JERUSALEM, Israel -- A three-finger salute was just one of the ways Palestinians celebrated the terrorist kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. It means three times the success Hamas had when it abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit -- freed in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners in October 2011.
"For the first three days following the abduction, there was complete support, with celebrations and people giving out candies in the street," Itamar Marcus, director of the Palestinian Media Watch told CBN News.
"Cartoons appeared in official newspapers celebrating the three Shalit salute. What the Palestinian population assumed is that Israel would be passive as they were in the past," Marcus said.
But a week later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel knows more about the kidnapping than it did at the start of Operation Brother's Keeper.
The Israeli teens were waiting at a bus stop in Gush Etzion for a ride home. Instead, Israeli security says they were picked up by Hamas terrorists and taken south to Hebron.
Marcus says there's widespread support for kidnapping Israelis among Palestinians. But the celebrating stopped once Israel launched the massive search operation.
"And the Palestinian population went into shock, so that the cartoons that were appearing the first days in celebration all of a sudden after the third and fourth day were now presenting Israelis as monsters, as terrorists," Marcus said.
Israeli troops are still scouring the West Bank for Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, who holds dual American-Israeli citizenship. So far, the IDF says they've searched 1,150 locations and detained some 330 suspects, 240 of whom are associated with Hamas.
Marcus says if Israel keeps up the pressure until they find the teens, it could be a game changer.
"Up until now, kidnapping was a win-win situation for the Palestinians and they benefitted from it. If they will lose from it, it will lose its popular support and I'm hoping that will happen and then maybe this will be the last of our kidnappings," he said.