Midnight stabbing at Itamar settlement

It is with great sadness that I report that last night a terrorist slipped into the West Bank settlement of Itamar and stabbed five members of a family to death, including three children: a month-old infant, a 3-year-old and an 11-year-old. Three other siblings were unharmed, undisturbed in another room. It is the deadliest attack since last August when four settlers were shot on their way to Kiryat Arba — and certainly the most gruesome in recent memory.
The attack brought instant rounds of condemnation by Palestinian Authority leadership, including the Prime Minister, President and Foreign Minister. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack immediately, saying, “There ought to be no doubt as to where we stand on violence…We reject it, and we always condemned it.” President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement rejecting “all violence directed against civilians,” PA president says “what is needed is to speed up a just and comprehensive solution to the conflict.”
Hamas meanwhile, hailed it as “heroic operation.” Additionally, the mayor of Itamar took the opportunity to call for “human rights defenders” responsible for “domestic incitement” to be investigated and executed. He called the government to “probe all the bleeding hearts that de-legitimize the residents living here,” adding further, “There is a direct link between domestic incitement and the murder. We need to find those responsible for the attack and give them the death penalty. I can’t recall such a horrific terror attack.” Talk about using tragedy cynically for one’s political gain.
As we mourn the senseless, cruel deaths of innocent children and as we join the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in condemning vigilante violence by any party, we need to remind ourselves why we seek to end this conflict peaceably: to save life. There is no greater gift to the world than a human life, and no greater sin than to snuff one out. For all those who believe we can take our time — and wait a decade or more for “ideal conditions,” I remind them that the status quo is an active murderer. The true villains are not just child killers and vandals, but a stalemate empowering vigilantes against one another.
Israeli Channel 10 TV reported “the context of the murders are escalating Palestinian casualties, from the military and settlers, in area,” and that “we [Channel Ten TV] don’t report enough about these.” (Translation courtesy Didi Remez.) The stabbing was preceded and followed immediately by “price tag” retribution by settlers.
I ask why the American Jewish community (at the JCPA annual plenum earlier this week) failed to pass a resolution proposed by the Reform movement asking Israel to abide by its agreements and dismantle ideological, illegal and unhelpful settlements. The settlement and constellation of six illegal outposts known as Itamar is a stone’s throw from Nablus and is situated a few miles outside the security barrier. It is one of the “ideological” settlements founded by religious-nationalist groups as part of their Biblical claim to the whole of Israel. It is surrounded on all sides by Palestinian villages and protected by Israeli checkpoints. It is beyond understanding why the Israeli government allows these settlements to exist as a finger in the eye of every Palestinian — hateful or peaceful — in the area.
And before my dutiful commentors accuse me of blaming settlers, settlements or Israel for the deaths of children, let me clarify that such is not my point. The individual who did this failed to grasp the key lesson of the inhuman treatment of their own people: inhumanity breeds inhumanity, death breeds death, and violence leads ever downward. May this person be found, tried, jailed and moved to repentance. May that person look in the eye the 12-year-old girl who discovered her mother, father and baby siblings dead, and realize what beauty was destroyed.
Instead, I blame the banality of evil — the patience that slowly bleeds both sides dry, the system of grinding attrition that could be stopped would the leaders of both sides cease inane oneupmanship and settle a negotiated agreement. I blame those who insist on retribution — which means us all, at one point or another. I blame the monster that dehumanization has unleashed in good and decent people, often who watch from a distance and do nothing.
I blame us. I blame us for not thinking creatively, collaboratively and swiftly to find a way out of the stalemate. I blame us for finding foes in not the system but each other, between Jews and between Palestinians. We bear this blame together. We should all be moved to end the conflict, instead of justifying the wrongs of the past.

42 thoughts on “Midnight stabbing at Itamar settlement

  1. Nicely done. But why not mention that these (inexcusable) attacks are most likely a response to the firebombing of Palestinian homes in Huwarra last week? Palestinian violence is often portrayed as erratic, random, and therefore unavoidable. Though we must condemn these sorts of attacks, it’s important to realize that the “price-tag” operations carried out by radical settlers more often than not provoke Palestinian violence. Also, the Israeli military is currently responding by rounding up Palestinian men and performing house-to-house raid. These sorts of responses only further provoke violence and humiliate the Palestinians. Also, I was wondering where you read that Hamas labeled the attack a “heroic operation.” Ynet is reporting that Hamas has denied responsibility for the attack and has emphasized it does not condone the killing of children. Check it out:,7340,L-4041236,00.html

  2. Thanks for your insights and your analysis, which blend reason, heart and compassion together, and put that in words in such an intelligent way. I’m with you!

