I'm in Jerusalem at the moment, on an Act for Israel media fellowship. Sunday was our first day of activity and it was utterly exhausting. We began with a visit to Yad Vashem, the site for Holocaust remembrance. Nearby, we passed preparations for the funeral of five Israeli settlers killed in an unspeakably brutal terror attack. We visited Old Jerusalem (Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Wailing Wall, etc.). Then we met with the parents of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas nearly five years ago. He is being held in conditions contrary to international human rights law and Hamas says he'll only be released if 450 Palestinian prisoners with terror-related convictions are released early ... along with 550 other prisoners.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the day was our visit to Itamar, the West Bank settlement site of the terrorist attack. While not terribly far from Jerusalem as the crow flies, for safety we had to avoid the straightest route there and add an extra 50 kilometers or so. We picked up a local Israeli councilman on the way there as our guide into Itamar. Here's how the Jerusalem Post explained what happened there:
A mother, father and three of their children were stabbed to death late Friday night by at least one suspected terrorist who infiltrated the Itamar settlement southeast of Nablus.
The killings occurred shortly after 10 p.m., when one or two attackers jumped the fence that surrounds Itamar and broke into the home of Ruth and Udi Fogel, aged 35 and 36, respectively. The attackers went room to room, stabbing the parents, a three-month-old girl, Hadas, and two boys, Elad, three, and Yoav, 11.
Two other children - aged two and eight - were in a side room but were not attacked.
The family's oldest child, 12-year-old Tamar, was out of the house at the time.
It was Tamar who found her parents and three siblings murdered. One of the settlers told us that one of the children was beheaded. (I in no way have a stomach for these things so I have not clicked on this link, but here is a link to the photos of the victims after the attack.) The story explains that the Israeli Defense Force began investigating a nearby town as the Al Aqsa Martyrs brigade took credit for the attack, calling it a "heroic operation." Later Al Aqsa Martyrs brigade denied having anything to do with the attack.
So the story has received international coverage, although it's interesting to see the disparities in that coverage. Take, for instance, this CNN headline to a three-paragraph story on the matter:
Israeli family of 5 killed in 'terror attack,' military says
The use of "scare quotes" and inability to describe the brutal killing of a family including a 3-month-old baby girl as a terrorist attack led one Israeli press liaison to ask "If this is not a terror attack, what is?" CNN responded by saying they stood behind the headline.
Needless to say, I don't think I'd recommend the CNN story for anyone interested in a discussion of the killings. While the first story to appear on the New York Times website was an Associated Press dispatch with the bare details, I thought the lengthier report filed from Itamar by a Times reporter was very helpful. Unlike some reports that failed to even mention the names or ages of the children who were killed, the Times report begins by describing the manner in which each body (identified by name and age) was removed from the house after the killing. It puts the killings in context of the greater struggle between Jewish and Palestinian settlers.
There was quite a bit of disappointment in Itamar from the Los Angeles Times report, which some residents felt was almost an attempt to blame the victims for their own murder. The story anonymously suggests the killing of the family might have been retaliation for the killing of two Palestinian men the previous year, later adding that while the IDF says they killed the men, local Palestinians think the settlers were somehow to blame. Although it's nothing like this Iranian news report.
Itamar's settlers are considered among the most fervent, believing Israel has a historic and religious right to absorb the West Bank, which Israel seized during the 1967 Middle East War.
Palestinians have often justified the killing of Israeli civilians, especially settlers, as a legitimate response to the Israeli occupation of territory conquered in the 1967 war, or in the case of radicals, as part of a broader struggle against Israel's existence.
It's just interesting to me. "Absorb" and "seized"? Or "occupation" and "conquered"? It seems the latter is the more neutral language to describe what happened. It's also helpful to point out the issue of opposition to Israel's very existence, which was neglected in the Los Angeles Times piece. The Six-Day War began when Israel responded to military buildups on the borders with Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Israel defeated these neighbors quickly and, in the process, captured land from each of them. It is these areas, won in a war against its neighbors, that are so hotly disputed within Israel and the international community.
Photo (of Fogel residence in Itamar) by Jennie E. DeVore.