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Bodies of Kidnapped Israeli Teens Found Near Hebron

By Israel Faxx News Services

Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, both aged 16, were found dead of bullet wounds Monday, June 30, in the Palestinian village of Kachil near Halhoul north of Hebron on the West Bank. They appeared to have been thrown into a field by their abductors after a hasty effort to conceal them.

Their parents were informed earlier of the discovery. The families have gone into deep mourning. The all-out search has switched urgently from Operation Brother's Keeper to discover the boys to the hunt for their kidnappers.

Searches for the boys had been ongoing for weeks, and the developments opened up a flood of new details regarding the initial abduction. Buzzfeed reported that Israeli officials had known almost immediately that the kidnapping had involved a likely murder:

BuzzFeed spoke to an Israeli official involved in the case, who confirmed that during the police call a gunshot can clearly be heard. The car, he added, had clear evidence of foul play. Over the last week. Israeli soldiers could be seen digging through rocks and dredging wells in Hebron in the search for the teens. "We have been operating, for some time now, with evidence that these boys were killed," he said. "It is with a heavy heart that we realized we were looking for bodies."

Washington Institute Senior Fellow Matt Levitt contextualized the news against the backdrop of Palestinian boasts – which had become something of a mainstay on social media – that the Israeli victims would be traded for Palestinian prisoners. The request had never been made:

The developments were also quickly read against the backdrop of ongoing controversy regarding the Obama administration's decision – made a few weeks prior to the kidnapping – to extend support to a Palestinian unity government jointly agreed upon by Hamas and its traditional rivals in the Fatah faction. The Washington Free Beacon conveyed brutal assessments from DC analysts:

Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S Treasury Department, told the Washington Free Beacon. "In recognizing the unity government, the U.S. helped establish in Gaza the Hizbullah model, which is a unified weak central government that allows a terrorist organization to operate with impunity inside," Schanzer said. "That's exactly what we're seeing right now. In the same way the Lebanese can't stop Hizbullah, the Palestinians can't stop Hamas."

Top Fatah officials had previous said that any Hamas involvement in the kidnapping would "mark the crossing of a red line," and would force them to abrogate the unity agreement. The developments come a day after Hamas fighters launched more than a dozen rockets at Israeli communities, the first time the group has officially taken credit for such launches since November 2012.

The Israeli cabinet was summoned to an emergency session Monday night to determine how to respond to the tragic deaths. The suspected abductors are two Hamas activists, missing from their homes at the same time as the boys' disappearance. Last Thursday, June 26, the Shin bet security service named them as Marwan Qwasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha from Hebron. Both have done time in Israeli and Palestinian jails for terrorist actions.

The three Israeli teenagers disappeared thumbing a lift home outside Gush Etzion in the Hebron district on June 10. They were believed kidnapped after two days. Investigators deduced that they had been murdered by their kidnappers after hearing the tape of a cellphone call one of the boys put into the emergency 101 emergency desk in Kiryat Arba.. He was heard whispering "I was kidnapped," followed by an exchange of words in Arabic and gunshots. The cell phone was then abruptly switched off. The investigation could not establish whether all the boys were shot or one or more had survived.

The police officer who received the call treated it as just another prank and passed it on after several precious hours were lost. This week, the commissioner sacked a number of police officers serving in the Hebron District. A burnt car found in another part of the district, the village of Dura, proved to have been the kidnap car. Cartridges of the bullets in the vehicle were the only tangible clues left by the kidnappers to the fate of the boys.

The teenagers' mothers went to Geneva last week to address the UN Human Rights Council and direct a plea to the international community to help find their sons. Sunday night, tens of thousands of well wishers rallied in Rabin Square at the center of Tel Aviv in support of the boys' families.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued this statement from the emergency cabinet meeting he called Monday night: "It is with the deepest sorrow that we announce the discovery of three bodies which show every sign of belonging to the three boys, Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali. They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals. On behalf of the people of Israel, I wish to inform the bereaved families, mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters and brothers, that our heart bleeds for them. An entire nation weeps.

"Even Satan could not avenge the murder of a child and these young boys were on their way home to their parents, who will never see them again. Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay," the prime minister said in conclusion.

