The parents of one of the three Israeli teens abducted and killed by Palestinians last month say they hold Hamas responsible for the murders despite questions raised recently about whether the Islamic group's leadership actually ordered the operation.
The kidnapping set off a chain of events that led to the current war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, with more than 1,000 dead.
Ofir and Bat-Galim Shaer, whose son's body was discovered in a shallow grave in the West Bank 18 days after he went missing, also said they condemned the killing of a Palestinian teen earlier this month in what police believe was an act of retribution carried out by Israelis.
The parents made the remarks in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News, filmed at their home in the West Bank settlement Talmon. They described their 16-year-old-son, Gil-Ad, as courageous for having quietly phoned a police hotline from the car of his captors to report that he and the other two teens had been taken.
The operator who received the call thought it was a prank and failed to send out a response team.
"He had the courage to call to the police and tell about the abductions and even the abductor didn't know about it. He was a true hero to do this," said Ofir Shaer, a lawyer by profession. At one point in the interview, his wife, Bat-Galim, said,"He also was a very intelligent boy and a very smart boy. He loved history. He loved to learn Bible. He loved mathematics. And we miss him very much. It's very hard."
Gil-Ad and the two other teens, 16-year-old Naftali Fraenkel and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach, were grabbed while hitchhiking in the West Bank, where they studied at religious seminaries. Israel immediately accused Hamas and described the suspects as known activists of the group. Hamas, which perpetrated similar operations in the past, praised the kidnapping while neither confirming nor denying involvement.
In a broad search for the teens, Israel killed six Palestinians and arrested more than 400 – most of them members of the group. But a spokesman for the Israeli police suggested at one point that the suspects appeared to have acted on their own and not on orders from the group's military wing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to blame Hamas.
"According to what the Israeli forces say, there is no doubt of it that Hamas is behind this abduction. And I think it's very simple and you can see it," Ofir Shaer said in the interview. "So all other answers are not correct, not the truth."
Israeli forces discovered the bodies of the three teens on June 30 in the Hebron area, where the two suspects were said to have lived. Authorities said the three appeared to have been shot dead soon after being taken.
In the escalation that followed, Hamas fired hundreds of rockets at Israel, and Netanyahu ordered air strikes and later a broad incursion into Gaza. More than 1,000 Palestinians and nearly 50 Israelis have been killed so far in the fighting.
Ofir Shaer said in the interview that he did not blame the hotline operator for his son's death. In a two-minute recording of the call, which the Israeli media broadcasted, Gil-Ad is heard saying calmly in Hebrew, "I've been kidnapped." One of the captors then orders the boys to put their heads down and hand over the phone. Gunshots are also heard.
"Of course when we heard the phone call, it was very difficult to hear it. But we don't have no frustration now … because everyone knows that they were murdered immediately."
The parents said they received letters of supports from all over the world,from both Jews and non-Jews. "I think every mother feel the same when her son didn't come back from school," Bat-Galim said.
"We didn't believe that they will be murdered. We were shocked when the police said they found the bodies. We were sure that they will come back home and we will see Gil-Ad again. We feel the big hug from all the world all those days," she said.