[This is a difficult post to write and I venture it will be a difficult one to read as well. I post it only because the truth is important, and I believe that even amidst tragedies such as this, our God Yahweh is busy teaching]
Saturday, March 11, 2011 was a beautiful Sabbath morning. As is my practice on most Shabbats, I awakened a bit later than on other days, made my way down the hallway, and through the small kitchen where I poured a cup of tea that had been kept warm in a thermos overnight. With cup of tea and Bible in hand, I slipped out the door that leads to my postage stamp sized balcony and took my place in the sun-drenched green plastic chair.
I love Sabbath mornings here in Israel. Even though I have now lived here for seven months, I continue to be amazed at the contrast between Sabbath in Israel and Sabbath back in the United States! When I sit on my balcony on Sabbath morning in Ari’el, I hear SILENCE! Yes, I know you can’t actually hear silence, but you get the point. There are no cars flying down the streets. No people rush down sidewalks. Ruti’s Produce Stand across the street waits patiently for the end of Sabbath when people will again stand in lines, arms loaded with
apples, bananas, persimmons and pomegranates as well as cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. Abraham’s usually bustling Falafel shop sits empty as does the small Russian Grocery Store further down the sidewalk. The city buses, that at all other times fly up and down these roadways, are now also silent and motionless, taking a Shabbat of their own. Parked until the end of Sabbath, they await the time when their engines will again be awakened, passengers will once more line up to fill their seats, and they will resume their runs to and from other parts of Israel.
And so the day began; with a holy hush.
How was I to know at that time, while sipping warm tea on my sun bathed balcony, that this Sabbath was different? How would I have guessed that a few minutes later, when I touched a key on my laptop and it sprang to life, it would be with devastating headlines, instantly shattering the peace of Shabbat?! ARABS SLAUGHTER FAMILY OF FIVE IN JEWISH SETTLEMENT OF ITAMAR. (Itamar is a hilltop community just twenty minutes from Ari’el).
The news article provided the as yet sketchy details. Sometime between 10:30 and 11:30 p.m. on Erev Shabbat (Friday evening), Arabs entered the home of Rabbi Udi and Rut (Ruth) Fogel in the Israeli community of Itamar. The news reports are confident in proclaiming that the perpetrators were Arabs, because bloody and muddy footprints lead to and from the scene to the Arab village of Awarta, below Itamar.
Evidently not noticing 6 year-old Roi, asleep on the sofa, the heartless murderers proceeded down the hallway to the master bedroom. There they slit the throat of 36 year-old Udi, as he lay sleeping. At that point, Rut apparently emerged from the bathroom and was stabbed through the heart and brutally slaughtered. She was the most severely mutilated, evidently as she fought to protect her precious children. Of the gruesome pictures later released, hers was the only one withheld. These animals then moved on to the boys’ bedroom where 11 year-old Joav was reading a book in bed, and 3-year-old Eldad played on the floor surrounded by toys. They stabbed both through the heart and also slit their throats. Miraculously, they missed 2 year-old Yishai, presumably because his small form was curled under the covers, asleep. The teenaged murderers would later boast that they had barely left the house when they heard the cry of a baby. And yes, unbelievably, they returned, slitting the throat of three MONTH old Hadas, who had been sleeping, curled against her father!
Within the next few minutes to an hour, 12-year-old Tamar Fogel, who had been at a Sabbath youth gathering, returned home. Alerted that something was amiss by the muddy footprints at the front door, she called to the father of her friend who had just walked her home, and together they entered the house. There they walked into the aftermath to find baby Yishai standing over their father, shaking him and crying “Kum, Abba, kum” (KOOM, Abba, KOOM), “Get up, Daddy, get up.”
