Beneath a framed poster proclaiming his son Zaid a heroic martyr after his death in 2005 during a shootout with Israeli soldiers, the grey-bearded Omar Abu Aisha said he did not expect to see his other son again alive either.
Amer Abu Aisha, a 33-year-old locksmith, is being hunted by Israeli security forces as one of two men they accuse of kidnapping three Israeli teenagers more than two weeks ago. Omar, who has spent years in Israeli detention, said his son had gone to a wedding on the night when the kidnapping is believed to have taken place.
“I believe the Israelis will kill Amer,” he said. He expressed doubt that the two men could have carried out the kidnapping on 12 June. “How could just two men seize three Israelis inside a car?” he asked.
While at the wedding Omar said he noticed that Amer was nowhere to be seen. The next morning his daughter-in-law told him Amer had gone to a town near Jerusalem, saying he would be back in a couple of days but not explaining the purpose of his trip.
While he would be proud to have another martyr in the family, Omar said he would far prefer his son to emerge alive, “so he can look after his wife and their three children”. The boys dutifully held up photos of their missing father.
The children used to get haircuts from the other missing man. Marwan Qawasmeh, 29, is a barber, and used to pray in the same mosque as Amer, said Omar. Both men, connected to Hamas, had spent time in Israeli jails. Many members of the Qawasmeh clan were involved with Hamas during the Second Intifada from 2000-2005 and Qawasmeh’s uncle Abdullah commanded Hamas’s military wing in Hebron.
At the Qawasmeh family home, the missing Palestinian’s wife and mother refused to be interviewed. Standing alongside large metal gates, they said the family home had been raided by Israelis, four of Marwan’s brothers had been arrested in the recent crackdown and they were afraid of further reprisals. But Mrs Qawasmeh told me she expected her husband to return as a martyr.
A spokesman for Hamas confirmed that both men are Hamas operatives but he said Israel had named the two suspects as an attempt to “cover up” its failure to find any culprit. Hamas had previously denied involvement, while saying it supported seizures of Israelis. A previous abduction, of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, led to Israel releasing 1,000 prisoners in return for his release.
Some of those released prisoners have been rearrested – and at least one is now charged with murder. The government is under strong pressure from the public and former security chiefs to refuse to make any more swap deals, as these have boosted Hamas and encouraged further kidnap attempts.
Israeli troops have scoured the countryside around Hebron and launched intensive raids on houses, and searched in caves and made over 400 arrests – but have found nothing. The countryside is a patchwork of hills, fertile strips of land growing olives or grapes to the west and desert further east.
An Israeli army officer said they believed the three Israelis were being held in a basement. “We will find them and the kidnappers, as we usually do in these cases,” said Lt-Col Peter Lerner, the Israeli army spokesman.
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said his own security forces were also searching for the missing Israelis. Many Palestinians say they do not believe there are any abducted Israeli teenagers. “They may be on a Tel Aviv beach with their girlfriends,” said Anwar al-Zboun, a Hamas member of the now-defunct Palestinian Legislative Council.Reuse content