The night of June 12, the phones didn’t stop ringing at the West Bank police emergency hotline. Police later said 757 calls lit up the lines. Of those, 155 were pranks. So when another call came — this one two minutes long and filled with singing, shouting and loud booms — the cops didn’t think too much of it.
“They’ve kidnapped me,” whispered a young man, later identified by his parents as Gilad Shaar, one of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped that night and later killed.
“Hello?” the operator replied in an emergency recording, as described by the Times of Israel.
“Head down!” a man authorities suspect is a member of Hamas yelled in the background. “Head down!”
“Hello?” the operator said again, voice getting louder. “Hello?”
“Heads down, down this! Hands down!” the man yelled as groans sounded in the background. “Take the phone phone from him.” Seconds later, the men begin to cheer and sing a song in Arabic. One bellows, “Three!”
At first, the cops thought the call was a prank and didn’t immediately report it to the army, according to the Times of Israel. But following an investigation that concluded this week, Israeli authorities are so certain it’s genuine that four officers have been dismissed. Ignoring the call was “unforgivable,” Haaretz quoted Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino as saying. An additional investigation described it as a “mishandling of the telephone call received at the center, as far as the professional standards expected from emergency hotline operators at all levels.”
There is no way to know whether a more assertive police response could have averted the kidnapping’s tragic end — whether they might have been able to track the call and prevent the killings. More clear has been the impact of the crime: enflamed tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, widespread fear of greater violence and another day of unrest on Wednesday. Many analysts agree the nation has entered one of its most volatile chapters since the 2000 Intifada.
“There will be war, like the previous wars,” political analyst Talal Okal told Al-Monitor, a respected Mideast publication.
Fanning unrest was the discovery Wednesday morning of the body of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy named Mohammad Abu Khieder. His family had reported him missing, and the grisly finding was characterized by Israeli media as a “nationalistic crime.” His body was reported to be so baldly burned that police didn’t show the remains to his father and instead identified Kheider using DNA samples from his parents. The boy’s mother said her son had been “robbed from my lap,” and, referring to the murdered Israeli teens, said, “Their sons were important to them, just like my son is important to me.”
Khieder’s killing, related to the Israeli teens’ deaths or not, fits into a broader fury burning across Israel. Twitter is choked with the hashtag #avengeourboys — people posting pictures of guns and fighter jets and proclamations of “Vengeance!” On Facebook, a group called “The People of Israel Demand Revenge” materialized and collected more than 35,000 members, some of whom were allegedly Israeli soldiers. “Many here ask what revenge is,” one of the managers said. “Killing innocents? No. … This group’s purpose is to avenge the kidnapped teens’ blood.”
Other messages were openly racist. “There’s no such thing as an innocent Arab,” one commenter posted, according to Haaretz. “They learn to hate us and how to fight us from an early age!” One wrote, “Hating Arabs is not racism; it’s values.” Another: “I say take them all apart because even their smallest child was raised to be a terrorist.”
The murders, compounded by Israeli airstrikes and ballooning ethnic tension, may ignite broader violence, some analysts have warned. While the people seethe, leaders have few options. “This event has the potential to draw all sides into a strategic escalation that will change the status quo,” wrote Avi Issacharoff in the Times of Israel.
Hamas, he said, “does not want an escalation of hostilities against Israel. … As ever, a full-scale confrontation with Israel could bring about the fall of Hamas’s rule in Gaza. Nonetheless, absolute inaction by Hamas in Gaza would be interpreted as weakness.”