A Historical Perspective on the Itamar Killings

On March 11, 2011, Sabbath eve, the Fogel family, including the parents, an 11-year old, a toddler and an infant were brutally slain as they slept in their Itamar home, their throats slit by terrorists. Yet a disturbing number of media reports focused on the existence of Israeli “settlements” as the primary problem in the region. Neglected were the historical parallels to grisly Arab terrorist attacks resulting from anti-Jewish incitement – all in the absence of settlements.

Media Reports

Voice of America ( March 12, 2011):

After a perfunctory description of the family’s slaughter, correspondent Robert Berger immediately followed with:

The attack ends a period of calm in the West Bank and puts the spotlight back on the settlements, which have been a key stumbling block in the peace process. The Palestinians have refused to return to peace talks until Israel halts all settlement construction, but Israel has refused.

BBC.com (March 12, 2011):

BBC provided a brief article about the attack, omitting any mention of terrorism from the story and turning “settlements” into the issue. The victims were described as “a Jewish settler family” from “the Itamar settlement” and the perpetrators as “an intruder.” Much of the article is devoted to implicating “settlements” as the problem obstructing peace. It ends with:

US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians stalled last year over the issue of Israeli settlement building. Palestinians have refused all direct contact with Israel until construction is frozen.

Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are held to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

The Wall Street Journal (March 14, 2011):

Correspondent Joshua Mitnick covered the attack only within an article about Israel’s authorization of the construction of new homes in Jewish settlements following the event, indicating that it was this decision that was “likely to complicate efforts to resume the moribund talks with the Palestinians.” Rather than refer to the bloody assault as a “terrorist attack,” Mitnick referred to it as the “Itamar settlement attack,” with the implication that the problematic issue was “settlements” rather than terrorism.

Foreign Policy (March 13,, 2011):

Foreign Policy‘s blogger, Stephen Walt, a Harvard University professor best known for his book that blames supporters of Israel for distorting U.S. foreign policy, blamed  the terrorist attack largely on Israeli efforts to “colonize” lands acquired in 1967, which he says “create[s] and perpetuate[s] the circumstances where such crimes are likely to occur.”


Agence France Presse ended articles on the attack with the following:

The international community considers illegal Israeli settlements built in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and 14 of the 15 Security Council members recently backed a resolution condemning Israel for continuing settlement activity. The United States vetoed the resolution, saying it did not think the UN was the right forum to address the issue, but reiterated its opposition to Israeli settlement building.

Los Angeles Times (March 12, 2011 and March 13, 2011)

In two separate articles about the terror attack, Tribune correspondent Edmund Sanders implied the cause of the attack was the victims’ location:

Founded in 1984, the Itamar settlement has a population of about 1,000, including many ideological and religious families who advocate that Israel absorb the West Bank, which Israel seized during the 1967 Mideast war.

Most of the international community considers Israel’s occupation of the West Bank illegal and have called for settlements to be removed.


Itamar’s settlers are considered among the most fervent, believing that Israel has a historic and religious right to absorb the West Bank, which Israel seized during the 1967 Middle East War.

Most of the international community, however, views Israel’s settlements as illegal and has called for Israel to end the occupation by allowing Palestinians to build their own state on the land.

Historical Precedents

In fact, similar anti-Jewish attacks took place well before there were any “settlements.” In 1929, following a campaign of incitement by Arab leader Haj al Amin Husseini, an Arab mob carried out a similar Sabbath attack on men, women and children in the Hebron house of Rabbi Slonim. Jews had for generations lived in peace with Arabs there, but even these formerly friendly neighbors joined in the attack on the rabbi, his family and guests, brutalizing and dismembering them. According to Dutch-Canadian journalist Pierre Van Passen who witnessed the aftermath of the attack:

What occurred in the upper chambers of Slonim’s house could be seen when we found the twelve-foot-high ceiling splashed with blood. The rooms looked like a slaughterhouse. When I visited the place in the company of Captain Marek Schwartz, a former Austrian artillery officer, Mr. Abraham Goldberg of New York, and Mr. Ernst Davies, correspondent of the old Berliner Tageblatt, the blood stood in a huge pool on the slightly sagging stone floor of the house. Clocks, crockery, tables and windows had been smashed to smithereens. Of the unlooted articles, not a single item had been left intact except a large black-and-white photograph of Dr. Theodore Herzl, the founder of political Zionism. Around the picture’s frame the murderers had draped the blood-drenched underwear of a woman.

