Eyal Yifrach, 19, lived in El’ad, Naftali Fraenkel (also spelled Frenkel), 16, was a dual Israeli-American citizen and lived in Nof Ayalon, Gilad Shaer was a resident of the Israeli settlement of Talmon. Eyal Yifrah was a student at the Shavei Hevron Yeshiva The other two were students of the Mekor Chaim yeshiva at Kfar Etzion
It was three years ago when the Israeli teenagers were kidnapped at the bus stop at the Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion.
Gilad Shaer called a police emergency hotline to report the kidnapping. The emergency call recording, initially under a gag order, was leaked to the public. After Shaer’s whispered message “They kidnapped me”, the taped call also recorded shouting in Arabic from the kidnappers and several volleys of automatic gunfire.
The Israel Defense Forces initiated Operation Brother’s Keeper in search of the three teenagers. As part of the operation, in the following 18 of searching, Israel arrested around 350 Hamas members.
“The kidnappings of our boys marks one of the more difficult moments in Israel’s modern history. But the reality is that out of this bitter tragedy came a spirit of unprecedented unity among the Jewish people,” the parents had said in a joint statement.
“Our commitment is to ensure that this sense of unity remains alive. This was the mission of Unity Day and we are so moved and encouraged by the global response,” the parents concluded.
Participating in a commemoration event for her son in New York, Racheli Frenkel, mother of Naftali, stressed that while it is nice that the world remembers her son Naftali – she really wants the world to remember how the global community behaved during those eighteen days of uncertainty and to always remember the power we have as a people when we choose unity over division.
For 18 days Israelis and Jews throughout the world had mobilized, holding prayer rallies, social media campaigns ( #BringBackOurBoys ) and solidarity marches calling for the return of the boys.
The following is a timeline of the 18 days of searching, hoping, fighting and praying for the 3 boys. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Late into the night of Thursday, 12 June, teenagers Yifrach, Fraenkel, and Shaer were waiting at Geva’ot Intersection, west of the settlement of Alon Shvut in the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem, soon after 22:15, looking to catch a ride heading west on Route 367 toward Beit Shemesh and from there to locations in central Israel where each of them lived. The kidnappers intended to kidnap one Israeli. Apparently Yifrach, after accepting a ride, waved to the other two to join him. The Palestinians, afraid of giving their identity away if they spoke Hebrew, didn’t dare object. After the car veered off from the declared direction of Ashkelon, the three realized they had been kidnapped and Shaer telephoned the police at 22:25, whispering, “I’ve been kidnapped.” Eight attempts were made to page the caller’s cellphone, without checking its ownership, and his whispered remark was taken to be one of the many pranks that night. No check was made to find out the phone’s owner, or whether he was missing. Later, analysis of the tape revealed what the police failed to realize at the time, that the murders had occurred while the hotline operator was listening.
Four and a half hours passed before Shaer’s family finally phoned the Talmon security coordinator at 3:10 am to inform him their son Gil-Ad had not returned home. Only then did the security establishment take the case seriously, and Shin Bet and the IDF were alerted by the police. According to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, the army succeeded in tracing the call to the Sanjar region, the last cellphone signal being made at 23:20 in the Hebron area, when Fraenkel’s and Shaer’s cellphones had been switched off. Meanwhile, at 1 a.m. on Friday morning, Marwan knocked on Hussam’s door and said, “I’ve murdered three Jews.”
A gag order was immediately placed regarding the abduction on Israeli news services (the presumed identities of the kidnappers, acolytes of senior Hamas members, were known almost from the beginning to everyone in Hebron, but kept from the Israeli public) and, in lieu of concrete details, rumors proliferated. At 11:00 on 13 June, a “Hannibal” alert (meaning ‘kidnapping’) was issued.
