The day Israel wept
IT WAS a day all those present hoped they would never see.
For nearly three weeks, the prayers of every Israeli, parent and child had had been tied to the desperate belief that “their boys” would be found alive.
But at Modi’in cemetery on Tuesday, the raw grief of the tens of thousands of mourners poured out under the burning sun.
The murders of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach were not just personal tragedies. Their families’ pain was evident in the face of every person present and the conversation of every Israeli.
As the crowd waited for the triple burial to begin, a spontaneous song broke out from deep in the throng: “May this be a time of mercy.”
Within hours, the grief turned to anger. Anti-Arab riots erupted in Jerusalem and, on Wednesday morning, the body of a Palestinian teenager was found in a forest in West Jerusalem, killed in a suspected revenge attack.
Meanwhile, Palestinians held violent demonstrations in East Jerusalem and threw rocks at Israeli forces demolishing the home of a suspect in a separate terror case.
The Modi’in event was one of the largest funerals in Israeli memory, although bereaved families held their own, smaller memorials before despatching the bodies to the cemetery.
At these local events, Naftali Frenkel’s father, Avi, said his 16-year-old son had been a victim of antisemitism and joined “millions in our history killed for the same reason”. Ofir Shaer, father of 16-year-old Gilad, spoke of his son’s “courage” in calling the police for help after being kidnapped. And Uri Yifrah said of his son, Eyal, 19: “You are holy, you were holy in your life. You gave strength to so many people.”
Those in the crowd were mostly religious. They had prayed fervently for the teenagers and desperately needed an outlet for their grief.
Esther Zadok, an elderly woman, was crying uncontrollably. “The mother of Gilad works in the school where my husband is the security guard — how can I hug her now?” she asked.
“Everything fell out of me when I heard the news; my heart just fell to the floor,” said Roger Mayo, 59, from the Galilee city of Karmiel.
Gila Douadi, 49, from Petach Tikva and one of the few non-religious people at the funeral, said: “Everyone who comes here feels it’s their children.”
The kidnapping brought an unusual burst of Jewish unity, said Daniel Hool, a 43-year-old Jerusalemite. “I’ve been in Israel for 28 years and to my mind there has never been an event that has unified Jews here and in the world in
YET ANOTHER round of violence in Gaza and the West Bank is the last thing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs right now.
Although the desire for retribution over the deaths of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach remains powerful, Mr Netanyahu needs to focus his attention on the nuclear talks in Vienna.
It is also a fact that Hamas, whose members are suspected of having carried out the murders, is a key player in restoring any calm.
Many in Israel, including members of the coalition, are demanding an offensive in Gaza. But the fact that no direct link has been established between the alleged perpetrators and Hamas’s headquarters will make it difficult to justify such a campaign — unless a massive salvo of missiles is launched at Israel.
An uneasy truce, however, could serve both sides. Hamas has been damaged over the last three weeks by the IDF operation in the West Bank that saw hundreds of members arrested and its organisational capacity degraded. Hamas also lost a major opportunity to capitalise on the unity agreement with Fatah and gain a degree of international legitimacy. It will have to work much harder to form partnerships in the Palestinian government and take part in elections by the end of the year. A ceasefire in Gaza would be a prerequisite for this.
A round of violence in Gaza would also be very bad for Israel. It would make it much harder for Mr Netanyahu and his diplomats to maintain pressure on the P5+1 group, whose members have been talking to the Iranians since Wednesday and will continue doing so until the July 20 deadline for reaching a deal on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme.
Meanwhile, with the US focused on Iran and Iraq, an escalation in violence would be hard to stop. As it is, the Americans are taking a break from the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk announced over the weekend that he was resigning from his position as peace mediator, tweeting that he was “battered but unbowed”.
Although a new Palestinian unity government was sworn in a month ago, Fatah-Hamas reconciliation has stalled over Hamas’s demands that the PA pay the salaries of its civil servants in Gaza. Meanwhile, Fatah leaders close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have accused Hamas of sabotaging the deal through the kidnapping.
On Sunday, at a conference at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Mr Netanyahu presented his perspective on the prospects for peace.
While not retreating from his previous acceptance of a two-state solution, Mr Netanyahu stressed that with the new threats to Israel from Iraq and Jordan, and the lingering threat of Hamas closer to home, Israel would have to maintain a military presence in the West Bank.
While Mr Netanyahu will have to somehow assuage the calls for revenge over the murders, he will be cautious of provoking a backlash. Whether or not he succeeds is another matter.
What the murders have proved is that even if Israel, Fatah and Hamas seem to share an interest in maintaining the calm, rogue elements on either side can disrupt affairs. A series of revenge attacks by Israelis, more missiles fired from Gaza by Salafist groups or Hamas cells not under central control could push this spiral downwards.
There was a grim inevitability that the hunt for Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach would eventually become a hunt for their murderers. But the news was no less gut-wrenching for being expected. Some crimes are so shocking that they move beyond the usual confines of outrage. This was one such. It seems clear that it was an intended kidnapping that went wrong, but even had it been ‘successful’ as a kidnapping it would have exposed to the world the mindset that drives Hamas. These people do not want peace. They are committed by their founding charter to the genocide of the Jews. They rejoice in death. And yet even before their victims’ bodies were buried the usual suspects were finding ways to blame those victims — essentially for the crime of being Israeli. One of those victims was also an American citizen — murdered by operatives of the terrorist organisation which had just a few weeks before been recognised by President Obama as an appropriate leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Something has, to put it mildly, gone very wrong with US foreign policy. But such issues of state and policy are not what matter now. At the moment, all that really matters is that three families are now bereft of cherished sons. The implications of the past three weeks’ events are for later.
Mourners at the graves of the three murdered teenagers