Israel in mourning as terror returns

Mourners at the funeral of Israeli soldier Shir Hajaj, 22. Photo: AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov.

They were looking forward to hearing about their children’s sightseeing in Jerusalem. Instead, four Israeli families have found themselves sitting shiva this week, after a Palestinian man slammed a truck in to their loved ones on Sunday.

The four victims were all soldiers on a study tour of Jerusalem when Fadi al-Qunbar, a 28-year-old from eastern Jerusalem carried out his attack, which was reminiscent of the recent Berlin killings. As well as causing fatalities, he injured 13 other young Israelis. 

Israeli authorities believe that he was inspired by or even acting for ISIS and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “all signs show he is a supporter of the Islamic State”.

The oldest of those killed, Shir Hajaj, was just 22. Yael Yekutiel, Shira Tzir and Erez Orbach were  all 20. The funerals were packed with mourners, and dominated by tearful eulogies and screams. Family members spoke of the youngsters’ hopes and ambitions – and in one case, the battle that had been fought in order to join the army.

In one emotional interview Moshe Orbach told the story of how his grandson Erez was initially disqualified from service due to a health condition, but insisted that he would sign up, arguing his case at a military office where most visitors were youngsters trying to get exemptions. “How is it that you’re here and there’s a line of people outside trying to get exempted?,” the officer asked according to his grandfather. Moshe Orbach recalled: “He said I want to serve my country; I see this as an obligation.” 

Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s President, responded to the attack by saying: “We had not thought for a moment that terror would not once again rear its ugly head, nor will we be broken this time either, but will continue to stand tall, and fight against terrorism.” The residents of Jerusalem shared his dismay at the attack. 

In the city’s Machine Yehuda market on Tuesday, some shoppers and stallholders said that the ramming renewed their fears. “It’s scary ,and I’m worried that an attack could hurt someone close to me,” Benny Shem-Tov told The AJN, as he sold dried fruit. However, he never believed that the relative quiet in recent weeks meant that attacks are over. Unlike Shem-Tov, estate agent Mendel Kinon said he’s not fearful because “life continues and we’re used to this.” 

The attack was strongly condemned internationally – though not by the Palestinian Authority – and is expected to be discussed further by the international community at a French-convened peace conference set to open in Paris on Sunday. 

The conference will bring together foreign ministers from dozens of countries to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and is expected to end with various demands being issued for both sides, including that leaders distance themselves from political allies who don’t support the two-state solution. Israel rejects the initiative, claiming that peace can only be moved forward through bilateral Jerusalem-Ramallah negotiations and claims that the Palestinians are preventing such talks.