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

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