On 14–15 June, the Hebron and South Hebron Hills areas were the focus of investigations by a large number of troops. Soldiers numbering 2,500 together with security agents, police, and special forcesengaged in a manhunt, scouring numerous villages, including Beit Ummar, Beit Einun,Halhul, Dura, as-Samu, Tarqumiyah, Beit Kahil, Yatta, Taffuh, and Tapuah in what the IDF termed ‘Operation Shuvu Achim (Return, Brothers/Bring Back Our Brothers),’ and referred to in English as ‘Brother’s Keeper’.
Over the weekend, Israeli security forces also arrested around 80 Palestinians, among them senior members of Hamas, accused of being connected to the kidnapping, in a sweep that rounded up former government leaders, clerics, university lecturers, and militants of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad across the West Bank. In Hebron’s Ein Deir Baha neighborhood Israeli forces broke down a door, apparently by firing a missile, after surrounding the house of Akram al-Qawasami. He, his 8-year-old son Muhammad and younger daughter Sujoud were injured by shrapnel, and two Hamas operatives, among them Zaid Akram al-Qawasami, were arrested inside. The military also fully closed the Hebron area and Gaza crossings, only allowing passage for humanitarian cases.
On Sunday, Netanyahu said what he had only hinted at previously, that Israel “knew for a fact” that the abduction had been carried out by Hamas, a position the IDF had avoided explicitly stating. He did, however, not provide any evidence. Security officials remained more cautious, tending to accept the probability that a Hebronite Hamas cell was involved, but uncertain whether it was a local initiative to secure prisoner releases or an operation approved by the Hamas leadership in Gaza. A remark by Moshe Ya’alon about the “very heavy price” Hamas leaders might pay was interpreted by one journalist as hinting Israel might be mulling the option of resuming its campaign of targeted killings, this time against the Hamas leadership. Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Danny Danon, threatened “possible actions” in Gaza and Ramallah.
Overnight on 16 June, the IDF clashed with Palestinians in Jenin, where they ransacked the offices of Mustafa Barghouti’s Palestinian National Initiative and confiscated computers, and 400 soldiers raided the Jalazone refugee camp near Ramallah, killing Ahmad Arafat Samada (Ahmad Sabarin) (21) with a gunshot wound in the chest. The Israeli army said he threw a brick at the Israeli soldiers. A dragnet rounded up a further 50 people, bringing the total of Palestinians detained to 150. Many arrests, including the former speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council Aziz Duwaik, 66, were part of what IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz described as an extensive operation, and were not linked to the search for the youths, but were part of a crackdown to apply pressure on Hamas. Netanyahu’s approach has been interpreted as aimed at driving a wedge between Fatah and Hamas in order to break up the reconciliation between the two negotiated in April 2014, and discredit both Abbas and his government, which has been backed by Western countries. PA sources noted that Hamas, in the unity negotiations, had undertaken to desist from attacks and bloodshed, and if its involvement were proven, it would be a breach of the agreement that would render the reconciliation null and void, a point repeated later in the week by the Palestinian Foreign Minister.
Overnight 16–17 June, the IDF arrested more than 200 Palestinians. Anything linked to Hamas was being targeted, an official source said. The IDF shifted its attentions north, and deployed 1,000 soldiers from the Nahal Brigade for operations around Nablus. In particular the Balata refugee camp and the village of Awarta were scoured in what a spokesman called ‘”cleaning house” in the “terror capital of Nablus”‘, and a further 41 Palestinians were detained, among them the manager of the Hamas-run television channel Al-Aqsa TV, bringing the number of arrests to 200. Israeli soldiers confiscated a large cache of weapons and uncovered a weapons manufacturing lab in Nablus.
Conflicting reports emerged on Israel’s collaboration with both the PNA and other regional governments. Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Yoav Mordechai, denied on 16 June that Israel coordinated the search with Palestinian or Egyptian authorities. However, Israel military intelligence confirmed that Israel was working closely with both the PA authorities and Egypt. Egyptian sources stated the same day that Israel had requested their assistance, and that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had issued directives to his security services to undertake negotiations with all parties. On 17 June, Israel defence sources said PNA assistance had been “very professional”.