The cabinet meeting was called to determine how Hamas will pay. Every leader, including the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff vowed during the nerve-wracking search for the boys that if they were harmed, the punishment meted out by Israel would be harsh.

Notably, Obama addressed the bereaved families of the Israeli boys. "On behalf of the American people I extend my deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Naftali Frenkel – who held Israeli and American citizenship. As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing."

His comments included condemnation of "this senseless act of terror against innocent youth." He continued on to voice solidarity with Israel. "As the Israeli people deal with this tragedy, they have the full support and friendship of the United States." The White House statement also urged restraint, saying all parties should refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis called the killings "abominable" and said they are a grave obstacle to peace. The Vatican spokesman condemned the killings as a "hideous and unacceptable crime" while noting that it threatened the hope of peace. He stated that Pope Francis who visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in April, was united with the families of the victims who were suffering "unspeakable pain".

The Hamas terrorist group has warned it will "open the gates of hell" if Israel sought to escalate its operation against the Islamist group in response to the murder of the three Israeli teenagers whose bodies were found this afternoon. "If the occupiers carry out an escalation or a war, they will open the gates of hell on themselves," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP. `

Insights from the U.S. Mission in Iraq
Commentary By Rabbi Carlos Huerta, (Chaplain, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airmobile Div. Jan 11, 2007)

Climbing over the rotting garbage, I realized I was the first Jew to enter this holy place in more than 50 years. I am writing to you from Nineveh, the city of the prophet Jonah. Its present name is Mosul.

I have had the privilege of seeing its ancient walls, of touching its stones, of going to the grave Islamic tradition says is the prophet Jonah's. There is a mosque at the site; but hundreds of years ago, the Iraqis we work with tell me, it was a synagogue. They tell me the reason the site is so sacred is because of the sacredness in which the Jews held it. Currently, there are no signs of this ancient synagogue.

I am the rabbi of the 101st Airborne Division, the division Steven Spielberg immortalized in his epic, "Band of Brothers." We, the soldiers of the 101st Airborne, fought our way up from the south, from Kuwait. The battle took us past Ur, the city where Abraham was born. We maintained contact with the enemy, passed the site of the great Talmudic academies of Sura and Pumpaditya, to the city of Babylon, where the prophet Daniel was taken.

There, we engaged the Nebu­chadnezzar Iraqi Armored Division and beat them. We continued the battle to Baghdad, where so many Jews lived and were massacred in the summer of 1948. It was the city of so many of our sages, including the Ben Ish Chai. Now we are in Mosul. I ask about the Jews who lived here, and very few remember them. Many say Jews never lived here; but my heart tells me different.

The old ones tell me there was a Jewish quarter, as well as a synagogue, study halls and a cemetery. One day, while searching the streets of the ancient city, I came across a building missing half of its roof. The site was a garbage dump, and the building's interior was three-quarters full of rotting garbage, feces and sewage. I had to crouch down low to get inside, as the doorway was almost completely buried.

As I entered, light came through the half-open roof, and I could just make out writing engraved on the walls. It was Hebrew. It was then that I knew I had stumbled into the ancient synagogue of the city of Mosul-Nineveh. My heart broke, as I climbed over the garbage piles that filled the room where, for hundreds of years, the prayers of Jews had reached the heavens. This is when I realized I was probably the first Jew to enter this holy place in more than a half century.

More than 3½ meters of garbage filled the main sanctuary and what appeared to be the women's section. I barely could make it out because of the filth, but there was Hebrew writing on the walls. Many Iraqis congregated around me, wanting to know what I was doing. My translator said that the American army was interested in old archaeological sites of all kinds. I asked them if they knew what this place was, and they all said in an instant: It was the house where the Jews prayed.

They told me that the houses in the streets surrounding the synagogue had been filled with Jews. They took me to the children's yeshiva, a marbled edifice that no longer had a roof, only walls and half-rooms. There was a vagrant family living there, and when I asked them what this place was, they said it was a Jewish school for children.

As I walked through the quarter, I was shown the grave of the prophet Daniel, once located near a synagogue. I saw that many of the doorposts had an engraving of the lion of Judah on the top. I felt the presence of our people, of their daily lives as merchants, teachers, rabbis, doctors and tailors. I felt their rush to get ready for Shabbat, felt their presence as they walked to the synagogue on Yom Kippur.