  3. 1/ ‘May that person look in the eye the 12-year old girl who discovered her mother, father and siblings…’
    Er, wouldn’t he then kill her too. Do you want them all dead?
    2/ ‘inhumanity breeds inhumanity’, ‘death breeds death’.
    Personally I think predictable cliches breed more predictable cliches.
    Maybe we could teach inhumanity and death new methods of having sex that would preclude all this breeding. Unless you’re saying that inhumanity and death reproduce through parthogenesis.
    Now if we could only do something about all those predictable cliches.
    Oh no! He just said ‘banality of evil’!
    3/ ‘I blame us’. Whoa Mr D.A. You don’t know me (and I gather don’t want to). If you want to blame yourself that’s fine. But isn’t blaming others a form of ‘verbal violence’.

  4. i don’t mean to be annoying, but at present it is only a suspected terrorist. the police and the IDF are all following up on leads, but no arrests or convictions have yet been made.

  5. Good point, invisible hand. Maybe they stabbed themselves and their own children to death in order to blame the poor Arabs. Those settlers will do anything to stop peace. Should we be surprised they murdered their own children? They’re inhuman, like we always knew.

  6. @ victor-
    I don’t think that was IH’s point at all. While it may, and likely is, a terrorist, it could be a horrifying crime motivated by criminal intent. It could also be a personal vendetta. I’m not saying that it is or isn’t, but a basic premise of most democratic justice systems (which doesn’t actually exist in lands under occupation) is some semblance of innocent until proven guilty.
    the cycle of violence is not made up, it is very real. none of these events, be it the “price-tag” attacks, the stonings, the reprisals, whatever it is, none of these events happen in a vacuum.

  7. I was taking IH’s point quite seriously. Everyone knows that Jews love knives and love to stab people, especially babies from their own communities. That’s how we Jews roll, settling our personal vendettas with knife killings. It happens all the time. Jonathan1 is from Israel, so he can vouch for it, and maybe he also stabbed a few babies to death, so he can tell us about that.
    More seriously, this is obviously a false flag operation to relieve pressure on Israel and make more illegal building possible. Probably the Jews in Itamar drew straws, and one family bit the bullet, went home, murdered their children and then themselves. Obviously. Those animals.

  8. as a dedicated man on the left wing, i admit that i admire the settlers for placing themselves at the center of jewish history, believing so deeply that they can assume its helm. its tragic.

  9. @ Victor … Given the circumstances, it seems fairly likely this was done by a Palestinian, but to suggest that it’s possible it wasn’t isn’t to say that “Jews roll that way” or that it’s a “false flag operation.” There’s no GROUP of people in the world who “roll that way,” but horrific and senseless murders do occur within families and within (rather than between) communities. It’s no slander on Jews or settlers to say they aren’t exempt from that.
    But none of that really change’s KFJ’s point. Even if the facts of this case turn out to be different than initially presumed, what KFJ writes is still true of the many other murders that have occurred because of the conflict. Or, if you disagree with him, he would still be wrong.

  10. em, you misunderstood. Mine wasn’t a sarcastic critique of KFJ’s writing. Every time something like this happens, I dread reading the comments on Jewschool. This was self-defense, a preemptive draining of the swamp. At least everyone here knows me well enough to understand that it’s dark sarcasm in bad taste. Now it’s out there, and everyone else will sound moderate in comparison. The last thing I would want is to read something like that from someone I didn’t know, and think they were being genuine. Not again. That would hurt me for long time. But that’s just me, someone who nearly faints at circumcisions, though not my own.

  11. one of the great tragedies of the left… for all the truth and self criticism and tikun that we the jewish people need to go through- is this head in the sand myoepic inability to recognize and admit that there really is an enemy out there… That the killer of the Fogel family is not the only one, he’s not the first to slice jewish flesh, and though this is the most atrocious murder (a baby in the crib asleep stabbed over and over again?- some kind of inordinate hatred==amalek energy as clear as you can ask for it…)
    but back on topic- until the people with good heart who want to affect and bring positive change will put forth solutions that include addressing the people behind this.. and not fall to such delusion as to what has been recorded here and on countless other blogs since motzei shabbat- suggesting anything what is the obvious to jews and palestinians who live in israel knew the second the headlines came out.. COME ON people…
    sorry my emotions are too out to couch it in nice sarcasm— but this level of reality check is something that will make our people heal a lot faster and more efficiently and you can save yourself being called pie in the sky idealists who haven’t touched ground..
    i know- democracy, innocent till proven guilty and a thousand other wonderful ideals that have are just decimated by the nasty brutal reality of hatred.. I’m sure the nazi’s had wonderful manners too… Purim is of all times the place to just be really straight up… so
    and while i’m ranting– i was at the funerals today– there was no calls for revenge, no chanting for death.. i even watched an arab walk the other way through the crowd on his cell phone totally oblivious to where he was going.. no remarks.. there was pain and a very alive community in mourning..
    watch as the lots have been thrown for Palestinian days of rage on march 15th.. and again on the 20-21… Visit the Facebook ThirdPalestinian Intifada page and have a cup of coffee.

