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In 2014, the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, followed closely by the brutal killing of a young Palestinian boy, had a devastating impact and contributed to war in Gaza between the Israelis and Palestinians. Those murders, as well as the bloody fall-out that came next, are closely examined in HBO’s recently debuted true crime series, “Our Boys.”
The network’s take on the story, spanning 10 episodes and filmed entirely in Hebrew and Arabic, begins after three Jewish teens — Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach — go missing, sending their community into a tailspin. Tension between the Israeli and Palestinian communities reach a fever pitch after the three boys are found dead weeks after they first vanished, and those tensions grow deadly for Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a teenage Palestinian boy who is abducted and killed right after the three boys were buried in a brutal act of revenge.
“Our Boys” follows first the disappearance and eventual discovery of the three Jewish teens before turning the camera onto Abu Khdeir’s family as they grapple with the horrific, unexpected tragedy of what has happened to Abu Khdeir and everything that means, not only for themselves but for the rising conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. Also taking center stage is Simon, an investigator with Shin Bet, the Israeli Security Agency, as he looks into Abu Khdeir’s murder in a case that comes to have huge political and social ramifications.
Filmed on location in Israel, “Our Boys” is a joint effort between HBO and the Israeli Keshet channel, The New York Times reports. The idea for the series first came about in 2015, and was inspired by The Times’ coverage of the murders a year prior, the show’s creators Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar, and Tawfik Abu Wael told the outlet.
“That whole summer of 2014 was a very bloody summer. We all felt it was a crucial story we had to tell,” Levi said.
Here are the four boys whose tragic murders are at the center of "Our Boys."
Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach
Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, were last seen at their yeshiva, or religious school, in the Israeli-controlled Gush Etzion area on June 12, 2014, Time reports. The three boys, who were hitchhiking at the time, are believed to have been forced into a car; soon after, one teen was able to call 911 and whisper, “We have been kidnapped,” before the call ended, according to the Times of Israel. Within days of the teens’ disappearance, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attributed their disappearance to Hamas, a militant Palestinian group, CNN reports.
Fraenkel was a dual Israeli-American citizen, according to the Washington Post. His citizenship prompted a response from John Kerry, who was then Secretary of State.
“We are still seeking details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas' involvement," Kerry said in a statement obtained by CNN. “As we gather this information, we reiterate our position that Hamas is a terrorist organization known for its attacks on innocent civilians and which has used kidnapping in the past.”
The Israel Defense Forces launched a coordinated effort to locate the boys, called Operation Brother’s Keeper, following their disappearance. In the days that followed, Israeli authorities conducted numerous raids on Palestinian communities and arrested hundreds, drawing criticism from some human rights groups and stoking Israeli-Palestinian tension, according to The Times of Israel.
The bodies of the three teens were discovered on June 30 in a field around 15 miles away from the West Bank area where they were last seen alive, according to The New York Times. Authorities theorized that they had been killed — fatally shot in the back of a car — soon after they were taken, likely after the kidnappers realized, in a panic, that one of the boys had called police, The Times of Israel reported.
Marwan Kawasme and Amer Abu Aysha, two Hamas members identified as suspects, were killed during a shoot-out with authorities on September 23, according to The Jerusalem Post.
The following year, the third suspect and Hamas member Hussam Qawasmeh was sentenced by a military court to three life sentences, the BBC reports.
Mohammed Abu Khdeir
Abu Khdeir was abducted on July 2, the morning after Shaar, Fraenkel, and Yifrach were laid to rest.
The teen was standing outside near his home in the Shuafat neighborhood at around 3:45 a.m. when he was forced into a car by two or three men, witnesses claimed, according to Al Jazeera. He was reportedly preparing to head to the nearby mosque at the time, but his plans were interrupted; surveillance footage showed Israeli men forcing Khdeir into a Hyundai and then speeding away, according to a report from the Ma’an News Agency.
A group of bystanders witnessed the abduction and went after the car, but after they were unable to keep up. They returned to Shuafat and alerted Abu Khdeir’s father, the Times of Israel reports. He then called police at 4:05 a.m., and authorities used cellphone data to track down Khdeir’s body in a forest in Jerusalem within an hour.
Upon discovery, his body was so badly burned that his identity could only be verified via DNA samples, according to Al Jazeera. An early autopsy revealed the presence of flammable material in his lungs, indicating that he was set on fire while he was still alive, the Times of Israel reports. Severe burns reportedly covered 90 percent of his body, and he was also beaten before he was killed.
Khdeir’s death was thought to be a revenge killing in response to the deaths of the Israeli teenagers, and protests erupted throughout the area with growing intensity as the tension between both sides grew.
“We don’t feel safe,” Suha Abu Khdeir, Mohammad’s mother, said after her son’s death, according to The New York Times. “They took him from in front of our home.”
Six suspects were arrested within days of Khdeir’s death, but only three were ultimately convicted of the killing: Yosef Haim Ben-David and his two nephews, whose name were never released to the public because they were minors when the crimes were committed. Ben-David and one of the minor nephews were both sentenced to life in prison, while the remaining party was sentenced to 21 years behind bars, according to the Times of Israel.
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