When news broke in Israel at around 7:30 p.m. on June 30 that the dead bodies of the three kidnapped boys had been discovered in a field near to where they disappeared — after 18 days of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) searches, raids and arrests across the West Bank — grief blanketed the nation.
“We didn’t think this would be the end of the story,” Yael Alter, 22, said at a gathering in Tel Aviv to mourn the loss.
Rumors that the boys — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16 — had been found dead first surfaced online, particularly on Twitter, followed by a frantic hour or two during which the IDF kept the information under a media gag order. Officially, the bodies still hadn’t been identified.
But everyone sensed the rumors would prove true. And almost instantaneously — without any formal coordination — Israelis began gravitating toward their usual public meeting spots.
An impromptu candlelight vigil took shape in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square right after news of the boys' murder broke online.
In Tel Aviv, that meant Rabin Square. “Everything that happens — happy or sad — you know to come to Kikar Rabin,” said Ronen Feiner, a 22-year-old lone IDF soldier from England, who gave a small speech at Tel Aviv’s impromptu candlelight vigil. Israelis just started showing up with flags and candles, he said — using them to spell out the boys’ names and to draw a big Star of David in the square. One guy brought a guitar, another a flute, and the crowd sang Hebrew folk songs into the wee hours.
“I couldn’t stay home right now,” said Alter, who traveled the 20 minutes from her home in Petah Tikva to join those at Rabin Square.
Just one night before the teens were announced dead, tens of thousands of Israelis had flocked to this same square to rally around the mothers of the kidnapped victims. “The crazy thing is I was here yesterday,” Feiner said at the vigil. “I was standing right there.”
At the June 29 rally, Iris Yifrach, mother of Eyal, told the crowd: “It is extremely exciting to see the people united. This complex period strengthens and embraces us. We pray for the return of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. You give us strength.”
Twenty-four hours later, she laid her son to rest — as did the mothers of Gilad and Naftali, the latter of whom held dual Israeli and American citizenship.
Tel Aviv's nighttime memorial for three boys murdered in the West Bank drew a mix of secular and religious residents.
The Tel Aviv vigil was expressly nonpolitical; when one man started yelling his stance against Palestinian prisoner exchanges, he was politely drowned out by the crowd of bystanders as they began another folk song. In contrast, impromptu actions in Jerusalem and Gush Etzion, the settlement bloc where the three teens disappeared, were more charged.
A group of more than 300 met at Zion Square in Jerusalem for a candlelight vigil similar to that in Tel Aviv; afterward, though, a few dozen extremists reportedly split off and rallied through town, chanting “Death to Arabs!” and calling for more heavy-handed Israeli retaliation.
Reuven Efraimov, 17, a resident of the radical Bat Ayin settlement near where the boys were kidnapped, said the memorial he attended at Gush Etzion had similar undertones. “I think we need to kill all Arabs” as revenge, he said, pointing to a nearby Arab village. “Women and children, too, because little Arabs will become big Arabs.”
Teenage settlers in the radical outpost of Bat Ayin said they wanted revenge against all Arabs for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish boys.
The next morning, July 1, at the exact hitchhiking stop in Gush Etzion where the three teens are believed to have been snatched, a 19-year-old named Michael Mauda, who said he was Eyal’s cousin, was hitchhiking to Eyal’s 3 p.m. family funeral in Elad.
Eyal “was not ashamed from anyone — he does what he wants,” Mauda said. “If you would ask him, he would say the same as me: We come here to show that [the land] is ours.”
In Hebron, a large Palestinian city near Gush Etzion, residents’ grief was streaked with fear. The extended families of alleged Hamas affiliates Amer Abu Aisheh and Marwan Qawasmeh — the IDF’s top two suspects in the case, missing since the day after the boys disappeared — had seen their homes raided by dozens of IDF soldiers on the night the boys were pronounced dead.
A young Palestinian boy surveyed the wreckage of his family home, which the Israeli army destroyed on June 30 because it also housed kidnapping suspect Marwan Qawasmeh.
Family members told the Journal that the IDF asked them to exit their buildings before tearing up their belongings and demolishing portions of the suspects’ apartments using explosives. (At the boys’ funeral, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the crowd, “We have already destroyed houses” in response to the killings.)
“The person who blows this house up is a terrorist,” said Yousef Abu Aisheh, the suspect’s 64-year-old brother-in-law, at the site of the demolition. A group of kids — including residents of the destroyed building and some neighbors — poked through the rubble aimlessly.
“We don’t understand what they want,” said Diay Qawasmeh, brother-in-law of the other suspect.
The IDF ransacked the family home of kidnapping suspect Amer Abu Aisheh, which houses about 20 others, and demolished the suspect's bedroom using explosives.
At the Tel Aviv vigil, Ari Blumenfeld, 47, had told the Journal of the kidnapping and its aftermath: “It’s just a s--- feeling. It shouldn’t be like this. Also, like us, the Arab people just want to live — to wake up, go to work and come home. But a few people can ruin it for everybody.”
If the first night brought grief to Israel, the day after brought anger. “I think we need to get in Gaza and Hebron. It’s our places, and it’s not theirs — we need to get it back,” said Yoav Shreiber, an 18-year-old from Giv’at Shmuel. Interjected his friend, Daniel Ben David, also 18: “We need to beat the crap out of them.”
Shreiber and Ben David attended a massive outdoor funeral for the three murdered boys at the Modi’in Cemetery situated near the Green Line between Israel and the West Bank on Tuesday afternoon. The event drew what looked to be more than 100,000 Israelis — mostly young, and mostly in religious clothing.
For miles around, attendees streamed through the grassy hills leading up to the rural cemetery. Nearby roads were lined with hundreds of tour buses that had shuttled them in from various Jewish towns and schools across Israel and the West Bank.
“This is what is special about the Jewish nation,” Shreiber said. “We’re all together all over the world. It brings us power.”
Tens of thousands of Israelis traveled to the remote Modi'in Cemetery on Tuesday afternoon for the boys' public funeral.
But at the periphery of the crowd, where it was hard to hear what was happening at the heart of the funeral, anger simmered against Netanyahu as he gave a brief speech down the hill. Although the IDF had shelled Gaza heavily the night before and made more sweeping arrests in the West Bank, killing one Palestinian teen, some funeral attendees said that wasn’t enough.
Miriam Roskind, a young Miami-born mother who had brought her children to the funeral, said she felt “a combination of angry, disappointed and sad” about Netanyahu’s response to the boys’ murders. And Baruch Frankel, 28, who studies Torah in Jerusalem, said that without a more aggressive attack on the Palestinians following a crime like this, they would feel they could get away with it again.
He spoke against America, too. “Imagine Bibi calling up Obama and telling him to show restraint, 18 days later,” he said.
In Jerusalem, too, hundreds of religious Israelis clashed with police in protests over what they see as Israel’s soft revenge. But Netanyahu promised: “If there is a need, we will expand the operation. If someone thinks to achieve something through terror against us — he will achieve opposite results. Hamas is responsible, Hamas will pay and continue to pay.”