Police Stall Over Delayed Kidnapping Report
Police officials have now responded to Sunday's revelation that the three kidnapped yeshiva students made calls to police, saying they had been kidnapped on Thursday night, only to be dismissed as pranksters.
On Monday, two top-ranking police officers spoke to IDF Radio about the blunder. Both reiterated the commitment to launch an investigation over the issue - with a few reservations.
"[I] will investigate the claims, but right now we are only focusing on the search [for the missing students]," Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino stated Monday morning. Danino returned from the US Sunday, having been updated on the situation from abroad.
Retired Commander Shlomi Katabi, former commander of the Judea-Samaria District Police, was less forgiving.
"As soon as a suspicious message of this kind is received, claiming kidnapping, the police should immediately take action and assess the situation - and, of course, alert all necessary security services on the incident," Katabi told IDF Radio.
"I do not know where this went wrong," he continued. "I understand that they reported to their superiors and a meeting was held to assess the situation. But the question is, where does an inquiry [into the delay] stop?"
On Sunday night, a gag order was lifted on confirmation of rumors that one of the boys had called the Kiryat Arba police shortly after the kidnapping.
One of the youths called at 10:25 pm, shortly after the kidnapping, and whispered, "We've been abducted! We are being kidnapped!" according to reports.
A source in the Israel Police said that the hotline did not take the call seriously and thought it was one of the numerous calls it receives from hostile Arabs who seek to overload it with false alarms. It was only when a brother of one of the abducted boys arrived at the police station that they understood the call had been real.
News first surfaced Saturday night that there was a significant time lapse between when parents reported the kidnapping to the police and the notification of security sources and the IDF over the issue.
As of Saturday, initial reports indicated a lapse of a few short hours, but some reports Sunday alleged that the gap may have been as much as eight hours.
Remorseful, yet defiant
The Israeli police have finally responded to these reports Sunday afternoon. Senior police officers told Walla! News that "you cannot overlook" the mishandling of the report, and that an internal committee has been set up to handle the issue.
Despite this, the police have refused to accept criticism launched at them over the mishap, claiming that every day there are dozens of reports of attempted abductions, and in the end they turn out to be false reports.
"We check every report, but you can not call the IDF over every report we get," said a police official. "Still, this case turned out to be a red flag, so there will be a thorough investigation into the matter."
An investigation shows that two of the boys - Gidon Sha'ar and Naftali Frenkel, both 16 - left the Kfar Etzion yeshiva in Gush Etzion at 10:00 pm Thursday, and notified their parents around that time that they would make their way home to Talmon and Nof Ayalon respectively.
Eyewitnesses have stated that a short time later, they saw the two teens standing at the Alon Shvut intersection, trying to find a ride. The third teen, 19-year old Eyal Yifrah, told friends he was waiting for a ride around the same time, at about 9:40 p.m.
For political and financial reasons, buses in Judea and Samaria are infrequent, and hitchhiking home has become a way of life for residents across Judea and Samaria and is a widely accepted - and common - practice. Car travel is too expensive for many families, due to both a 150% sales tax on new vehicles in Israel, and gas prices topping 7.66 shekel per liter ($6.50 per gallon).
According to Walla! news, the first inklings of a problem had been reported to police, or IDF officials, sometime prior to the first police report filed on the abduction at 3:00 a.m. Friday. A command post and checkpoint was established as soon as the police report was made, the source said, but the unit failed to report the incident to the IDF until over an hour later; the Israel Security Agency (ISA, or Shin Bet) was then notified shortly thereafter.
Moreover, according to the report, the Judea-Samaria District Police were only notified of the early-morning call from concerned parents well into Friday morning; only still later was it clarified that the complaint indicated a kidnapping in Gush Etzion.
Criticism has begun to be fired at the police forces for tarrying in the report, as time is crucial in a kidnapping case.
Nevertheless, at least one security expert has offered a glimmer of hope, saying that the length of time the boys have been in captivity does not necessarily make their chances of survival lower.