Atrocity Rocks Israel

Palestinians slaughter Fogel family in Itamar -- including a three-month-old infant.

On Friday night at least one terrorist broke into a family’s home in Itamar, a settlement in Samaria (part of the West Bank). The result was that a mother and father, Ruth and Udi Fogel (35 and 36), and three of their six children—two boys, Yoav (11) and Elad (3), and a girl, Hadas (three months)—were stabbed to death. The terrorist(s) escaped and are still being sought by the Israeli security forces.

An army officer said that “the children were literally slaughtered. This is one of the most brutal attacks we’ve ever seen.” Even for Israelis, subjected to a tsunami of terror over the past decade, the stabbing to death of a three-month-old infant was something new. While the Israeli government considered, then decided against distributing photos of the atrocity, some within the settler leadership have decided to do so.

Amid the natural calamity of a much vaster scale in Japan, the event drew relatively little attention in the world media. Still, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remarked in a speech Saturday night that “several countries…always hasten to the UN Security Council to condemn Israel, the state of the Jews, because it planned a house somewhere, or laid a tile somewhere….”

Although eventually President Barack Obama and other world leaders condemned the terror attack, Netanyahu undoubtedly had a point. Their condemnations were barely a ripple compared, for instance, to the firestorm that erupted a year ago when Israel announced building plans—in Jerusalem, its capital city—while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting.

But mainly Israeli leaders stressed the Palestinian culture of incitement that creates fertile grounds of hatred for acts like Friday night’s. Netanyahu said further in his speech that “a society that allows such wild incitement ends up prompting the murder of children.” Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, speaking at the funeral of the five terror victims on Sunday in Jerusalem, which was attended by tens of thousands, said:

When we think of these murderers, we know that they operate against a background of education that teaches them Jews are fair game…. As long as this murderous education goes on, as long as the incitement continues, any agreement we sign is not worth the paper it will be written upon, because it will be immediately violated by those who are the products of this education.

Again, they have a point for sure. On Sunday Palestinian Media Watch released a rundown of “Palestinian Authority incitement to terror prior to the murders in Itamar.” It includes, for instance, the awarding in January of a $2000 grant by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas—widely hailed as a moderate—to relatives of an officially dubbed “shahid” who tried to kill Israeli soldiers with pipe bombs.

And later on Sunday Palestinian Media Watch released another bulletin. This one discloses that just three weeks ago, PA TV broadcast a tribute to “martyrs”—and it included a terrorist who, in a 2002 attack, murdered three Israeli high school students in the very same settlement, Itamar.

In addition to complaining about PA incitement, the Israeli government announced on Sunday that it was building a few hundred new housing units in large settlements that Israel would supposedly retain in a peace deal with the Palestinians. The UN hardly waited for the members of the Fogel family to be buried before condemning the move.

Indeed, given the blasé media reaction and de rigueur, none too hasty condemnations by world leaders, it is hard to imagine that Friday night’s atrocity will have much effect on the ongoing, relentless pressure on Israel to cede land to the Palestinians. The question is—with the attack already perceived as a milestone and new revelation of the depths of Palestinian barbarity—what effect it will have in Israel itself.

Netanyahu has painted himself into a difficult corner by, on the one hand, frequently declaring his eagerness to negotiate with the Palestinians on creating a state for them and, on the other, denouncing their “wild incitement [that] ends up prompting the murder of children.” Clearly, setting up a murderously hateful state alongside Israel could not be a rational, responsible step. Whether Netanyahu will adopt a more truthful, assertive approach remains to be seen.

As for the Israeli population, the attack has had an unmistakable impact and takes its place beside other dire epiphanies—the 2000 lynch of two soldiers in Ramallah, the 2002 Park Hotel massacre, the post-disengagement relentless rocket fire from Gaza, and others—that have led the population away from the dovish illusions of the 1990s and toward greater strength and realism. In that regard, if Netanyahu takes a flintier tack—even if its means defying Obama—he will have Israel behind him.