TIME Iran

Iranian Officials Seem Cautiously Optimistic About the Nuclear Talks

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attends a meeting in Tehran, Sept. 7, 2014.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attends a meeting in Tehran, Sept. 7, 2014. AP

Releases in Iran's state-controlled media seem to indicate the country is preparing for a deal at the nuclear talks in Vienna

There’s no shortage of pessimism about whether Iran and six world powers can reach a comprehensive deal on the country’s nuclear program by Nov. 24, the self-imposed deadline. Time is short, and as a senior U.S. official said before leaving for Vienna, where the talks began, “we have some very serious gaps to close.” But those looking for optimism need search no further then Tehran’s official media. Tightly controlled by the regime that is the ultimate authority on any pact, the country’s media may be preparing the Iranian public for an agreement.

While hardliners in Tehran grump about the talks, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has clearly aligned himself with the negotiators—even posting an interview with one of the diplomats, deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi, on his personal website this week

“Araqchi basically said ‘We’re winning this, we’re not giving in,’” says Abbas Milani, who heads the Iranian studies department at Stanford University. Milani was astonished by the post. Never before had Khamenei’s office made the site a forum for another official, even one understood, as Araqchi is, to be serving as the Leader’s personal representative. It signaled a full embrace of the talks by the man who, as his title makes clear, holds ultimate power in the Islamic Republic.

“The headline was that the leader has had oversight of the entire negotiating process,” says Milani. “It’s clear to me this was an attempt to make a claim for victory and dissuade the idea that [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani is doing this on his own and will get all the credit.”

On the same day as that post, the man Khamenei named to lead Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was widely quoted on government outlets as saying that a nuclear deal was consistent with the ideals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which remains the litmus test for all government endeavors.

Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander, also appeared to prepare the public for elements of a deal that may not look like a win for Iran. “If it appears that there are aspects of this where we’re accepted humiliation, first of all it’s not true — we are winning,” Jafari insisted. “But those perceptions of humiliation are because of the clumsy management and inexperience of some of our negotiators.”

The goal, the commander said, was the removal of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington and other world powers. “God willing, this goal will be reached,” Jafari said.

There was more. Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, which is dominated by conservatives, spoke of “our spirit of resistance” taught by Khamenei and his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei as “the reason or our success, and why in spite of all efforts by the enemy they could not stop our progress on the nuclear front.”

“It is possible to have a deal,” Larijani added. “It’s just important for the U.S. not to ask for new conditions.”

Some in Iran complained that new conditions are just what the U.S. has indeed demanded. One hardline member of the parliament, or majlis, claimed to have seen the contents of an eight-page proposal Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly showed Iranian negotiators in Oman the previous week, and compared it to the Treaty of Turkmenchy, the 1828 capitulation to Russia that Iranians consider the epitome of humiliation, losing not only territory in the Caucasus but even the right to navigate on the Caspian Sea, which forms Iran’s northern border.

But to Iran watchers, what’s truly significant is that such grumbling is only background noise in what appears to be a concerted effort by Iran’s top echelon to set the foundation for a deal—if not on Monday, then if the talks are extended, as they may well be. There may be more riding on it than just escape from economically ruinous sanctions. The New York Times on Thursday quoted Amir Mohebbian, a conservative adviser long tied to the Leader’s office, predicting a nuclear deal as a harbinger of a strategic change in Iran’s entire political orientation.

“If there is a deal, and if it is good, the entire system will go along with it,” Mohebbian said in Tehran. “There will be a huge political shift after the deal. It is my conviction that those who make decisions within the system want it to be alive and supported. For survival, we need to change.”

It’s just such a change that President Obama has repeatedly said a nuclear deal might herald, opening the way for Iran to end its pariah status and return to “the community of nations.” So it’s possible Mohebbian is saying no more than what the administration wants to hear. But the expectations of a deal are running high in Iran, and the government appears to be doing much less than it might to discourage them.

TIME Israel

Civilian Casualties Rise as Israel Hammers Gaza From the Air

Palestinian relatives of eight members of the Al Haj family, who were killed in a strike early morning, grieve in the family house during their funeral in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, July 10, 2014.
Palestinian relatives of eight members of the Al Haj family, who were killed in a strike early morning, grieve in the family house during their funeral in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, July 10, 2014. Khalil Hamra—AP

Raising questions of how long air campaign can go on

Updated 7:06 a.m. E.T. on July 11

The death toll among Palestinians scrambling under a relentless Israeli air assault in the Gaza Strip passed 80 Thursday and edged close to 100 Friday, including at least 14 children.

