The news that the bodies of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel had been found on Monday afternoon surprised very few Israelis. But it was shattering nonetheless.
The cold-blooded killing of Israelis in acts of terrorism has, horribly, always been a fact of life here. The memories of the Second Intifada a decade ago — when suicide bombers were deployed against Israel in a strategic terrorist assault designed to force us to flee our country — are still fresh for most Israelis, even if largely forgotten by the rest of the international community. Every few days, a bus, a shopping mall, a supermarket would be blown up, another five, ten, twenty, thirty innocents would be laid to rest in scenes of heartwrenching anguish, and the nation would grit its teeth and resolve, quite astoundingly in retrospect, not to be broken.
But the case of the seized teens was a little different, nonetheless; it was even more widely resonant. Because, by Monday afternoon, we were 18 days into the search for Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali, and we had seen their faces over and over again, heard from their friends, become familiar with the ways their parents were grappling with the nightmare. And though we knew to expect the worst — the initial sense of foreboding only confirmed by the revelation that one of them had called the police from the car in which they were abducted, enabling all of us to make the elementary deduction about how matters might then have played out — we desperately wanted to be proven wrong.
Israelis are not perfect, our leaders are not perfect, and not all of their policies are always wise. But at the most basic level, our hearts are most emphatically in the right place. Most fundamentally of all, we want to live. And we want those around us to live — those, that is, who do not rise up to kill us.
On every side, however, in Lebanon and in Syria, and in countries to our east, and among the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, we are faced by many, many people who are taught to submerge their own instinctive humanity, taught that upholding life on this Earth is of less value than killing and dying in the cause of a perverted religious ideology. Just eight months ago, in Afula in northern Israel, an Israeli soldier, Eden Atias, all of 18, was stabbed to death in the coldest of cold-blooded killings by a Palestinian 16-year-old seated alongside him on the bus. Atias was fast asleep when his assailant struck.
What kind of toxic atmosphere can engender that kind of ruthless inhumanity in a 16-year-old? The kind that prevails in homes like that of Amer Abu Aysha, one of the two alleged killers of Yifrach, Shaar, and Fraenkel, whose mother told our reporter Avi Issacharoff two weeks ago that if her son was responsible, she was proud of him and hoped he would continue to evade capture.
The Second Intifada emblemized Israelis’ remarkable — I believe, unique — resilience in the face of terrorism. The construction of the security barrier, the deepening of Israel’s intelligence capabilities, the relentless activities of the security forces in frustrating innumerable kidnappings and other terror plots — all these underline Israel’s capacity to respond effectively to the threats we face.
We need to maintain both that resilience and the pragmatism of our responses — to take actions that deter further attacks, to act in ways that marginalize the vicious extremists, and to avoid alienating those who do not wish us harm.
Remarkably, we can take our lead from the parents of the murdered teenagers, who have displayed such strength, sensitivity and concern for the rest of Israel since that fateful June 12 night. I saw this directly last Thursday, when I sat facing Rachelle Fraenkel, and she told me, among a series of extraordinary remarks, “I’m praying with all my heart. It might help. I believe it could help, especially when thousands and millions are praying. They are. But nobody owes me anything. And if tomorrow, God forbid, I’ll hear the worst news, I don’t want my children to feel that where did all my prayers go?”
In their different ways, each of the families urged Israelis to remain united and strong, hailed our solidarity, thanked us for our hopes and our prayers.
They refused to be tainted by the inhumanity that robbed them of their beloved sons. Our hearts go out to them.