On the night of 18 June, Israel seized a further 64 Palestinians, of whom 51 were Hamas members who had been previously arrested but released in the Gilad Shalitexchange in 2011, bringing to 240 the number of arrests. In six days, the government sources announced, they had searched 800 structures, including the Al-Aqsa radio station in Ramallah and the Hebron-based TransMedia communications company, both linked to Hamas. They were taken in operations in Hebron, Jenin, Nablus, Yatta, Taffuh, Dura, Beit Kahil, East Jerusalem, Idhna, Surif, Beit Ula, Beit Awwa, Deir Sharaf, Salfit, Audla, Tell, Beit Furik and Qabatiya. The overnight operations also secured the defenses of Israeli settlements. However, in the process 300,000 Palestinians were left under curfew, 600,000 in the area had their movements restricted, and Hebronites with permission to work in Israel, an estimated 20,000, were denied entrance into Israel and thus their livelihood, and, according to an IDF spokesmen, Palestinians preparing for the Ramadan holiday have “taken a hit.” Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan also stated that Israel had identified the Hamas cell responsible for the kidnapping.
Overnight on 19 June, troops raided the Bir Zeit University’s student union searching for incriminating evidence, finding promotional material for Hamas. The Prime Minister declared at a press conference: “We know more today than we did a few days ago.” The IDF arrested 25 wanted Palestinians in the West Bank, and searched 200 homes. Nine more raids were launched against Hamas social services (Dawah) centers. Moshe Ya’alon outlawed West Bank activities of the British Muslim charity, Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) because some of its offices employed Hamas members. In East Jerusalem, a social centre operated from a Beit Safafa mosque in Beit Safafa village, and a Sur Baher charity were also closed down. By night’s end, 49 Palestinians had been arrested. One of the refugee camp detainees complained that soldiers had stolen $580 from his wallet.
Week 2 (20–26 June)
Throughout the week, the arrest of Hamas leaders went quietly as they acceded to their detention, but by Friday, 20 June, sporadic popular resistance began to emerge. Three Palestinians were wounded in a raid on Qalandiya refugee camp, near Jerusalem, while another five were wounded in clashes at the Dheisheh refugee camp by Bethlehem, whose Ibdaa cultural center was wrecked, cheques and money from its safe, together with five computers, confiscated. Four of the victims were reportedly run over by an Israeli jeep. Also on 20 June, Israeli soldiers near the Qalandiya checkpoint in Ramallah fired live rounds at a group of Palestinians who had thrown homemade grenades at them. Mustafa Hosni Aslan, 22, received a gunshot wound to the head, and died on 25 June. Live fire was used according to the IDF in response to Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, one makeshift grenade, firecrackers, and stones being thrown at soldiers at the camps.In Dura’s Haninia neighbourhood, after a night-long raid, involving many clashes with local youths, to detain a person Israelis consider to be a terrorist, as troops were withdrawing, eyewitness testimonies reported that a retreating Israeli soldier fired six shots and killed 15-year-old Mohammed Dudeen. Twenty-five more Palestinians were arrested at Dura and Dheisheh, bringing the number of detainees to 320, of which 240 are considered Hamas operatives. The number of sites searched mounted to 1,150, of which 1,000 buildings were damaged, the figure including over 750 homes. According to Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki Israel had destroyed 150 homes by week’s end. In another dawn raid on the Dean’s Office and Student Union of the Arab American University in Jenin papers were seized, and Amir Saadi, 17, was shot in the shoulder. The villages of Arraba, Al-Louz, and Artas were also raided.
Riyad al-Malki demanded Israel produce evidence that Hamas was culpable, stating that Netanyahu cannot “keep blaming one side without showing evidence.” He said Israel’s massive military sweeps were unacceptable, with 300 Palestinians taken in exchange for three Israeli kids, but the Palestinian authority would act to prevent an uprising, for “if the situation continues as it is, this will end up (with) the destruction of what we have built in Palestine.”
