Mourners poured over fences and walls and snaked in lines along crowded paths Tuesday as tens of thousands of people from throughout Israel converged on a modest cemetery where three slain teenagers were buried with some of the pomp of a state funeral.
Traffic was backed up as buses streamed into the town of Modiin, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and others eulogized the youths in a nationally broadcast ceremony, as the three bodies lay on stretchers, draped in national flags, on a raised platform nearby.
“We prayed, each of us alone and all of us together, for a miracle,” Peres said. “Sadly we were hit by the tragedy of their murder, and a deep grief enveloped our people.”
The bodies of the youths — Naftali Frenkel, 16, a U.S.-Israeli citizen; Gil-Ad Shaer, 16; and Eyal Yifrah, 19 — were found buried Monday in a West Bank field, 18 days after they were apparently kidnapped and shot to death while hitchhiking home from their yeshiva.
Israel has accused the Palestinian militant group Hamas of the killings and is seeking two of its activists who disappeared the same day as the three teens. The youths’ disappearance and the subsequent manhunt gripped Israeli society, and their deaths brought a sometimes-divided country together in grief and outrage.
Speaking at a ceremony for Gil-Ad in the settlement of Talmon, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said, “We are not burying a settler or a soldier in this never-ending battle for the country. This is not a funeral for one part of the nation only.”
After the funerals — individual gatherings were held for each youth near his home before they were buried alongside one another in Modiin — Netanyahu outlined three missions for his government, the first of which was to catch the killers.
“We shall not rest or relent until we reach every last one of them, no matter where they are or how long it takes,” he said.
In addition, he said, Israel will continue its campaign against Hamas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Noting Israel’s increased strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, Netanyahu said the campaign would be expanded as much as necessary.
Overnight Tuesday, the Israeli air force carried out airstrikes on 34 targets, including a Hamas compound, the military said. Palestinian officials said four people were wounded.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops fatally shot a young Palestinian man during a raid in the northern town of Jenin. His age was variously given as 16 and 20. Israel said the man had thrown a grenade at the troops; according to the Associated Press, his family said he had been carrying eggs home for a predawn meal before the daylight fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Rocket fire from Gaza continued Tuesday, including during the funeral. “Hamas is responsible, Hamas is paying and will continue to pay,” Netanyahu said.
Hamas has not claimed responsibility for the youths’ abduction and deaths, but neither has it followed the lead of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in condemning the actions. Hamas officials in Gaza, including spokesman Sami abu Zuhri, said the group is not afraid of Netanyahu’s threats and will make Israel pay for any retaliatory acts.
The remains of the three Israeli youths were positively identified overnight at the forensic medicine institute in Tel Aviv by DNA tests and dental records, officials said.
As the three were being eulogized in their communities, TV channels had split screens showing them in happy moments: Gil-Ad in scuba gear, Yifrah playing his guitar, the red-headed Naftali, wearing braces, with friends.
With tearful crowds looking on, relatives and rabbis delivered televised eulogies from stone-paved synagogue plazas and lawns.
Naftali’s mother, Rachel Frenkel, who emerged as a powerful spokeswoman during the 18-day ordeal, broke with Orthodox tradition Tuesday to read the Jewish mourning prayer, the kaddish, aloud along with her husband and other son.
She also addressed the three slain teens, saying, “This was not random evil. These people went hunting. And God chose you to be his poster boys.”
As the three were being laid to rest, a recording of the call that Gil-Ad made to police shortly after their abduction reverberated on Israeli social media, rekindling public criticism of the police.
The three were abducted as they hitchhiked home from the yeshiva they attended in the West Bank. Although widely recognized as dangerous, hitchhiking remains a common practice among young Israelis, particularly in remote areas.
At 10:22 p.m., Gil-Ad called his parents to say he was on his way. Three minutes later, he called the police emergency center, the Israeli version of 911.
The call lasted for 2:07 minutes, according to police. A truncated, 47-second version became public Tuesday.
“I’ve been kidnapped,” Gil-Ad can be heard whispering.
An accented male voice is heard ordering someone to keep his head down, followed by several sharp popping sounds believed to be gunshots.
An urgent male voice speaking Arabic can be heard saying, “Take it away, take the phone away from him.”
The car radio was tuned in to a Hebrew station, and opposition lawmaker Shelly Yachimovich can be heard speaking.
Yachimovich said Tuesday that she couldn’t stop thinking about the boys’ last moments, about “Gil-Ad’s courage and resourcefulness in making the call, and the infuriating banality and negligence with which his desperate and bold cry for help was ignored.”
Throughout the call, the voices of police responders change as the call is passed through higher ranks. Probably regarded as a prank, Gil-Ad’s call was left unclassified in police ledgers for the night. Israeli news media quoted police sources as saying the emergency center that caters to West Bank residents has an unusually high proportion of crank calls and false alarms.
Within a few hours of the call, Gil-Ad’s father, Ophir, reported his son missing. It wasn’t until the next morning that the army and Shin Bet, the internal security service, got the full picture and began searches.
By then, the boys were evidently dead and buried, and the perpetrators long gone.
The day after the abduction, Shin Bet already suspected Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisheh, two longtime Hamas operatives living in the rural environs of Hebron. The search for them continues.
Sobelman is a special correspondent.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
12:16 p.m.: This post has been updated with additional details, including mourners converging on the funeral and remarks from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.
8:41 p.m.: This post was updated to provide more information about the services for the three slain teenagers.
This article was originally posted at 7:33 a.m.