  12. Shaul — I refuse to confuse the enemy. I do not forget there exists an enemy, I simply know that some enemies are Jews and some friends are Palestinians. Case in point:

    The prize goes, as usual, to the representative of Kahane and Rabbi Wolfa in the Knesset, Michael Ben Ari: “I call upon the government to carry out a ‘price tag’ [euphemism for pogrom – YG] and expel the residents of the village from which the murderers emerged, and to demolish the village and build in its place apartments for young couples of army veterans.”

    Meanwhile TV cameras in Nablus find commonplace condemnation of the killings. Who is evil and who is good? I refuse to bow to simplistic reductions.

  13. hey— i wasn’t referring so much to your posting as to em and many of the other things i’ve been reading out there on cyberspace walls and through personal extended conversations with left wing activists in israel… And beneath the emotion of where i was writing from is a real critique of the widespread failing to make those distinctions- which for me are the hardest part of the conflict- Because when the conflict is termed as Israel vs Palestine (as is most common in the political world) Palestine includes a wide diversity of opinions— some aimed at wiping out Jewish living and certainly sovereignty on this soil, many i think not. But how do we move forward when there are real active hard-cores out there for whom 48 is the real story and there is not ammends being made to “hear our side”… so- of course you want to say the same is going on our side.. and it’s true- I’ll own up to that and i do my work in trying to think about adressing my social circles in a constructive way about seeing palestinian narrative. There is a movement for that within the settler world… second generation.. learning arabic, thinking out the ideological blindfolds… Its small, but looking for ways to grow. eretzshalom– settlers for peace. check it out
    i think bibi’s demand for abbas to denounce it in arabic on palestinian media is a good step at moving things forward… but this is the intense struggle of asking palestinians to threaten their fragile unity to make the same hard kinds of self-criticism that Israel bandies about…
    but for people on the left to suggest the kind of things like i ranted about above shows some level of such disconnect from the conflict– fantasmic world far away.
    our motto is “heart of the problem, heart of the solution…”
    i think there is somethin very true in the that, and i’m trying to learn how to be in the middle and still have a heart and mind. and with that- regarding good and evil: this is an action of evil, and some person owes several worlds of responsibility for letting that evil take them over. According to our Torah they are a capital offender.
    can you possibly approach the thought behind each and ever step towards the yishuv in the dark quiet night of shabbat?
    and i’d virtually retract the report on the dates of these upcoing days of rage– could be march (that would be too megila-like) but maybe may..

  14. >“It is beyond understanding why the Israeli government allows these settlements to exist as a finger in the eye of every Palestinian — hateful or peaceful — in the area.”
    Maybe for the same reason the Israeli government allows Arab settlements to exist as a finger in the eye of every Jewish resident in certain areas?
    >“The individual who did this failed to grasp the key lesson…inhumanity breeds inhumanity, death breeds death….Instead, I blame the banality of evil…”
    The “banality of evil”? He must not have taken enough sociology courses. In any event it appears the perpetrators embraced inhumanity, death and violence not with “banality” but gusto.
    >“May that person look in the eye the 12-year-old girl who discovered her mother, father and baby siblings dead, and realize what beauty was destroyed.”
    Hmmmm… think he’ll discover a beauty that he missed while he was murdering her three brothers and two parents?
    >“I blame us. I blame us for not thinking creatively, collaboratively and swiftly to find a way out of the stalemate…”
    Who granted you the moral stature to blame “us”? It seems quite presumptuous to extend the circle of blame any further than yourself.

  15. It never fails to amaze me how self-considered “enlightened” human beings are capable of putting events into context only when that suits their agenda. You sit confortably in the US I assume and dare rationalizing the slaughtering of Rabbi Udi Fogel, his wife Ruth, 11-year-old Yoav, four-year-old Elad and three-month-old Hadas, of blessed memory. I heard Rav Ben-Ishai, the grand-father during the hesped and I davened Maariv every night at their home where the family sits shiva: he spoke without hatred at the hesped of his daughter, son-in-law and 3 grand-children a few hours only after their throats were cut with a knife. Your article does not show that kind of decency. This page is all the more despicable that it cites and betrays both Rav Joseph Soloveitchik and the Hofets Chaim. Shame.

