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Was Israeli public misled on abductions?

A full recording of one of the murdered youth's emergency call to Israeli police has led to speculation that Israeli government leaders believed the students were murdered soon after their kidnapping.
Israelis attend the joint funeral of three Israeli teens, Gil-Ad Shaer, U.S.-Israeli national Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, who were abducted and killed in the occupied West Bank, in the Israeli city of Modi'in July 1, 2014. Tens of thousands of mourners joined in an outpouring of national grief on Tuesday at the burial of three Israeli teenagers whose kidnapping and killing Israel blamed on the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. The Islamist group has neither confirmed nor denied involveme

This is how it began: It happened on June 12 at 10:15 p.m., at the hitchhiking station close to the Alon Shvut settlement in Judea and Samaria. Three boys — Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach — got into a Hyundai driven by Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha, two terrorists from Hebron.

The radio was set to the news channel of Israel's public radio to deceive the hitchhikers into thinking it was an Israeli car. The voice of Knesset member Shelly Yachimovich was heard on the radio. Later, Yachimovich was to describe that interview, which served as the setting for the horrifying murder of the youths, as a relaxed conversation she held in her yard on a Tel Aviv summer evening.

When the boys realized that the Hyundai passengers were not Jews but terrorists, one of them succeeded in calling the police emergency call center and whispered, "We've been kidnapped." In the recording of that phone call, one of the abductors was heard shouting in Hebrew, "Heads down!" Then there were sounds of shouting, volleys from an automatic weapon and a weak voice sighing "Ai," of someone who was injured. This was followed by another volley of shots from an automatic weapon, and the boys fell silent. Then the murderers burst out singing.

It was a murder in real-time, horrifying and monstrous. Three Israeli boys who attempted to hitch a ride on their way to their weekend Shabbat at home were murdered in cold blood. And the police had recorded documentation of the murder. Like in the movies.

Examination of the burned Hyundai found near Halhul, north of Hebron, only verified what was already known from listening to the tape. The numerous bloodstains and DNA findings left no room for hope. But Israel's defense and political systems closed ranks and transmitted one message, loud and clear: The State of Israel is closely tracking the fates of the three missing boys, who were abducted for bargaining purposes to free Palestinian prisoners. Thus, searches are underway to free them.

The border crossing between Israel and Jordan was closed. The official reason: to prevent the terrorists from smuggling the abductees outside Israel's borders, and even from the Palestinian Authority's limits.

Military and security pundits were interviewed incessantly on the radio and television stations about possible methods for extricating the abducted boys. Someone mentioned the 1976 Operation Entebbe, others talked about the failed operation to release soldier Nachshon Wachsman in 1994 and the lessons that were learned from that affair. And, of course, soldier Gilad Shalit was mentioned often; his name hovered in the background throughout all the long broadcast hours.

When criticism was voiced regarding the police emergency call center doing nothing when it received the dramatic call from the abducted boys, its focus was mainly on the loss of precious hours. These hours could have been used to track down the kidnappers, pinpoint their escape route in real time and free the boys.

The Israeli public watched television, listened to the radio, read the newspapers and hoped with all its heart that the teenagers would come home soon in a daring rescue operation of the Matkal elite reconnaissance platoon or the Yamam elite counterterrorist unit. After all, Israel has learned from the mistakes made in the attempted rescue of Nachshon Wachsman.

Simultaneously, rumors began to leak on social networks that the bodies of the teens had been uncovered in the territories. In a journalist briefing session, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz adopted a reproachful tone and raised hopes even higher. He said, "Both the army and the Shin Bet are working on making new evaluations of the situation in the recent hours and are involved in many operations designed to ensure the safe return of these boys. Regarding the rumors that have spread — these rumors have no basis and are not reliable." He didn't even blink an eye when he said this.

In the complex relationship between the public, the media and the army, credibility is the most important tool required by a spokesman, especially an IDF spokesman. It will take a long, long time until Almoz restores his credibility in the public's eyes.

