The brother of missing Israeli teenager Eyal Yifrach has issued a direct appeal to his kidnappers for his safe return and revealed his family has sought advice from Gilad Shalit’s parents as their nightmare enters a third week, writes Justin Cohen.

Asaf Yifrach was in London yesterday to raise awareness of the plight of his brother  and fellow teenagers Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar and to urge the community to pray for the trio who disappeared in the West Bank two weeks ago.

missing israeliSpeaking to the Jewish News ahead of a Zionist Federation-organised solidarity event in north London and as Israeli forces widen their search for the youngsters, the 17-year-old said: “At first I didn’t believe what had happened. Eyal said he would be coming home late that day and never returned. This is now our reality. I haven’t even been able to eat. My brother and I are best friends. Every time he came into the house I was so happy, but I would never tell him. Now I regret not saying how much he means to me.”

Asaf said he has gained “huge strength” from the outpouring of support that has seen vigils held and also moved celebrities, politicians and supporters from all walks of life to back the ‘Bring Back our Boys’ campaign.
Hundreds of people attended last night’s London event featuring addresses from Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub, United Synagogue President Stephen Pack and the Movement for Reform Judaism’s Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner.

“It’s a good feeling to know we’re not alone,” Asaf added. “It was in my mind to come to London but I never dreamed it would be under these circumstances. I’m here to give strength to the community and hopefully to get strength from them. I want to raise awareness all over the world.

“The main thing is to pray with the Jews of England and with the merit of those prayers they could come home.”
He also said it had been “very helpful” for his family to speak to and seek advice from relatives of former kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in recent days.

And a week after Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas of being behind the abductions – a claim the terrorist group denies – he had a uncompromising message for the kidnappers: “I would say to them that as time goes by the anger we have grows and the punishment they will get will be harsher. I’d strongly recommend to let them go. They took kids, not soldiers. They are cowards.”

The condemnation from Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas, he insisted, highlights that those who have taken the boys have crossed a line. But he feels his brother is still alive, saying: “I’m staying positive. The last contact we had between us was two days before he was taken. He sent me a text saying he was sorry as he’d mixed up our tefillin and taken mine by mistake. Tefillin connects a person to God and now mine is connecting me to my brother.

Asaf Yifrach at the London solidarity event pic by Steve Winston

Asaf Yifrach at the London solidarity event
pic by Steve Winston

He taught me the guitar and I’m now practising the first song I remember him playing. Eyal loved going to nature reserves. We went together. Now I go to this same place to play guitar and think of him.”

Asaf added that when he and Eyal are reunited, “I will play that song to him with tears in my eyes. I will say ‘I love you’ and I will give him the strongest possible hug.”

International pressure for the boys’ release was stepped up stage on Tuesday when Naftali Fraenkel’s mother Rachel addressed the Uited Nations Human Rights Council. She said: “Much more can be done and should be done by everyone. Every mother’s nightmare is waiting and waiting for her son to come home.”

Meanwhile, London mayor Boris Johnson has thrown his weight behind the international calls for the return of the three teenagers. A Facebook group set up by the ‘Bring Back Our Boys’ campaign to raise awareness of their plight has attracted more than 112,000 “likes” in under two weeks, with supporters around the globe posting pictures of them holding signs appealing for the boys’ return.

Johnson told the Jewish News: “Like many Londoners, I was shocked to hear about the abduction of the three yeshiva students, and support the aims of the Bring Back our Boys campaign for their safe release. “I hope that this is solved without any further escalation of violence on the ground on both sides.”

– The ZF and Jewish News are putting together a book of support for each of the families of Gilad, Naftali and Eyal. Please can you send your messages of support to royi@zfuk.org and we will send it out to the Sha’ar, Frenkel and Yifrach families.