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Operation Protective Edge: Kidnappings

(June 12, 2014)

Eyal Yifrach (19), Gilad Shaar (16), and Naftali Frenkel (16) were three Israeli students who were abducted and subsequently murdered by terrorists while they were on their way home from school on the night of June 12, 2014. Israel originally blamed Hamas for the abduction, but Hamas leadership denied involvement. On August 20, 2014, three months after the teens were abducted, Hamas officially claimed responsibility for the abduction and murder of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. A senior Hamas official made the announcement, commending the heroic action of the Kassam Brigades who kidnapped three settlers in Hebron. This incident sparked a revenge kidnapping of a Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdier carried out by Israelis and can be traced back as the spark of Operation Protective Edge.

The three teens were hitch-hiking looking for a ride to their homes in central Israel from the West Bank at around 10 p.m. on Thursday, June 12. They entered a stranger’s vehicle who promised to drive them home, soon realized that it was not an Israeli vehicle, and phoned the police for help. One of the teens can be heard on the recording telling the police officer who answered the phone that he had been kidnapped, but his speech was soft and muffled. Multiple attempts were made to reconnect with the phone after the call ended abruptly but it was eventually passed over as nothing serious, or a possible prank. Later that evening the parents of Gilad Shaar called the local police station and informed the officers that their son had not returned home, and only then were the IDF and the ISA informed of the call received over four hours prior.

During the first few days of the search, the Israeli military was able to locate where the call was made from and mounted a 2,500-person manhunt searching the Hebron hills and beginning Operation Shuvu Achim (Operation Bring Back Our Brothers). By June 17, almost 300 Palestinian civilians and suspected Hamas leaders/militants had been arrested on suspicion of having some sort of involvement with the kidnapping. The Israeli government announced that in the first six days of the search, IDF soldiers had searched 800 structures, some of them previously used by Hamas for operations.

The following week saw Israel intensify its search and clash multiple times with Palestinian civilians and/or Hamas militants. There were multiple incidents where fire was exchanged and, in some instances, there were casualties on the Palestinian side, with six people dying during clashes that week. By the end of the week, on day 14 of the search, Israel announced the identities of its three key suspects. Marwan Qawasmeh, Hussan Qawasmeh, and Amer Abu Aisheh were both Hamas operatives, had been arrested for engaging in terrorist activities previously, and had disappeared on the night of the abduction so they were suspects from the beginning.

On June 30, after almost three weeks of searching that left eight dead (including two of heart attacks from midnight raids), 120 wounded, and 566 arrested, the bodies of the Israeli teens were found bound and buried on land purchased by Marwan Qawasme’s family just north of Hebron. An examination of the bodies by an Israeli medical team determined that they had been murdered and buried soon after the initial abduction. After midnight on August 18, the Israeli military demolished the homes of the two main suspects and sealed off the entrance to the third’s. These demolitions were meant to “convey a clear message to terrorists”.

The outrage and sorrow felt by the entire country of Israel after the discovery of the bodies was too much to bear for some, and two days after the bodies were found Israeli nationalists abducted and murdered a young Palestinian boy named Mohammed Abu Khdeir. 16-year-old Khdeir was outside his home in the middle of the night when he was apparently forced into a car by multiple Israeli nationalists. Witnesses to the abduction heard his cries for help and chased the car, there were multiple people present because they were going to the local Mosque for morning prayers and meals. By tracking Khdeir’s cell phone Israeli police were able to locate the boy within an hour, but they were too late. At approximately 5 a.m. Israeli police found Khdeir’s body in the Jerusalem forest, beaten with a wrench, and burned alive.

The Israeli Police immediately identified and arrested six suspects, all members of a Jewish nationalist extremist cell. The kidnapping was determined to be premeditated, as the suspects admitted that it was a revenge killing and that they had already attacked a Palestinian 9-year-old the night before and were looking for someone else to attack. The suspects were also thought to have been involved in the plot to kidnap another Palestinian youth, Moussa Zalum, a few days prior. The main suspect is named Yosef Chaim Ben David, all six suspects confessed to taking some part in the abduction or murder of Khdeir, and a few of them are mentally ill and on medication. The families of the murdered Israeli teens have reached out to Khdeir’s family in support, and they have been photographed multiple times together embracing and sharing their sorrow. On November 30, 2015, a Jerusalem district court convicted two Israeli suspects of the murder. The main suspect and eldest individual involved, Ben David, was deemed not responsible for his actions at the time of the murder by a last-minute psychiatric evaluation and had his conviction suspended. The convicted were charged with kidnapping with intention to murder, attempted kidnapping, battery causing real harm, and attempted arson in addition to murder. Two of the convicted Israelis received life sentences, and one was sentenced to 21 years in prison. Israeli law forbids identifying minors convicted of crimes to the media. On May 3, 2016, Yosef Chaim Ben David, the leader of the group that carried out this brutal attack, was sentenced to life in prison.

