The focus of conversation in Israel today continues to be the case of the three missing teenagers, apparently kidnapped by Hamas on Thursday night while hitchhiking in the Gush Etzion region between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Because Israel is such a small country, national tragedies take on a unifying nature and resonate with everyone.
Israelis think of their own teenage sons and daughters, their relatives and their friends. There are no six degrees of separation here. When Gil-ad Shaar, 16, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16 (who is also an American citizen) went missing, it was as if the perpetrators took all of Israel hostage. Everyone feels the personal aspect of the attack even if he or she doesn’t have a direct connection to one of the families.
Special coverage of the tragic story has bumped all other news to the sidelines. All three major television channels as well as major Internet sites have a running commentary on the latest news from the field.
Mainstream media and social media have been rife with rumors, reports, op-eds and updates. The Israeli government has pointed to Hamas as being behind the assumed kidnappings.
No one wants these three young men to be the next Gilad Shalit and disappear for five years in captivity.
Perhaps it was for that reason that the online campaign #BringBackOurBoys went viral almost immediately. The campaign was launched by graduates of the University of Haifa’s Ambassadors Online program and quickly attracted global interest while enlisting tens of thousands of people from all over the world — from the United States to Fiji — in the fight to free the missing teens.
“The campaign was based on another Internet initiative to return the kidnapped girls in Nigeria that was entitled ‘Bring BackOur Girls,’” explained Dr. David Gurevitz, who founded the Ambassadors Online program when he was still a doctoral student at the university. “The organizers of our initiative wanted to make it clear that terror cannot include kidnapping children – not in Nigeria and not in Israel. Surfers all over the world connected to that simple message.”
Local celebrities as well as citizens from many countries posted pictures calling for the safe return of the teens.
There are also dozens of other smaller social media campaigns calling for the safety and return of the yeshiva students.
The IDF released a second hashtag with the teenagers’ names – #EyalGiladNaftali – hoping to get the international community to help pressure those responsible for the whereabouts of the three young teenagers to release them and return them home safely.
The parents of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali have all spoken to the press saying they are trying to stay strong and that their hearts are broken. This is a feeling shared by everyone here in Israel.