Meanwhile, the barrage of rockets Gaza militants launched toward Israeli cities failed to produce a significant casualty on the third day of Israel’s offensive Thursday. A media report that a missile had critically injured someone in a car in Ashdod, a coastal city near Gaza, was withdrawn by smartphone alert 28 minutes later. An rocket fired from Gaza struck a gas station in southern Israel on Friday, seriously wounding one, as rocket fire also came from Lebanon for the first time in the latest fighting.

Everything about the latest offensive is moving fast, especially relative to the last round of fighting. That November 2012 air campaign — dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense by Israel — lasted eight days. Israel’s current offensive, Operation Protective Edge, has bombed more than half as many targets in Gaza in less than half the time — 860 in three days compared with 1,500 in eight days last time. The Israeli military said it destroyed more buildings in the first 36 hours of the current campaign than in all of Pillar of Defense. More people are dying too: the 80 fatalities reported so far is, once again, more than half the reported death toll from the longer bombing two years earlier.

All of it raised the question of how long the Israeli bombardment can go on.

Israel’s wars have a half-life, a variable that slides with circumstances and unscheduled events, but which is decided, to a significant degree, by how the world views the fight. So long as it sees a democracy defending its people against terrorism, Israel enjoys considerable leeway. And that’s how most of the Gaza wars start out: Gaza, a coastal enclave of 1.8 million Palestinians patrolled on three sides by Israeli forces, which also parcels out its electricity, water and food, is a hotbox for militants. Those militants want to hit Israel any way they can, and the way that works best is missiles. More than 500 rockets have roared out of Gaza since Tuesday. Each triggers a siren somewhere in Israel, and often sympathy from some parts of the world moved by photographs of panicked mothers scrambling to shelter their children.

That is the imperative Israeli officials cite at the start of the campaign. “This operation started because in spite of our efforts to get Hamas to give up launching rockets against innocent civilians in the lower half of Israel, Hamas ignored our message and decided to escalate the situation,” Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said in a conference call Thursday. “We have to make sure that we end this confrontation with a clear result, that Hamas stops the launching of rockets and terrorist attacks on Israel, and that it has no appetite to resume this kind of activities in the future. That is the goal of this operation.”

But the operation is a brutal one — 1,000 targets means 1,000 deafening explosions, bowel-shattering concussions in one of the most crowded urban centers on the globe — and there comes a point when the world’s perspective shifts. Israel tries to delay this shift as long as possible. Compared with any other military, its armed forces take exceptional care to avoid civilian casualties. If a house is going to be bombed, a call is placed to it announcing this fact, and explicitly warning civilians to get out. A pilot might also drop a “door-knocker” on the roof — a nonlethal sound bomb also intended to announce an impending attack. The real bomb that’s then loosed on the target is often a munition, sometimes quite small, specifically selected to contain damage to the target and spare the neighbors.

But even surgical strikes involve a great deal of blood, and mistakes are inevitable. Israeli officials chose to declare an end to the 2012 offensive two days after eight members of the Dalou family, including four children, were killed by an Israeli bomb. The day’s total civilian death toll of 31 was more than the four previous days’ combined. Israeli officials insisted they won that war, but the World Press Photo of the Year was of Palestinians carrying dead children.

So it was that the U.N. Security Council convened in an emergency session on Thursday, at the request of the Palestine Liberation Organization. PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the Palestinian Authority that nominally governs Gaza, had labeled Israel’s campaign “genocide.” The hope is to activate international public opinion on the side of the dead. “Absolutely,” said Xavier Abu Eid, a PLO spokesman. “If [Israelis] don’t stop, we have an experience [in] 2012, we have an experience [in] 2009, in 2006, of what kind of things can happen.”

But in his remarks Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put equal emphasis on the missiles coming out of Gaza, and Israeli officials said they expected to prevent an admonitory resolution from the full council.