Israel announced that it had gotten a confession from their main suspect in the abduction of the three Israeli teens on August 5, 2014. Hussam Qawasmeh had been a prime suspect of the IDF since the night of the abduction, as he had spent time in an Israeli jail before for terrorist activities and disappeared on the night of the abduction. Israeli officials told media sources that they secured a confession from Qawasmeh, with him telling them that he had taken part in the planning and orchestration of the abduction of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. He also informed the IDF that he had received instructions and funds from Hamas to assist in carrying out the abduction. Qawasmeh admitted to helping bury the bodies of the teens on a plot of land purchased by him recently. The two other suspects are still at large, and Qawasmeh was captured when he tried to flee into Jordan.

Hussam Qawasmeh was indicted for the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teens on September 4, 2014, after being identified and described as the mastermind and commander of the abduction operation. The same day that he was indicted, documents released by the Israeli government showed that not only was Qawasmeh a member of a localized Hamas chapter, but that he had received $60,000 to carry out the attack through a relative who worked for Hamas. This $60,000 was sent in five installments by Hussam’s brother Mahmoud Qawasmeh who is a known Hamas collaborator. Although this evidence is quite damning to Qawasmeh, it does not demonstrate that high-up Hamas officials had any prior knowledge of the plot. On January 6, 2015, the Judea Military Court sentenced Hussam to three consecutive life sentences after concluding that he had planned the kidnapping and murder operation well ahead of time. He was also ordered to pay each of the three families a quarter of one million shekels in compensation for their suffering.

Palestinian security officials announced on Wednesday, September 10 that they had identified the man responsible for “pulling the trigger” by ordering the abduction of the three Israeli teens. Abed a-Rahman Ghaminat was a Hamas operative who had previously been incarcerated in Israel for his involvement in the killing of IDF soldier Sharon Edri. He was released in 2011 during the prisoner swap in which Israel secured the release of Gilad Shalit by releasing many Palestinian prisoners from their prisons as well. Ghaminat was the Hamas military commander in charge of the Hebron area and worked closely with Hussam Qawasmeh to carry out the attack.

The two remaining suspects, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aysha were killed by IDF soldiers in a heated gunfight early on Tuesday, September 23, 2014. Israeli intelligence informed the IDF that the two were holed up in a building in Hebron, and soldiers subsequently surrounded the building and were fired on by the suspects with automatic weapons. After coming out of the building and opening fire on the soldiers, the two suspects were killed. The Israeli intelligence officers do not believe that the suspects were hiding out in the building in Hebron for long and speculate that they had been in the building hiding for about one week. In addition to this raid, IDF forces also arrested and detained multiple other individuals who they believe allegedly contributed to the abduction of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. On Palestinian radio following the operation, Hebron governor Kamel Hmeid stated that “It’s clear now the two martyrs, al-Kawasme and Abu Aysha, were assassinated this morning during a military operation in the Hebron University area. We condemn this crime, this assassination, as deliberate and premeditated murder”.

Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour penned a letter to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on October 2, stating that the killings of Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha carried out by Israel on September 23 were a violation of international law. The two individuals were suspects in the abduction of the three Israeli teens in the Summer of 2014 and were killed in a firefight with IDF soldiers. In the letter, Mansour referred to the killing of the two individuals as an “assassination” and in violation of international law. Mansour made no mention throughout the letter of the age of the victims, the suspect’s ties to the Hamas terror organization, or the nature of the crime committed. Israel’s UN Ambassador Ron Prosor responded by calling the accusations “slanderous” and referring to the actions described in the letter as a “selective description of events.” He accused Mansour of whitewashing the actions of these suspected murderers.

Hadar Goldin

In the wake of the failed cease-fire that was attempted on the morning of August 1, 2014, the Israeli Defense Forces believed that one of their soldiers had been kidnapped by Hamas. Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was feared to have been kidnapped in an incident that occurred only shortly after a humanitarian cease-fire was announced to start at 5 a.m. Goldin was born in the United Kingdom, is 23 years old, and is a relative of Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. As Goldin and the other members of his brigade approached a tunnel entrance just outside of the Israeli neighborhood of Rafah, they were ambushed and put under heavy fire by Hamas militants. The IDF believed that during this exchange of fire, the enemy combatants were able to use the confusion to abduct Goldin into the tunnel. This incident preceded the official end of the proposed cease-fire, which was announced at 3 a.m. and called off at 10 a.m.

The following day the Israeli Defense Forces announced, contrary to what the media and they themselves had originally reported, that Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was not abducted into a terror tunnel by Hamas, but was instead killed in the line of duty along with the other soldiers he was stationed with. Unfortunately, his body was not recovered, and in September 2016 Israel’s mission to the United Nations sponsored a display of his artwork at the U.N. headquarters in a project titled “Bring Hadar Home.”

Sources: Jerusalem Post.
Times of Israel.


New York Times.
Times of Israel.
Jerusalem Post.
Times of Israel.