Fatah unit claims responsibility for murder of Israeli couple

A cell affiliated with Fatah’s armed wing assumed responsibility for the murder of an Israeli couple near the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

The Abdel Qader al-Husseini Brigades, a group affiliated with Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, announced on Friday that its men on Thursday night opened fire on the car of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, a couple in their 30s, while they were driving home with four of their six children, aged four months to 9 years, from Hebron. The children were not wounded in the attack.

The victims are the son and daughter-in-law of Chana and Yehuda Henkin, a U.S.- born couple who in 1990 founded Nishmat, an institute for advanced Torah study for women in Jerusalem.

Fatah, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is the largest faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is the governing body in West Bank areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

“With Allah’s help and in keeping with our people right for resistance and our duty to sacred jihad, our forces on Thursday night carried out a necessary action in which they fired on a car of occupying settlers that left the settlement of Itamar, built on Palestinian lands in the south of the city of Hebron,” the statement said. “They fired on the car and killed the settler and his partner.”

The statement, translated into Hebrew by the Ma’ariv daily, also warned “the enemy against taking revenge on civilians,” as “any war crimes would be severely retaliated against.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that “wild Palestinian incitement leads to acts of terrorism and murder such as we have seen this evening.” He added he will consult Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on how to apprehend the killers, who fled the scene, and “increase security for all Israeli citizens.”

Shortly after the attack, unidentified individuals set on fire a car in the Palestinian village of Bitilu near Ramallah and wrote “Revenge Henkin” on a nearby wall. No one was hurt in the fire, Army Radio reported.

The Henkins, who lived in the West Bank settlement of Neria, were ambushed while driving home from Hebron, where Eitam Henkin was attending a reunion for graduates of Yeshivat Nir. He and his wife are to be buried today at Har HaMenuchot Cemetery in Jerusalem.

675 housing units approved for West Bank’s Itamar settlement

Some 675 new housing units were approved for the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

The construction plans were approved before January’s elections in Israel, but first reported on Wednesday by the Israeli news website Ynet.

Of the approved housing, 137 are existing apartments that were approved retroactively.

News of the approval, made by former Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who left politics after the elections, comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attempts to bring the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.

The Palestinians have said they will not resume negotiations until there is a freeze on construction in the West Bank.

BBC official admits the network ‘got it wrong’ on Fogel murders

The British Broadcasting Corporation “got it wrong” in its reporting of the massacre of the Fogel family by Palestinians in the West Bank village of Itamar, the broadcaster’s outgoing director-general said at a parliamentary committee hearing.

In March 2011, Palestinians entered the Fogels’ home and murdered Udi, 36, Ruth, 35, and their children, Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and Hadas, who was 3 months old. Another daughter, who was outside of the house at the time of the killings, came home and discovered the bodies.

Two Palestinian men were each sentenced to five consecutive life sentences for the Fogels’ murders.

Mark Thompson of the BBC made the admission June 19 while being quizzed by Conservative member of parliament Louise Mensch, according to the London Jewish Chronicle.

In complaining about the light coverage of the event on BBC radio and television programs, the newspaper reported that Mensch said, “I only found out, after the event, from an American blog, called ‘Dead Jews is no news,’ and the more I went into it, the more shocked I was. There was a feeling that the BBC just didn’t care and that if a settler had opened the home of a Palestinian family, slit the throat of their children, that the BBC would have covered that.”

Thompson, according to the Jewish Chronicle, responded that the story occurred during a “very busy news period,” including the fighting in Libya and the tsunami in Japan and that “news editors were under a lot of pressure.” 

He reportedly added, “Having said that, it was certainly an atrocity which should have been covered across our news bulletins that day… But I do want to say, to all our audience, including our Jewish and Israeli audiences here and around the world, we do want to make sure we are fair and impartial. We made a mistake in this instance.”

Suspect in Fogel family members is convicted

An Israeli military court convicted one of two Palestinians charged in the murder of five members of a West Bank Jewish family.

Hakim Awad, 18, of the northern West Bank town of Awarta, was convicted in a series of weapons-related and security offenses, as well as five cases of murder, after confessing to murdering five members of the Fogel family in the settlement of Itamar.

The other indicted suspect in the murders, Amjad Awad, 19, is being tried separately, as the two are testifying against each other.

