Thousands of people gathered in three separate towns Tuesday to mourn and bid farewell to three Israeli teenagers who were abducted over two weeks ago and whose bodies were found in a field near Hebron Monday afternoon.
With some speaking haltingly and others crying out loudly, friends, relatives, community leaders and government ministers took to podiums one by one to eulogize Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, who were kidnapped on the night of June 12 at a hitchhiking post south of Jerusalem.
“Rest in peace, my son,” Rachelle Fraenkel said, standing in front of her son’s flag-draped body. “We’ll learn to sing without you. We’ll always hear your voice inside.”
Three separate funerals took place in each of the slain teens’ hometowns, in Elad, in Talmon, and at a funeral home in Shaalabim, near Nof Ayalon.
The funeral services were set to conclude later Tuesday at the cemetery in Modi’in, where all three teens were to be laid to rest. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres were set to speak at the service.
Fraenkel, tightly closing her eyes as she spoke, thanked the Israeli security forces who found her son’s body after more than two weeks of painful uncertainty.
“Dear soldiers, intelligence personnel and police, we still thank you very, very much. You promised you would find and bring them back. And you brought them back. That is a great kindness, too,” she said.
“From the very first day, we said to ourselves that even if it ends badly, God gave us an abundance of blessings, wonderful young men, children with noble souls, a large and empowering community.”
In Talmon, the parents of Gil-ad Shaar, one of seven children, paid respects to their son.
Ofir Shaar, Naftali’s father, said that he immediately recognized his son’s “brave whisper” in the recording of the call one of the three kidnapped youths had made to the police, to alert the authorities that they had been abducted.
“From the moment I heard your brave whisper, I heard a great voice and stood taller. What initiative, courage and strength on the part of someone who had yet to celebrate his 17th birthday,” he said.
In the moments following the abduction, one of the kidnapped teenagers had called an emergency police hotline and whispered, “I’ve been kidnapped.” The call was then cut off. After trying unsuccessfully to call the number back several times, police concluded it must have been a prank.
“My prayer shawl is orphaned, it envelopes your untarnished body before you are buried in the soil of the Israel you so loved. You are part of the family of Israel. Your final message and your ascension to heaven brought down walls and unified an entire nation.”
Bat-Galim Shaar, mother of Gil-ad, was visibly emotional as she described her son as “a brave, resourceful, proud Jewish boy.” She said he had always been mature, taking on responsibility at school, in his youth group and among his friends.
“You can be proud of your brother,” she told his sisters.
“Now we must give back the deposit, Gil-ad,” she said.
Uri Yifrach swayed back and forth as he eulogized his son Eyal in Elad, lamenting the loss of a youth who had a “special love” for other people “no matter where,” a youth who always agreed to help others.
“They miss you,” Yifrach said of his slain son’s friends and family. “They want you near them, to come and hug them, to hug mom. Mom said you are right next to God now. She said you should whisper in God’s ear and ask him to give her strength, to give us all strength. It will be difficult for us without you. We need strength … you gave strength to so many people, now give us strength as well.”
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, speaking in Elad, vowed that Israeli security forces “will not rest” until the operatives behind the deaths of the teenagers were captured. Speaking at the funeral in Elad, the defense minister said the teenagers “were kidnapped and murdered just because they were Jews.”
“The grief and agony that envelops you since receiving the bitter news, envelops the entire country,” he said, after the recitation of a Natan Alterman poem.
“In the past three weeks that have passed since the kidnapping of Eyal, Gil-ad, and Naftali, we discovered daily a bit more about their unique personalities: Their warm and loving connection to their families, their hobbies that were their trademark among the families and friends, all the small things that remind us, at the end of the day, that they were youngsters at the beginning of their lives, which was cut short.”
The defense minister addressed the Yifrach family directly, saying “these are the hours when the personal grief is in the public domain.”
Ya’alon said he had the “privilege” of meeting the Yifrach family during these tumultuous, difficult times, who embody “all that is good and noble,” and are “a symbol for us all.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who attended the funeral in Talmon, called unity the greatest revenge Israelis can have on the killers of Shaar and his two companions.
“If we would punish our enemies, we have no greater punishment than them looking at us and seeing that there is nothing that can separate us,” Lapid said. “We will find the murderers and punish them, but the real revenge is the ability to bridge our differences.”
He added that Shaar, just like the two other teens, “could have been the child of any one of us, and therefore he is the child of all of us.”
“Burying a child is an unnatural act. Parents aren’t meant to bury their children,” he said. “Grandparents aren’t meant to shed tears over their grandchildren’s graves.”
Education Minister Shai Piron, who attended the funeral in Shaalabim, said the government will not rest until the perpetrators of the murderers and their accomplices were brought to justice.
“We will continue your mission to eradicate evil from this world,” the education minister said.
“The many memorial candles that burned last night and today will light up the darkness, will banish the hatred, burn out the corruption, add more light on top of the light you brought into the world.”
The bodies of the three teenagers were found near Halhul on Monday afternoon. Israeli security forces, which had been conducting extensive searches in the area, sealed off the area and declared it a closed military zone. Hebron was also sealed off.
A search team from the local Kfar Etzion field school, along with IDF soldiers from an elite unit, found the teens. The local volunteers had been asking for two weeks to join the search.
The bodies were found at about 5 p.m., bound and partially buried, in an open field in a hard to access area known as Wadi Tellem. The site was less than 20 kilometers (12 miles) from where the teens had been abducted.
The parents were informed on Monday evening that the bodies had been found. Relatives gathered in the three family homes; some spokespeople for the families thanked the Israeli security forces for their efforts to locate the teenagers, and thanked the public for their support and solidarity.