Letter from Israel
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Letter from Israel

Tragedy never fails to bring Israelis together.

This was proven once again when teenagers Naftali Fraenkel of Nof Ayalon, Gilad Shaer of Talmon, and Eyal Yifrach of Elad were kidnapped while standing at a hitchhiking post after school on the night of June 12.

Over the ensuing days, Israeli unity took the form of prayer rallies, schoolchildren waving Israeli flags on street corners, social-media campaigns, and nonstop monitoring of news channels for updates. In our neighborhood, several families took up a collection of snacks to be delivered by Yashar LaChayal to soldiers laboring day and night in the aptly named “Operation Brother’s Keeper.”

Yet in a Jewish country, where every two people have three opinions, it is impossible that the entire populace would be of one mind about how this awful horror happened and what needs to be done about it.

Some of my friends have joined the blame-the-victim camp, questioning the practice of hitchhiking at night in Gush Etzion, an area just south of Jerusalem that has seen its share of terrorism.

The issue is indeed contentious. Hitchhiking (“tremping”) is legal in Israel, and it is an accepted and acceptable practice, especially in places like the Gush, where bus service is spotty. Ever since kidnapping attempts about 10 years ago, Israeli soldiers have been forbidden to hitchhike. Some communities have instituted a system of passwords so that would-be passengers can be sure the drivers who stop for them are really the local Jews they appear to be. There are renewed calls for outlawing tremping altogether.

Most of my friends believe that the massive prisoner release in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011 directly led to the current tragedy. One controversially outspoken rabbi even issued a statement castigating the Shalit family for relentlessly pressuring the government to make a swap that put all Israelis in danger, and pointing out that the parents of the three missing boys have refrained from making similar demands.

Harsh as his words seem – and polarizing, too, since the Shalits are secular and the Fraenkels, Shaers, and Yifrachs are religious – they are borne out by fact. On Monday, a Hamas terrorist released in the Shalit deal was indicted for fatally shooting an Israeli father of five and wounding two children in a Passover eve terrorist attack. Many members of Knesset are pushing for legislation to rule out future prisoner exchanges and even to reincarcerate all 1,027 convicted terrorists released for Shalit – who was universally welcomed home even by those of us who questioned the wisdom of the deal.

In a small country, any occurrence is bound to have personal overtones. We have friends and relatives whose sons are classmates of Naftali and Gilad at Yeshivat Mekor Chaim in Kfar Etzion. Racheli Fraenkel, Naftali’s mother, teaches at Nishmat Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women in Jerusalem, a campus where my son and daughter-in-law have lived for the past five years because of my daughter-in-law’s job at Nishmat.

It seems silly, but as a journalist I was consumed with determining the correct English spelling of “Fraenkel.” The name is spelled inconsistently across different news sites since it is being transliterated from Hebrew. Mekor Chaim had no record of the boy’s name in English, but I found on the Nishmat website that “Fraenkel” is correct. This does nothing to bring Naftali back, but I feel it is respectful of the family.

One more thing Israelis can be relied upon to do is refusing to let any nefarious act keep them from saving lives indiscriminately.

And so, as soldiers risk their lives in Operation Brother’s Keeper, Israeli doctors who volunteer with Save a Child’s Heart have performed heart surgery on five Palestinian children at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. During this same time period, eight Palestinian children have been admitted, including two from the West Bank and Gaza.

United Hatzalah, a medical response service, has launched a public “SOS” emergency alert app that allows users to dispatch a distress call and their precise location to United Hatzalah and the Israeli police.

“With the recent kidnappings, we feel obliged to share our knowledge and technology to provide that extra layer of protection for the people of Israel,” said United Hatzalah president Eli Beer.

I believe, too, that we can all agree that Racheli Fraenkel spoke for decent people everywhere on June 24, when she told the president of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva: “It is wrong to take children, innocent boys or girls, and use them as instruments of any struggle. It is cruel. This council is charged with protecting human rights. I wish to ask: Doesn’t every child have the right to come home safely from school?”

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