BEIRUT, Lebanon — At 7:01 a.m. on Tuesday morning, worshippers in a synagogue in Har Nof, a neighborhood in West Jerusalem, were reciting their morning prayers when two men burst in. Cousins Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal brandished a gun, a knife, and a meat cleaver according to eyewitness accounts. Gruesome images relayed on social media from the Israeli government Press Office Twitter account showed bloodied prayer shawls and books littering the ground inside the synagogue, as horrified Israelis gathered outside. Both of the attackers, who came from East Jerusalem, were shot by police at the scene.
Photo from Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood in which four civilians were murdered this morning while at prayer pic.twitter.com/dNys6dw6kR— Gov't Press Office (@GPOIsrael) November 18, 2014
More from GlobalPost: Israeli and Palestinian leaders can't control the new wave of violence in Jerusalem
The attack killed American rabbis Cary William Levine, Moshe Twersky and Aryeh Kupinsky, as well as British Rabbi Avraham Goldberg. Consistent with Jewish law, all were buried the same day, attracting huge crowds of mourners. Later Tuesday, local media reported a fifth death from the attack after a police officer who had intervened died from his wounds.
The absolutely massive crowd outside the synagogue where the attack in Jerusalem took place. pic.twitter.com/NONQdAs3Fj— Nick Schifrin (@nickschifrin) November 18, 2014
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) later released a statement confirming that the Abu Jamal cousins were supporters of the PFLP. But as Ramallah-based freelance journalist Dalia Hatuqua pointed out, the group did not officially take responsibility for the attack, considered the worst atrocity in West Jerusalem in six years:
Here's the PFLP statement in English. Praise for 2 members who carried out attack but no claim of responsibility. pic.twitter.com/HSMsBGXZY4— Dalia Hatuqa (@DaliaHatuqa) November 18, 2014
Residents of Jerusalem were quick to look for a motive for the attack. Some commentators blamed religion, others blamed the tension in the city that has remained since the Gaza conflict of this past summer. But many pointed out that the attack appeared to be in retaliation for the death of a Palestinian bus driver, Yousseff al-Roumani, on Monday night.
Yesterday, riots in E. Jerusalem over death of a Palestinian bus driver found hanged in his bus. The attackers today came from same area.— Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) November 18, 2014
Al-Roumani was found hanged inside his bus. Although an autopsy by Israeli officials stated that "there were no findings that indicated the involvement of any external agent in the act of hanging," Palestinians remained suspicious that his death was not suicide. Commentator Khaled Abu Toameh pointed to the tension that existed even before Tuesday's synagogue attack.
Palestinians calls for protests today over 'murder' of bus driver Yusef al-Ramuni, whose hanged body was discovered last night.— Khaled Abu Toameh (@KhaledAbuToameh) November 17, 2014
Israeli writer Mairav Zonstein, reminded her social media followers to look for the context of the attack.
There is never justification of violence against civilians, but there is always context— Mairav Zonszein (@MairavZ) November 18, 2014
ITV journalist Geraint Vincent found a similar reaction from the attackers' family. Palestinians cited an oppressive culture in Jerusalem that targets Palestinians, whether from members of the public or from the Israeli state itself.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem remained on high alert, as the city slowly melted into total lockdown. BuzzFeed journalist Sheera Frenkel was on the scene:
Just saw group of US tourists being rushed out of Jerusalem's old city. One of them told the tour guide he wished he had brought his pistol.— Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) November 18, 2014
Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzak Aharonovitch quickly raised the possibility of loosening public laws on carrying weapons in self-defense, for private security guards and off-duty soldiers.
The atmosphere in Jerusalem grew more tense as the day wore on. Ela Greenberg, a master’s student at David Yellin College who has lived in Jerusalem for 19 years, spoke of her fears about the situation:
It's been tense since the summer, and there haven't been any attempts to stop the ongoing cycle of violence in Jerusalem at the national level. On the ground, people seem tense. There is heightened security at the Central Bus station, and around the Light Rail stops. Yesterday I saw a young Palestinian trying to close his suitcase full of clothing, with a security guard watching over him. He had been stopped across the street from the Central Bus Station. I haven't seen searches like this around the bus station in many years. I feel particularly concerned for the safety of Arab passengers on the trains and the public buses as there have been many reports about harassment of Arabs speaking Arabic, and of Muslim women who wear hijab. I currently am studying in a college in West Jerusalem which prides itself on having a mixed Arab and Jewish population, and I noticed today that the Arab population, who mainly come from East Jerusalem, were not there today. I think they are afraid to come to West Jerusalem, and I don't blame them.