During his trial, Hakim Awad described being beaten by relatives after they learned of the murders, and that he had threatened to return to Itamar to kill again.

Although Awad had confessed, Judge Lt.-Col. Menahem Lieberman had ruled for a full forensic investigation to rule out that Awad had, “ludicrous [as it] may sound—that a person will claim responsibility for an act he did not commit for the sake of ‘glory.’ ”

Sentencing arguments will be heard in September. The prosecution has indicated that it will not seek the death penalty.

Palestinians detained in connection with Itamar murders

Dozens of residents of a Palestinian village near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Itamar were detained by Israeli soldiers.

The detained residents of Hawara village, located close to the West Bank settlement where five members of a single family were murdered two and a half weeks ago, were questioned, fingerprinted and given DNA tests, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported Tuesday.

The investigation into the murder of members of the Fogel family – including a 3-month-old baby – is in its third week.

About 40 Hawara residents were detained in the first week of the investigation, according to Ma’an, and some still remain in custody. Those detained on Tuesday morning include the town’s deputy mayor and two of his brothers. The town has been put under military curfew twice, according to Ma’an.

The army has not commented on Tuesday’s roundup. Details of the investigation are under a gag order in Israel.

Hoenlein denounces lack of U.S. outrage after naming of square for terrorist

Presidents Conference leader Malcolm Hoenlein slammed governments, including the Obama administration, for not denouncing the naming of a square in a West Bank town after a terrorist.

Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, made his comments Thursday in New York at a memorial service for the parents and three children of the Fogel family who were murdered March 11 in the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

“If governments, even our own, do not stand out and shriek and condemn and take action when they see this kind of action by the Palestinian Authority and their representatives”—and the incitement continues despite repeated promises—then “we must make sure that our voices are heard,” Hoenlein said. “We have to demand accountability and that there will be consequences.”

Hoenlein compared those behind the killings to Nazis, and said they were “likely driven by a vicious hatred fostered by the continuous anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement of their political and religious leaders, starting with “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

The naming of the square, which took place just two days after the murders, drew a relatively muted response from the White House—relatively low-level officials said they were seeking clarification on the matter and denounced incitement by “all parties.”

Those spokespeople, at the White House and at the State Department, responded only after calls from JTA. They called “disturbing” reports that Palestinian Authority officials attended the renaming of the square for a terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi, who was involved in killing 37 Israelis.

Hoenlein also decried responses around the world to the murders, describing them as “a balanced statement or at most a lip-service condemnation.”  He said, “Where is the outrage? Where is the indignation?”

Ruth and Udi Fogel and three of their six children—Yoav, 11; Elad, 4; and Hadas, 3 months—were stabbed to death as they slept in their Itamar home. Israeli and Palestinian forces are still searching for the perpetrators.

The initial White House response, which condemned the murders as “terrorism” and said “there is no possible justification for the killing of parents and children in their home,” was issued in the name of a relatively low-level National Security Council staffer. It was later upgraded to the White House spokesman, Jay Carney.

President Obama has yet to pronounce on the killings, although U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned what she called the “inhuman” killings “in the strongest possible terms.”

Hoenlein was addressing the memorial at Congregation Kehilat Jeshurun in Manhattan.

The Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America also issued statements saying the State Department statement was inadequate.

“We respectfully suggest that a forceful, unequivocal, and public condemnation of incitement must be heard around the world and should also be directed to all Palestinians through their media,” the ADL said in a letter to Clinton.

Pro-Israel officials, speaking on background, also have said they were irked by the State Department’s expression of “deep concern” after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced 500 new housing starts in West Bank settlement as a response to the murders. 

Mainstream Palestinian leaders have condemned the killings.

Palestinians in an official March 13 ceremony named a town square in Al-Bireh, near Ramallah, for Mughrabi. Members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction were on hand for the unveiling of the plaque in her memory. No PA government officials attended the ceremony, according to Reuters.

Mughrabi was killed in a 1978 bus hijacking on Israel’s coastal road. She had directed the hijacking of two buses on the coastal road between Haifa and Tel Aviv, which led to the murder of 37 Israelis, including 13 children.

The Fogel family funeral [SLIDESHOW]

Fogel Funeral from Rosalina Nieves on Vimeo.

