The murder by knife of three children, including an infant of 3 months, and both parents in a West Bank settlement late Friday night rocked Israel terribly. The news broke on Saturday morning, and the shock was somehow both muted and amplified by the enforced public silence of the Jewish Sabbath. But Shabbat ended at sundown, and freed from the strictures of enforced rest, events lurched forward with something very like vengeance.
First came the condemnations. "This is a despicable murder of an entire innocent family, parents, children and an infant, while they were sleeping in their home on the Sabbath evening," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. "We all know," Netanyahu added, "as those who want to strike at us will know, that the future of the settlements will not be decided by terror."
A few hours later, however, the Prime Minister made certain that the attack would, in fact, have a direct impact on Israel's West Bank settlements. Before Sunday dawned, his government had approved construction of 500 new homes on Palestinian territory. The homes are to be built on settlement blocs close to the 1967 border, densely packed and often suburban, rather than in the remote hilltop settlements like Itamar, where the Fogel family lived and where friction with neighboring Palestinians is far more common. But it was the first new construction Netanyahu's government has approved, and the clearest effort to transmute the deaths of the Fogels into politics. It would not be the only one.
"This is unfortunately the first time since the formation of the second Netanyahu government that new housing has been approved," said Danny Dayan, who chairs the umbrella group for settlers. "And it's a pity that parents and their children needed to be murdered for it to do so." The group called for many more houses on the West Bank, which many Jews believe is theirs by a promise from God. In Sunday's Cabinet meeting, Interior Minister Eli Yishai suggested a formula: "At least a thousand homes for each person murdered," he said.
The more than 100 Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land are widely considered illegal under international law. Last month, a U.S. veto ended an attempt in the U.N. Security Council to condemn the policy.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered Israel's U.N. delegation to file a complaint over the Itamar attack. "Israel is expecting to hear a strong condemnation from all democratic states, which in the name of human rights hurry to denounce every movement of a trailer in Judea and Samaria," the biblical name the settlers use for the West Bank.
The government authorized the release of crime-scene photos, and reporters' inboxes filled with JPEGs of the gruesome, evenly lit interior of a house, littered with children's toys and blood. "Terror Has Struck Again" ran an advertisement flashing on the Jerusalem Post website. "While you slept on Friday night, the Fogel family was MURDERED." The ad, which featured photos of the victims stippled with cartoon bullet holes, solicited funds for a nonprofit that helps survivors of terror attacks.
The slaughter did not eradicate the family. Three of the Fogel children survived two brothers who were asleep in another bedroom, and their 12-year-old sister, who discovered the scene when she arrived home at midnight from a meeting of a youth group. The means of entry into the settlement was apparently a hole cut in the perimeter fence, undetected by civilian guards. But the identity of the attackers remains unknown. Israeli forces have detained some 20 Palestinians from nearby villages, reportedly including relatives of two Palestinians recently killed.
Jewish settlers and Palestinians have clashed many times since Itamar was built in 1984, just outside of Nablus. Three times in 2002, gunmen penetrated the fence and killed settlers, twice with guns, once with a knife. Extremist settlers also attack Palestinians, sometimes in a convoluted payback when the Israeli army moves against the settlers. Five Palestinian cars were set alight on Sunday, according to press reports. "It's an ongoing scene of violence mutual violence," says Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson for the B'Tselem human-rights organization. "Off the top of my head I can think of 10 very serious incidents."
Terror attacks, however, have become exceedingly rare on the West Bank in recent years. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas preaches nonviolence, and PA security forces coordinate discreetly with Israeli authorities to suppress attacks, often through night raids on private homes. The policy has been effective. Officials indicated no evidence of involvement of any known militant network, such as the military wing of Hamas, in Friday's attack.
But Netanyahu found grounds to blame the Palestinian Authority, repeatedly calling on Abbas to cease "incitement" against Israel, and criticizing his generalized condemnation "violence will only bring more violence" as a "stuttered reply." A more junior Palestinian official, Dmitry Dliani of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, was quoted as calling the settlements "a massacre of the entire Palestinian nation" that "destroys the remaining hopes for peace."
Amid it all, the five victims were buried in Jerusalem, as 20,000 people looked on, including a crowd of reporters. Delivering the eulogy of Udi Fogel, whose body was found beside his infant daughter, Udi's elder brother Motti Fogel said, "All of the slogans we hear are trying to efface the simple fact that you're dead, and nothing can efface that. This funeral has to be a private affair. A man dies to himself, to his children. Udi, you are not a national event. Your horrible death mustn't make your life into a pawn."