The police released a video clip of the scene, showing the tiny mutilated, blood-drenched bodies. With one leg and one arm hanging from the side of the bed, it appears as though eleven year old Yoav had been in the process of rising out of bed (probably when the murderers entered the room), when he was pushed back onto the bed and viciously slaughtered. One would be hard pressed to guess what color the sheets had once been, so full of blood were they. Three year old Eldad, still surrounded by the toys with which he had been playing, lay with legs twisted, one sock partially off, so reminiscent of a three year old caught up in play. But play he would never do again. In the parents’ room, Udi’s pillow is absolutely soaked in blood as are all the surrounding linens. It appears that he most likely was attacked with such force and speed that he had no time to even move from his position in bed. And Hadas! Oh, beautiful, tiny, perfect three month old Hadas. I have no words.
The parents of Udi and Rut requested that the crime scene photos be released, so the world could see and understand who Israel’s “peace partners” really are. The images are so horrific that it is difficult to even digest the information, and I simply cannot bring myself to share them here.
It was only a few short weeks ago that, as part of the field trips connected to our University Samaritan studies, we had visited Itamar, a community which has grown to around 1000 residents. We spent time at a family dairy which supplies delicious goat’s milk, goat cheese, and yogurt to health food stores across Israel. We found the community to be beautiful, and the people warm and inviting. We had, at that time, inquired about the surrounding hostile Arab communities. The family had told us of the perpetual problems they encounter with Arabs coming up the surrounding hills and burning their crops, killing or stealing their animals, and destroying or taking their equipment. (hmmm.. killing, stealing, destroying. Sound familiar? – see John 10:10)
The family shares that, over the past fifteen years, seventeen Itamar residents have been murdered by Arabs, including another entire family as they prepared for Shabbat. But, “Baruch Hashem” (bless God), they had said, the past few years had been relatively quiet. Tragically, this has now changed. The updated total – twenty-two; over 2% of their population! Try putting that into context using the population of your community. Employing that calculation with the community in which I was raised, resulted in an unbelievable 2,000 people who would have been murdered before I was even out of junior high school!
Still reeling from shock, I emailed my teacher, Rivka, who lives on Har Bracha (Mount of Blessing), just a few short minutes from Itamar. Even though I knew I would not hear back from her right away, as her family does not use their computer on Sabbath, it felt good to send a message of love and concern her way. I knew she and her family would be hurting…and scared. Since I would be missing class on Sunday, and would not have access to a computer, I wanted her to know that I was brokenhearted, and was praying for her and her family, as well as the greater “yeshuv/settlement community.”
I would be skipping class because friends were here in the Land, leading a tour of Israel. Carol and Brad Scott of wildbranchministries.org had graciously invited me to tag along with them as much as I was able. I had already made arrangements to join them early Sunday morning and stay for a few days, or perhaps the entire week. So the next morning, I boarded the 5:30 a.m. armored bus, one block from my apartment, and arrived at the Prima Kings Hotel on King George Street in Jerusalem at just after 7 a.m. I was excited to see Brad and Carol again, and to meet the group touring with them.
Throughout the day, I found it necessary to time and again chase the situation in Itamar from my mind and heart as we traveled from place to place and saw the Scriptures spring to life through Brad’s teaching. Once again in one of my favorite places, Shiloh, where the tabernacle stood for over 300 years, I could imagine Am Yisrael (the people of Israel), flowing across the desert sand, following close behind the pillar of cloud by day.
And I watched in amazement as the pillar miraculously transformed to fire by night. I imagined I could hear the pounding of tent pegs and the laughter of children as the orderly camp was set up. Was that Channah (Hannah), I heard whispering a prayer for a son? And, gazing down the stream of time, could that little boy be Shmuel (Samuel), the answer to that prayer, playing on the hillside? Was Eli calling his name?
In my mind’s eye, I could see the mishkan (tabernacle) being erected and the coverings being removed from the menorah and the shulkan (table). The beautifully embroidered veil was being carefully hung by Levites to separate the Holy Place from The Most Holy Place (the Holy of Holies), and the blue cloth was carefully lifted from the top of the Ark of the Covenant revealing the glistening golden cherubim. Ah, Shiloh, Shiloh! It was an oasis that day; a tiny island of time when my mind was not consumed with Itamar.
The time on the tour also provided a great opportunity to visit with others who share the same love of Israel, the Jewish people, and of the Torah which binds us together. It is always fascinating to hear the stories of how and when others came to this time and this place on their journeys through their own personal wilderness.
It was a long day, Sunday, which had begun with lugging a suitcase down 5 flights of stairs to board the bus to Jerusalem, and then traveling from site to site, arriving back at the hotel in time for dinner. I was exhausted. After Shabbat had ended the evening before, I had been busy packing for a few days of traveling with this group. Just as I had been about to lie down for a few hours of sleep before boarding the bus, news sources had begun almost continuous coverage of the Itamar massacre. With more and more horrendous details surfacing, including the images of the slaughtered children, I had found it almost impossible to doze off. And now the sleep deprivation was finally catching up with me.
Brad was taping a telephone interview with radio show host Jono from Australia, in their hotel room, and several of us had gathered there to listen. Afterwards, we remained to visit with Brad and Carol. But after a bit, the fatigue hit me, and I decided it was time to adjourn to my room for some much overdue sleep. I slipped out of their room and made my way to mine, where I practically fell into bed. I was certain I would be asleep literally before my head hit the pillow. But, alas, it was not to be.
No longer kept busy with moving from here to there and visiting and listening, etc., the cries of my heart suddenly reached a deafening pitch and could no longer be ignored. I finally began to comprehend (with not a little surprise) what had happened. I was no longer the same person who had moved to Israel seven months ago. A transformation had been quietly taking place deep within my heart and soul, almost without my notice. How had it happened? When had it happened? I honestly do not know. It was almost as though my DNA had changed. These people, settling the hilltops, had become not just part of Elohim’s people reclaiming His land; people I greatly admired and supported. They had become my people. Their struggle was mine. And now, their children mine and their pain mine as well. I could truly feel Ruth’s heart beating within me as she declared “where you go, I will go and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.“
I tossed and turned, weeping and fighting two desires; the desire to continue on with this group and learn more and see more, and the desire to be with “my family” who were in deep grief and shock. How could I even consider “touring around” the country when my family’s hearts were torn as were their garments? How could I, in good conscience, spend the money required to keep me on this trip, when perhaps my Itamar family was in need? And what about my “school family?” Over the last couple of months, we have indeed meshed into a family unit, albeit a sometimes dysfunctional one. I felt that we needed to be together during this time of sorrow; or at least that I needed to be with them.
So with just a couple hours of sleep yet again, early on Monday morning, I had an early breakfast with Brad and Carol and explained my decision, before boarding a not-tour bus to return to my family at Ari’el University. Once the decision had been made, it was actually a relief to be running back home to the arms of other grieving family members and to check on our dear teacher Rivka, with whom I have become so close that at times I feel we must share DNA.
Approximately two hours later, I stepped off of the armored bus right in front of the University of Ari’el. Already, peaceful protestor students held signs “STOP THE TERROR” and “AM ISRAEL CHAI” (The People of Israel Live) in Hebrew and English. Students holding Israeli flags lined the road. I briefly considered joining them before turning towards the University. Still dragging my suitcase, I ascended the steps, passed through the guard post, entered building 7, climbed 3 flights of stairs, and crossed the hall to my classroom where class was already in session. I could see that Rivka was tired and stressed, but trying to keep everything upbeat. She looked at me as I entered the room and asked if I had received her reply to the email I had sent just prior to departing for Jerusalem. I explained that I had not yet been home, and had had no access to internet while away. She asked why I had returned early. Ugh. I began to weep, and then she did as well. I attempted a one or two sentence explanation and we quickly decided to move away from this subject to avoid flooding our classroom with a sea of tears.
I received another email from her that evening, relating how tense the settlement communities are now. This is the week of Purim, a holiday celebrating the miraculous rescue of the Jewish people, documented in the book of Esther. Interestingly, Esther’s name in Hebrew is Hadassah, and the Fogel’s 3 month old baby was named Hadas, a form of Hadassah. Each year, Purim week is filled with celebration and fun as people, young and old, don colorful costumes. Many parties are held to celebrate and commemorate the time when, once again, God had rescued His people from total annihilation. It is supposed to be a month filled with joy. But how, oh HOW, could it be joyful this year with such a heavy sorrow enshrouding the Land?
DWARVES AND WOLVES
Dwarves and Wolves, Rivka related, is one of the fun Purim activities in which her community traditionally participates. In this community game, assignments are distributed to each household telling them for which family in the community they are the dwarf, and for which they are the wolf. Dwarves secretly slip something nice into the homes of their dwarf family (such as a fruit basket), while wolves slip something funny, (a gag gift), into the house of their wolf family. It has traditionally been a delightful activity for young and old alike. But this year, of course, everyone is on edge. One evening this week, she tells us, a lady in her community heard someone jiggling her doorknob. Terrified that it could be another attack, she sounded the alarm, which brought multiple security forces (Rivka’s husband, David, being one of them) running to the house with guns drawn, only to find that it was someone trying to sneak a dwarf or wolf gift into the house. She tells us that women are afraid to be at home without their husbands, and husbands are walking a perimeter around their houses before leaving for work.
The first few days after the attack, Rivka’s 10 year old daughter, Ora, would not eat. Her younger son, she related, was very afraid and did not want to leave her side. Now, a few days later, she says they are better. When the children look out their window, Itamar seems far away to them. She’s thankful that they have found a way to cope. And counselors are in the schools as well. But the question remains; how did it happen?
Many of the hilltop settlements in Israel are surrounded by security fences. In fact you can see the Itamar security fence in this picture. Although the requested surveillance cameras have not been provided, a somewhat sophisticated security fence and alarm system is in place at Itamar. Civilian security teams have been contracted to protect these communities. When a fence alarm sounds, the security company is to contact the IDF unit stationed nearby, who will then respond and perform a safety check on the community. This terrible evening, March 11th, the alarms DID INDEED function correctly. But, alas, protocol was not followed. The guards, it would seem, had become complacent.
In the wintertime, wind, rain, or animals often trip the alarms. Adding to the difficulties, the night of March 11th was very foggy in Itamar. When the alarms sounded, security guards did respond to the appropriate area of the fence. Unable to detect anything suspicious, they made the decision not to contact the IDF unit. (Rivka tells me that when the IDF is summoned, all houses are placed in lockdown with doors locked and lights off until the entire community has been cleared. This process may take hours, becoming problematic for the residents). Two hours later, the alarm again sounded, but by this time, it was too late. Tragically, FAR too late! It has now been determined that these two alerts, sounding approximately two hours apart, do, in fact, coincide with the murderers entrance and exit through the fence. Because the troops were not alerted, the killers were allowed to stay in this community for greater than two hours!!!
There is much more to share, but perhaps we should end Part One here. I am sorry that this is such a sad post today, but I feel it is an important one. The truth is important, and that things like this happen on a far-too-frequent basis in the Holy Land is the truth. We need to know, I believe, that Israel is not only a land of milk and honey and fruit, but of Giants/enemies as well! In Kum, Abba, Kum Part Two, among other things, we will explore personal lessons to be learned from the tragedy in Itamar.
But how is it possible for a post such as this to end on a positive note? Perhaps it would be in remembering that NO one was alone on that night in the Fogel Home. Ruti and Udi, Joav, Eldad, and Hadas were NOT alone. Yishal, Roi, and Tamar were not alone. AND the perpetrators were not alone either! There was One Ultimate Security Officer who saw all that occurred. He walked through it with the innocent and He will judge the guilty. Of that we can be confident.
Until next time in Kum, Abba, Kum Part Two, please pray for this family and all that were affected by this terrible loss. And may we never forget to PRAY FOR THE PEACE OF JERUSALEM.
Isa 52:1 Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. 2 Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.