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What did Israeli officials know about the missing teens, and when did they know it?

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Missing Israeli teens, posted by the IDF

Missing Israeli teens, posted by the IDF

What did Israeli officials know about the abducted and murdered teens, and when did they know it?

We’re beginning to get some answers to that question, and they point in the direction of Israel knowing for a good while before today that the teens were harmed by Palestinian militants.  But the Israeli authorities maintained a gag order on the details about what happened to Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah. It was a bid to exploit the uncertainty about the youths and strike a blow against Hamas and the unity deal the Islamist movement struck with Fatah.  In the process of the Israeli operation across the occupied West Bank, hundreds were arrested, at least five Palestinians were killed and the economy–especially Hebron’s–took a big hit. 

Last week, Mondoweiss published a story reporting that the Israeli gag order imposed on local media was meant to stop details of the youths’ abduction from coming out.  One of the important details was that an Israeli said he listened to a phone call one of the killed youths’ made to the Israeli police, and that a gunshot could be heard. News of the phone call emerged almost immediately after the June 12th kidnapping, though the Israeli news media–subject to the military’s censorship–did not report on the gunshot. But that means that Israeli authorities, at the very least, knew the teens were being harmed by armed men. Blogger Richard Silverstein’s Israeli sources told him on June 25th that the teens had been murdered, and that the military knew it.

Yesterday, with the gag order lifted on journalists, more confirmation that Israeli authorities knew something terrible had happened days before the bodies were found has emerged. BuzzFeed‘s Sheera Frenkel reported:

Previously under gag order were details that a shot could be heard in the background of the phone call to police, and that forensic evidence found in the Hyundai indicated that there had been foul play.

“We have been operating, for some time now, with evidence that these boys were killed,” said the officer in Hebron. “It is with a heavy heart that we realized we were looking for bodies.”

How much “time” is unclear at the moment.  But the assumption the Israeli media, and its leadership, conveyed was that the teens may still be alive and the army was searching for them in a rescue operation.

Under the cover of that hopeful assumption, Israel launched its #BringBackOurBoys campaign and its wide-ranging military operation–an operation condemned as “collective punishment.”  The cost, in Palestinian lives, infrastructure and cash, has been severe–and it’s likely to get worse in the coming days.

The other claim that should be questioned now is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that Hamas was responsible.  Here’s Sheera Frenkel’s reporting again:

In a later statement, Netanyahu said, “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay.”

Israeli intelligence officials, however, remained divided over whether Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha — two men named as wanted suspects behind the kidnapping — had direct ties to Hamas. The Qawasmeh family, one of the better-known families in Hebron, had recently distanced itself from Hamas.

“What we do know, is that this was likely an opportunistic move. The men behind this may have ties to a larger terror group, but this does not have the markings of a well-planned, complex operation,” one Israeli officer, based in the West Bank, told BuzzFeed earlier this month.

If Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians are to be believed–and there’s no reason they shouldn’t when it comes to war–the Hamas leadership and movement as a whole will be targeted even more-so now, though the Islamist group already took blows during Israel’s raids over the past two weeks.

But if the Hamas leadership didn’t have anything to do with the kidnappings–a possibility that is very likely–then it has become even more clear that Israel is exploiting the deaths of three youths to carry out a political goal: destroy Hamas, its most tenacious adversary.  Yet most of the costs will be borne by Palestinian society writ large–people who had nothing to do with the kidnapping and murders.

Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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42 Responses

  1. Woody Tanaka on July 1, 2014, 9:24 am

    Netanyahoo and his co-conspirators were looking for an exuse to unleash a pogrom, and if it wasn’t this, it would have been something else.

  2. seafoid on July 1, 2014, 9:29 am

    They had obviously been planning the military operation for some time.
    Destroying Hamas ain’t gonna happen. They can’t defeat the Palestinian people and get all the land.

  3. Blownaway on July 1, 2014, 9:30 am

    It’s very clear that the boys were killed immediately and that the Israelis knew that soon after. They used this as an excuse to terrorize the local population, reoccupy the West Bank and launch a war on Hamas. The most cynical government in the world.

    • Citizen on July 1, 2014, 9:49 am

      Seems one can’t go wrong by assuming the Zionist regime is the worse manipulating liars there is of any country claiming to be civilized by Western standards. OTH, Kerry recently stated in Cairo that the USA’s hands are clean re what happened, and what’s happening now in Iraq (and Syria).

      • Hostage on July 1, 2014, 1:08 pm

        OTH, Kerry recently stated in Cairo that the USA’s hands are clean re what happened, and what’s happening now in Iraq (and Syria).