  16. shaul, if you were responding to me, you misunderstood me. I was responding only very narrowly to Victor (who says I misunderstood him). I have no desire to make excuses for these killings.

  17. @ Victor – by now, it has been determined that it was indeed a palestinian terrorist who murdered that family.
    my point at the time was that it could have been a regular kind of murderer, as well, since no one had yet taken credit.
    @shaul – this point applies to you as well. to try to slow down our thinking and not assume is important in heated situations. to urge methodical thinking is not to “deny there is an enemy.” don’t be ridiculous.

  18. it is also worth noting that, obviously, no one, not the most horrid human being alive, deserves to be murdered or to have one’s family slaughtered.
    it is also also worth noting that there are more subtle kinds of violence than horrific murder, ones that stand out less. the settlements are this kind of violence and it outrages me that the israeli gov’t would allow for more settlement construction in the wake of this senseless act, as some kind of sick balancing of the scales. disgusting.

  19. But how do we move forward when there are real active hard-cores out there for whom 48 is the real story and there is not ammends being made to “hear our side”
    We move forward by having a Disengagement II, hopefully in coordination with Fatah, to try to allow them some political gain, as we do what’s best for ourselves.
    These deaths are symptoms of the overall tragedy of this century-long-war. They don’t prove anything more than any other of the deaths that have resulted from this conflict.

  20. Alternatively, we continue the status quo until the Palestinian leadership and people accept a peace on the terms that Israelies are willing to offer. And in the meantime allow unrestricted settlement building on state lands and within existing municipal boundaries.

  21. And in the meantime allow unrestricted settlement building on state lands and within existing municipal boundaries
    Alternatively, instead of spending billions of sheckels building new neighborhoods in Itamar and Tupach–which are lost causes anyway–we could give social workers an across-the-board pay raise, and we could afford to do the same for teachers while we’re at it.

  22. Those homes are built using private funds. Moreover, the people living in those communities pay taxes, generating more revenues for the government than are expended on infrastructure. Finally, until a peace is achieved, the communities serve a security function, which benefits the “mainland”.

    1. Those homes are built using private funds.
      Even if the homes are, the infrastructure (power lines, military defense, etc.) isn’t.
      Moreover, the people living in those communities pay taxes, generating more revenues for the government than are expended on infrastructure.
      They’d be paying the same taxes if they lived in Tel Aviv, without incurring the same costs.
      Finally, until a peace is achieved, the communities serve a security function, which benefits the “mainland”.
      Can you spell out the mechanism by which this benefit is achieved?

  23. I’m not a military expert, BZ. I believe the operating terms are strategic depth, control of elevated terrain and, more pertinent to 4GW, an ongoing administrative and security presence.

  24. There is no military reason to locate civilians in the territories. There is no reason to risk their lives to rockets, mortars, riots and midnight murders. No reason. In fact, there is every military reason to remove noncombatants from danger.
    “Strategic depth” is measured in units of 25 miles, which is what is necessary for ground troops to retreat and then regroup for a counter-attack. The whole width of Israel isn’t 25 miles. Ergo, Israel doesn’t have “strategic depth.” This is what my Israeli professor taught me. Secondly, since rockets and missiles
    Control of elevated terrain means nothing when rockets are fired from Gaza, does it?

  25. @Victor
    An Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley Rift, and on the ridges of Samaria, and air sovereignty over the West Bank, all provide Israel with strategic depth, whatever KFJ’s Israeli professor might teach–(Israelis live in Israel, btw.)
    In any case, it’s not clear why Israel would necessarily be forfeiting a military presence in such areas if it were to remove civilian communities. What’s more, the military could remain in such areas until we reach a treaty.
    And, even after a treaty, when there will still be a very real danger of violence, at least we’d be able to fight with almost the entire country certain that we have no other choice.

  26. It would behoove all of us to set aside the analysis, the questioning and the blame. Put aside politics, peace and war.
    A family was murdered. Please. Let’s just mourn for them.

