Israeli police are facing accusations of incompetence for at first thinking a phone call made by one of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers was a prank, costing valuable hours that could have been used to search for the boys and their abductors.
The Israeli news site Ynet on Thursday posted audio of the call, with an English translation, in which voices can be heard cheering, singing in Arabic and, according to some analyses, shooting the boys, who had been hitchhiking home from their boarding schools.
A voice identified as that of 16-year-old Gilad Shaar whispers, “I’ve been kidnapped” to a male police operator, followed by a man with Arabic-accented Hebrew shouting, “Head down! Head down!”
Israeli police officers block a road with their police vehicles in the village of Halhul, near the West Bank town of Hebron, where the bodies of the three missing Israeli teenagers were found, Monday, June 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
The officer repeatedly says, “Hello,” apparently unable to understand what's happening on the other end of the line.
What sounds like several gunshots are heard, followed by cries of “ach,” which means “ouch” in English.
A female officer then gets on the line and tries to engage the caller, asking, “Where are you now?” but getting no response.
After she gets on the line, more shots are heard.
The kidnappers are heard saying in Arabic, “Allah bless your hands” and “We have brought three,” in apparent reference to their three victims.
Then they begin signing and shouting in celebration.
Note that the ongoing Hebrew speaking in the background throughout the audio is the Israeli radio show to which the car radio was tuned to:
The Times of Israel reported that police tried to call the teen’s cellphone back eight times, but got busy signals three times and voicemail five times. Shaar’s cellphone continued to emit a signal until 11:50 p.m., nearly an hour and a half after the teens are believed to have been killed, according to Ynet.
Israel’s Army Radio reported that the three were shot during the phone call and that blood and bullet casings were found in the Hyundai in which the boys were abducted and that was subsequently torched.
Intensifying the public’s frustration, Ynet reported, Israel Defense Forces troops were already in the area responding to a call about an Israeli car that had mistakenly entered an Arab village, but were never alerted by police to the kidnapping that was underway.
In the hours after the kidnapping, many Israelis and Palestinians assumed the kidnappers were aiming to trade the teenagers for Palestinian convicts serving in Israeli prison. The Jerusalem Post noted that during the search, one of the scenarios considered by investigators was that the kidnapping had gone awry due to the unexpected phone call. The full audio in which the terrorists were heard singing and cheering in celebration would appear to suggest their intentions may have been to kill their victims all along.
Four senior police officers have already been dismissed for failing to take action on the call, including the female officer heard on the tape who did not pass the information to her superiors to alert the army. The male police officer who first answered the call was said to have responded appropriately by getting his colleague on the line, the Times of Israel reported.
“Not providing a proper response to a man’s cry of distress is an unforgivable event by every measure that can ultimately undermine the public confidence in the police, which is a cornerstone of police activity,” Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said.
Police sources told the Times of Israel that 757 other calls came in that night, 155 of which were classified as pranks.
The public and media continue to heap criticism on the handling of the kidnapping, including the police decision to keep a gag order on the audio of the emergency call for more than two weeks, only lifting it Tuesday, the day of the boys’ funeral. Even then, the gag order was lifted only for a 49-second excerpt of the tape which did not include the Arabic singing or what sounded like gunshots.
One example of the critical tone of the coverage, a Ynet headline read, “Kidnapping probe paints grim picture of police incompetence and a transmitting phone signal.”
Shaar and the other two teens — 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach and 16-year-old Naftali Frenkel, who was a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen — were kidnapped June 12. Their bodies were discovered buried under rocks Monday.
Two key suspects identified by the Israeli government as Palestinian Hamas activists are still at large.