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As Israeli soldiers clash with Palestinians thousands of miles away in the weeklong search for three Israeli teens believed to be been kidnapped in the West Bank, Manny Halberstam wants to make sure President Obama hears his appeal for help.
Halberstam, 25, of Washington, D.C., has planned a “Bring Back our Boys” vigil on Thursday night outside the White House to call attention to the plight of the three teens who disappeared last week while hitchhiking home from Jewish seminaries in the West Bank.
Halberstam’s second cousin, 16-year-old Naftali Fraenkel, who has dual Israeli-American citizenship, Eyal Yifrah, 19, and Gilad Shaar, also 16, have been featured in round-the-clock media coverage in the region, although no signs of life or ransom demands from their purported abductors have been received.
“It’s very important right now that we send a message to President Obama that the kidnapping that occurred in Israel is not something that’s isolated to Israel,” Halberstam told FoxNews.com. “But rather this is very much an episode and a development that touches and concerns us here in America. It’s important that we show the president the importance of making any possible effort he can to help Israel find these boys.”
Israel has blamed the Islamic militant group Hamas — which has previously abducted Israelis — for the apparent abductions, although no evidence has been found. A widespread crackdown by Israeli officials on the militant group has followed, with scores of members arrested as the intense hunt for the missing teens continues. Hamas, meanwhile, has praised the kidnappings, but has not claimed responsibility for the incident.
"The movement pays tribute to the heroes who are behind the kidnapping," Hamas said in a statement.
Halberstam said nearly 300 people have confirmed they will attend the vigil, where he intends to play “songs of peace” on his guitar.
“The idea is that it’s now been over a week since the boys were kidnapped and at the beginning their families, including my father’s first cousin — Racheli Fraenkel, Naftali's mother — were full of positivity, and full of hope,” Halberstam said. “As time passes by and the days since the kidnapping begin to add up and we don’t hear any news about their whereabouts, that sense of hope and positivity naturally begins to wane and fade.”
Halberstam said he and Fraenkel spent much time together when, at age 22, he studied in Israel during a year off before law school. Naftali was 13 at the time, he said.
“I spent a [Sabbath weekend] with him and all of his siblings at his grandmother’s house,” Halberstam said. “I got to know him pretty well that weekend. The impression I got from him is that he’s somebody that’s a very happy and always wears a smile on his face. He’s a very devoted older brother.”
On Thursday, Israeli military officials said Palestinians in the town of Jenin and an adjacent refugee camp threw explosive devices and rocks at soldiers, who then retaliated with live fire. More than 200 Palestinians later took to the streets when the soldiers entered the area at around 2 a.m., some throwing improvised explosives and rocks.
A total of 30 Palestinians were arrested in the overnight raid, Israeli military officials said. In all, about 280 Palestinians, including 200 members of Hamas, have been arrested since the operation to locate the teens began a week ago. Roughly 100 locations have been searched during the intense manhunts.
Halberstam, meanwhile, said he’s trying his best to overcome feelings of hopelessness as the whereabouts of his relative and two other teens remains unclear some 6,000 miles away.
“I know that Naftali and the other boys are experiencing tremendous pain and suffering right now and it’s a very difficult thought to accept,” he told FoxNews.com. “I feel a little helpless. I feel like here my cousin is suffering and there’s so little I can do about it. But the truth is there is something I can do about it, at least here in DC.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.