  27. There is no military reason to locate civilians in the territories. There is no reason to risk their lives to rockets, mortars, riots and midnight murders. No reason. In fact, there is every military reason to remove noncombatants from danger.
    In a classic, state-state conflict, this may be the case, or it may not be the case. Before an invading foreign army, civilians may be an impediment to local forces, in that resources must be diverted to secure their evacuation. On the other hand, it is well known that civilian settlements were erected in Israel’s early days precisely to bolster security in specific sectors. Civilian settlements clearly act as an anchor to local security efforts. Indeed, during the war of independence, lightly armed civilian communities formed the front line, and largely held it, or to the extent possible. The security value of frontline communities is all the more so against the types of attacks more commonly experienced then and now – small unit infiltration, sabotage, bombings, etc.
    The danger to residents of the communities does not exist because they are located “there”. It exists because the intent to do harm is “there”. Whether that intent is channeled into midnight stabbings or firing off Grads is irrelevant.
    In a low intensity conflict between a state and non-state combatants, where as you (KFJ) yourself say, projectile weaponry eliminates the notion of a “front line”, removing civilian communities from a particular region does not ensure their security, and may impact negatively the security of other communities. For example, the communities of Gaza were for years beset by rocket, artillery and mortar barrages. Removing those communities did not end the attacks, but shifted them to the next opportune targets.
    Regarding strategic depth, it is well known that defenses in a mountainous area can hold up the advance of enemy forces for some time, using to their advantage the relative immobility and vulnerability of heavy armor in mountainous environments and knowledge of complex terrain.
    Furthermore, I would offer that we should consider the security value of the communities not in a “best case” scenario, where Israel has air dominance and technological superiority. This situation is not assured for a country of six million surrounded by much larger populations which, with proper economic development, could field larger and equally or more sophisticated armies. In a worst case scenario, then, where Israel has lost air superiority, and its tanks are exploding under precision targeted missiles, what is the value of strategic chokepoints in a mountanous area directly adjacent to Israel’s vulnerable population centers?
    Would your professor claim it’s “zero”?

  28. Jonathan1,
    I think van Creveld make some good points, but hubris and bias towards a preferred outcome cloud his judgment, as a number of readers point out in the comments. He doesn’t mention how close the Syrians were to breaking through in the north in ’73. He doesn’t seem to grasp the IDF’s impotence at managing a “less than war, more than peace” environment ala Lebanon and Gaza without incurring international wrath.
    In short, it is a self-congratulatory back-patting analysis that ignores the very fluid environment in which Israel exists, and I pray to G-d that people who think about Israeli security throw in some worse scenarios into their strategy mix than van Creveld does.
    Egypt and Jordan are allies today – meaning, their ruling regimes are allies – and in turmoil tomorrow. Need we a reminder that this is the third Hebrew commonwealth, and that the first and second were destroyed? Today the Arabs field incompetent armies, and Israel has an edge. Tomorrow, it’s anyone game. Capability breeds intent. Egypt has a population 10 times the size of Israel. If it’s GDP per capita ever matches Israel’s, it will be a $2 Trillion economy. And before you say it won’t happen, why not? Turkey is doing it. Between 2001 and 2008, their economy went from $200 Bil, about equal to Israel, to $700 Bil! That kind of booming economic expansion and money in government coffers can get minds stirring, and it’s not like anyone’s ever launched a war to conquer Jerusalem before, right?
    In my opinion, Israel is in a rare position of relative strength, with no guarantees that it will continue to enjoy such a balance of forces. It needs to ensure maximum defensive lines now, while the opportunity exists. Holding on to portions of the West Bank as a strategic buffer, with or without limited Palestinian sovereignty, is highly desirable in the face of the unknown. One way or another, the West Bank will always factor intimately into Israeli strategic planning, so we might as well accept it, and then deal with managing a solution for the Palestinians that is more equitable and peaceful than not.
    Here’s a scholarly study of Israel’s security needs (PDF).

  29. @Victor.
    Here is the answer to all of the points you make, vis-a-vis Israel’s security . . . . . . I can’t give you an answer.
    Here is the answer to the question of what to do about the reality that for 4 decades we’ve lived with our boot on the necks of millions of human beings in Gaza and the West Bank . . . . . you can’t give an answer.
    This is just our reality. If I had a perfect answer believe me I would run for prime minister, but I don’t.

  30. I think Rabin had a plan, a good plan. I think Netanyahu will dust it off. Less than statehood, control over airspace, jordan valley and the hilly spine overlooking the center, settlements in place and likely under palestinian authority, economic and political normalization with Palestinians to the extent possible. It’s not all that radical a departure from what Barak and Olmert offered, even if they couched it in greater formalities. The Palestinians will have more than they think but less than they want. They will say no, but the only real decision they can make is whether to start killing, again, and last time that backfired horribly. If Netanyahu moves to implement it will be a done deal.

  31. Victor? Not a Zionist?
    I hear a Ben-Gurion quote in the distance…. “I’m not a Zionist, I’m Israeli!”

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