Nearly a week later, a similar massacre occurred in Sa fed. According to eyewitness David Hacohen:

The local Jews gave me a detailed description of how the tragedy had started. The pogrom began on the afternoon of Thursday, August 29, and was carried out by Arabs from Safed and from the nearby villages, armed with weapons and tins of kerosene. Advancing on the street of the Sefardi Jews from Kfar Meron and Ein Zeitim, they looted and set fire to houses, urging each other on to continue with the killing. They slaughtered the schoolteacher, Aphriat, together with his wife and mother, and cut the lawyer, Toledano, to pieces with their knives. Bursting into the orphanages, they smashed the children’s heads and cut off their hands. I myself saw the victims. Yitshak Mammon, a native of Safed who lived with an Arab family, was murdered with indescribable brutality: he was stabbed again and again, until his body became a bloody sieve, and then he was trampled to death.

Jews residing in the Old Jewish Quarter of Tiberias were subject to a similar assault during the so-called Arab Revolt incited by Haj Amin Al Husseini and Mohammad Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, an anti-Zionist, anti-British agitator after whom the Hamas terrorist wing is named. On Oct. 2, 1938, organized groups of Arab attackers massacred 21 Jews there. According to a New York Times report from the time:

…The bandits rushed to the central synagogue and, finding there a beadle named Jacob Zaltz, killed him and then set the building afire…

…the Arabs broke in and stabbed and burned to death Mr. Kabin [an elderly American Jew who had recently come to Palestine] and his sister…

From there the bandits went on to the house of Joshua Ben Arieh, where they stabbed and burned to death Joshua, his wife and one son, and then shot dead his infant son. In the same house three children of Shlomo Leimer, aged 8, 10, and 12, were stabbed and burned to death. Proceeding farther, the Arabs broke into the house of Shimon Mizrahi, where they killed his wife and five children, ranging in ages from 1 to 12 years, and then set fire to the house…

(For more, see “Anti-Jewish Violence in Pre-State Palestine”)

From the eve of the November 1947 UN partition resolution until five neighboring Arab countries sought to destroy the newly created state of Israel, Arabs waged a terror campaign against Jews in Palestine. And throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, infiltrators from neighboring Arab countries, responding to anti-Israel rhetoric by their leaders, targeted civilians within Israel for terror attacks. (See “Which Came First –Terrorism or Occupation?”)  There was no “occupation”, no “settlements” – just Jews living in their ancestral homeland alongside Arabs who did not want them there.

Anniversary of Lauded Terrorist’s Sabbath Attack

Thirty-three years ago to the day of the Itamar terror attack, yet another Sabbath terror attack was carried out in Tel Aviv. Thirteen Palestinian terrorists arrived on the Tel Aviv coast in rubber dingy boats, shot and killed an American Jewish photographer on the beach and proceeded to hijack two buses, taking dozens hostage and indiscriminately shooting and throwing grenades from the window. The terrorists’ orders, according to a Time Magazine report, were to kill as many people as possible until they were killed themselves. The assault, labeled the “worst attack in Israel’s history,” killed 38 people, including 13 children, and wounded 71 others.

The leader of the terrorist cell that carried out the attack was a young woman named Dalal Mughrabi. Today, she  is glorified as a hero by the same Palestinian leaders who have supposedly denounced the Itamar terrorist attack. A Palestinian Authority (PA) television program recently honored Mughrabi as an exemplar, several summer camps bear her name, a four-day seminar, called “Martyr Dalal Mughrabi Camp” was held under the auspices of the PA’s Military Science Academy, and just yesterday (March 13, 2011), there was a public unveiling of a plaque honoring Mughrabi in Al-Bireh.  Mughrabi is just one of many who are publicly lauded and glorified for their attacks on Jewish civilians in Israel. That, together with pervasive demonization of Israeli Jews in Palestinian media, mosques, schools and camps cannot help but influence Palestinian youth to follow in their footsteps. (See other recent examples of Palestinian incitement here. )
Facile and simplistic mantras about settlements serve to obscure the issues rather than elucidate the real problems threatening peace in the Middle East. Ethical reporters who believe in honest journalism should instead forthrightly address the historical precedents for such heinous attacks as the one that took the Fogels’ lives — namely, Arab unwillingness to accept a  Jewish presence in the entire region,  a readiness by terrorists to brutalize anyone, including toddlers and infants, and the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish  indoctrination and incitement that have always triggered such attacks.

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