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The Israeli teens killed: Promising lives, grieving families

By Josh Levs and Kevin Conlon, CNN
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 2105 GMT (0505 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Naftali Frankel's cousin says #BringBackOurBoys effort helped change the world
  • Frankel's uncle works to involve Palestinians in high-tech businesses
  • Gilad Shaar was full of love and spoiled his sisters, his family says
  • Eyal Yifrach recently sang in a performance posted on YouTube

(CNN) -- They were teenagers on their way home from school.

One liked basketball and was a gifted musician who played a mean guitar as well as the flute. Another liked to bake cakes for his five younger sisters. The third would bring jars of cookies to study hall for his classmates.

Naftali Frankel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar, Israeli Jewish teens, were buried Tuesday after a memorial ceremony watched nationwide. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the three were "gifted, pure, honest and decent" and were "cut down by the hands of evil men."

Their deaths galvanized the country and sparked new Israeli military action, exacerbating the conflict.

The teens' bodies were found Monday, more than two weeks after the three were abducted on their way home from school in the West Bank.

Israeli teens laid to rest

Naftali Frankel, a dual U.S.-Israel citizen

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Frankel, the 16-year-old musician and basketball fan, was also a U.S. citizen who had family in Brooklyn and in upstate New York, his aunt Ittael Frankel told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

"Rest in peace, my child," said his grieving mother, Racheli Frankel, according to ynetnews.com. "We will learn to sing without you. We will always hear your voice in our hearts."

Frankel was the second-oldest of seven children. He was a gifted student and "a responsible and poised young boy," the Israeli Embassy in Britain said in a profile of him after he was abducted.

His uncle was working to help bring more Palestinians into Israeli high-tech businesses, Forbes reported. The article by Richard Behar carried the headline: "Good vs Evil: Israeli Intel Exec Pioneers Hi-Tech With Palestinians. His Nephew, A U.S. Citizen, Is Abducted By Terrorists." It reported on Yishai Frankel, the 44-year-old general manager of design and development at Intel's headquarters in Jerusalem, who was spearheading integration efforts for the company.

"There's no doubt that people who kidnap young kids are destructive and they hurt the Palestinian cause as equally as it's hurting the Israeli cause. It doesn't help anyone," the uncle was quoted as saying. "So, am I surprised? No, I'm saddened. But that's reality. Does that mean I feel bad things about the good people I work with, among the Palestinians? No. These are good people. It's no secret that every society has bad people."

Victim's cousin: Support helped deepen ties

His American cousin Manny Halberstam described him as someone "always full of joy and full of positivity" who "made his parents' lives a lot easier by being such a good older brother."

"There's this perception that spending time in Israel, spending time in the West Bank, could be pretty dangerous. The truth is, when you're there in the West Bank, up until a few weeks ago, when you're there, you really feel pretty safe. You don't feel like you're in danger at all. And I think, unfortunately, in response to this incident ... that sense of safety is going to change," Halberstam said.

In an interview with Brooke Baldwin on "CNN Newsroom," Halberstam had a message for all the people "with a strong moral conscience" who have been protesting the abduction of the boys, as well as the abductions of more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria. Supporters for the Israeli teens used the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys, following the lead of #BringBackOurGirls.

"By no means was the time and energy that we invested in these campaigns a waste, because through our efforts, we strengthened our sense of community and we deepened our ties with each other. And I think, in that sense, we've moved the world to the type of world in which these types of incidents occur less frequently."

Gilad Shaar, oldest of six

Gilad Shaar, also 16, was "gifted" and "always smiling," his grandfather Ezra Sha'ar told Israel's Channel 2, according to israelnationalnews.com.

"He was a boy who loved to learn, to do everything for the community and for society." He "loved his country" and took a lot of trips across Israel, the grandfather said.

He spoiled his five younger sisters, Shaar's American aunt, Leehy Shaar, wrote in an open letter on June 23 in the Los Angeles-based Jewish Journal. "He loves to bake cakes," she added. "And they are truly delicious."

She told CNN's Jake Tapper on Monday that she was still in shock. "I'm holding his picture, and I see his smile," she said. "He's so young and innocent. ... It's just too sad to even imagine."

"I've lost my only son. How can I sum up your life, your acts, in a few sentences?" Gilad Shaar's grieving father asked Monday at a memorial service, according to the Jerusalem Post.

His former counselor said that as a child, Shaar threw a birthday party for his school's goldfish, journalist Ben Hartman of the Jerusalem Post reported on Twitter.

Eyal Yifrach, beloved brother figure who sang on YouTube

At 19, Eyal Yifrach was the oldest of the victims and "a big personality," according to his friend and roommate. "Eyal is the type of person everybody would want as a brother," Micky Zivan told The Times of Israel.

Zivan said his pal would leave a jar of cookies near the study hall with a sign that read "Please take."

"We're crying, but these are tears of strength and love," said Uri Yifrach, Eyal's father, according to ynetnews.com. To the killers, he said, "You are wrongdoers, the nation of Israel promises that your day will come. We will not break. We are humanitarians, we have love and it will triumph. ... We're here, and you can't change that. We're a strong nation."

A few months ago, Eyal Yifrach sang at his cousin's wedding in a performance posted on YouTube, the Jewish Press reported.

"We miss him. It's hard not to see him around, his smile," Zivan said.

Slain teens call for justice, not escalation

Israeli PM at teens' funeral: 'Broad moral gulf' between us, enemy

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