By Matthew Bell
Israeli security forces are searching for the perpetrators of a vicious attack over the weekend. It happened in a West Bank settlement outside of Nablus called Itamar.
As they slept in their beds Friday night, Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their children — including their three-month-old infant — were stabbed to death. Israeli officials said Palestinian terrorists are the prime suspects.
The funeral for the Fogel couple and their three children was held on Sunday at a Jerusalem cemetery. An estimated 20-thousand Israelis came to mourn the loss of Udi and Ruth, 10 year-old Yoav, four year-old Elad and the baby, Hadas. Their bodies were wrapped in Jewish prayer shawls and laid out in a row.
One of the speakers was Yisrael Meir Lau, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and a Holocaust survivor. In comments just before the ceremony began, Lau might have captured the sentiment of many Israelis, when he said such an attack makes it difficult to imagine this long, vicious cycle of violence ever coming to an end.
"If you have to deal with such people that the word 'human beings' doesn't fit them. They behave like animals, like beasts," he said. "I'm a survivor, as a child. And I thought that in the moment the Jewish independent state was declared 63 years ago, came an end to all this suffering, this misery, this bloodshed. Unfortunately, we still have to fight for our very existence."
A long-time friend of the Fogel family, Moshe Asher, said these murders would only strengthen the Jewish connection to Samaria, the Biblical name for parts of the West Bank.
"Samaria is the land of our forefathers," Asher said. "And events like this usually lead to us putting down more roots and building more settlements there."
And in fact, over the weekend, the Israeli government approved plans for 400 new Jewish homes in the West Bank. Settlement supporters said that's a start, but they want more. Israel's interior minister said there should be 1,000 new homes for every Israeli killed there.
The Palestinian Authority reacted to recent events by condemning the announcement on new settlement building, and also condemning Friday night's murders.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas gave an interview to Israel Radio this morning. He said the killings were despicable, immoral and inhuman. He said, "Scenes like these — the murder of infants and children and a woman slaughtered — cause any person endowed with humanity to hurt and to cry."
Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed that statement from Abbas. But many Israelis believe Palestinian expressions of remorse to be hollow: Israeli officials said official Palestinian incitement against Israel and Jews is to blame for the cycle of violence in this conflict.
They just created what's being called an "incitement index," that's been sent out to the media. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said president Abbas should not be satisfied with his latest condemnation of the attack.
"(He needs) to stop institutional incitement to violence and hatred that unfortunately is still prevalent in Palestinian official media, controlled by the Palestinian government, and in their school system," Regev said. "Ultimately, it's very important that he creates there a culture of peace instead of the all-too-existing culture of hate."
The Palestinian president has just called for the creation of a new commission on incitement that would include US participation. Regev said the Israeli government is considering the offer.
But Palestinian spokesman Ghassan Khatib said Israel is guilty of incitement as well.
"The presence of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian territories and the behavior of the Israeli occupation, including the behavior of the settlers, is the main cause of incitement for the Palestinians," Khatib said.
Palestinians said Israeli settlers were behind a series of revenge attacks over the weekend, including incidents of vandalism and stone throwing. Yesterday, Palestinians reportedly threw stones at a bus of Israelis returning from the funeral in Jerusalem. The Israeli military has deployed additional forces in the West Bank and have detained about 20 Palestinians for questioning.