JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Palestinian reaction to the grisly killings of five Israeli family members in the Jewish settlement of Itamar, on the West Bank, has prompted many Israelis to ask the same question of the Palestinians that the world often asks of the Israeli government: Are they really serious about peace?
On the one hand, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas went on Israel Radio on Monday to condemn the March 11 killings of the Fogel family members, including a 4-year-old boy and a 3-month-old girl, as “despicable, inhuman and immoral.”
On the other hand, a day after the attack, members of Abbas’ Fatah faction participated in an official dedication ceremony in the West Bank town of Al-Bireh for a town square dedicated to the memory of Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist involved in killing 37 Israelis in a 1978 bus hijacking on Israel’s coastal road. No PA government officials attended the ceremony, Reuters reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu derided the Palestinian Authority’s reaction on Sunday to the Itamar killings as full of “weak and mumbled” statements, accusing the Palestinians of continuing to incite against Israel in their mosques and schools. Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas members reportedly handed out candy in celebration of the attack.
The Palestinian leadership must "stop the incitement that is conducted on a daily basis in their schools, mosques and the media under their control,” Netanyahu said. “The time has come to stop this double-talk in which the Palestinian Authority outwardly talks peace and allows — and sometimes leads — incitement at home."
The brutal murders of the Fogel parents, Udi, 36, and Ruth, 35, and three of their six children — Yoav, 11, along with Elad, 4, and Hadas, 3 months — shocked and angered a nation that had seen terrorist attacks dwindle in recent years. The circulation of photos of some of the stabbed children — apparently distributed to news media by relatives of the victims — offered gruesome pictures of the blood-soaked scene.
A group called the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades of Imad Mughniyeh claimed responsibility for the attack. Israeli forces combed the area after the attack, and the Palestinian Authority agreed to participate in a joint investigation to find the killer or killers.
The attack sparked angry demonstrations throughout Israel and the West Bank in support of the settlers, with demonstrators holding signs reading "We are all settlers" and "Peace isn’t signed with blood." One of the largest rallies took place in Tel Aviv near the army’s national headquarters.
After a funeral in Jerusalem for the Fogels drew an estimated 20,000 people, some settlers went to Palestinian villages to carry out revenge attacks, throwing stones and destroying property.
For its part, the Israeli government on Sunday announced the approval of some 500 new housing units in the West Bank, in the settlements of Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel and Kiryat Sefer.
In the attack, which took place late Friday night, two sons, aged 8 and 2, were spared, apparently because they were sleeping in a side room that escaped attention. A daughter, Tamar, 12, returned home late at night from a Bnei Akiva youth program to discover the door to the house was locked. Alarmed, she contacted a neighbor, and they entered the home together and encountered the gory scene.
Volunteers for ZAKA, the Orthodox-run search-and-rescue organization, described the scene shortly after the terror attack as "absolutely horrific."
"We saw toys lying next to pools of blood, Shabbat clothes covered in blood and everywhere the smell of death mixing with the aroma of the Shabbat meal,” one volunteer said.
The Fogel family had relocated to Itamar following their removal from the Gush Katif settlement in Gaza, which was part of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. They had lived for a while in the Jewish West Bank city of Ariel before moving to Itamar, which is near the Palestinian city of Nablus.
Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council settler umbrella group, called the approval of new housing in response to the attack "a small step in the right direction." He said it was "deeply troubling that it requires the murder of children in the arms of their parents to achieve such an objective."
At the emotional funerals, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said the Fogel parents personified devotion to the Zionist vision and were pioneers.
"Your hands held both scythe and book — teachers and settlers whose entire lives were the love of their country and the love they had for their neighbors," Rivlin said. "Build more, live more, more footholds — that is our response to the murderers so that they know: They can’t defeat us."
Udi Fogel’s brother, Motti, appeared to reject the politicization of the deaths, saying that "All the slogans about Torah and settlement, the Land of Israel, and the Jewish people try to make us forget the simple and painful truth: You are gone. You are gone and no slogan will bring you back. Above all, this funeral must be a private event.
"Udi, you are not a symbol or a national event. Your life had a purpose of its own and your horrible death must not make your life into a pawn."