Why this kidnapping was different
Israel has suffered many terrorist attacks, which have claimed the lives of countless innocent victims. It has faced difficult situations of kidnappings. But to the best of my memory, no such event has captivated the attention of practically all Israelis and earned such widespread sympathy as the abduction of the three teenage yeshiva students - Naftali Frankel, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach three weeks ago. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of Israelis, from all walks of life, and even from diametrically opposed political and religious views, followed the search for the boys, hoping against hope that they would be rescued and safely returned to their families. On the night before the bodies were found, tens of thousands participated in a Tel Aviv rally to express solidarity and pray.
It is important to try and understand why this story impacted Israel so strongly and what conclusions can perhaps be drawn for the future. In my opinion, six factors played an important role in turning the personal crisis of the Frankel, Shaer and Yifrach families into a national drama.
The first was the identity of the victims. They were teenagers, part and parcel of mainstream Israel, typical Israeli kids who could easily be the son of most people's next door neighbor. As the public learned more about their personalities, it became even easier for the average Israeli to identify with them. They played sports, one in particular loved basketball, another was a talented guitar player, and it was obvious that they were good kids, much loved by their families, friends and neighbors. This, of course, made it much easier for the media to concentrate on their plight. Had they been ultra-Orthodox Jews or Arabs, it is doubtful their fate would have elicited such media attention, which was critical to generating a consensus of support.
The second was the circumstances of their abduction. They simply wanted to get home safely from school late on a Thursday night. In order to do so, they had to hitch a lift, since public transportation is not as frequent in the Gush Etzion area, as in larger population centers. The kids were not doing anything risky, they certainly were not to blame.
The third factor was the absolutely inspiring behavior of the boys' mothers, whose dignity, courage, and eloquence made such a strong impression on the Israeli public. They were able to rise above their personal pain and trepidation to reach out to those seeking to support them and serve as a model of Jewish unity and solidarity. In this respect, their orthodoxy was one of inclusiveness and tolerance and obvious love for all Jews, regardless of observance and affiliation. Who can forget Racheli Frankel urging those who came to strengthen her to remember that "G-d does not work for us," yet we have to keep praying as our prayers have intrinsic value.
The fourth factor was the identity of the kidnappers. From day one it was clear that Hamas was responsible. Mainstream Israel has learned that despite the trials and tribulations of trying to negotiate with the Palestinians, there is a difference between those who call for Israel's annihilation and indiscriminately attack Israelis - and those whose leaders cooperate in preventing terror attacks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnapping and his men helped in the searches. Unfortunately, there was overwhelming happiness about the kidnappings among many Palestinians, while many claimed it was all a hoax.
The fifth factor was the public's memory of the agreement which freed Gilad Shalit from Hamas captivity in return for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. While his return home in October 2011 was welcomed by most Israelis, the deal was regarded by many as totally disproportionate. The fact that it was one of the released terrorists who murdered a senior police officer this past April, a fact made public ten days after the boys' abduction, only added to the drama, making it even more important that this case end very differently.
The final factor was the hope for a happy end, which on the one hand kept the story alive, but also helped maintain the public's interest.
At the end of the day, it is hoped, the unity, tolerance and continued solidarity will convince our enemies to give up their futile efforts to destroy us and to finally recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the land of Israel. It is also hoped this will give us the strength necessary to reach that point and do what has to be done to achieve a lasting peace.
Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and director of its Israel Office. His most recent book is "Operation Last Chance; One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice." His website is: www.operationlastchance.org and he can be followed on Twitter @EZuroff