Response to Itamar attack prompts Israelis to ask whether Palestinians are serious about peace

The Palestinian reaction to the grisly killings of five Israeli family members in the Jewish settlement of Itamar, on the West Bank, has prompted many Israelis to ask the same question of the Palestinians that the world often asks of the Israeli government: Are they really serious about peace?

On the one hand, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas went on Israel Radio on Monday to condemn the March 11 killings of the Fogel family members, including a 4-year-old boy and a 3-month-old girl, as “despicable, inhuman and immoral.”

On the other hand, a day after the attack, members of Abbas’ Fatah faction participated in an official dedication ceremony in the West Bank town of Al-Bireh for a town square dedicated to the memory of Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist involved in killing 37 Israelis in a 1978 bus hijacking on Israel’s coastal road. No PA government officials attended the ceremony, Reuters reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu derided the Palestinian Authority’s reaction on Sunday to the Itamar killings as full of “weak and mumbled” statements, accusing the Palestinians of continuing to incite against Israel in their mosques and schools. Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas members reportedly handed out candy in celebration of the attack.

The Palestinian leadership must “stop the incitement that is conducted on a daily basis in their schools, mosques and the media under their control,” Netanyahu said. “The time has come to stop this double-talk in which the Palestinian Authority outwardly talks peace and allows—and sometimes leads—incitement at home.”

The brutal murders of the Fogel parents, Udi, 36, and Ruth, 35, and three of their six children—Yoav, 11, along with Elad, 4, and Hadas, 3 months—shocked and angered a nation that had seen terrorist attacks dwindle in recent years. The circulation of photos of some of the stabbed children—apparently distributed to news media by relatives of the victims—offered gruesome pictures of the blood-soaked scene.

A group called the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades of Imad Mughniyeh claimed responsibility for the attack. Israeli forces combed the area after the attack, and the Palestinian Authority agreed to participate in a joint investigation to find the killer or killers.

The attack sparked angry demonstrations throughout Israel and the West Bank in support of the settlers, with demonstrators holding signs reading “We are all settlers” and “Peace isn’t signed with blood.” One of the largest rallies took place in Tel Aviv near the army’s national headquarters.

After a funeral in Jerusalem for the Fogels drew an estimated 20,000 people, some settlers went to Palestinian villages to carry out revenge attacks, throwing stones and destroying property.

For its part, the Israeli government on Sunday announced the approval of some 500 new housing units in the West Bank, in the settlements of Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel and Kiryat Sefer.

In the attack, which took place late Friday night, two sons, aged 8 and 2, were spared, apparently because they were sleeping in a side room that escaped attention. A daughter, Tamar, 12, returned home late at night from a Bnei Akiva youth program to discover the door to the house was locked. Alarmed, she contacted a neighbor, and they entered the home together and encountered the gory scene.

Volunteers for ZAKA, the Orthodox-run search-and-rescue organization, described the scene shortly after the terror attack as “absolutely horrific.”

“We saw toys lying next to pools of blood, Shabbat clothes covered in blood and everywhere the smell of death mixing with the aroma of the Shabbat meal,” one volunteer said.

The Fogel family had relocated to Itamar following their removal from the Gush Katif settlement in Gaza, which was part of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. They had lived for a while in the Jewish West Bank city of Ariel before moving to Itamar, which is near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council settler umbrella group, called the approval of new housing in response to the attack “a small step in the right direction.” He said it was “deeply troubling that it requires the murder of children in the arms of their parents to achieve such an objective.”

At the emotional funerals, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said the Fogel parents personified devotion to the Zionist vision and were pioneers.

“Your hands held both scythe and book—teachers and settlers whose entire lives were the love of their country and the love they had for their neighbors,” Rivlin said. “Build more, live more, more footholds—that is our response to the murderers so that they know: They can’t defeat us.”

Udi Fogel’s brother, Motti, appeared to reject the politicization of the deaths, saying that “All the slogans about Torah and settlement, the Land of Israel, and the Jewish people try to make us forget the simple and painful truth: You are gone. You are gone and no slogan will bring you back. Above all, this funeral must be a private event.

“Udi, you are not a symbol or a national event. Your life had a purpose of its own and your horrible death must not make your life into a pawn.”