affirmed the need to not resort to violence by any party, particularly since President Mahmoud Abbas’s position is to continue with the extensive efforts to ensure the release of Palestinian prisoners, held in Israeli jails, when a final peace deal with Israel is signed,” the statement said.
As Israeli security forces continued massive efforts to rescue the teens, Palestinians on Monday, June 16 tried to infiltrate the West Bank Jewish community of Kochav Yaakov, which is situated east of Ramallah in the Binyamin region. Israel Defense Forces troops managed to disperse a cell of two or three Palestinians trying to get through the fence surrounding Kochav Yaakov, Israel Hayom reported. According to the IDF, Israeli soldiers fired shots at the Palestinians, wounding one. Another suspect fled.
Meanwhile, a Facebook page created Friday, June 13, immediately following the kidnappings, had garnered close to 80,000 “likes” by Monday. The “Bring Back Our Boys” Facebook page, which aims to raise international awareness of the kidnapping, is predicated on the international protest formula initiated by First Lady Michelle Obama, who created a page called “Bring Back Our Girls” to campaign for the release of nearly 300 Christian Nigerian girls kidnapped by the Muslim terrorist group Boko Haram. Viewers who arrive at the page are asked to share it with friends, with an emphasis on celebrities who can more effectively raise the page’s profile by adding pictures of themselves with the slogan.
Nitzi Yakov, Shlomi Diaz, Shlomo Cesana, Yael Barnovsky, and Ilan Gattegno contributed reporting.