The three Israeli teenagers who were abducted over two weeks ago and whose bodies were found in a field near Hebron Monday afternoon were laid to rest in a joint funeral in Modiin on Tuesday, after separate services were held in their hometowns earlier that day.
The three were kidnapped on the night of June 12 at a hitchhiking post south of Jerusalem.
Amid tens of thousands of mourners, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood alongside the flag-draped bodies of Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, and declared that the day had suddenly become one of national mourning.
“The whole nation saw the nobleness of spirit, the internal strength of the parents, the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents, and the rest of the family,” he said.
“The nation understood immediately the depth of the roots and your strength of spirit. ”
Netanyahu thanked the nation for its continued emotional support, as well as the troops and police officers for their efforts to locate the teenagers.
The prime minister said the mothers had taught the world “what the cry of a mother is” in the wake of their sons’ abduction.
“Even the strongest embrace of the nation cannot erase the sorrow, the awful pain that will remain in your hearts long after the official mourning days are over. I know the pain of bereavement, there is nothing worse,” he said. “But I know life has its own power, as a flowing river that drags us forward, and gives us strength of renewal and hope.”
“We will always remember Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali, the pure — the pure ones who will remain forever young,” he said.
The funeral, which was scheduled for 5:30 p.m., was delayed for over an hour because the families were stuck in traffic caused by a massive stream of thousands of people on route to the cemetery. At the request of the families, only several public figures spoke at the funeral.
The speakers refrained from talking about politics or security measures, also at the request of the families.
President Shimon Peres offered his condolences to the families and praised the teenagers’ parents for setting an example and for instilling the love of the land, self-sacrifice, and the love of creation in their sons.
“These three wonderful boys revealed the depths of our people,” Peres said. “Dear mothers, you all unified a nation and educated a generation.”
Peres added that mourning over the teenagers has become a source of light and hope for the entire nation, and stressed that “Terrorism is a defect which targets us but hurts those who perpetrated it.”
Yitzhak Yosef, the Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, began the funeral with the reading of traditional liturgy, which was immediately followed by a tearful recital of the Kaddish by the three teens’ fathers.
Rabbi Dov Zinger, the dean of the Mekor Haim Yeshiva in which both Fraenkel and Shaar studied, offered the first eulogy for his murdered students.
“From Brazil to Rabin Square, we saw your faces in the past few days plastered on signs,” he said. “In the entire world, we saw your goodness.”
Zinger, with a shaking voice but calm demeanor, called for increased prayer, in which the “brokenness will transform into repentance.”
“Two Jews, three opinions, but one heart,” he concluded.
Speaking after Zinger, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau said the search for the youths unified the nation of Israel.
“God tells us, there are things we cannot understand,” Lau said.
“I wanted to bring you closer to me, says God. And the [past eighteen days] have brought us closer. Closer to the heart, closer to the people, closer to unity among the people of Israel.”
“We have prayed for days and saw what a nation we have. No one can hurt this nation because it is special.”
“Rest in peace, our brothers, our martyrs, in the soil of the land so close to your heart,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the families held separate services in their respective hometowns, with eulogies from parents, relatives, friends and other figures.
“Rest in peace, my son. We’ll learn to sing without you. We’ll always hear your harmony inside,” Rachelle Fraenkel said about her son Naftali.
The bodies of the three teenagers were found near Halhul on Monday afternoon.
A search team from the nearby 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.