The news that the three kidnapped Israeli teens had been murdered may not have surprised many Israelis, now the question is how Israel will respond to this deep wound.
Deep down, most Israelis probably weren’t surprised by the horrific news on Monday that the bodies of the three missing teenagers had been located. A nation sadly accustomed to such barbarism knew that in every past instance of abduction or kidnapping, there had been some indication when the victims were alive: a video, a claim of responsibility, a list of demands.
This time, too much time had passed without a word.
Still, Israelis — knowing that it could have been their son, their grandson, their friend — clung to the hope that Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach were still alive. World Jewry clung to that hope with them.
For 18 days, Israelis across the religious and political spectrum were united in their worry and fear. “Bring Back Our Boys” posters blared everywhere — across the backs of buses, suspended from bridges and balconies and on storefronts. With admiration and awe, we watched the mothers of the abducted boys bravely talk of faith and hope.
Now that hope has turned to collective despair. With the heart-wrenching side-by-side burial of the three victims on Tuesday, Israelis and the Jewish world are once again mourning the loss of precious young lives cut short by terrorism.
And we are once again dumbfounded that any human being could sink to such atrocities to kill innocent youth in cold blood and that a society could honor rather than disdain such evil.
Once the mourning is over, the unity that has prevailed in Israel these past weeks will likely begin to unravel as tough questions about retaliation, self-defense and military restraint arise.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already vowed that Hamas will pay for this crime. And Israel’s outgoing president, Shimon Peres, spoke for a nation when he said: “We remain committed to bringing the terrorists to justice.”
Some will be quick to call for unrestrained Israeli retaliation against all Palestinians, and a cut-off of funds and relations with the Palestinian Authority. Others will call for restraint beyond what any reasonable response would demand.
How Israel responds and what the repercussions will be are among the grave questions facing the Israeli government in the aftermath of this tragedy.
The fact that the border with Gaza also is heating up, with Hamas allowing rocket attacks after months of a tenuous cease-fire, suggests Israel is in for a long, hot summer.
Still, even amid these debates and responses, much of Israeli society will return to normal. Not so for the bereaved families. Their lives are forever changed. Our hearts go out to them. May their sons’ memories be a blessing.