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Stop hitchhiking? That would be giving in to the terrorists, say settlers

    Parents of the missing meet the press
    Parents of the missing meet the press

    As Israelis have repeatedly chewed over the haunting details of the abduction, one element has kept coming up for discussion - the fact that the boys were hitchhiking.

    This has prompted rumblings in the Israeli media that the practice of catching lifts, discouraged by police and the army, is irresponsible. But in turn, there has been a backlash, with some defending the practice and others saying that this discussion is a dangerous distraction from the issue at hand.

    While only one of the boys lives in a settlement, all three are students of settlement yeshivot, so they regularly travel around the West Bank. And in this area, hitchhiking is very common; a standard means of transportation.

    Sherri Mandell, whose son, Koby, was murdered aged 13 in 2001, lives in a settlement close to where the three boys disappeared.

    She said that the rural location of settlements and the lack of transportation means that even if parents are inclined to be against hitchhiking, they still accept it.

    "I don't think people should hitchhike but I don't think there's any alternative for people who don't have cars," she said.

    She added that given the infrequent bus services, for many the alternative to hitchhiking is simply "not to go".

    Ms Mandell thinks that the focus on the hitchhiking issue results from the psychological need of Israelis to tell themselves it could not happen to them. "There's often a tendency to blame the victim, like saying that as they did something wrong it couldn't happen to me," she said, adding that this is "not just distasteful but dangerous as it's the denial of the real enemy."

    Many settlers have defiantly stated that they will continue to hitchhike.

    British-born Ari Soffer, news editor of the right-wing news site Arutz Sheva, wrote that when his son is old enough he "will certainly let him do so, just like every other kid his age does".

    To Mr Soffer, stopping hitchhiking would be tantamount to giving in to a terrorist campaign which begins "by pushing us into a corner, by forcing us to act as strangers in our own land, by barricading ourselves into our homes or only travelling when it is absolutely necessary - as if we are living in some Eastern European ghetto or the darkest days of Muslim rule, fearful for the next pogrom or farhud."

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