Meanwhile, Palestinian student Aminah Abu Sway posted a message to her friends on Facebook in fear of retaliatory attacks: "I hope everyone stays safe and well. This is a time where people need to be cautious. Please avoid West Jerusalem completely! Civilians are being targeted left and right."
A few hours after Abu Sway warned her friends, she spoke to GlobalPost about the mood on the ground:
The atmosphere is really tense. People are anxious and expecting the worst. A few hours after the attack on the synagogue, Israeli settlers stabbed a young Palestinian man in Jerusalem. Civilians on both sides should not be harmed. There should be no attacks especially in places of worship, for Muslims, Christians or Jews. We hate the occupation but what is wrong is wrong. People are currently apprehensive, because violence breeds violence. It doesn’t matter who started what, the occupation is responsible for both sides. The whole colonial project is what needs to end. Palestinians are warning each other about avoiding West Jerusalem or walking alone. Everyone is in potential danger and people are trying to be cautious.
For Abu Sway, today's events are heavily linked to the context of the political situation in Jerusalem:
Jerusalem is divided, Palestinians and Israelis lead completely two different lives. Completely separate. Israeli laws and policy's systematically discriminate against Palestinians. The occupation never united Jerusalem. Soldiers are placed on every corner in every neighborhood and collective punishment is implemented everywhere. The whole colonial project is what needs to end.
Like Abu Sway, freelance translator and West Jerusalem resident Ofer Neiman said he feared many would fail to look for a bigger picture beyond today’s events:
Very few of the Jewish Israelis fearing attack know, or care to know, what it means to live as a Palestinian under Israel's brutal occupation in east Jerusalem.
As privileged Jewish Israeli citizens, all this should make our blood boil, but the mainstream Israeli media simply portrays the Palestinian protesters as hateful rioters, without discussing the inherently racist nature of Israel's policies in our city. West Jerusalem is a tense place too, not just for Jewish Israelis. At night, groups of ultra nationalists scour the streets looking to assault Palestinian taxi drivers and restaurant workers.
In the late afternoon, social media began to show burning tires and rocks littering the streets of East Jerusalem, as Palestinian youth began clashed with Israeli soldiers early in the afternoon.
A day of tension led to the stabbing of Palestinian Fadi Radwan of Kfar Aqab, apparently in retaliation for the synagogue attack. Analyst Grant Rumley noted that Radwan is currently hospitalized in East Jerusalem.
@sheeraf I'm seeing reports his name is Fadi Radwan, resident of Kfar Aqab -- was stabbed in Masrara and is now in hospital in East J'lem— Grant Rumley (@Grant_Rumley) November 18, 2014
As Palestinians and Israelis alike rallied around the hashtag #JerusalemUnderAttack, Diaa Mahmoud, a journalist from Gaza, reported on Twitter that Radwan was stabbed by a settler.
The Palestinian who stabbed by Israeli settler is Fadi Radwan. #JerusalemUnderAttack— DiaaMahmoud (@DiaaMahmoud) November 18, 2014
Night fell and the violence began spilling into the West Bank. Palestinian-run Ma'an News Agency reported that settlers attacked a school in Nablus. Social media reports suggested that Israeli forces entered the West Bank town of Ramallah, an event rarely seen but viewed by those that live there as an extreme provocation.
Israeli forces enter downtown Ramallah, numbers unclear, clashes and tear gas ongoing - official Palestinian media— Noah Browning (@sheikhNB) November 18, 2014
Jerusalem, and now Ramallah, remain on high alert with the violence showing no signs of stopping. Many Israelis and Palestinians alike remain fearful of further incitement, whether it's from political leaders or members of their communities.