Israel marks 5 years since kidnapping, murder of three teens in West Bank

"For us this is a living heart, this is a continuation of the lives of the sons we can't hug anymore, but I can imagine them here in this place, full of life and action," said Iris Yifrach.

July 7, 2019 07:43
Ceremony marks 5 years since kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens at Oz veGaon Reserve 2019

Ceremony marks 5 years since kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens at Oz veGaon Nature Reserve in Gush Etzion, July 2019. (photo credit: SOVEREIGNTY MOVEMENT)

A ceremony marking five years since the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers - Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frenkel - was held in the "Oz veGaon" (Courage and Pride) Nature Reserve established in their name in the heart of Gush Etzion on Friday.

The ceremony opened with the planting of 18 trees at the entrance to the reserve. Then, the head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Shlomo Ne'eman, delivered a speech.

Leaders of the Women in Green movement, Yehudit Katzover and Nadia Matar, spoke as well, expressing thanks to God "for the opportunity to redeem a portion of the land of Israel."

"Five years ago, we stood here during days of searching that instilled in us the sense of self-sacrifice and sacrifice within the nation," said Ne'eman. "Self-sacrifice gives rise to feelings that until a moment ago were not there. It isn't the tragedy but rather the feeling of shared responsibility and mutual guarantee of 'all of Israel is responsible for one another.' This guarantee makes us what we are.

"There are goals in life that nullify all sight of the present, skipping over this sight to see the future," Ne'eman added. "It is not by chance that from this place the earth blossoms and youth are educated and become the people who build the country from dust. From this place rises tomorrow's sovereignty.

"Nadia and Yehudit establish the message of sovereignty because they look at tomorrow, at the relation and the identity of the true sovereign over the land," he continued, praying that "we merit to see the task of sovereignty flourish as 'Oz veGaon' flourishes."

Participants in the ceremony planted the trees ad "a symbol of life answering the mourning and bereavement that terror wanted to instill in the kidnapping and murder of the three teenagers," a press release explained.

Three large memorial stones were placed in the area in memory of the three teens, as well as a memorial stone for Ezra Schwartz, an American yeshiva student who was murdered near the reserve in a terrorist attack as he was on his way to an agricultural activity at the Oz veGaon reserve.

Later in the event, speeches were given by Racheli Frankel and Iris Yifrach, mothers of two of the teens who were killed, Rabbi Yaakov Madan, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Har Etzion Yeshiva and former MK Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli, who helped establish the reserve, also spoke.

"Every time that we make our way through the winding road of Gush Etzion, a road that shakes our hearts and souls and inflicts us with endless pain and longing, it's not easy," said Yifrach. "I struggle to collect myself at the end of the road, but a few dozen meters from the road we arrive to this place that proudly bears the names or our sons, and see the children playing here, the trees and the classes. For us this is a living heart, this is a continuation of the lives of the sons we can't hug anymore, but I can imagine them here in this place, full of life and action.

"The moment they found our sons' bodies is one of the 10 things created around sunset," added Yifrach. "Those who found the body saved our lives. There are those who aren't returned. I thank God that he saved our lives."

The founding of the reserve is a "caress of comfort to our aching heart," Yifrach continued. "It's true that there is no comfort and the hole isn't filled, but it is filled with wonderful messengers who chose to take this painful moment and to unite us all. I pray that this place continue to flourish and to fill with unity, action and growth."

"Nadia and Yehudit are the engines that needs to be connected to all of the nation of Israel," said Frankel. "Look at the audience here. We all want unity."

Frankel also discussed what came to mind when she watched the trees being planted at the reserve.

"When we saw the movement of the hoe in the ground and how each one leaves it for the next one, it is easy to think what comes to mind...from the movement of the hoe in the covering at the cemetery we move to a place like this and plant and build," she said.

Frankel also told the audience about a story she had heard from a friend in one of the towns nearby.

When the three boys were kidnapped, her friend "struggled to explain to her [three-year-old] son all that was happening. One day he came back from kindergarten and told her 'we started saying the Traveler's Prayer in kindergarten so that three boys who lost their way can find their way home...'

"When the bitter message came, she again didn't know what to tell him, but he returned from the kindergarten and said that 'they stopped saying the Traveler's Prayer because they found the children...'

"One year after, he came to Oz veGaon and he saw the pictures of the boys and the mother understood that now she needed to explain to him and so she told him, 'I know why they have the pictures of the boys here. It's so they never get lost again...'"

In his talk, Madan said that Oz veGaon is a place that separates Beit Fajar from the Gush Etzion Junction and "leaves the Gush Junction as a Jewish place.

"It can be seen here how difficulty, mourning and a feeling of destruction lead to growth in place of leading to a feeling of misery," he said. "To get to this growth is strictly our own choice."

The Oz veGaon nature reserve is maintained by volunteers and activists from the Women in Green movement. The reserve is used for social, agricultural and ethical activities for groups of youth coming from all over the country throughout the year. Jewish religious and traditional classes are also taught for hundreds of women at the reserve. 

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