"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." -The Wizard of Oz
The following is an excerpt from an Associated Press article updated 37 minutes ago:
A terror group abducted the three teens missing from the West Bank, Israel's prime minister said Saturday, as soldiers combed the rocky terrain and searched homes to try and find them...an "intensive operation" was underway to prevent the teens from being taken to the Gaza Strip or elsewhere.
The Israeli military identified the teens as Naftali Frenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19. (Frenkel is a U.S. citizen) Israeli-Palestinian tensions already were strained at the time of Thursday's kidnapping, in part because of the recent formation of a Palestinian unity government that has the backing of the Islamic militant group Hamas. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Saturday that Israel has thwarted more than a dozen kidnapping attempts by Palestinian militants so far this year. "It appears this event slipped under our radar, but we will not rest until we free the youths and put our hands on the terrorists who are responsible for this operation," Yaalon said. "As long as we don't know otherwise, our working assumption is that they are alive," he said.
Two of the three missing teens are from settlements in the West Bank, territory Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and that Palestinians are demanding as part of their future state along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Hamas ruled Gaza for seven years, after violently taking over the territory from the Palestinian Fatah group in 2007, and remains the de facto power there despite the unity deal. Palestinians have been involved in other kidnappings in the West Bank.
Last year, a Palestinian brought an Israeli soldier to a village in the West Bank and killed him in hopes of trading the body for his jailed brother. In 2001, a Palestinian woman lured an Israeli teenage boy over the Internet to the West Bank where he was killed by waiting gunmen. The woman was released in 2011 along with over a thousand others for Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who had been held captive in Gaza by Hamas-allied militants for more than five years.
I returned to the kibbutz where I live, Kfar Etzyon, on Friday afternoon after spending four days in north Israel. North Israel was breathtakingly beautiful, and I was able to see some incredible things; this contributed to the illusion that I am on vacation in a beautiful country. I am not on vacation, and while Israel is a beautiful country, it is a country constantly surrounded and engulfed by serious and life-threatening conflict.
It was a shock to learn that while I was romping around Haifa and Cesaria, enjoying the sea and sun, three teenage boys had been abducted after leaving Kfar Etzyon. As I mentioned in previous posts, the kibbutz where I live is close to the West Bank and has, as a result, endured many tragedies at the hands of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This kidnapping is one more act of terrorism the people who live here have been forced to endure. There is a lot of speculation and rumors, but it is my understanding that the boys were leaving Kfar Etzyon, where they attend school, when they were kidnapped. Most likely, the boys were trying to hitchhike back to their homes (a very, very common thing to do in Israel because gas is over $9 a gallon, not everyone has a vehicle, and to ride the bus is often not much safer than to hitchhike. I, myself, have hitched a ride since I've been in Israel).
This act of terrorism has gained international attention, and it is a very strange feeling to see an article on Yahoo homepage about something terrible that has happened in Israel when I am in Israel and the thing that happened was that three boys were abducted about half a mile from where I sleep at night. This was my wake-up call. As safe as I feel in the kibbutz, as much as I love the people I work with, as much as I love the Israeli spirit and the beauty of this country- this is Israel.
It is a country that has been swarmed with conflict and terrorism since before I was born. And the conflict exists still. The terrorism persists still. I came here to experience a different way of life, and to do meaningful work for UNICEF. To see people sacrifice so much to protect the land of Israel is, by far, more beautiful than any of Israel's famous sites or attractions. It inspires me to work even harder on my CRC report, because no child should grow up in fear of being abducted and used as bait in exchange for the release of thousands of terrorists.
Please pray for these boys, for their families, and for Israel. Pray for peace.