I could almost hear singing in the courtyards, in the sukkot, as they invited in the ushpizin. I could hear the Pessach songs echoing through the narrow streets late into the night.

And the children, I could see their shadows as they raced down the alleys and around the corners, playing. I heard their voices learning the aleph beth in the yeshivot as they prepared for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. But I also heard the babies crying, and I could see the young daughters of Zion clinging to their mother's skirts, asking why the bad people were killing them and making them leave their homes of thousands of years.

Tears came to my eyes, but I had to hold them back, lest I put myself and the soldier with me in a dangerous situation. I had to pretend that I was only mildly interested in what they were showing me.How does one absorb this kind of experience? How do I convey the feeling of hearing all those voices reaching out in prayer at the synagogue as I stood on top of all that garbage? How do I recover our history; how do I bring honor to a holy place that has been so desecrated?

I have no answers. I only have great sadness, pain and loneliness. Since then, I have gone back to the Jewish quarter of old Mosul with members of my congregation, Jewish soldiers of the 101st: Infantrymen, artillerymen, medics, pilots, lawyers, doctors, all proud to be Jewish and serving their country. Together, we have found five more synagogues, more yeshivot and many Jewish homes. They have all come away profoundly affected by what they saw. They are saddened, but yet proud to be connected to such an ancient and rich tradition in this historic city of Nineveh.

I searched the ancient city near cemeteries in hope of finding the Jewish cemetery. I found a Christian cemetery and a British war cemetery situated next to each other. The British war cemetery now is used as a soccer field. The cemetery was marked as a war memorial cemetery, and the dates were for World War I and World War II. There was a marker in the cemetery written in English and Sanskrit, dedicated to the Hindu and Sikh soldiers of Her Majesty's army who died while serving. Another one, written in English and Arabic, was dedicated to the Muhammadan soldiers in Her Majesty's army who died while serving, and a third marker had nothing on it. These markers were more than seven meters high.

The third marker could have had a dedication, but if so, it had been destroyed or removed. Scattered all through the cemetery were fragments of tombstones, some with a few words of English, some with a cross on them. Outside these three markers, there were no standing tombstones anywhere, only broken fragments scattered in corners. The cemetery was surrounded by a 1.5-meter wall and an entrance gate.

About half a meter inside the cemetery, barely showing through the surface, was a fragment my

assistant, Specialist William Rodriguez, discovered. By working with me over these last few months, he has learned to recognize Hebrew letters. As we dug it out we noticed it had both Hebrew and English on it. I was so excited to see it, yet so sad. There are many possible explanations, but the one I think most plausible is that it was the grave marker of a British soldier, a young man by the name of Zev. The British army had contacted the local Jewish community to have a stone engraver put Hebrew on the stone, along with the English. It was their way of honoring and respecting their fallen comrade.

If this explanation is true, then this cemetery contains those of the Hindu, Sikh, Islamic, Christian, and Jewish faiths, all soldiers who died in the service of their country. The obvious question: Is death the only way these great faiths can coexist in peace? We would hope not. I have not yet discovered the ancient Jewish cemetery of the Jews of Mosul-Nineveh. My instincts tell me it is nearby, but in the last 60 years, it probably has been desecrated and obliterated. One native I talked to told me that a major highway had been built through it. I will continue to search as my military mission allows me. I have taken Zev's marker and reburied it in the cemetery. I have said Kaddish for him and for all the other Jewish souls that may be buried here.

There is a great history to be written here, a great opportunity to recover the lost narrative of our people, the Sephardim of Iraq. My prayer and hope are that when the gates finally open for scholars, the remnants of our people still will be here for historians to recover. If this chapter of history is erased, it never will be recovered again. I pray that those with more resources, more connections and more wisdom than I will be able to add to these pages of our great history. I am only thankful that God has given me a small part in it. May the memories of our brothers and sisters - hakahal hakadosh d'Nineveh – the holy community of Nineveh – never be forgotten.

(Rabbi Huerta is now the Jewish chaplain at West Point)

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