On Friday night, Israeli security spokesmen said the “noose was tightening” as troops were concentrated near Hebron, with intelligence officials confident that attempts to move the youths to either Jordan, Gaza, or the Sinai had failed. A spokesman for the Prime Minister, Amos Gilead, stated that Netanyahu’s view that Hamas was responsible was “built on the base of firm intelligence.” IDF forces ransacked Bethlehem’s biggest Islamic charity, devoted to orphan’s care, in the Jabal al-Mawalih neighborhood and took away computers and files.
On 21 June, Israeli forces concentrated their investigations on villages north of Hebron, searching wells, pits, and houses. According to Palestinian reports, an elderly man, Ali Abed Jabir, either died during an altercation with Israeli troops who broke into his home while ransacking houses in the village of Haris, or was denied passage for medical treatment after suffering a heart attack. Israel sources state the house was not raided and, on being told of the heart-attack, an Israeli ambulance was called. A further 39 Palestinians, primarily in Hebron and Bethlehem, were arrested in overnight raids, bringing the number seized to roughly 370, 75 of whom had been released in the 2011 prisoner swap. IDF sources challenged the report, saying only 10 Hamas ‘terrorists’ were seized. Further claims of soldiers stealing money were made by villagers in Beit Kahil. In the village of al-Bireh, several houses were ransacked, and soldiers broke into the Noon Center for Islamic Studies and the Palmedia TC company where they confiscated computers and damaged furniture. The IDF said cash had been confiscated in 21 homes of the 146 homes searched overnight. Palestinian sources also stated that in a predawn raid in Nablus, a female reporter was assaulted and troops shot and injured two Palestinian teenagers. In the late afternoon three fire trucks, with pumps to empty pools of water, and an ATV rescue unit were rushed to assist special forces searching an area riddled with caves and wells north of Hebron, between Highway 35 and Highway 60, reportedly without concrete intelligence leads. Netanyahu reaffirmed that ‘the information in Israel’s hands unequivocally indicates that Hamas is responsible for the abduction of the youths.’
On 22 June, Israeli units shot dead two Palestinians and wounded another 11 in overnight clashes in Ramallah and Nablus, while nine (Israeli statistic) to 38 (Palestinian statistic) were arrested and five charity offices were raided. Israeli forces also raided Abu Dis and Al-Quds University’s law faculty, seizing flags and several computers. Ahmad Said Suod Khalid (27), an epileptic, of Ein Beit al-Ma’ refugee camp was shot in the abdomen, back, and thigh, for refusing an order to turn back as he insisted on going to a mosque for dawn prayers. Muhammad Ismail Atallah Tarifi (30) was found dead on the roof of a building opposite an Israeli sniper position, an autopsy found he was shot dead by an M16, a rifle in use with the IDF. Mourners at his funeral in al-Bireh later complained that settlers from Psagot had fired at them, injuring one. Palestinians, protesting at the cooperation given Israeli forces by their own police, who dispersed crowds by firing live ammunition in the air, smashed four local police cars in Ramallah, and, once Israelis had withdrawn from the city, raided a police station in Al Manara Square.Abbas, affirming that he was not convinced Hamas was responsible, called on Netanyahu to condemn two earlier killings, and asked if the criminal kidnapping justified ‘the killing of Palestinian youth in cold blood?’ The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society named 420 people so far arrested, claimed Israel consistently understated the numbers and refused to disclose where they are detained.
On Sunday, the Palestinian Authority asked for an urgent convening of the UN Security Council, while mulling an appeal both to the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN General Assembly to put an end what it considered to be “collective punishment,” “Israeli terrorist aggression against the State of Palestine,” and what Hanan Ashrawitermed “a reign of terror directed against a captive Palestinian population.”