“This is not a classic Arab-Israeli conflict, where it goes on for a couple of weeks and then the great powers intervene,” said Dore Gold, a former Israeli U.N. ambassador who now heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Hamas, he noted, is not only listed by Europe and Washington as a terrorist organization, it also lacks backing in the Arab world, which is preoccupied with sectarian divisions and leery of its Muslim Brotherhood roots. Its political weakness moved the militant group to make the concessions required to complete a long-promised unity government with the secular Fatah faction led by Abbas, but the deal has failed to produce any evidence at all that “bringing Hamas in to the tent” would moderate its behavior. “They’re not acting like a terror group on its way to governing,” Gold said. “They’re behaving in the worst possible way.”

The U.S., which has been urging restraint in the conflict and brokered a cease-fire in 2012, has not called on Israel to halt air strikes in Gaza and refrained from doing so again during a phone call Thursday between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The President reiterated the United States’ strong condemnation of continuing rocket fire into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks,” the White House said in a statement describing the call. “The President expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm. The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement.”

Indeed, Israel’s military says Hamas is promoting civilian deaths in Gaza, not only by operating from private homes but through posters and slogans actually urging people to cluster around targets as human shields. In one instance Tuesday, by numerous accounts local residents ran toward a building that had just received a phoned warning it was about to be bombed, apparently counting on their presence to protect. And it might have worked: an Israeli military spokesman said an effort was made to divert the incoming missile, but it was too late.

“It is a tragedy indeed,” Lieut. Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters Thursday, “and not what we intended.”

— Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller

TIME Israel

Israel Calls Up Reservists as Arrest of Suspects in Killing Fails to Calm Unrest

Israel says it hopes for calm even as it floats a military escalation

Israel called up 40,000 reservists to bolster its threat of a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, even as it said it hoped its quick move to arrest the Jewish extremists charged in an apparent revenge killing would lower the temperature. But the arrests appeared to do little to quiet the protests that have engulfed Israel and the West Bank in the week since the murder of a Palestinian boy.

“We worked immediately to find the perpetrators,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the boy’s father in a phone call on Monday. “They will be tried and brought to justice.”

Still, uncertainty reigned Tuesday, a week after the killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir—said to be crime of vengeance for the murder of Jewish Israeli teens buried just hours earlier. One clear reason is “Operation Protective Edge,” the offensive Israel launched Monday night in the Gaza Strip and threatened Tuesday to escalate to a ground war by calling up the reservists.

And aside from military movement, another dynamic may be fueling the unrest, one that makes the Abu Khdeir case exceptional for more than its brutality: Experience has led Palestinians to believe they rarely get justice when their attacker is Israeli. The arrest of six Jewish Israelis in the Abu Khdeir case is, according to human rights activists and frustrated Palestinians, the exception that proves the rule.

“Our database shows you when an Israeli commits an offense against a Palestinian, it will almost never be prosecuted,” said Reut Mor, a spokesperson for the Israeli human rights and legal defense group Yesh Din. Between 2005 and 2013 only one in a dozen investigations of crimes committed by Jewish Israelis against Palestinians ended in indictment, the database shows: 84% of cases were closed without action.

The figures were gathered on the occupied West Bank, where militant Jewish settlers have for years been engaging in the kind of attacks that in the last week have spread throughout Israel—beatings, stonings, vandalism and confrontations designed to intimidate. But Israelis themselves make scant distinction between Jews living on the West Bank and within Israel proper, either in terms of citizenship or in the collective soul-searching the Abu Khdeir death has prompted in the Israeli media.

Polls show Israelis have grown not only more conservative, but also steadily less tolerant of Palestinians in their midst. At the same time, some commentators say the actions of Jewish extremists have now stained the entire society. “For too long we persuaded ourselves that if we only let the people who incite and vilify blow off steam, they would make do with words and not move into the realm of action,” the conservative columnist Ben-Dror Yemini wrote Monday in the daily Ma’ariv. Said editor David Horovitz in his Times of Israel news website: “We need to face up to the fact that our ongoing rule over the Palestinians, apart from endangering Israel as a Jewish democracy, is corroding us, blackening our hearts.”

Incidents have grown both in number and violence in recent days. On Saturday night in the West Bank village of Osarin, south of Nablus, Tariq Adeli, 22, was grabbed from behind and a cloth with some kind of knockout drug held against his face as he waited in the street. “I felt as if I had been thrown up in the air,” he later told his roommate in the Nablus hospital where doctors set the bone in a leg nearly sheared off by his assailants. They had pulled him into their car, clubbed him with something like a hatchet, and thrown him into the ditch below a road leading to a nearby settlement, he said.

