3 U.S. Citizens Among Dead in Jerusalem Synagogue Attack

Ultra-orthodox Jews watch emergency personnel clean up and secure the area of an attack, by two Palestinians, on Israeli worshippers at a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem on November 18, 2014.

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Palestinians armed with butcher’s knives and a gun killed four rabbis, three of them U.S. citizens, during morning prayers at a Jerusalem synagogue, ratcheting up months of violence.

The two attackers, both from east Jerusalem, were shot and killed, and a Druze Arab police officer died from injuries sustained during the shootout yesterday, according to police. A Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the attack. The Israeli victims were dual citizens, three from the U.S. and one from the U.K., according to the Foreign Ministry.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the attack on a “blood libel” by Palestinian leaders who have suggested that Israel wants to harm Muslim holy sites. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch urged soldiers and security guards to start carrying weapons even when off-duty. U.S. President Barack Obama called the killings “horrific” and urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work together to lower tensions.

Violence has gripped Jerusalem since a Palestinian teenager was burned alive in July in suspected retribution for the killing of three Israeli Jewish youths shot to death by their kidnappers in the West Bank. The tension has been heightened by disputes over prayer rights at the contested Jerusalem shrine known to Muslims as the al-Aqsa mosque complex and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

The death of a Palestinian bus driver that Israeli coroners ruled a suicide has also kindled anger among Palestinians who say he was killed by Israelis.

‘Natural Response’

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack, saying in an e-mailed statement that it was a “natural response” to the Israeli occupation.

The sustained bloodshed since July points to the Palestinian attacks being orchestrated from outside, said Cameron Brown, a research fellow at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

“For violence to be maintained over a long period of time, it needs to get organized and get support, funding,” he said. “Flash violence like this tends to burn out after a while.”

At the synagogue in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood, medics for the Zaka emergency service said they found the victims wrapped in prayer shawls and holding prayer books lying in pools of blood. One worshipper’s arm had been chopped off, Zaka said.

‘Complete Calm’

Among the victims was Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, 59, head of a yeshiva connected to the synagogue and part of a dynasty of Jewish religious leaders. His father, Rabbi Isadore Twersky, was a Harvard professor of Hebrew literature and philosophy, who died in 1997. He was the grandson of Joseph B. Soloveitchik, whose philosophical ideas and Talmudic teaching provided the underpinning for modern Orthodox Judaism.

The other two Americans killed were Rabbi Kalman Levine, 55, originally from Kansas City, and Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, 43, who studied at the seminary. The fourth victim was U.K.-born Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, 68, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the synagogue attack and called for a sustained period of “complete calm.” The 79-year-old leader has urged the barring of Jews from the al-Aqsa compound and condemned as “a heinous crime” the death of the bus driver.

Netanyahu, holding an evening news conference at his office in Jerusalem, said it was “good” that Abbas condemned the attacks, but not sufficient.

“The world sees the massacre, but doesn’t demand that the Palestinians stop the wild incitement against Israel, which is the root of the conflict,” said Netanyahu, 65. “I want to see shock and sincere abhorrence of these murderous acts.”

‘Successive Crimes’

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who mediated the latest round of peace talks that broke down in April, said Palestinians “must begin to take serious steps to restrain any kind of incitement that comes from their language.”

Hamas spokesman Husam Badran, in a post on his Facebook page, called the assault a response to “the successive crimes of the occupation,” including the death of the bus driver. The website of the group, classified as terrorist by the U.S. and European Union as well as Israel, had promised to avenge the driver’s death.

In several recent attacks, Palestinians have used knives or rammed into pedestrians with their cars.

Aryeh Deri, a lawmaker from the ultra-orthodox Shas party, said the attack was a declaration of war on Jews because of their faith.

“The Jews who came to worship are lying on the floor, their blood mixed with prayer shawls and phylacteries,” he told Army Radio.

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