And so, from the moment the abduction of the three teens became known, the defense and political-diplomatic apparatuses closed ranks to conceal and deny the truth. At the same time, the "Return Our Boys" operation was launched; its very name shows that the IDF misled the Israeli public into thinking that its soldiers, who were extensively raiding neighborhoods in Hebron, were searching for the abducted youths.

Only those who heard the emergency call recording knew that the best one could hope for was to bring the boys to their final resting places.

Two days after the abduction, Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon continued the same misleading pattern. In a statement to the press, he said, "Our working assumption is that the missing boys are alive, and so long as we don't know otherwise we will take action to release them." One can assume that Ya'alon already knew that it would be impossible to release the boys alive, and that the goal of the operation was to search for the bodies and find the abductors.

And it continued. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of the diplomatic-security cabinet who certainly knew the content of the police tape, wrote two days after the kidnapping: "At this point in time, each of us prays in his or her own way, for their return home."

At that stage, many journalists knew about the content of the recording held by the police. Knesset member Yachimovich said that Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth parliamentary correspondent Akiva Novick had called to ask her if she had been interviewed on the radio on Thursday night at the time the teens were abducted. Thus, she found out that her voice had been heard in the background of the screams of the boys and the volleys of shots.

So, everyone knew, but the kidnapping reality show and the illusion that IDF soldiers were operating to save them, went on and on. Israeli citizens were asked to join a specially penned mass prayer called "Return our Brothers"; rallies and assemblies took place throughout the country, in which thousands participated and were asked to join the prayer.

I could continue and write thousands of words about the false hopes that were planted in the hearts of Israeli citizens who prayed, worried, hoped and truly believed that if Gilad Shalit was imprisoned and kept alive by Hamas for five years, then Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach would also return to their parents' bosoms.

At the same time, the mothers of the three boys were sent to Geneva to appear before the UN Human Rights Council and bring the abduction of their children to the attention of the international public.

Rachel, Naftali Frenkel's mother, delivered a speech and turned to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a voice trembling with tears. "Mr. secretary-general, it is wrong to take children, innocent children and use them as tools in any kind of conflict. It is cruel. … Is it not the right of every child to come home safely from school? All we want is for them to be home again, safe and sound in their beds."

When the boys' bodies were found and the full recording was revealed to the public, Bat Galim Shaer (Gil-Ad's mother) said the following: "Defense officials told us that the shots in the recording were blanks, because if they wanted to kill they would shoot directly and not warn them. We heard Gil-Ad shout 'Ai' and it sounded like a pinch, not like someone about to be murdered. They told us that evidently they had fired shots outside the windows, and that was the reason that cases were found on the sides of the car. We were really hopeful that they were alive." If so, then the teen's parents were also not told the truth.

For 18 days, this docu-reality show continued. The players included the families of the boys, the IDF soldiers mobilized to search for them and millions of extras on the set: the entire Israel public. All these did not know that the gunshot had been fired in the first act, and there was no chance of a happy ending to the play.

The intriguing questions are: Who gave the order to spread the false rumor that the teens were still alive and held for ransom in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners? And what was the reason for this? To cast responsibility on the chairman of the Palestinian Authority? Perhaps due to the firm opposition of the Israeli government to the national unity government formed with Hamas? Or perhaps an unsuccessful attempt to conceal the police failure in the abduction affair? Or maybe to allow the IDF greater elbow-room to operate against Hamas infrastructure?

"It is wrong to take children and use them as tools in any kind of conflict," said Rachel Frenkel, who didn't know that she had been used without justification, in a cruel way. And it was all for nonoperational goals that added nothing to the search for finding the bodies and locating the abductors.

An intense wave of hatred for Arabs has flooded Israel's social networks, including pictures of IDF soldiers holding signs calling for revenge. Those who search for the motive behind this wave must understand that this is the result of the great disappointment that ensued when the seeds of hope planted in every Israeli home were shown to be fallacious.

"We want vengeance" is the name of the second act in the play. Another shot has been fired in this act; the first but evidently not the last.

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