The assailants were believed to be settlers who had been scouting the village on scooters and four-wheelers in recent days. “All I was going to do was watch the soccer match,” Adeli told TIME. “I am not involved politically what so ever. What have I done to these settlers to deserve having them gang up on me and cut my leg off, or is it just because I am a Palestinian?”

Israeli officials say they’re hoping for calm, banking heavily on the arrest of the Abu Kdeir suspects even as they eye a military escalation. “We captured them so quickly, and hope it calms down quickly,” said Amos Gilad, a senior official in the Ministry of Defense. He made the remarks during a news briefing on the Gaza offensive, which he said would gradually escalate until Hamas stopped firing rockets. The West Bank, he said, was a different situation entirely, or would be before long. “We are not only using power,” Gilad said, “we are using respect toward the Palestinians.”

A flurry of other attacks were also reported on the West Bank. A Palestinian priest’s car was stoned by settlers north of Ramallah. A farm was set alight south of Nablus last Wednesday, the words “blood vengeance” spray-painted on a wall. Over the weekend, settlers swarmed out of their guarded compounds toward Nabi Saleh, Deir Nidam and even Ramallah. In the village of Ein Abous south of Nablus early Monday, residents saw settlers from the notoriously militant Yitzhar settlement coming down the hill and called Palestinian authorities, who alerted the Israeli military. An Israeli patrol promptly appeared—something advocates called highly unusual.

“Usually, when settlers gather and throw stones, the military stand by and watches, and when the villagers throw stones back, the soldiers respond by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the Palestinians,” said Mor, the Yesh Din spokesperson. “This is the usual dance.”

But the situation has grown so combustible in the last two weeks—570 Palestinians were injured in the first seven days of July, according to United Nations figures—that the Israeli army has taken the extraordinary step of stationing troops at the entrance to the most notorious settlements. Most are located around Nablus in the northern West Bank, although a Palestinian was beaten in the hills south of Hebron, where militant settlers routinely throw stones at Palestinian on their way to school. “They’re so worried, they are finally getting involved when settlers attack,” More said of the Israeli military.

Violent encounters also continue inside Israel. Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem were attacked by a crowd of 50 on Saturday night. Occupants of a car opened fire on Palestinians in East Jerusalem on Monday night. And an NPR reporter and his Palestinian interpreter were stoned by Jewish settlers in Jerusalem’s Old City neighborhood, where police downplayed the significance of the attack.

The situation could well deteriorate as the death toll climbs in Gaza, and protests erupt in solidarity with the “martyrs.” That’s how young Samer Msaeh ended up in the bed next to Tariq with a bullet in his left leg—shot by an Israeli soldier while protesting the deaths of two other Palestinians.

“If it explodes somewhere, it explodes everywhere, even in ’48,” said his father Ryad Msaeh, referring to Israel proper. “In the end they’re all Palestinians, even if they’re inside the Green Line.”

 

TIME Middle East

Israel Arrests 6 Suspects in Kidnap and Murder of Palestinian Teen

Clashes in East Jerusalem and northern Israel as tensions worsen
Israeli military patrols the streets in the West Bank city of Hebron on July 6, 2014 Abed Al Hashlamoun—EPA

Israeli officials hope the arrests help bring calm after a weekend of riots followed news that the 16-year-old was burned alive by captors

Israeli police arrested six suspects on Sunday in the kidnapping and murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, raising hopes of reducing a spiral of violence grounded in anger over his killing, which police say appears to be revenge by Jewish extremists for the murders of three kidnapped Jewish Israeli youths buried just hours earlier.

The six suspects are Jewish and were traced through closed-circuit security footage that captured the July 2 abduction of Muhammad Abu Khdeir from the sidewalk near his East Jerusalem home. Security officials scoured footage from traffic cameras to track the route of the kidnappers’ vehicle to the forest where the boy’s burned corpse was found an hour after his abduction.

The suspects, three of whom are minors, are from Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, a large bedroom city 20 miles west, and Adam, a small West Bank settlement. All were known to hold extremist views but were not believed to have been members of an existing organization and so were not being watched closely, according to police officials. Three of the six were implicated in the attempt to kidnap a child of 8 or 9 a day before near where Abu Khdeir was taken, police said. One police official said one of the suspects is cooperating with the investigation.