        Oh course our hands are clean, our State Department specializes in the use of mailed or iron fists inside of velvet gloves.

    • CloakAndDagger on July 1, 2014, 10:18 am

      This is what absolute power looks like – to be able to inflict cruelty at will and without remorse or fear of repercussions. These are the traits of evil in all history: the complete domination of one people by another; subjugation and indiscriminate death of the masses by the mighty.

      Proof it was Hamas? We don’t need no stinking proof!
      Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.

      Alas, history also shows that such tyrants and monsters can survive a long time – sometimes for hundreds of years. They do eventually perish, but often not soon enough for their many victims.

      The evil in our own country is not different. Remember how quickly we identified those 19 Hijackers on 9/11 with nary a shred of evidence (only to have some of them show up alive later)? Off we went: Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war!

      It is a shame that even those of us who oppose our governments and want no part of these persecutions will also perish when the whole thing comes crashing down. In this way, we too, are victims of the same evil, and despite all our efforts, are just as helpless as the palestinians in the presence of insurmountable force.

      Perhaps there are Israelis who feel the same way.

  4. Maximus Decimus Meridius on July 1, 2014, 9:33 am

    A couple of random points:

    – Part of me thinks it’s OK for the Israelis not to let it be publicly known that the teens were almost certainly dead. Police forces usually don’t release all information in such cases for operational reasons. However, this is countered by the fact that the Israelis did very quickly release info about the phone call, so it’s not as though there was an outright silence across the board.

    – Then there’s the fact that Bibi said he knew Hamas were responsible within hours of the ‘kidnapping.’ Not suspected, KNEW.

    – If Bibi KNEW Hamas were responsible, and if they even had the culprits, as they claim, how did it take them nearly 3 weeks to find the bodies? And when they did find them, it was by ‘civilian volunteers’, and apparently, almost by chance. So the intelligence that Bibi had which led him to KNOW Hamas were involved, clearly wasn’t good enough for him to know where the teens could be found. Odd.

    – All of this supports the theory that the Israeli authorities knew the boys were dead very early on, but dragged it out for the most incredibly cynical means. Disgraceful.

    – At least one of the mothers said she had ‘reason to be optimistic’ only a few days ago. Was she being deliberately deceived? And yet Bibi was present at the boys’ funeral. Why no anger? Or is that yet to come?

    – The media coverage of these deaths has been sickening. I turned off my TV after seeing Mark Regev blame ‘da Khamas’ and not be challenged by the respectful interviewers. I won’t turn it back on until the football starts. ‘The Guardian’ has minute by minute updates on the funerals. Contrast this to the deafening silence regarding the far more frequent deaths and kidnappings of Palestinians in the OPT.

    It really does make me angry.

  5. Justpassingby on July 1, 2014, 9:36 am

    Maybe israel was involved itself in these killings?

  6. seafoid on July 1, 2014, 9:41 am

    ” Education Minister Shay Piron, at Naftali Frenkel’s funeral service: “We will not rest until we punish your killers. We will not rest, we will continue your mission to eradicate evil from the world.” ”

    So the Israeli government is actually a suicide cult .

    • Woody Tanaka on July 1, 2014, 10:37 am

      LMAO. So Naftali Frenkel had a mission to eradicate evil in the world??? How? By contributing to the theft of Palestinian land?

    • amigo on July 1, 2014, 10:38 am

      “So the Israeli government is actually a suicide cult .” seafoid

      Hitler and his henchmen ended up dead by their own hands in a cellar.

      Cowards that they were.

      Hopefully nietanyahu will do the same just before they come to take him to the Hague.

      He wont be able to stomach the menu in prison.Coward that he is.

      ” The Netanyahu family’s budget for groceries? Almost $4,000 a month
      Figure does not include the budget for catering, restaurant deliveries and ice cream. Average Israeli family spends $660 on groceries a month.”haaretz

      • Kay24 on July 1, 2014, 12:49 pm

        What do they eat, Gold bars?

    • Kay24 on July 1, 2014, 10:52 am

      Seems that way heh. If we calculate the number of deaths and kidnappings, it gives every one a clear picture who exactly the “human animals” are. The only difference is, the human animals are able to control the message out of there, and can make the victims look the aggressors. So unfair.

      • seafoid on July 1, 2014, 11:52 am

        The notion that Zionism is the enemy of evil is laughable. Holy torture doesn’t fly.

  7. amigo on July 1, 2014, 9:41 am

    Zionists lie with such ease.One might believe it comes naturally.

