A Palestinian man argues with an IDF soldier during a search for an Israeli feared kidnapped near Hebron on April 2..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The joke made its way around Israel pretty quickly just before Passover: If only the same operators who were working on the night the three teens were kidnapped this summer and failed to give the call the attention it deserved had been working when Niv Asraf’s friend reported him missing Thursday night, all this trouble could have been avoided. Instead, the hoax was taken with the utmost sincerity, temporarily making Asraf the most famous person in Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Maybe it’s still too soon for that joke, but it’s hard to disagree. The so-called “100 fiasco,” the scandal involving the failure of dispatch operators to heed the call placed by Gil-Ad Shaer on the night of the kidnapping, still hurts. There’s little to no chance that the three teens could have been saved; they were killed shortly after the call was placed, but the killers wouldn’t have had a several hours’ head start. They may have been caught that night, saving the country the national trauma that only ended when the bodies of the teens were found buried in a field near Hebron 18 days later.
That fiasco came to mind Thursday night for countless Israelis, especially, one assumes, the soldiers, police, and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) operatives searching house by house in the Hebron area. There was the feeling in the initial hours that not only could a young Israeli’s life be in danger, but that we could be heading toward another round of violence, another operation in the West Bank, another prisoner exchange, another national tragedy.
In hindsight, only now that we realize it was all a hoax, the operation to save Asraf seems exaggerated, maybe even a laughable manifestation of the Israeli hysteria regarding abductions. The frustration is stronger because it’s unclear how the situation could have played out differently. Should the operator have discerned that it was a hoax? Should he or she have grilled Asraf’s friend, knowing that there might be an Israeli taken hostage, and that each second is crucial? One shouldn’t expect an Israeli operator to act differently, especially when dealing with a kidnapping, the greatest nightmare for Israelis and the sum of all fears for Israeli parents.
There are no real winners in this story, but it’s hard not to think that the police must feel somewhat vindicated. During the summer, facing an onslaught of criticism over the handling of the dispatch call, police went on the offensive. They released statistics about the thousands and thousands of prank calls and harassing and lewd calls their dispatch center operators receive, and started sending out press releases about arrests of pranksters.
They also made sure to highlight cases in which operators performed above and beyond the call of duty, even as more cases of operator failures made their way to the press. Though the caper pulled off by Asraf and his buddy Eran Nagauker is a bit more sophisticated than a prank caller asking an operator if her refrigerator is running (though no less stupid), the story appears to bear out an argument police have been trying to get out for months, that their operators deal with a bevy of hoaxes and pranks and that not all is as it seems.
Looking back on Thursday night’s pointless manhunt, it occurred to me that it’s actually strange this doesn’t happen more often. Any Israeli, including Asraf and Nagauker (arguably not the greatest minds of their generation), would know that reporting a kidnapping would almost surely result in a major search operation. Any prankster must know that for the most minimal investment – a simple phone call – they can put the entire country on a razor’s edge within minutes. The fact that such hoaxes are all but unheard of perhaps shows that even for those with an antisocial bent, faking a kidnapping and playing on the country’s greatest fears is simply a bridge too far.
Asraf and Nagauker must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but no one should hold their breath expecting to see them do time, at least not a serious, deterrent prison sentence. This country tends to be forgiving of wayward young men, and in this case no one was physically hurt. They potentially endangered the lives of the soldiers who took part in the search, and caused serious headaches and possibly even trauma to an unknown number of Palestinian civilians during those several hours Thursday, but I still say it would be premature to expect to see them behind bars.
The odds they will do time seem to be getting more remote as time goes by and Asraf’s lawyer goes on the offensive, pointing the finger at police who he said abandoned his client when he came to them for help after receiving threats from gangsters he owed money to. Police said Asraf’s claims that he filed a complaint are baseless, but the narrative is already out there, and is bound to make Asraf a sympathetic figure to many.
They will be fined, placed on probation, and will live on in the Israeli collective psyche as morons of historic proportions. Eventually they may meet their future partners and marry, possibly have children, and then probably realize the real fear that kidnappings have for the Israeli public.
In the meantime, if this happens again, one can hope and probably expect the security services to respond in the same way.
The wasted resources and hours burned Thursday night should not deter police and the security services from acting the way they did – sending thousands of men into harm’s way to bring home a man they don’t know.
The writer covers crime, African migrants and security issues for The Jerusalem Post. He also writes and hosts “Reasonable Doubt,” an English-language crime news podcast on TLV1.FM. His blog can be found at www.benjaminhartman.com