“They need to treat them the way they treat us,” the boy’s mother, Suha Abu Khdeir, was quoted as saying. “They need to demolish their homes and round them up, the way they do to our children.”

The case has shaken Israel’s Palestinian community, and with it the security situation across the country of 8 million. Over the weekend, violent protests erupted beyond Jerusalem after the Palestinian Authority reported that an autopsy indicated that Abu Khdeir was still breathing when he was set on fire. Riots spread from the neighborhood of the abduction to majority-Arab cities in Israel’s north, including one where masked men stopped cars and attempted to beat occupants who spoke Hebrew, the language of Israel’s Jewish majority.

The situation was further aggravated by footage of masked Israeli police in Jerusalem badly beating an apparently unconscious Palestinian youth, allegedly a relative of Khdeir and a U.S. citizen. The cell-phone footage of the beating and later photos of the battered face of Tariq Abu Khdeir, a resident of Tampa, prompted a protest from the U.S. State Department that served to further put the Israeli government on the defensive.

So it was that, even as missiles continued to fly out of the Gaza Strip toward Israel, the normally hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu counseled calm on Sunday. “We must act responsibly and with restraint,” he said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, cautioning against “inflammatory rhetoric.” A 48-hour deadline for a cease-fire had come and gone, but there was no official talk of moving Israeli troops into the Palestinian enclave, as advocated by right-wing ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition government. Instead, the case was made for accommodating Hamas, the militant Islamist faction that governs Gaza, and which Israeli authorities blamed for the kidnapping of the three Israelis.

“Yes there is talk of a cease-fire, but unfortunately Hamas is still firing,” Yaakov Peri, a minister from the centrist Yesh Atid party, and former head of Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, said in a conference call on Sunday. Hamas is obliged under the terms of its most recent cease-fire with Israel to prevent all rocket fire from Gaza. But Peri said the group is currently too politically weak — partly because of the measures Israel took against it after the kidnapping of the Israeli teens — to subdue smaller but more militant groups, such as Islamic Jihad. “It seems for the time being Hamas is not able to take any control of these groups, and it is a pity,” Peri said.

The week’s events raised fears of a third intifadeh, or uprising, among the Palestinian population who claim the same land as Israelis, while showing how unexpected events can badly destabilize the region. After the June 30 discovery of the bodies of the three Jewish teens, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah not far from the West Bank junction where they had been hitchhiking, the first issue discussed was the form of retribution Israel would take for the deaths. Calls for revenge grew fiercer with the release of an agonizing tape of a call one of the captives placed to police, which appeared to capture sounds of the fatal gunshots, followed by the apparent killer’s joyful singing.

Jewish extremists rampaged in Jerusalem the next night, and Abu Khdeir was abducted a few hours later, forced into the same car into which young Jewish Israelis had tried to force a boy of 8 or 9 a day earlier, according to local residents and Israeli security officials. What followed was a descent into communal conflict alarming to both Israel’s Jewish population and the Arab minority.

“Each community is retreating into itself, laden with anger,” Ali Zahalka, a high school principal in the Arab Israeli city of Kfar Kara, wrote in the bestselling Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday, after reports that Israeli Arabs in Kalansua were stopping cars to check the ethnicity of drivers. On Sunday, three Palestinian workers were reported attacked in Hadera, a majority Jewish working-class city. The dynamic had officials on edge.

“A third intifadeh is not something you can declare in advance,” said Peri, the former Shin Bet chief. “It’s something that’s spontaneous from the street, from the mob.”

— With reporting by Aaron J. Klein

TIME Israel

In the Wake of Apparent Revenge Killing, New Israeli ‘Kidnap App’ Adapted for Palestinians

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-KIDNAPPING-FUNERAL
Relatives and friends of Mohammed Abu Khder, 16, carry his body to a mosque during his funeral in Shuafat, in Israeli annexed East Jerusalem on July 4, 2014. Ahmad Gharabli—AFP/Getty Images

Lifesaving potential adds to digital interface already figuring in fatal kidnappings of 3 Israeli teens and a Palestinian

In the first two weeks after three Israeli teenagers were abducted on the West Bank, over 60,000 Israelis downloaded a new smartphone app designed to alert police to your abduction and guide them to the place you are being held. Then a Palestinian teen earlier this week was forced into a car and killed in what police suspect was a revenge killing, hastening development of an Arabic version of the same free software.