    Catches up with every liar eventually.

    • seafoid on July 1, 2014, 1:41 pm

      If they hadn’t occupied the territories in 1967 they could have stopped lying years ago.

  8. bilal a on July 1, 2014, 9:44 am

    The two suspects appear to have been in and out of Israeli military detention- interrogation0torture and were under constant surveillance. How did they get the guns and how did they plan to use them ‘opportunistically’ on hitchhiking teenagers? And why would these lost Israeli kids sadly get in their car?
    How then did they transport the bodies to a place where they were not detected right away?

    Opportunistic random shootings of kids do not fit the pattern of any organized terror group, and the timing is all wrong politically even if some offshoot subgroup decided to do so.

    Rather mentally ill kids kill kids like this : was this a deranged price tag JDL operation against Hamas ?

    • Mooser on July 1, 2014, 7:36 pm

      Might very well have been a case of jealousy, and then murder-suicide. To me that seems the most likely.

      • JustJessetr on July 1, 2014, 10:57 pm

        Really? I wonder how they buried themselves.

      • Penfold on July 1, 2014, 11:27 pm

        Only the last one would have had problems, although I concede murder/suicide is unlikely.

        Me personally suspect this is a pricetag attack that went horribly wrong but that is just my guess.

        What is missing here is any proof as to who did it or why, we can speculate as to the most likely scenario but that is all, I think it is equally possible that the “volunteers” that found the bodies put them there there or are we going to delude ourselves that settlers are just a few points short of sainthood and incapable of such acts?

      • Djinn on July 2, 2014, 12:13 am

        The “civilian volunteers” volunteers aspect is weird. Were settlers just roaming around the West Bank randomly digging holes?

  9. Citizen on July 1, 2014, 9:53 am

    Bibi has every earmark of a Mafia kingpin. Actually, the USA is Israel’s competitor–except the USA doesn’t engage per se in ethnic cleansing. Our mainstream media never makes it a point to spell out to the US public how our endless bags of cash to bribe Arab locals comes back to haunt us.

  10. Taxi on July 1, 2014, 10:22 am

    Right! So they still DON’T know who did it for sure. This makes israeli security AND israeli intelligence big time egg-suckers.

    Contrast this with the REAL terrorist attack in a Beirut hotel last week – how quickly the actual terrorists were identified even BEFORE their planned attack. And time and time again Lebanese intel ID’s terrorists within hours or several days – and without rampaging, killing and destroying civilian property with abandon in the process:

    Israel’s northern neighbor, Lebanon, seems more than capable of checking the thug idf on their borders AND checking terrorists internally at the same time. ‘Jungly’ Lebanon is in fact a much safer place than that glassy zio ‘villa’ in the holy land. And they don’t even have (illegal) nukes in the land of the ceders!

    So, like, of course land-addicted benjiboy would abuse the little intel that israel has to get more illegal acreage for his despicable, racist colony – f*ck even telling the parents of the missing teens that their kids are already deceased. You’ll find most commentators all over the net on this same page too. More and more people doubt the israeli storyline because they’ve witnessed the vile lies and sadism of isreali leaders for decades now.

    I look forward to more BS on this story from the war criminals in Apartheid israel.

  11. a blah chick on July 1, 2014, 10:43 am

    If I were one of those parents I would be tearing Mr Sara a new one.

    They lied to the parents that the youths were alive and then launched a cynical campaign to wage war against the Palestinian people. There is no circle of hell deep enough for these maniacs.

    • Mooser on July 1, 2014, 7:37 pm

      And now they plan to memorialize the boys with new settlements, in their memory!

  12. rationalist on July 1, 2014, 11:00 am

    The saddest part about this conflict is that no one cares enough to do speak the truth. It’s bizarre. The Palestinians have had their country, freedom, dignity and humanity taken from them. They are oppressed, imprisoned and subjugated, but we pretend they already have their own country and that this is a conflict between equals. We even pretend that somehow the very asymmetrical levels of violence are equal. That somehow the weakly organized guerrilla tactics of Palestinian terrorists is equivalent to the immense military might of the Israeli Defense Forces, which not only bomb and harass the Palestinians, but capriciously deny them access to water, food, and electricity. The inversion of reality is maddening.

    The indifference and misunderstanding of this historic injustice is staggering to me. It’s like watching a bodybuilder pummel up a cripple and listening to people complain when the cripple musters enough strength to slap back.

    Make no mistake, I feel the murder of these Israeli teens is horrific and unjust. However, responding with collective punishment is barbaric, evil, and disproportionate.