On 23 June, 80 locations, including seven Hamas-linked charities, were raided from the Nablus to Hebron and Jenin areas, with a further 37 Palestinians detained overnight. Four money-changing shops in Hebron and one in Bethlehem were also searched, and their computers confiscated. The number of Palestinians under detention rose to 471. An officer interviewed on Walla! said that Israel, having achieved most of its “band of targets”, would close the operation, and that the military incursion pattern in the West Bank, apart from detention raids, would stop within days. No clue to the teenagers’ whereabouts, had turned up, but the operation, in crippling Hamas’s infrastructure, had been a success. Netanyahu declared: “We’ve pretty much figured out who are the kidnappers—the actual perpetrators, the supporters, the command structure—and there’s no question, these are members of Hamas.”
On 24 June 120 buildings were searched and four to 13 Palestinians were rounded up by Israeli forces in the Hebron area, Beit Kahil, Beit Awwa, al-Arrub refugee camp, and the Hebron neighbourhoods of al-Mahawir, al-Bassa, and al-Hawooz, bringing the number of sites examined to 1,800 and the number of detained Palestinians, in the IDF calculation, to 354, or according to Palestinian sources, over 500. As town searches and arrests wound down, investigators shifted their focus to interrogations of detainees and scrutiny of the 150 security cameras in the area in which the kidnapping is believed to have taken place. The IDF said it had no substantial lead on the boys’ whereabouts, or fate. A lawyer for the PA said that in the wake of the West Bank round-up, the number of Palestinian minors detained in Israeli jails exceeded 250, and that the hunt for the missing Israeli youths served to cover up this fact.
On 25 June, 17 Palestinians were arrested overnight in Yatta, Beit Ummar, Hebron and Bethlehem among them legislative council members Khalid Tafish and Anwar Zaboun, both of Bethlehem, bringing the number of Palestinian legislators arrested in the campaign to 12. Of the 19 people arrested in Beit Ummar since the start of the search, 14 are minors. A Palestinian youth in Khursa, Younis al-Rjoub (18), was shot in the abdomen during a clash with Israeli soldiers.
On 26 June, the Israel Security Agency released the names of two Hamas suspects. The ISA stated that both men had engaged in terrorism, been arrested and served time in the past, and were immediately considered suspects. ISA and Palestinian authorities said they had disappeared from their homes on the night of the kidnapping, and ISA believed them to be integral members of the kidnapping group.
Overnight, 136 structures were searched and a further 10 Palestinians were arrested in the Hebron area on suspicion of being terrorists. Fatima Ismail Issa Rushdi (78) died of a heart attack during an Israeli raid on the Arruba refugee camp. Nine youths were injured by tear gas or rubber bullets. Two boys, aged 13 and 14, were arrested in Dura. 44-year-old Ismail Ahmad al-Hawamda was shot in the foot, running away from a checkpoint in the Hebron district town of al-Samu. Despite the Oslo Accords stipulating coordination with the PA security service for Israeli entry into West Bank Areas in the Area A, in what was called an “unprecedented” move, Israeli units raided the Tunis and Rafidia neighbourhoods of Nablus and Balata refugee camp without prior clearance. Two hundred homes in Awarta were also raided.
According to Israeli figures, state detentions numbered 381, of whom 282 are affiliated to Hamas. The number of locations searched rose to 1,955, including 64 Hamas institutions. Palestinian figures state that 566 were detained, six were shot dead, and over 120 wounded; two elderly people died of heart attacks during Israeli operations, and more than 1,200 homes were searched.
Week 3 (27 June – 3 July)
On 30 June, a search team located the bound bodies of the three boys on land purchased recently by the Qawasmeh family in an open field near Khirbet Aranava in the Wadi Tellem area, between Halhul and Karmei Tzur, about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) west of the former, just north of Hebron.A high security source revealed that:
The quick solving of the crime by the Shin Bet, which within a 24-hour period identified the kidnappers, together with military pressure in the field, prevented the kidnappers from hiding the bodies and negotiating with Israel for their return.
The ambulance carrying the three bodies was attacked by Palestinians as it left Halhul, the location where the bodies had been found. The Palestinians hurled rocks and paint at the ambulance, smashing its windshield and blinding the windows, but failed to cause the driver to lose control.
Just after midnight, Israeli military used explosives to demolish the Hebron homes of the two main suspects, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha.