Terrorist attack in Eli leaves residents shaken
The West Bank settlement of Eli is reeling in shock following last week’s terrorist attack, which claimed the lives of four Israeli civilians.
Eli resident, Noa Nebenzahl, 24, a teacher, whose parents made aliya from South Africa, said the area, home to about 1 000 families near the city of Ariel, is in mourning.
“Everybody feels this pain. It’s very sad, very hard, it has left everyone shaken,” she said.
Nebenzahl, who has family in Johannesburg and Cape Town, said she and her husband, Yonatan, had spent the past week visiting shiva homes to offer comfort to the mourners. The community continues to live in faith and hope for a peaceful future in spite of the recent violence which has upended their lives, she said.
Nachman Mordoff and Elisha Anteman, both 17 years old, as well as 21-year-old Harel Masood, and 64-year-old Ofer Fayerman, were at a hummus restaurant and an adjacent gas station on Tuesday, 20 June, when a pair of armed Palestinians affiliated to terror group Hamas opened fire, killing them and injuring four others. One of the terrorists was shot dead at the scene by an armed Israeli civilian, while the second fled and was killed about two hours later by special forces.
“My husband and I go to that gas station about twice a week. It’s a popular place,” Nebenzahl said.
Her husband attended two of the four funerals, and the couple have visited three of the shiva houses to pay their respects. People from around the country have made house calls offering support and love, which she says has been a comfort.
“We knew one of the victims, Ofer. He was a very friendly man. He used to greet everyone,” she said.
Eli is a large Israeli settlement in the West Bank, located on Highway 60 north of Jerusalem, between the Palestinian villages of As-Sawiya and Qaryut. It’s known for the Bnei David pre army Israel Defense Forces (IDF) preparatory yeshiva, which provides training before army induction.
Nebenzahl said she would have been in the area of the attacks at the exact time of the incident, but because it was break-up day, she stayed behind to help clean the school before it closed for the holidays.
“The roads were closed, and I landed up staying till past 20:00. My husband was home, locked inside the house for three hours, while police searched the area for the second terrorist,” she said.
“It was a terrible day. Everyone is upset. We all love living here. It’s generally safe, with lots of security and children playing in the streets. We choose to live here because we want to contribute to the country, and it’s our home,” she said.
In retaliatory attacks, residents of Jewish settlements in the West Bank rioted and torched Palestinian property. In spite of calls by the IDF for Israelis not to take the law into their own hands, Jewish rioters threw stones, set fire to cars, damaged several buildings and agricultural fields, and committed numerous other acts of vandalism against Palestinian property. There were also reports of gunfire, and the provocations led to violent clashes. IDF soldiers were dispatched to restore calm, resulting in several Israelis being arrested.
Palestinians also took to the streets to confront the Jewish rioters and Israeli security forces, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at soldiers, who retaliated with riot-dispersal equipment.
The scenes were reminiscent of the riots in February, which took place in response to a terror attack that claimed the lives of two brothers, Hillel and Yigal Yaniv, in Huwara. In those incidents, angered Israeli settlers from nearby communities also descended on the Palestinian town.
The IDF condemned the violence and destruction of property. “Such events prevent the IDF and security forces from focusing on their main mission – maintaining the security of the state of Israel and preventing terrorism,” it stated.
“I felt terrible when I saw people taking the law into their own hands,” Nebenzahl said. “I understand that people are scared and angry, but if everyone does this, it will be a dangerous situation.”
She emphasised that those engaged in vigilantism are a small minority, and people are peaceful and law-abiding for the most part. “We have faith in the army and security forces to protect us.”
Nebenzahl spoke of a sense of unity following the terrorist attack when last Shabbos, people from around the country visited the settlement to offer support.
“People from everywhere, total strangers as far south as Sderot, came to give us challot and cakes, and hugs of support and strength. It was a real feeling of am Yisrael,” she said.
“Eli is a special place. People here want to build, work, and contribute to eretz Yisrael. We don’t feel scared living here. There’s a good army presence, and 99,9% of the time, we live a normal, regular life like any place. It’s a place of emunah [faith]. We believe people need to try their best to live a good, meaningful life whoever they are.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel planned to build 1 000 new homes in Eli in response to the attacks. “Our response to terror is to hit it hard and build in our land,” it said in a statement.
Tor Wennesland, the United Nations special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, has warned that new settlement projects are liable to increase friction. The announcement was also criticised by the United States, with the state department saying that it was “deeply troubled” by settlement construction in the West Bank, which Washington branded as an “obstacle to peace”.