    The bottom line remains and bears repeating: the Palestinians have had their country stolen by foreigners in an ongoing conquest by foreigners.

    • Mooser on July 1, 2014, 7:39 pm

      They Zionists are not “foreigners” They are (per Andersen) a “modern indigenous nation”. It’s cause of the deep Jewish connection to farming.

      • Kris on July 1, 2014, 9:23 pm

        @Mooser: “…(per Andersen) a “modern indigenous nation”! This is so genuinely funny! Thank you! ;-)

      • RoHa on July 1, 2014, 9:33 pm

        ” It’s cause of the deep Jewish connection to farming.”

        Sure. We saw it in the movie Witness. Keep watching the movies, Mooser, and become a better Jew. I learned everything as know about Jews from the movies, and look what it did for me!

  13. Sycamores on July 1, 2014, 11:56 am

    “What we do know, is that this was likely an opportunistic move. The men behind this may have ties to a larger terror group, but this does not have the markings of a well-planned, complex operation,” one Israeli officer, based in the West Bank, told BuzzFeed earlier this month.

    from what i read earlier on Ynet it does seem like an opportunistic move by the kidnappers and poorly planned at that.

    Shot shortly after getting into abductors’ car

    For 18 days three families, and an entire nation along with them, were hoping for a happy ending to the kidnapping of Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19. But the three were likely shot while still in the abductors’ car, a short while after one of them called the police and whispered “we’ve been kidnapped.”

    The bodies of the three Israeli teens, who disappeared on June 12 in the Hebron area, were found on Monday evening buried in a shallow grave.

    Shaer, Frenkel and Yifrach got into the kidnappers’ Hyundai car at the Alon Shvut hitchhiking post at 10:15 pm on the night of June 12. Ten minutes later, one of the teens realized this was a kidnapping and called the police.

    Police did not take the call seriously enough, but the kidnappers feared the call could foil their plan and fired a gun at the back seat where the three sat.

    Breaking away from their original plan, the abductors made a u-turn back to Hebron. An hour later they reached the edges of the town Dura, north of Hebron, where they burned the car and moved the bodies of the teens to an escape vehicle.

    The kidnappers buried the boys several hours later in a terrace three kilometers west of Halhul and then went underground.

    Several hours after that, Palestinian security forces found the burned car and reported it to the IDF. This report was made after the teens’ relatives arrived at the police station to report them missing.

    It was only on 5:50 am, seven hours after the abduction and many hours after they were murdered and buried, that security forces started fearing the three had been kidnapped.,7340,L-4536636,00.html

    Kate a MW correspondent posted a in comment section yesterday which suggested that member/s of the Qawasmeh clan of Hebron were behind the abductions

    But while Israel continues to accuse the Hamas movement and its leadership of being responsible for the abduction, Palestinian security forces attribute the abduction to the Qawasmeh clan of Hebron specifically. Though the clan is known for identifying with Hamas, it also has a well-earned reputation as troublemakers. Not only does it tend to ignore the movement’s leaders. It even acts counter to the policies being advocated by the movement.

    yet the airstrikes continue in Gaza, homes are getting demolished in the West Bank, 5 murdered, Netanyahu will punish the Palestintians by building more houses in illegal settlements and the collective punishment of the Palestinians is gearing up to be the worst in years.

    • Denis on July 1, 2014, 12:47 pm

      At this early stage after the gag was lifted one would expect some disagreement on the time line, and that Ynet piece is an interesting example. It says that an hour passed between the shooting and the car being torched.

      Horovitz & Ginsburg at ToI said the post-shooting timeline went like this:

      The killers then drove a further 10 minutes or so before switching vehicles. They abandoned the Hyundai i35, a relatively new vehicle, and set it on fire.

      Now the ToI piece seems to change every time I look at it, so no telling what it will say if you check it out, but that’s a cut/copy as of 7am PDT, Jul01.

      Also, my GE places Dura at 31°30’22.07″ N 35°01’33.83″ E, which is well SOUTHEAST of Hebron, not north, as Ynet says.

      Dura is just 15 miles south via Rt60 from where the kids were picked up. How could it take an hour to drive 15 miles and why would they haul the bodies 8 miles back toward the scene of the shooting to bury them at Halhul?? There’s plenty of empty land just 3 mi. east of Dura where the bodies would never have been found.

      But my point is this: All of this info can only come from IDF. If the journalists are getting stories that differ so drastically in such a major way, it’s b/c the IDF is floating contradictory info. Maybe that’s a result of “the fog of kidnapping” or maybe this is another al-Dura (the boy, not the town) situation where GoI moves in and destroys or confuses the evidence to the point nobody will be able to sort it out.