The SOS app was developed by the volunteer rescue service United Hatzalah, by adapting software originally designed for its state-of-the-art emergency medical response network. After the June 12 abduction of Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, the software was quickly stripped down to a simple kidnap alert, offered for free online in Apple, Android and Blackberry versions.

But the app is currently offered only in English and Hebrew, the language of Israel’s Jewish majority—and until this week, the population that felt most threatened by abduction. In the 18 months before the June 12 abduction of the three teens, authorities detected more than 80 kidnap plots by Palestinian militants to snatch Israelis, driven largely by the lopsided rate of exchange an Israeli captive brings in ransom bargaining: in 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu freed 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for one captive soldier, Gilad Shalit.

But now Palestinians also feel vulnerable, after the abduction and murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir. Local residents said an attempt had been made a day earlier to carry away a child of nine on the same street.

“The app is currently being developed in Arabic,” says a spokesperson for the nonprofit rescue service. “United Hatzalah’s main aim is to save lives—they don’t discriminate on whose lives these are.” Though the technology was funded by Irving Moskowitz, a retired American physician who has funded some of the most controversial Jewish settlements in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the service has a major operations center in East Jerusalem as well as in the Jewish west side of the city, and more than 300 Israeli Arab volunteers nationwide.

Digital media already have figured prominently in the drama of the last three weeks. Tensions over the deaths may be playing out in the streets—which in East Jerusalem erupted in riots again on Friday, when Abu Khdeir was laid to rest—but the details driving emotions have arrived from the increasingly intimate interface of devices with everyday life. Shortly after the hitchhiking yeshiva student Gilad Shaer climbed into a car that turned out to be driven by kidnappers, he discreetly opened his phone and dialed 100, Israel’s version of 911 and whispered, “I’ve been kidnapped.”

The digital recording of his call was released after the discovery of his body, and those of Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, and fueled not only rage at the police—who took the call for a prank—but also at the killers: The recording appears to have captured the murder. The kidnappers are heard shouting for their captive to get down, then gunshots are heard, followed by the sound one of the killers announcing in Arabic, “God bless your hands, we have brought three,” followed by singing.

Released on the day the three were buried together, the audio redoubled demands for vengeance, which appeared mostly online. The Facebook group “The People of Israel Demand Revenge” recorded 35,000 likes in two days. In Jerusalem, hundreds of Jewish extremists rampaged in the streets chanting “Death to the Arabs” and confronting people with dark skin. Abu Khadeir was forced into a car in front of his house a few hours later. Police reportedly located his charred body, barely an hour later, by tracking the signal from his cell phone to a forest on the western edge of Jerusalem.

That hour would be the amount of time it often takes police in Israel to get the court order required to track a cell signal—a major advantage of the so-called kidnap app, says Eli Beer, the founder and president of United Hatzalah, who spoke to TIME before the Palestinian youth was killed.

Beer noted that Israeli law requires a judge’s specific permission to track a cell signal, a fact that might not have changed the outcome for the Jewish Israeli teens even if the police had taken Gilad Shaer’s call seriously. But the SOS app broadcasts GPS coordinates automatically to the rescue service’s 24-hour dispatch center, from which it is shared with police. “Police need to go to judge to ask the phone company the location of [the] phone,” says Beer. “We solved that problem for the police.”

The application is simple enough: “You open the app and swipe it,” Beer explains, “and three seconds later, it sends a signal.” The lag was installed in case the alert was activated by mistake. But it can only be cancelled after entering a code, a precaution added to prevent someone else (say, the kidnapper) from canceling the alert.

The SOS app was designed by NowForce, an Israeli software company catering to first responders. It amounts to a stripped-down version of an application developed seven years ago, which located the United Hatzalah trained volunteer nearest an emergency, and dispatched the volunteer to the scene– often on a motorcycle ambulance dubbed an “ambucycle,” another of the organization’s innovations.

The system did much to trim the average response time for calls inside Israel to just three minutes, claims Beer—which he says is already the fastest response time in the world. The goal is 90 seconds, and the GPS technology in smartphones should help close the gap. “We deal with 211,000 emergencies every year in Israel,” Beer says, “so we know how long it takes to get the location correct. It’s a big part of the call.”

No calls are ignored, he says. “We don’t’ take any call non-seriously,” says Beer. “Even it sounds crank, we make 100 percent sure.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser