Israel unites in tearful farewell to murdered teens
THROUGH the trees and over the valleys, the mourners came, in a display of national unity that expressed Israel's revulsion at the murders of three teenagers.
Thousands of Israelis, young and old, many of them religiously devout, defied temperatures of 90F to pay their last respects to Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, both (16), and Eyal Yifrah, (19).
The teenagers' remains were discovered on Monday, 18 days after they were last seen trying to hitch a lift from outside the Gush Etzion settlement in the West Bank.
They were shot after being abducted, according to Israeli authorities, by two known members of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group.
A day after their bodies were found hidden under rocks in a field near Hebron, the youths were buried at the Modi'in cemetery in central Israel in a public event, the tone and dimensions of which resembled a state funeral.
They were brought to the cemetery in ambulances, their coffins wrapped in Israeli flags, after leaving their home communities in separate processions.
Much of Israel's political leadership was present, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and Shimon Peres, the country's president.
Mr Netanyahu, who has blamed Hamas for the murders and pledged to make it pay, described the event as "a day of spontaneous national mourning" and said he identified with the families' grief. "I know the pain of mourning. There is nothing worse than that," he told mourners, many of whom were in tears.
"But I also know that life has its own power, like a river which sweeps us forward and gives us the strength for renewal and hope."
While few of the mourners knew the teenagers personally, many professed intense feelings of kinship.
"I feel they were my children and I'm here to show respect and solidarity,"said Matanya Handler, (38), an engineer from Modi'in, who said the event showed Israel was moving in a "different direction" from other countries in the Middle East. "They are educating their children to be martyrs, we are educating ours to build and learn," he said.
Shira, (22), a student from Givat Shmuel in central Israel, said: "Even though I didn't know them personally, I still feel a connection to them and their families."
Yet the sense of unity was tempered by public agonising over the handling of a telephone call one of the youths made to police after his abduction in which he tells the operator: "They kidnapped me." Shortly afterwards, gunshots are heard on the tape, it was reported.
Police subsequently failed to report the call to security forces, giving the murderers several hours to escape.
The murders have prompted a fierce political debate about how Israel should respond, with Right-wing ministers such as Naftali Bennett calling for military action against Hamas. His views have been countered by a more cautious Mr Netanyahu and Moshe Ya'alon, the defence minister, who have indicated that they oppose escalating the conflict.The Israeli security cabinet was meeting for a second successive night yesterday to discuss a possible response, with one proposal being to deport Hamas members arrested in the West Bank to Gaza. Mr Netanyahu and Mr Ya'alon have also suggested embarking on a renewed settlement-building programme as a response - with one supposedly to be built in memory of the three teenagers.
The Daily Telegraph