I remember well the night my 13-year-old son Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ishran went missing.
We were up all night hoping and praying and waiting to hear from the people searching for our son.
I remember well the hollow, painful feeling of not knowing what happened to my son. The fear and stress of fighting off despair.
I remember well the support of my friends who came to sit in our living room to wait with us.
In Israel today, three other sets of parents are suffering the unimaginable pain of not knowing if their sons are alive or dead. Three boys kidnapped by terrorists. Three innocent boys: Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naphtali Fraenkel. Say their names. Pray for them. Keep their names close to your heart.
In the best-case scenario, kidnappers will demand that prisoners be released. Savage Palestinian murderers they seek to set free. The kidnappers have made no demands yet. The whole nation – or at least many of us – wait in anguish.
Our family also waited in anguish when our son went missing. All night we waited and all night we had hope. On May 8, 2001, our son Koby, who was in eighth grade, and his friend Yosef Ish Ran were bludgeoned to death by four or five Palestinians who acted with barbarian cruelty.
Like the kidnapped boys, Koby and Yosef were also schoolchildren. They went for a hike in the wadi near our home in Gush Etzion. Innocents slaughtered because the Palestinians sought Jewish blood. A cruel murder that haunts my dreams and days.
Koby’s birthday was this week. Or what passes for a birthday. He would have turned 27.
When Koby and Yosef were killed, the media reported that they were “settlers,” as if that justified murder.
And today the media is also calling Eyal, Gilad and Naftali settlers, as if their mere presence in Mekor Chaim yeshiva high school in a disputed area is a justification for abduction, violence and cruelty.
My youngest son, who graduated from Mekor Chaim last year, knows the kidnapped boys, and knows how cruel it is to blame them. And what are all the students doing today in the high school where two of the boys studied? Praying.
Perhaps there is a human tendency to blame the victim; they should not have been living there, they should not have been hitchhiking, they should not have been out at night.
Why do so many want to blame the victim? Because it gives them a sense of control.
They can tell themselves that it won’t happen to their families, because of where they live. They are safe. While the truth is, we see that violence against Jews can happen anywhere: Kansas City, Brussels or Toulouse, for example.
The three boys were abducted because the Palestinians want to torment and torture us, to weaken our entire nation. Today it is schoolchildren in Gush Etzion, tomorrow it may be Tel Aviv or New York. What happens in Israel is a microcosm for the world. Nobody is immune.
So it is time for the world to stop blaming the settlers. There is almost no group in the world so demonized, so vilified, so hated and so blamed.
Yet when the settlements of Gush Katif were given to the Palestinians, Israel was answered with missile fire from Gaza that continues to this day.
My prayer is that we all come together to blame the perpetrators of this crime: Palestinians who celebrate when our innocent children are taken captive. Who keep teaching and talking hatred. Who see violence as a preferred alternative to compromise.
Because make no mistake about it: this was a calculated move to undermine the Jewish nation’s resolve.
Yet Israel’s strength is our hope and our unity. The Palestinians want to violate that unity. They want the left wing and the media to blame the settlers, as if these boys are criminals who brought their kidnapping upon themselves. They want the world to believe that these schoolchildren are to blame.
As the Palestinian Authority seeks to unite with Hamas despite its stated desire to destroy Israel, we as Israelis need to unify and strengthen our resolve and insist that these boys are not to blame, and hold the Palestinian government accountable. It is the obligation of all good people to stand up right now and say that these boys are innocent victims of Palestinian hatred and their continued desire for revenge.
The Palestinians can try to undermine and destroy us but they won’t succeed.
The name of the high school where the boys studied is translated as the “Source of Life.” And what is the source of the strength of Jewish life? Our love of life and of justice, our unity, and our belief in God.
Let us pray that we will hear the best news possible soon and that Eyal, Gilad and Naphtali will be back in their parents’ arms, healthy and unharmed.
The writer is co-director of the Koby Mandell Foundation which runs programs for bereaved families in Israel. Her book, written after the murder of her 13 year old son, Koby Mandell, The Blessing of a Broken Heart, won a National Jewish Book Award in 2004.