Is There a Psychology Involved in the Recent Kidnapping of Three Israeli Teenagers?

You bet!

The boys – Eyal Yifrach (19), Gilad Shaar (16) and Naftali Frenkel (16) – were abducted on June 12, 2014.

What possible motives are there?

Turning our eye to some contemporary motives, there are many:

There are many motives for contemporary hostage-taking. Prisoners in penal institutions may take hostages in an effort to highlight some perceived grievance and/or to obtain a change in their circumstances. Criminals, interrupted in the pursuit of another crime, may take a hostage in an effort to secure their escape from apprehension. ‘Tiger kidnapping’ refers to an event where an individual is taken hostage to induce, for example, a loved one, friend or colleague to commit a certain act such as the withdrawal of ransom money from a bank or building society. Particularly in South America, ‘express kidnapping’ is a common phenomenon. It entails the seeking of only a small ransom which the families can easily pay. Some individuals with mental illness also take hostages in response to their disturbed mood, thoughts and fears.

These, of course, do not relate to “politically-inspired hostage taking” by terrorist groups geared to achieve a political end.

Hostage-taking by terrorists tends to involve well-trained and well-organised groups, and their hostages are likely to have been carefully chosen, particularly in anticipation of the likely effect that their abduction will have on others. Media involvement is nearly always a deliberately manufactured feature of such events.

Thus far, this rings true: there has been a tremendous amount of media coverage, and the impact of the abduction has been felt across the globe.

Most recently, a well-organized rally was held in Mineola (Long Island) on June 26, 2014. I was privileged to have been invited to attend, and in the sweltering heat on the patio in the rear of the Nassau County Human Rights Commission building, several community and religious leaders and public officials came together in solidarity and prayer to join the people of Israel and the families of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped to condemn terrorism and accomplish what has become a battle cry: “Bring Back Our Boys!”

As for the psychology of political terrorism, many resources are available here:

And here is a more introductory article on terrorism:

Understanding terrorism

And as efforts continue to “bring back our boys”, what consequences will there be?

Looking past political ramifications, what will be the burden to society, to the victims, their families, their classmates, friends, and all those who have taken the plight of these teenagers into the recesses of their hearts?

A number of studies have explicitly assessed children’s reactions to terrorist events. Close to 1 year after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, about 5% of elementary schoolchildren reported clinically significant levels of symptoms of PTSD (Gurwitch et al, 2002). A year later, almost 20% of middle schoolchildren living 100 miles from the city reported current bomb-related symptoms that impaired their functioning at home or at school (Pfefferbaum et al, 2000).

Four days after 11 September 2001, 35% of a national sample of American parents reported that their child had at least one of five stress symptoms (Schuster et al, 2001). Six weeks later more than 60% of parents in the New York City metropolitan area reported that their child was upset (Schlenger et al, 2002) or had moderate post-traumatic stress reactions (Fairbrother et al, 2003). Without more normative data it is difficult to assess the significance of these reports. However, two studies have carried out diagnostic assessments in community samples of children after 11 September. One month later, 8% of Seattle children were estimated to have diagnosable levels of PTSD symptoms (Lengua et al, 2005). In New York City itself, 6 months later Hoven et al (2005) reported that 28.6% of children had at least one probable anxiety/depressive disorder, the most common being agoraphobia (14.8%), separation anxiety (12.3%) and PTSD (10.6%).


Elbedour et al (1999) found that 50% of the daughters and 23.1% of the sons of those killed in the Hebron massacre were suffering from probable PTSD. Children were more likely to experience post-traumatic symptoms following the Oklahoma City bombing if they had been bereaved (Pfefferbaum et al, 1999). Other commentators have drawn attention to a significant risk of psychological disorder in children who are direct victims, suffer bereavement or other losses, or have to witness repeated reminders of the attacks, including parental distress (Fairbrother et al, 2003;Hoven et al, 2005). Distress and disorder may manifest themselves in different ways depending on the child’s developmental stage, and it is likely that children’s distress is systematically underestimated by adults (Gurwitch et al, 2002Koplewicz et al, 2004).

As we struggle to understand, and persist in our efforts that our prayer to “bring back our boys” is heard, think long and hard that what has happened to Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali damages the very foundation of human rights and human kindness in a society that cherishes life, freedom, and diversity. Our way of life is held hostage by these acts of terrorism. We must champion the rights of people from all walks of life, and appreciate diversity in its many forms. An affront against any person because of background, race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and infirmity is an affront against all of us.

Now, join me in the battle cry, “Bring Back Our Boys!”

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