Hebrew Media Review

Portraits of a kidnapper

The Israeli press pieces together information about alleged abductors Amer Abu Aysha and Marwan Kawasme

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Marwan Kawasme (left) and Amer Abu Aysha (right), suspected by Israel of kidnapping and killing three Israeli teens. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Marwan Kawasme (left) and Amer Abu Aysha (right), suspected by Israel of kidnapping and killing three Israeli teens. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Shin Bet’s release of the names of suspected kidnappers Amer Abu Aysha and Marwan Kawasme on Thursday night dominates headlines in Friday’s Hebrew papers, which profile the Hamas operatives at length.

Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth, and Israel Hayom provide nearly identical accounts on Abu Aysha and Kawasme, both missing from their homes since June 12 — the day of the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16.

The papers report that the operatives were suspected by the Shin Bet immediately, and their houses in Hebron were raided in the days following the kidnapping. The two were well known to the Israeli authorities, the papers maintain, having been arrested and held in Israeli detention on multiple occasions for their alleged terrorism activity.

Kawasme was arrested five times, and in 2004, at the age of 18, spent 10 months in an Israeli prison. In 2010, in the course of an interrogation, Kawasme confessed to belonging to Hamas: He conceded that he had been involved in training operatives in caves around Hebron, that he oversaw the obtainment of materials to produce explosives, and that he recruited youngsters to the terror group. He was released in 2012.

Abu Aysha was arrested on two separate occasions, in 2005 and 2007, for involvement with the terror organization. His family has close ties to the organization.

Yedioth quotes a security official who maintains the two did not act alone, and that a number of detainees presently in custody may have assisted them. “It will take time, but eventually we will get our hands on them,” he said.

In an interview in Israel Hayom, Abu Aysha’s wife and father denied he was involved in the kidnapping — and, in his father’s case, denied there was a kidnapping at all.

“There are no kidnapped [teenagers] or anything. I’m sure my son is being held by the Jews. He disappeared two weeks ago, but I’m sure this is staged by Israel. The security forces are staging it. They were in our Hebron home on Saturday [June 14], two days after he disappeared, and they ransacked the entire house. Since then, his wife and children have been staying with us, because they are traumatized. We are sure the kidnapping issue is an Israeli show,” Abu Aysha’s father told the paper.

Over in Yedioth, an op-ed on the timing of the partial easing of the gag order is met with suspicion.

Columnist Alex Fishman claims that the decision to release the names aimed at appeasing “the public pressure on the political leadership, which is pressing the Shin Bet and the army and demanding results, and quickly, because the public is losing patience.” This, he insists, is the “only rational explanation” for the move.

“When the decision was made to release the names of the kidnappers, it must have taken into consideration the damage it would do to the investigation. The public-advocacy benefits trumped the intelligence considerations,” Fishman writes, “[especially] since all of Hebron has been talking about them for two weeks.”

Despite the columnist’s skepticism, Yedioth’s news report does not question the Israeli assurances. “The newly revealed information does not leave any room for doubt: The military wing of Hamas in Hebron stands behind the kidnapping,” it claims.

Haaretz’s Amos Harel, in an op-ed on the kidnappers, is critical of the Shin Bet, stating that the two were part of a cell “that was supposed to be under the constant surveillance of the Shin Bet.

“The decision to publicize the names of the kidnappers, which have been known to media outlets for 10 days already, is further proof that the efforts to capture them have seen no progress,” he argues.

The paper reports that the wives of the alleged kidnappers were also detained a few days after the kidnapping, and later released.

The papers also cover the ongoing probe into the police call center that failed to respond appropriately to the call from one of the missing teens, who had contacted the center at 10:25 p.m. on June 12 and told them they had been kidnapped. According to the preliminary findings, the call center attempted to page the teenager’s cell phone eight times, but failed to check who the phone belonged to. Two senior officers were responsible for the misstep, the papers report, having concluded that the call was likely a prank.

A senior police officer told Israel Hayom that, on that same night, police were swamped with numerous prank calls, stating that this, along with the fact that the teenager could not be reached, led to the poor police response.

Israel Hayom and Yedioth continue to shine the spotlight on the parents of the kidnapped students.

Rachelle Fraenkel (L), mother of Naftali Fraenkel; Bat-Galim Shaar (C), mother of Gil-ad Shaar; and Iris Yifrach, mother of Eyal Yifrach, attend a meeting in the Knesset on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
Rachelle Fraenkel (left), mother of Naftali Fraenkel; Bat-Galim Shaar (center), mother of Gil-ad Shaar; and Iris Yifrach, mother of Eyal Yifrach, attend a meeting in the Knesset on Wednesday, June 25, 2014. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“The three mothers, who against their will became the symbol of restraint and determination in the past two weeks, met yesterday for their first joint interview to convey their message to the nation ahead of the rally planned for Sunday evening in Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv,” Yedioth reports. “’It’s important that a lot of people come for the sake of national unity, and for the boys,’ Iris Yifrach said. She is the quietest among them, with a straight face, while Rachelle and Bat-Galim allow themselves to smile sadly,” it reports.

“The only moment in the interview the three smile is when we ask them if they imagine the moment of [their son’s] return from captivity. ‘Of course,’ Bat-Galim replies. ‘It will be the biggest celebration in the world.’ And Iris laughs and tells them that ‘people are already leaving things in our home and telling us that it’s for the celebration. Rachelle tells us that ‘everything is ready, from A to Z.’”

While the mothers have been most vocal since the June 12 kidnapping, Israel Hayom features an interview with Ophir Shaar, the father of Gil-ad, who speaks out for the first time about the harrowing experience.

“Men also cry at night,” he said.

“One evening this week, a bunch of friends sat with me. We had an animated conversation, and I was absorbed in the rational conversation. When the people scattered, and everyone went home, I felt like I was descending into a pit: They are going home to their children, and I remain without my child.”

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