Fear and loathing on the West Bank: Teenagers tell their stories

Two teenagers on either side of religious divide tell how the murders of close friends impacted on their lives … and strengthened their resolve

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 July, 2014, 9:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 July, 2014, 9:20pm

Almost every weekend, Dvir thumbs rides through the hills of the West Bank to the Jewish settlement where his family lives.

The murder of a neighbour on a similar journey home won't change the 16-year-old's routine.

"The terrorists want to scare us. They want us to leave this place. But this is how we live," said Dvir, a crocheted skullcap pinned to his close-cropped hair as he mourned Gilad Shaar, who grew up next door in the settlement of Talmon.

"Our response is to be together now and help one another, and to believe even more in our mission to live here."

Gilad was also 16, one of three students kidnapped on June 12 as they hitchhiked home from schools where they were weekday borders. Their bodies were found in a ditch 18 days later, on land Israel occupied in 1967 and Palestinians claim is theirs.

Teenagers born and raised amid the territory's scraggly hills and olive groves have always lived under the threat of violence and on the edge of war.

The murders, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared was the work of Hamas militants, steeled the resolve of young - settlers like Dvir - and the discovery of a 16-year-old Palestinian's body in a Jerusalem park the day after the students' funeral did the same for young Arabs like Izz el-Din.

"I feel anger, sadness and strength," the 15-year-old said as he mourned Mohammed Abu Khdeir, whose death Hamas has blamed on Israel. "Because they killed my friend, this gives me strength to fight the killers."

Izz el-Din lives in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the six-day war in 1967. He has tried to keep up with World Cup soccer matches over the noise of stun grenades and firebombs from clashes his friend's death triggered between police and residents.

Dvir's home is 50km away, in one of the hundreds of Jewish settlements that dot the West Bank. His siblings were supposed to start summer camp, but it was postponed after the bodies of Gilad, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Naftali Frankel, 16, a citizen of both Israel and the US, were found.

Public transport is so sketchy in the West Bank that hitchhiking is common. Dvir hadn't considered it dangerous.

He'd hitched a ride home from his religious school the night Gilad disappeared, and figured the boy's family hadn't heard from him because the phones were out of order.

"The last thing on my mind was that they were kidnapped," he said in the backyard of the Shaars' home in Talmon. Dvir said violent Palestinians want to intimidate him. Izz el-Din said Israel discriminates against him.

Izz el-Din also admitted he had been frightened since his friend's killing. "I am scared the kidnappers will return," he said.

The Israeli army has reinforced its troops near the Gaza strip in response to increased rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled region. One missile aimed at Israel fell short last week.

Three-year-old Joud Dannaf was playing with her brother and sister when it landed, spraying her with shrapnel and killing her.

"Joud was not a militant, she was just a child," her father, Mohamed Yousef Dannaf, said. "If we lived in peace, Joud would have grown up, gone to school and lived a secure life like other children in the world."