      • Sycamores on July 1, 2014, 2:34 pm

        without doubt there are plenty of discrepancies between locations and times

        going by the times provided on Ynet,7340,L-4536636,00.html

        teens pickup at 10:15pm
        called to the police 10:25
        gun fire calls end 10:27/8
        car switch 11:30 approx

        basically the Hyundai i35 was driving around for approx 75 minutes and most of that time with three murdered teens in the back?

        now for the Times of Israel

        teens pickup at 10:15pm
        called to the police 10:25
        gun fire calls end 10:27/8
        car switch 10:40 approx

        the Hyundai i35 was driving for approx 25 minutes

        the stories are not matching up which will lead to more speculation.

      • Denis on July 2, 2014, 12:03 am

        Thanks, Sycamores. Much better explained than my attempt.

        Now I’m trying to run down the details of Jun13. Ynet claims the cops found the Hyundai at 12:30pm on that date. ToI claims GoI released the names of the suspects, but doesn’t give the time.

        If they released the names of the suspects before they found the car, it would be very suspicious.

  14. a blah chick on July 1, 2014, 12:13 pm

    I have questions about that ynet report. If the victims are dead and the suspects at large how do they know what happened in the car?

    • just on July 1, 2014, 1:02 pm

      Good question.

      I have lots more. Here’s one– how come, ‘gag order’ and all, Israeli government officials reportedly said that the youths were alive until they “were found”?

      • tree on July 1, 2014, 1:56 pm

        Here’s another question:

        Today, Israeli volunteers found the bodies of the three Israeli boys who’d been murdered after being kidnapped in north Hebron over two weeks ago. Their bodies had been buried under rocks in a field. They’d been shot shortly after they were abducted (and probably just after an emergency call was placed by one of the boys, which was ignored by Israeli police). The bodies were found in the general location intelligence officials had told my source ten days ago they would be (he’d also added that the boys were almost certainly dead)


        I also read elsewhere, can’t remember where exactly, that two of the bodies were merely covered in rocks and one was very shallowly buried, and that they were found in the fields of one of the suspect’s uncle. So for two weeks the intelligence sources knew they were looking for bodies and had the names of two prime suspects and yet they couldn’t find three hastily and minimally buried bodies for two weeks, until the bodies were found instead by untrained civilian volunteers?

        In any case its clear that the intelligence services are questioning whether Hamas was involved or not, but the Israeli government is only interested in exacting revenge upon the Palestinian collective for the actions of a group as small as two. Utterly depraved. Again, it looks like the “Western” culture is enacting a violent response out of a concept of “honor and shame”.

    • Ron Edwards on July 1, 2014, 5:40 pm

      My question: why is the term “kidnapping” being employed in any way? They were not “abducted,” “held,” or otherwise … you know, kidnapped. They were shot and killed, then buried. Not seeing the kidnapping part. So why does this term get the limelight?

  15. amigo on July 1, 2014, 12:36 pm

    “But the three were likely shot while still in the abductors’ car, a short while after one of them called the police and whispered “we’ve been kidnapped.”Sycamores

    As I recall , that phone call lasted two whole minutes.



  16. Kay24 on July 1, 2014, 12:40 pm

    Just now on Andrea Mitchell, Peter Alexander sitting in for her today, asked the lying ambassador of Israel for his reaction, when a clip was played showing Tony Blair commenting on this situation, and mentioning that (surprise!) there were Palestinian kids killed recently too, and those mothers also were suffering, he however (no surprise!) indicated that these deaths were worse. Almost instantly (amazing how the lies just flow) the ambassador says that Tony Blair is right, and there is a difference in these deaths, and went on to mention one was violent, and the other was “accidental” deaths when fighting “terrorists”. I wish Alexander also played the CNN clip of 2 innocent kids simply walking and getting brutally gunned down (no terrorists around). If Israel had appointed this new guy for his talent for lying, they certainly had the right candidate, on the other hand, they all lie, even Bibi. Time Boteach taught his people not to lie so much.

  17. a blah chick on July 1, 2014, 9:25 pm

    Has anyone considered the possibility that the suspects are also dead?

  18. kma on July 2, 2014, 1:03 pm

    late-night hitchhiking teens getting murdered doesn’t need a political motive but sure provides a convenient way for the IDF and collaborating Abbas and Palestinian Authority to spend 2 1/2 weeks pinning it on someone they want offed and then celebrating by the usual bombing of Gaza. surprise, surprise.

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