On the eighth day after the kidnapping of three yeshiva students in the West Bank, the Hebrew media continues to place the missing boys – Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach — squarely at the forefront, presenting wall-to-wall coverage on Friday of the ongoing effort to find them despite a relative dearth of new information.
The Israeli press focuses on the IDF soldiers who are conducting the operation in the West Bank, hails the unwavering strength and faith displayed by the boys’ mothers and conveys Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assurances that progress has been made.
On the ground with the IDF
Yedioth Ahronoth emphasizes the elite Duvdevan unit’s role in the operation, whose job, according to the paper, is to “make the most delicate arrests, of the most high-ranking officials. It must translate the Shin Bet’s sensitive information into successful campaigns.”
“We enter Hebron, greeted by the cold night air and protests,” it reports. “Twenty youths are hurling stones at troops. Border Police are dealing with it, emptying out the area for Duvdevan. When the Shin Bet coordinators find out that the group includes journalists, they shudder… A few streets away from [the protesters], the Duvdevan operation is completed with the arrest of an operative in Hamas’s armed wing. Hours of preparation end with the fighters’ stealthy entrance into a three-story building and retrieval of the suspect from his bed. His eyes are covered by a blindfold. The soldiers leave the site safely, shielded by darkness.”
The paper also reports that the IDF has collaborated with local West Bank tour guides in the search efforts for the missing students, focusing primarily on caves and wells in the area.
An Israel Hayom journalist accompanied troops who broke into the Palestinian Bir Zeit University in search of incriminating evidence against the Hamas-affiliated student union overnight Wednesday. The security guard, who cooperated with the troops, opened up the doors upon a Shin Bet request, and there troops uncovered dozens of Hamas flags, a plastic Kassam rocket, and pictures of terrorists as well as other promotional materials, he writes.
The unit behind the break-in was responsible for the arrest of Hassan Yousef, a founding member of Hamas, earlier this week.
“I don’t think people know how strong our operation is right now,” Lt. Col. Yogev Barsheshet told the paper. “Every night, 500 of the battalion fighters enter two villages, make arrests… If we didn’t prevent the previous kidnapping, at least we are preventing the next kidnapping… We are arresting the maximum amount of terrorists and giving them a sense of being hunted. The Palestinian public won’t sleep well [at night] until we bring back the kidnapped [boys].”
Despite the high motivation and sense of mission, the soldiers still grapple with the tears of the detainees’ wives and children, the paper reports.
“Even though the detained was involved in terror [activities], it’s still difficult,” a soldier involved in the arrests told the paper. “But better that we feel that way – it means we’re human.”
Haaretz provides a broader picture of the operation, listing in an infographic the number of arrests (329), concentrated primarily in the West Bank’s large cities, Hebron (123), Nablus (55), Ramallah (47), and Jenin (38).
During the course of the IDF’s activities, 1,000 buildings were damaged, one Palestinian was killed and 30 were injured, and three soldiers were wounded, it reports.
“Most of those arrested are linked with Hamas, but none of them are among the organization’s senior members. From the start of the IDF operation, some 330 Palestinians were arrested, more than 200 of them Hamas men,” the paper says.
The papers also report on President Shimon Peres’s meeting with the Shaar, Fraenkel, and Yifrach families, followed by their visit to the Western Wall. There, the press reports emphasize, the strikingly composed mother of Naftali Fraenkel, Rachelle, comforted children praying at the site for the boys’ return.
“I believe wholeheartedly that they [the boys] will return, but whatever happens, remember God does not work for us. Do not forget, even if God forbid, something happens,” Fraenkel said. “I believe they will come back but if not, please be united. Be united.”
The coverage of Rachelle Fraenkel’s statement is accompanied by op-eds in both Israel Hayom and Yedioth by female writers. In Israel Hayom, Emily Amrousi describes a rousing prayer service in the settlement of Talmon, where Gil-ad Shaar lives.
Amid the prayer and singing of “’You are making us better people,’ I whisper to Bat-Galim [Gil-ad Shaar’s mother], ‘You’ve made all of us better people,’” Amrousi writes.
In Yedioth, Smadar Shir describes explaining the kidnapping to her children, and writes: “It’s Friday again, and three mothers are still waiting by the door, next to fathers and siblings. Eyal, Gil-ad, and Naftali, we’ll be waiting too… Be strong, our children. Remember that at home they’re waiting for you.”
The newspapers also briefly convey the prime minister’s statements at a press conference Thursday, that “We know more today than we did a few days ago.”
Haaretz leads its news reports Friday with the anticipated additional funding to be allocated to the settlements following the kidnapping. The new grants, the first of which stands at NIS 5 million and will be voted on in the cabinet Sunday, were introduced in light of “the security situation” created by the abduction, it reports.